Unsupportive Support- Stories of breastfeeding doom and gloom

Used with permission

This post is the first in a series written to anyone that ever has the chance to support a breastfeeding mother.  Or not support them if that’s the case.  Over the years between my personal experience with my own babies, that of friends and women I’ve attended in birth, and of course those that share on The Leaky Boob Facebook page, I’ve heard and seen just about every kind of support that is out there.  Even the support that’s unsupportive.  Which, as it turns out, according to my very unscientific but prolific research, is the most common kind of support and comes in a lot of varieties.  Husbands, mothers, mothers-in-law, fathers, fathers-in-law, sisters, sisters-in-law, brothers, brothers-in-law, aunts, uncles, grandmothers, grandfathers, friends, acquaintances, and random strangers, anyone that has the potential opportunity to interact with a breastfeeding mother can easily stumble into offering unsupportive breastfeeding support.  Or even just being unsupportive about breastfeeding while trying to be supportive of the mom.  Society throws a lot at moms that sabotages their desire to breastfeed, we owe it to them to actually try to change that, starting with ourselves.

Since I believe that those that say these things genuinely believe they are trying to help, I’m here to help them.  There are many articles on how to support a breastfeeding mom but maybe what some need to see is how what you say and do can actually end up being unsupportive.  If you’re intentionally being unsupportive, you should read this too but with the understanding that you’re a real jerk because you actually mean for it to undermine and hurt people, unlike those that do so unintentionally.

How not to support and how to avoid being unintentionally unsupportive- part 1.

Unsupportive support is…

When she tells you she wants to/is breastfeeding and you reply with “I tried that but it was terrible, I had no milk, it hurt so much, and my poor baby was starving…”

While it’s very sad that breastfeeding was a bad experience for this person, what exactly is someone trying to accomplish by saying this to someone that wants to breastfeed?  To brace herself for coming failure?  It really sounds like they don’t want her to succeed and they somehow feel the need to defend the fact that they didn’t continue breastfeeding.  By stating that she’s going to breastfeed she isn’t trying to enter a “who’s the better mother” competition by sharing this information.  But by replying in this way someone can quickly undermine a mother’s confidence.  If breastfeeding was so terrible for this person, if she had no milk, if it was so painful for her and her baby was starving, breastfeeding sure sounds scary and why would she think she could do it?  It also can undermine her feeling supported.  Instead she just brought up bad memories and feelings for someone else and won’t feel like she can talk about breastfeeding around this person again.  If you’re tempted to say something like this, keep in mind that you get to support her in her own journey, a journey that may look nothing like yours.  And that’s ok.  Give yourself a question to say to yourself when you want to say something like this, maybe something like “is this thought really about her or is it more about me?”

Close cousin to the statement above, saying “Not everybody can breastfeed you know, you may not be able to.”

Huh?  This one really baffles me when it comes from people claiming to support the breastfeeding mom.  It’s like telling someone that wants to lose weight that some people just can’t.  Why would you do that?  It’s true, not everyone can breastfeed, but for the record it is estimated that 2% of women physically cannot breastfeed.  So chances are strong that you’re saying this to someone that actually can.  Leave it to a doctor or lactation consultant to help her figure out if she can or can not breastfeed should she encounter some problems.  I’m not sure why someone would say this to anyone but if you’re looking for something that is actually supportive, try “Breastfeeding, that’s great!  How can I support you?”


For some reason people love to share the horror stories.  I think we should talk about them and be open about them so we can be prepared.  We need to be honest with moms that breastfeeding isn’t always rainbow farting unicorns and it’s not always as simple as have boob, feed baby, but there has to be balance.  Timing and delivery are an important part of finding that balance.  Telling a pregnant woman all the scary birth stories we can think of instills fear and doubt and unless she actively seeks out stories that build up birth she may believe that those horror stories everyone is too willing to share are the only reality.  Telling a breastfeeding woman story after story of negative breastfeeding experiences sets her up to believe that the positive experience is the exception.  The reality is that the positive breastfeeding experience isn’t the exception, it’s the norm that is ignored in favor of sensationalized warnings of what has become expected breastfeeding disappointment.  However, breastfeeding disappointment starts with lack of breastfeeding support.  Be the difference and offer real support instead.

