Discover Why Some Mothers Can’t Breastfeed

New moms are excited not only about the prospect of giving birth to their babies but also about spending time nourishing them. After all, this creates and fosters a closer bond between mother and child. In addition, numerous studies indicate that breastfeeding is very beneficial for both mother and child. 

While this is the ideal circumstance, unfortunately, not all mothers are capable of breastfeeding, no matter how much they want to. Because of this, it’s important to understand why some mothers can’t breastfeed in the first place. 

Learning the different factors that contribute to why many mothers cannot breastfeed helps us have a sense of awareness and empathy towards them, rather than judgment. Let’s take a look at these factors. 

  • Medications Can Be Passed Into Breast Milk
  • There Are Some Infectious Diseases
  • Mom May Not Have Enough Milk Supply
  • Babies Refuse to Nurse or are Allergic to Breast Milk
  • Mothers Don’t Want to Nurse
  • There Might Be a History of Substance Abuse
  • The Baby Was Adopted or Came from a Surrogate
Discover Why Some Mothers Can’t Breastfeed
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Medications Can Be Passed Into Breast Milk

Most vitamins, medications, and immunizations are generally allowed for breastfeeding women, as seen in a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics

Discover Why Some Mothers Can’t Breastfeed
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However, not all medications are safe to take while breastfeeding, particularly those that require a prescription, as these have a risk of being passed on to the infant through breast milk.

In turn, this can bring about harmful side effects for the baby. It is important for women who breastfeed to discuss the situation with their physician. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers who are in the lactation stage not breastfeed if they are taking medication for chemotherapy, as well as drugs such as amphetamines, statins, and ergotamines. 

Take Note Some of These Medications 

Medications that may fall under the aforementioned categories include antiretroviral medication, radioactive iodine, sedatives, seizure medications, and those that cause drowsiness, to name a few. 

Birth control and cold medicines are relatively okay to take while breastfeeding. However, these types of medication can lead women to have a decrease in their milk supply as it contains pseudoephedrine. 

There Are Some Infectious Diseases

Mothers who are sick with an infectious disease that can be passed to their babies through breastmilk should definitely talk to their doctor about the risks of breastfeeding. Similar to medications, certain viruses or illnesses can also be passed through breastmilk

Discover Why Some Mothers Can’t Breastfeed
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One of the most common conditions that can be passed through a mother’s breast milk is the human immunodeficiency virus, otherwise known as HIV. This particular condition can cause acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and is a chronic condition that attacks the body’s immune system. 

As of writing, there is no cure for HIV. Mothers with HIV are advised to not breastfeed if infant formula is available as an alternative. In countries where infant formula is inaccessible, breastfeeding might be recommended.

Given this, mothers who have tested positive for this virus should talk with their physician about breastfeeding. 

Serious Illnesses Can Make Breastfeeding Difficult

Apart from HIV, mothers who are dealing with an active tuberculosis infection should also consider refraining from breastfeeding until they fully recover. While this illness cannot be passed through their milk, mothers could possibly infect their babies by touching them, coughing, or sneezing. It is advised that mothers with this active infection pump their breastmilk for their babies to be fed by another caregiver until they can be in close contact again and resume breastfeeding.

Yet another virus that can be passed through breastmilk is the human T-cell lymphotropic virus. The first strain of this virus can lead to leukemia or lymphoma, while the second strain may lead to brain and lung difficulties. Luckily, some studies suggest that the virus is killed when breastmilk is frozen, so mothers in this situation should consult their healthcare provider to see if this is recommended.

Most mothers with herpes can safely breastfeed. However, some are advised against it if their nipples are cracked since active lesions on the breast can cause the herpes virus to pass on to the baby.

Mom May Not Have Enough Milk Supply

The popular saying may emphasize that “breast is best,”  but this does not necessarily ring true for mothers who may not be producing as much milk as they would like. 

Discover Why Some Mothers Can’t Breastfeed
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A true breastmilk supply issue is rare, so mothers having difficulties should consult a lactation specialist. However, there are several reasons why a woman may have a low breastmilk supply. 

One of the factors that could affect this is that a mother might have undergone breast surgery in the past, whether it be a breast reduction, augmentation, or mastectomy. 

Those who have had breast reduction surgery, in particular, are more susceptible to having a lower amount of breast milk. This is mainly because the breast tissue removed during the reduction surgery could have included milk glands. 

Aspects that May Contribute to a Low Breast Milk Supply

Other reasons include taking certain medications, failing to start breastfeeding right away, not breastfeeding often, and the baby having an improper latch.

