How To Cope When You Can’t Breastfeed Your Baby

Many moms struggle with breastfeeding and are told that if they just try hard enough it will work out. Yet, sometimes, no matter what we do, it just doesn’t work out and we have to find another way to feed our baby. There are options – and you’re not alone.

Donor breastmilk

When I was pregnant, I imagined I’d breastfeed my baby for at least a year. Though I expected to have some challenges, I assumed it would be fine if I simply worked at it hard enough. Fast forward to five months after my daughter was born, when I learned that sometimes, no matter what we do, breastfeeding just doesn’t work out – and that’s okay.

Latching issues

In my case, my daughter was born with lip and tongue ties that prevented her from latching correctly even after a surgery at five weeks old. Though my husband and I did everything the experts told us to do to help her, our baby could never breastfeed successfully and she always required additional bottle feedings of my pumped milk.

…I was experiencing severe postpartum depression, triggered by the inability to breastfeed and connect to my baby…

Pumping and nursing (and pumping some more)

Pumping and nursing wasn’t a great long-term solution for us. If you’ve ever tried to pump milk for your baby at the same time you’re trying to breastfeed every few hours, then you know it’s a really stressful experience. I struggled to enjoy my new life while being attached to a pump every couple hours, which was necessary to keep up my milk supply. On top of that, I was experiencing severe postpartum depression, triggered by the inability to breastfeed and connect to my baby, and my entire life seemed to be falling apart. After all that and despite my best efforts, my milk dried up at five months postpartum and I had no choice but to consider other options for feeding her.

I’d researched a lot about nutrition for babies and wanted to give my daughter breast milk if at all possible. Plus, I’d tried several types of formula in the early days and my baby wouldn’t tolerate it.

Donor milk is a real thing

I was fortunate to have a community during pregnancy of like-minded moms, doulas, midwives, and natural health practitioners to whom I could turn to for help. I was introduced to the concept of using donor milk (as in having another mom donate her pumped breast milk to my child) and a new world opened up to me. Now, at 15-months old, my daughter has had milk from well over twenty moms and is thriving.

So here’s the thing: my story is not that unusual. I talk to moms regularly who had a very difficult time breastfeeding for one reason or another, all of whom share a common theme:

“Breastfeeding a baby is hard work, and there are so many things that can happen to prevent a mother from nursing her child that are beyond her control.”

So, what’s a mama to do if she can’t breastfeed? Here are a few tips to help you out:

1. Don’t force yourself to breastfeed

All of us have heard that “breast is best,” and although I don’t disagree with the benefits of breast milk for a baby, this phrase often leaves women feeling shame and guilt. I fell prey to this shame cycle as well and ended up practically killing myself in order to breastfeed my baby.

Instead of focusing so much on breastfeeding no matter the cost, ask yourself, “What is best for my entire family?” When you are sleep deprived, it’s really hard to make good decisions for your family. Give this issue some thought before you are in the trenches of the early newborn days. Think ahead and consider all of your options.


2. Create a personal community and professional network

Start creating a network and community of moms, midwives, doulas, and other practitioners before you have your baby so you know who you can reach out to in a pinch. Go above and beyond simply attending the breastfeeding classes at the hospital, as most of them will simply say “a baby + a boob = successful nursing,” yet that’s not the case for many of us. You’ll learn more from talking to other moms about what they’ve experienced.


3. Be open to other baby feeding options 

This one was really hard for me. I felt like a failure if my baby received anything other than my breast milk. Formula may work well for your baby, but if that’s not the case, I highly recommend donor milk from other mamas. It requires time and effort to track down, but there are a surprising number of Facebook pages dedicated to sharing human breast milk that make it easier. It’s usually free and most moms share openly about their health, diet and medications so you can practice safe milk sharing.

After 15 months of using donor milk, my baby has had no issues and hasn’t rejected any of the milk given to her. Many people consider the idea of giving another woman’s milk to their baby as odd or taboo. Yet, I see it as a blessing that has saved me and my baby. At the end of the day, you have to do what is best for you and your family. How you feed your child is a very personal choice, but it’s helpful to know all of the options available to you.

Interviews, stories, and guides on contain information that is general in nature and should not replace professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have a medical condition or concern or plan on trying a new diet, supplement or workout, it’s best to first consult with your physician or a qualified health professional.


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