We think that nursing your baby is one of the best experiences of your motherhood journey.
However, there are disadvantages to breastfeeding that new moms should understand in advance.
There is pain, sacrifice, mess, and a lot of inconveniences that come with being a breastfeeding mother.
This article will shine a light on the darker corners of your breastfeeding experience so you can prepare accordingly (or choose an alternative method of feeding your baby).
Do I Have to Breastfeed?
Before we jump in we should address the most pressing question you may be asking yourself this question as you read.
The quick answer is no, there are plenty of alternatives to breastfeeding your baby that will provide adequate sources of nutrition. This includes:
- Pumping breastmilk and bottle feeding
- Supplementing with formula
Check out our breastfeeding hub for more info on all of these topics.
Some basic statistics from the CDC to keep in mind is that 15.9% of American moms never breastfeed, and just over 40% stop before the recommended minimum of six months for exclusive breastfeeding.
So you are not alone if you choose an alternative path…. and there is nothing wrong with that.
Disadvantages of Breastfeeding (Early Stage)
One thing you won’t really hear from the general public is just how difficult the first few weeks of breastfeeding can be.
If you spend time with other moms and ask them to be completely candid, whether they are new moms, their kids are in college, or they have grandchildren, most of them will remember that first moment.
I have spoken to many mothers who said they felt like giving up with their first child, but those who have persevered will tell you that if you make it through the first month, it gets easier.
1. You Will Spend 2-6 Hours Breastfeeding Daily!
Breastfed babies will generally need to be fed more often and you are likely to have 8-12 feeding sessions per day in the first couple of months.
This can be handy for training your body to produce more milk, but at 10-30 minutes per session it adds up to a huge portion of your day.
You are the only source of food in this situation so there is no respite (but more on this later).
2. It is Hard to Monitor Consumption
Despite the more frequent feedings you don’t know how much milk your baby is actually drinking.
At times they will just mimic the suckle motion and can often just swallow a lot of air (which leads to a gassy baby) and may not get enough milk.
It takes time for signs of underconsumption to show up. By the time you notice a below-average growth rate or infrequent diaper changes your baby is already undernourished.
With bottle-feeding, you know exactly how much milk your baby is (or isn’t) consuming.
3. Achieving a Proper Latch
One of the main causes of underconsumption is an improper latch on your nipple. Lower milk flow can cause a range of problems if the breast never fully drains.
Low milk supply, blocked milk ducts, and the development of galactoceles are possible complications. This can be inconvenient, and at times painful.
Babies may need some training to open their mouths wide enough to attain a proper latch consistently. After the first month, they will usually get it – but it can be a tough month!
4. Nipple and Skin Irritation
What may shock you on day one is the suckle power that a newborn is capable of. Your poor nipples need to toughen up fast!
With this powerful suction comes red and sore nipples, even bleeding and scabs that will require nipple pads just to get through your day.
That’s probably enough right there to turn anyone off from breastfeeding.
But, again, if you persevere, your body and nipples will adjust, and soon you will notice the scabs have disappeared and nursing doesn’t hurt anymore (until they get teeth of course).
5. Volatile Breast Size
Your breast milk production will be in overdrive to keep up with the needs of your baby. But, if you are unable to feed or express in time your breasts will balloon in a matter of hours!
Engorgement of your breast can also lead to the complications that we spoke of earlier. Plus it can really hurt until you relieve that pressure.
This constant inflation and deflation is what leads to stretch marks and sagging in the long run.
Unfortunately, there’s not much that can be done to prevent this if you opt for breastfeeding, but it’s one of the sacrifices we make for our children (and it’s guaranteed this won’t be the last).
6. You Have to Watch Your Diet
After giving birth you will be excited to start eating all of the foods you have gone without for nine months! But can you eat whatever you like?
The short answer is yes, with a but.
There are certain things that you will need to eat in moderation or be very careful with. Things like caffeine, high mercury fish, and highly processed foods can impact the quality of your breastmilk.
Your body will be burning extra calories while breastfeeding and you will need to ensure you are consuming a lot of quality nutrients to ensure that your body gets what it needs.
7. Alcohol Consumption is Still Restricted
Then there is alcohol… That old friend that you missed throughout your pregnancy.
