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Why Breastfeeding Isn’t Always Easy

Chelsea Gonzales


For some women, breastfeeding is a dream come true. For others, there are other things they’d rather be doing. However, there is yet another group of mamas—a group who, whether they like it or not, has a hard time breastfeeding their babies.

There are many reasons for this, and very few of them are the fault of the mother. Therefore, it is highly important that no mother is ever shamed for how she feeds her child. After all, you never know what another person might be going through, and while we all know breastfeeding is ideal in most situations, in the end, fed at all is best.

Want to know why breastfeeding isn’t easy for everyone? Many women are curious about this, and it’s a topic I feel everyone should educate themselves on. Therefore, I’m going to use this article to share what I know.

Low Milk Supply

A woman who has true low milk supply may not be able to provide an infant with enough nutrition, meaning unless treatment is available and effective, breastfeeding exclusively is not an option. That said, low milk supply is not as common as we’ve been led to believe. In fact, the many women who believe they have low milk supply likely could build their supply to be more than enough if given the support to do so.

When true low milk supply does happen, there is almost always an underlying cause. These could include:

  • Insufficient glandular tissue (hypoplastic breasts)

  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

  • Hypothyroidism

  • A previous breast surgery such as mastectomy or a breast reduction surgery

  • Prior radiation treatment for breast cancer

Use of Medications

Of course, there are also those women who must use medications necessary for their health, but can’t be taken when breastfeeding. In many cases, these medications are non-negotiable, meaning breastfeeding is not an option and other ways of feeding must be sought out.

The kinds of medicines that are unsafe while breastfeeding include:

  • Chemotherapy drugs

  • Antiretroviral medications

  • Radioactive iodine

  • Some sedatives

  • Seizure medication

  • Medicines that may cause drowsiness and suppress breathing

Medications that can decrease the supply of breast milk include:

  • Cold and sinus medications that contain pseudoephedrine

  • Certain types of hormonal birth control

Infectious Diseases

Certain infectious diseases can also affects a woman’s ability to breastfeed her child safely. After all, nobody wants to pass a disease on to their little one, and breast milk can carry certain types of diseases.

The following are some examples of diseases that can be passed through breast milk and therefore prevent a mother from breastfeeding her baby:

  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

  • Human T-cell lymphotropic virus (HTLV)

  • Herpes on the breast — This only applies to herpes on the breast specifically. If a woman has herpes in another place, it is safe to nurse her little one.

Another disease that can be dangerous to a nursing baby is Active Tuberculosis. That said, this disease is not passed through breast milk, but through respiratory droplets. Still, Active TB is spread easily, meaning an infected mother should not be near a baby, preventing her from breastfeeding. The exception comes in if the baby also has Active TB. In this case, baby can and should continue to nurse.

Classic Galactosemia

Galactose is found in lactose, which is the main sugar found in breast milk. Unfortunately, some babies are born with an inability to break down galactose, a medical condition called Galactosemia. Babies with this condition cannot take breast milk and must be fed a special galactose-free diet in order to prevent complications.

Phenylketonuria (PKU)

Little ones with Phenylketonuria can’t break down the amino acid phenylalanine. A buildup of this amino acid can lead to brain damage, meaning these infants must be fed a special diet.

That said, breast milk is actually relatively low in phenylalanine, so sometimes it is possible for the baby to breastfeed with formula supplementation under close supervision.

Maple Syrup Urine Disease

Sometimes babies are born unable to break down the amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine. When this happens, the buildup of these things causes the sweat, urine, and other bodily fluids to smell sweet like syrup. The sweet smell is not the true problem though. You see, this build up can cause terrible problems such as sleepiness, poor feeding, vomiting, seizures, coma, and even death.

Obviously, these babies must be fed special formula, but some breastfeeding may be allowed with careful monitoring.

Of course, these are just some of the many reasons a mom may not be able to breastfeed her little one. Even something such as too much stress can affect milk supply, and unusual features such as inverted nipples can make breastfeeding more difficult.