Every mainstream article about breastfeeding will tell you not to feel guilty if you choose not to do it. I will tell you not to feel guilty about not breastfeeding if you have no other choice. There are several reasons for formula feeding guilt-free: hypoplastic breasts, true low supply, taking a necessary medication that could be harmful to baby through your milk and, well, that’s about it.
Hypoplastic (narrow at the base) breasts often cannot be coaxed into producing much milk. That’s an inborn physical limitation that cannot be helped. Even a mother with hypoplastic breasts, however, can sometimes exclusively or partially breastfeed. It’s no reason not to try. Please get a second opinion if you think this applies to you.
A low milk supply results in a dehydrated baby who doesn’t grow, but there are many ways to encourage increased production: nursing as much as possible, additional breast stimulation from pumping or hand expressing, taking fenugreek supplements, eating oatmeal and flax seed or even taking the medication domperidone, often as a last resort. Lactation consultants and La Leche League can be great places to turn for supply help and other breastfeeding issues. They should always give you a warm welcome, so don’t be afraid to seek them out.
Occasionally, mothers must take medications that could harm their babies by passing into breastmilk. Many medications are safe for nursing and should be sought out first. If you and your care provider are unsure of the effect a drug might have on your baby, the book Medications and Mother’s Milk is a good comprehensive resource to consult before considering turning to formula.
If one of these situations applies to you and you legitimately cannot breastfeed, congratulations! You and your baby have my sympathy and endorsement for guilt-free formula use. If you’d still like to find a way to give your baby breastmilk, good for you and your baby! Seek out a local milkshare program or contact your closest milk bank.