Unfortunately, this will go directly into your breastmilk and be unsafe for a breastfed baby to consume.
Yes, you can have a few wines when you feel like it. But you must track how much you are drinking and delay feeding until your body has processed all that alcohol – this will likely mean expressing and discarding milk through that time also.
The following guidelines have been provided by the CDC:
- One drink – 2-3 hours
- Two drinks – 4-5 hours
- Three drinks – 6-8 hours
As you can see, a big night could put you out of action for a full day.
Other medications and substances also require caution. Check out our full guide on this here.
8. Dad May Feel Excluded
We mentioned earlier that you are the only food source when exclusively breastfeeding. This places additional pressure on you and also leaves Dad out of the picture.
It is hard for Dad to get involved when your newborn is relying on you for almost everything, and he may be feeling a little left out.
Bottle feeding your baby can be done by anyone and you may find Dad very willing to get involved. You will have to get a breast pump and pump breast milk regularly so you have stocks ready for use (or use formula).
Disadvantages of Extended Breastfeeding
If you have toughed it out for the first six months then hats off to you. This is a common time for breastfeeding mothers to call it quits in many western countries.
Elsewhere in the world, it is more common for breastfeeding to continue well into toddler years. There are many benefits to this too, but a new set of challenges also emerge the older your child gets.
9. You Need a Practical Wardrobe
This matters less early on, as you spend a lot more time at home through your postpartum recovery.
When you start going out more you may find it frustrating that your clothes still need to accommodate quick boob access at all times!
While breastfeeding compatible clothes are becoming more fashionable these days you may still miss the freedom to wear whatever you please.
Comfort for you and your baby is always a priority and dressing accordingly just makes your life easier.
10. Your Sleep May Suffer Long Term
Midnight feedings and pumping sessions are par for the course early on. All new parents expect their sleep to be impacted, but when this goes on long term it can have a serious impact on your health.
If you have returned to work by now it becomes even more important to get adequate sleep. For a breastfeeding and pumping mom, it can be a huge challenge!
You can overcome this as your child gets older and no longer requires feeding through the night, and you can also set your pumping schedule to allow for a good night’s sleep too.
But this means feeding and pumping overtime during the day to create that space for yourself… and its tough!!
11. Feeding in Public Attracts Even More Attention
As much as it sux, breastfeeding in public has a stigma attached to it. As your baby gets older that stigma grows.
Even your close friends may express surprise (and judgment) if you are still breastfeeding after six months.
Many are completely ignorant to the fact that it is perfectly normal to breastfeed a child well into the toddler years.
This doesn’t make it any easier in the moment to deal with judging eyes, and the occasional nosey member of the public who feels entitled to share their opinion with you.
Even though this shouldn’t be ok, it happens.
The best thing you can do is keep some good nursing covers handy so you can at least have some private space for you and your baby no matter where you are.
12. Biting While Nursing
Once those teeth come in they are going to want to try using them!
If you thought the first time she latched was painful…you’re in for quite a shock!
Babies can get their first teeth anytime starting between four to six months of age.
But regardless of what age your baby gets their first teeth, you are guaranteed to be bitten a few times before they are done with the nursing stage.
And the younger they get them, the less they understand that it’s not okay to bite Mommy.
It may take a few times of hearing, “Ouch!” to learn that they can’t just chomp down, but be patient and they will eventually learn.
What You Miss Out on
Before you do anything else it is worth reading the opposing view. Make sure you check out our benefits of breastfeeding summary also (there are lots of them!!).
Putting the physical benefits aside, what I loved most about breastfeeding my baby long-term was that one on one bonding time. This was as much for my well-being as it was for their nutrition.
Especially after a returned to work. I looked forward to that first feed after coming home every day!
The experience certainly wasn’t all sunshine and roses at the time. But some of my fondest memories when my son was smaller were the times when we fed and bonded together.
You will also miss out on all the savings by breastfeeding… Formula is expensive!
Is Breastfeeding Worth it?
We advocate for breastfeeding on this site but understand that it is not for everyone.
We think that it is important for every new mom to start this journey with her eyes wide open to both the benefits and disadvantages of breastfeeding.
There is no wrong choice, and even if you start with breastfeeding and switch to formula feeding, that’s okay, too.
Your baby and your body will let you know what’s best.