My mom couldn’t breastfeed. Does that mean I won’t be able to?

We all know someone who “wasn’t able to breastfeed” or something along those lines. I heard it from my own mother! She “couldn’t breastfeed” and I “was starving”. Because she wasn’t successful, she was very skeptical of my ability to breastfeed and satisfy my big baby. Who knows what was really happening when she was trying to breastfeed in the 80’s. Maybe there was no support, maybe I really wasn’t getting enough, maybe my mother did have a condition that really prevented her from making enough milk. I’ll never know. But what I do know is that I never would have known if I could breastfeed successfully unless I tried. (Spoiler: I breastfed 5 kids with no problem!)

Did you know that the egg that you came from was present inside your mother when she was inside your grandmother’s womb? And that the breasts cells begin forming in the embryo at about 4-6 weeks of gestation? And also that your breasts start making colostrum at about your 20th week of pregnancy? The human body is so amazing! For realz!

Since the beginning of time, mammals have birthed and nursed their offspring without much help. Babies have breastfed and survived on colostrum alone until the milk came in and then on mature milk until they weaned. If this wasn’t possible, there’d be no humans today. Seriously! There was no formula until the last century, yet humans have existed for much longer than that. My favorite thing to remind new parents when they seriously ask me if their baby will be ok with just colostrum is: There was no Target in the beginning of time for dad to run get some formula! Colostrum is seriously all the baby needs until the milk comes in! (Assuming they are breastfeeding well. More on that in other posts.)

I say all of this to share that, with few exceptions, the body just works. Before the invention of formula, if a mother truly had difficulty making milk, some other lactating mom would help her baby survive, but this was rare. As the popularity of formula rose in the 1940s and 1950s, the rates of breastfeeding declined steeply over the next several decades. Along with this, the trust in the ability of the body to produce milk also declined.

While there are certain medical conditions that can contribute to lactation failure, the true incidence of these are rare. Some of the more common conditions are:

  • severely underdeveloped breasts
  • uncontrolled thyroid conditions
  • reproductive hormonal conditions
  • breast reduction
  • any chest surgery that interrupted the fourth intercostal nerve (9 o’clock and 3 o’clock positions on the breast)

Unless your mother had one of these conditions (most of which are not genetic) it is not likely that her lactation failure was true lactation failure. It’s impossible to really know why she was not able to breastfeed, but there are so many factors that could have been at play. However, none of that would set you up for lactation failure. So the moral of the story is this: you won’t know unless you give it a shot! Trust that your body knows how to grow the baby inside and also how to nourish the baby outside. Trust that your colostrum will begin synthesizing around 20 weeks of your pregnancy and trust that somewhere between days 3 and 5 after delivery your milk will come in and you’ll have more milk than you know what to do with. And if you have any trouble along the way, reach out to a lactation consultant for help.

The moral of the story:

Educate yourself and prepare to breastfeed your baby. You won’t know if it’s going to work unless you try, and you won’t know in the first three days, so prepare to give it all you’ve got for a few weeks. Also, whatever you do, see the lactation consultant a lot, both in the hospital and once you are discharged. They will help ensure that things are going well.

Where to start:

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