Factors such as the baby’s premature birth, having high blood pressure, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), diabetes, and hypothyroidism may also contribute to the supply challenge.

On the bright side, mothers who aren’t producing much milk can still breastfeed for comfort and bonding with their babies. They can supplement their babies’ diets with infant formula or donated breastmilk to meet their babies’ nutritional needs.

Babies Refuse to Nurse or Are Allergic to Breast Milk

There are times when babies simply refuse to nurse or have a challenging time latching to their mothers’ nipples. This is particularly observed with newborns who have tongue or lip ties or babies who experience nipple confusion.

Discover Why Some Mothers Can’t Breastfeed
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In addition, there are some babies who tend to develop an allergy or sensitivity to breast milk. This may be dependent on the mother’s diet, such as having a dairy-rich diet, which could carry over to the baby’s breast milk. 

Most of the time, a physician or lactation consultant can help an infant who refuses to breastfeed. Evaluating and revising oral ties, finding the proper position to breastfeed, or making dietary changes can make all the difference. 

Dealing with Serious Health Conditions

Besides the aforementioned health conditions, such as HIV, PCOS, and the like, there are also other illnesses that do not exactly allow mothers to breastfeed. These include having heart disease or anemia. 

While both of these conditions can be managed, this may not be healthy for a mother or her baby, especially as this requires physical, mental, and emotional exertion on her part, causing her heart and body to work double time. 

Mothers Don’t Want to Nurse 

There are mothers who simply do not want to nurse their babies. Whether they are constantly feeling tired, can’t find the time, want to go back to work or school, or every other reason in between, there are those who choose not to breastfeed their baby, and that’s okay. 

Discover Why Some Mothers Can’t Breastfeed
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Many moms also feel uncomfortable dealing with the pain that comes with breastfeeding, which is why they choose to not take on this task.

The decision to breastfeed is not an easy one, and it is also dependent on various factors such as their physical and mental wellbeing, finances, and lifestyle, among others. 

Mothers May be Suffering from Postpartum Depression or Anxiety

Postpartum depression (PPD) is one of the most common mental health conditions that women suffer from giving birth. Often, this condition makes mothers stressed, anxious, depressed, experience difficulties in sleeping, and other mood-related effects. 

During this difficult time, mothers with postpartum depression may also feel that they are not good enough to be a parent. There are also extreme cases when one has ideations of harming themselves or their baby. Some mothers with PPD may not have an instant bond with their babies.

While lactating mothers may continue to breastfeed even with this condition, those who are suffering from PPD may not necessarily harbor positive feelings towards breastfeeding their babies. This condition may also further aggravate mothers and add stress to them. 

There Might Be a History of Substance Abuse

Mothers who are using recreational drugs or other similar substances are also advised not to breastfeed their babies. They could pass on these substances and their unwanted effects on their baby and may cause harm. 

Discover Why Some Mothers Can’t Breastfeed
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Alcohol should also be avoided by breastfeeding mothers, although these mothers may be advised the drink sparingly if at all and wait 2 hours before breastfeeding again.

This may be one of the reasons why the well-known “pump and dump” phrased has been used, referring to the act of dumping breastmilk down the sink after using these substances instead of feeding it to a baby. 

This Also Goes for Smoking

The nicotine in cigarettes goes into the bloodstream and can contaminate breastmilk as well. To avoid transferring this to their babies, mothers who habitually smoke are encouraged to quit.

Of course, it goes without saying that a mother should never smoke around her baby due to the risks that secondhand smoking poses on a developing child. 

The Baby Was Adopted or Came from a Surrogate

If a baby was adopted or came from a surrogate, it is likely that the adoptive mother will not produce breastmilk at the onset and, therefore, may not be able to provide milk. 

Discover Why Some Mothers Can’t Breastfeed
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There are cases, however, when adoptive parents and non-gestational mothers have experienced success in stimulating breast milk production prior to the coming of the baby. 

This can take a few days or a few weeks before the milk starts to come. Surrogates may provide milk to the baby that they had as well. 

The Takeaway

Breastfeeding is often seen as a great way to bond with your baby and to give them the much-needed nutrition that they need. However, for mothers who may not have this opportunity, there are other ways they can nourish their baby while still remaining close as ever. 

Your relationship with your baby is indeed a special one, and this should not be defined by your ability to breastfeed. For those that need help, be sure to contact your doctor and talk with others about what you’re going through. 


Postpartum depressionPostpartum depression – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic

report by the American Academy of PediatricsBreastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk | Pediatrics | American Academy of Pediatrics