When you can’t breastfeed your baby

Here, we provide some helpful advice and information for new mums.

The health benefits of breastfeeding are well known and nine out of 10 new mums start out by breastfeeding their babies. But while most women want to breastfeed, there are some who can’t. And there are some women who need to supplement or replace breastmilk with formula feeding.

If this is you, you may have questions about how to make sure your baby stays healthy and how to meet his or her nutritional needs.

We spoke to the Australian Breastfeeding Association and the Dietitians Association of Australia to answer some common questions and provide you with some helpful advice.


A bottle of milk

Why are some women unable to breastfeed?

Some medications, such as chemotherapy for cancer, prevent women from breastfeeding. The Australian Breastfeeding Association note that although most medications are safe while breastfeeding, mothers should get individual advice from their doctor. 

You may also have a low supply of breast milk. While this doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t breastfeed, if after getting help you find your milk supply doesn’t increase enough to allow exclusive breastfeeding, you can breastfeed in combination with formula feeding.

What you need to know about using infant formula

Natasha Murray from the Dietitians Association of Australia shares five things that parents should know about formula:

  1. Some babies will need special infant formula. Choose the one that best suits your baby, they are all made to strict requirements. But remember, some babies will need special infant formula, which can be discussed with your doctor.
  2. You must follow the instructions. When using infant formula, always use the scoops that come in that tin, and mix it according to the instructions on the tin, unless you have been advised differently from your doctor or dietitian.
  3. Always wash your hands before making infant formula. And only mix it just before you give it to baby. Throw out any formula that baby doesn’t drink.
  4. Commercial infant formula is the only safe and tested replacement for breastmilk. The NHMRC Infant Feeding Guidelines state that the only safe and tested replacement for breastmilk for infants is commercial infant formula. Cow’s milk (or other milks eg sheep, goat, camel, buffalo) is NOT suitable for babies as a main drink under the age of 12 months because the proteins in them are difficult for baby to break down, and cow’s milk is high in sodium, which puts pressure on baby’s kidneys.
  5. Be aware of the impact of ‘topping up’ with infant formula. ‘Topping up’ with infant formula can affect breastmilk production and supply.

“Breastmilk is very complex, but there has been extensive research and testing involved with developing commercial infant formula so that it is safe for babies.” Natasha Murray, Dietitians Association of Australia.

Things to keep in mind

It is common for women to worry that they aren’t making enough milk for their baby. And some women may think that the reason their baby feeds frequently is because they aren’t producing enough milk – but this isn’t usually the case. The frequent feeds are more likely a feature of that baby’s feeding style than the mother’s ability to provide enough milk.

It’s also important to have a realistic understanding of your baby’s behaviour--scheduled feeding won’t suit every baby.

If you find breastfeeding painful, ask for help straight away. Often even just an adjustment to the way you hold the baby may make a difference.

Where to get help

It’s a good idea to start by chatting to your midwife, maternal child health nurse or GP.

You can get information and advice online and over the phone from:

  • Australian Breastfeeding Association for information and resources. The Australian BreastFeeding Association is an independent, research backed organisation enabling mums to help other mums with any breastfeeding questions. They also have counsellors that have experienced breastfeeding challenges themselves — indeed, it is often the reason why they trained to become a counsellor in the first place. ABA provides unconditional support, no matter what your parenting decisions are. Find out more online or ring their breastfeeding helpline on 1800 686 268 to speak to a breastfeeding counsellor.
  • A lactation consultant. Find a lactation consultant here.
  • An Accredited Practising Dietitian. Search here to find a dietitian in your area.


Need a little extra support?

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Eligible members with hospital cover can now talk to a member of our Health Concierge team for advice and guidance on how to have a healthy pregnancy, at no extra cost on 1800 789 414.#

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Looking for something else?

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While we hope you find this information helpful, please note that it is general in nature. It is not health advice, and is not tailored to meet your individual health needs. You should always consult a trusted health professional before making decisions about your health care. While we have prepared the information carefully, we can’t guarantee that it is accurate, complete or up-to-date. And while we may mention goods or services provided by others, we aren’t specifically endorsing them and can’t accept responsibility for them. For these reasons we are unable to accept responsibility for any loss that may be sustained from acting on this information (subject to applicable consumer guarantees).