New Parents

When you can’t breastfeed your baby

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

Written by Editor Medibank
We answer some common questions.

9 out of 10 new mums, start out by breastfeeding their babies as the health benefits are well known.

But while most women want to breastfeed– unfortunately, there are some who can’t. And there are some women who have a low supply of breastmilk so need to supplement breastmilk in combination with formula feeding.

If this is you – you may have many questions about how to make sure you are keeping your baby healthy, and meeting their 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.

Why are some women unable to breastfeed?

There are also some medications, such as chemotherapy for cancer, which prevent women from breastfeeding. The Australian Breastfeeding Association note that although most medications are safe while breastfeeding, mothers should get individual advice from experts.

Why may some women have a low supply of breast milk?

Some may need to supplement breastfeeding with infant formula, because they have a low supply of breast milk. According to Australian Breastfeeding Association, reasons for this may include:

  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Some women with PCOS can breastfeed without any problems, but some may have a low supply of breastmilk.
  • Not enough glandular breast tissue. Some women’s breast tissue doesn’t develop during puberty and they never have enough glandular breast tissue to exclusively breastfeed. Although it’s important to note breast size isn’t necessarily an indication of breastmilk production potential.
  • Hormonal contraceptives. Some women find that hormonal contraceptives reduce their milk production.

Remember, low breastmilk supply doesn’t 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 5 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 very 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, it’s a good idea to ask for help straight away. It isn’t necessarily an infection, and it shouldn’t be tolerated. 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 helpful 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.
Written by Editor Medibank

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