The vast majority of women CAN breastfeed, as long as they get skilled support when they need it. Some mums find it helpful to visit a local breastfeeding group and chat to other breastfeeding mums or a breastfeeding supporter about any worries they have before their baby is born. You can find information on our local groups here. You can also chat to a supporter on the National Breastfeeding Helpline.
A small percentage of women have conditions such as past breast surgery, thyroid conditions, polycystic ovary syndrome or insufficient glandular tissue (also known as breast hypoplasia) that may mean they can’t make enough milk to breastfeed exclusively, although this is not always the case. If you are concerned about this, speak to your midwife or breastfeeding supporter. You may be able to put a plan in place to help you prepare for possible challenges when your baby arrives, and you may find that you can still reach your breastfeeding goals with appropriate support. You never know unless you try!
If you are unable to breastfeed exclusively, you can still enjoy a special feeding relationship with your baby. You may still be able to breastfeed and supplement them with donor milk or infant formula. This is sometimes called mixed or combination feeding. You can read more about it in this article from La Leche League.
If you are unable to breastfeed for medical reasons (for example, if you are undergoing chemotherapy), you may be able to obtain donor breastmilk for your baby. You can find more information from these organisations:
If you are able to produce breastmilk, but unable to feed your baby at the breast, you may still be able to express your milk and feed it to your baby. A breastfeeding supporter will be able to give you information on how to do this effectively. You can read more about expressing and storing breastmilk here.
If you feed your baby only expressed breastmilk, this is sometimes called exclusive expressing. You can read more about this in our blog post on exclusive expressing.
If your baby is born prematurely or unwell, breastfeeding may be more challenging, but it can still be possible with skilled support and your breastmilk will help your baby grow and develop. You can visit these pages for more information:
If you struggle with breastfeeding, most issues can be improved or resolved with appropriate support. You can contact the National Breastfeeding Helpline or speak to your midwife or health visitor, check out our peer support services, or contact other national breastfeeding charities (Association of Breastfeeding Mothers, La Leche League, NCT) to see if they have support locally.
If you do need or choose to use infant formula…
Although exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for the first six months of life there may be times when it is not possible for your baby to receive breastmilk or you feel that it is not the right option for you. If this is the case, the best alternative is infant formula. Some important things to think about are:
- Which type of formula to choose.
- Feeding your baby when they show signs of being hungry, rather than by the clock.
- How to clean, rinse and sterilise all feeding equipment.
- How to make up a feed, using freshly boiled water.
You will find all this information in the UNICEF leaflet Guide to Bottlefeeding. It will also give you information on combining formula feeding with breastfeeding and on re-starting breastfeeding if this is something you might like to consider.
You can also find independent information on infant formula from First Steps Nutrition.