Raising a child is hard.  Every parent, mother or father, whether they are breastfeeding or formula feeding, and whatever other choices they make from the myriad of options available, all of us need support.  What we don’t need is our parenting journey complicated by having well meaning (or not so well meaning) individuals around us saying or doing things that are anything but supportive.  If your experience with breastfeeding wasn’t positive, I’m sorry, but be careful not to project your problems onto someone else and be ready to cheer if they have a completely different experience than you did.  From that place, you’ll earn the honored status of being someone that mom knows she can trust to really be there for her and not just another force she has to fight against and prove wrong.



Have you experienced support like this?  How did you respond?  Have you given support like this?  

How do we balance sharing the possible negatives to breastfeeding vs. the likely positives?



  1. It is important for mothers planning to nurse their baby to have supports that are realistic. I’d hate to see negative stories deter a mother from nursing – but realisitic support (ones that share the good and offer solutions to possible problemes) can be beneficial. A couple of my friends did not tell me “horror stories” but did share information to prepare me on how to overcome barriers, how to find answers to questions, etc. as I learned to feed my baby. The most beneficial advice someone gave me was that there would be times in the beginning where I was up at night, feeling tired, baby might be crying and it would be tempting to give a bit of formula to get through that moment. The mother told me – “don’t keep formula at home so you are not tempted in a moment of weakness and CALL ME – I don’t care if it is 3am – CALL ME and we’ll get you through it.” That scenario did help me – I was prepared for a tough times when the occurred and knew I had support when I needed it.

  2. One of my post partum nurses in the hospital told me “breastfeeding isn’t for everyone, ya know” when my daughter was about 3 hours old and we were having trouble latching. This was a NURSE in a hospital that is supposed to be baby friendly and very pro-breastfeeding. I actually had a bunch of nurses who were completely unsupportive with my desire to breastfeed. It was awful.

  3. My MIL is like this. She keeps telling me that my husband didn’t like to breastfeed. She stopped after 2 days. She also says “I know breastfeeding is best but what if something happens and somebody has to keep the baby?” Um hello, I can pump. So far she’s the only one who has given me any trouble.

  4. I was told both of those things by numerous family members and anytime things got rough even after she had successfully breastfed for weeks/months if we had any troubles I’d get them again “you might just be done… maybe it’s time for formula…” if she was cranky while eating “it doesnt seem like she’s getting enough/you must not be producing enough…” its really irritating but I tend to just ignore it because I know she’s growing and 9 times out of 10 we’re great! The only ones who know if its time to stop are you and your baby!

  5. You really, really have a subject here that words just can not convey it’s importance. Enough of those types of comments, led me to quit breastfeeding at two weeks postpartum. Five weeks postpartum, I had to re-lactate to get my milk back, when the realization hit me, that motherhood is about and up to me and my baby, and NO ONE else. I really wanted to breastfeed, and now, at a little over six months old, my baby and I are still exclusively breastfeeding and I would LOVE to do so for years to come. I surround myself now with my supporters and those who love me, including La Leche League and friends I’ve met through there. I am currently trying to start a foundation that focuses on breastfeeding support, before, during, and after pregnancy. I know first hand, how incredibly important it is to have, like you say, the “right” kind of support. It’s very hurtful, because a few people that were once so close to me, used their own regret and emotions and conveyed them upon me, postpartum and struggling with breastfeeding, and I am still very angry over that. Sorry I’m venting a little, but I just want you to see how very true, and very important your post is.

  6. I think people need to think positively. I needed encouragement when I began the journey of breastfeeding my son; thankfully I had the positive support of my family. Positive believing brings positive results. I love how you shed light on Unsupportive Support. Thats exactly what it is. It only brings discouragement to moms who are trying to work through the trials of nursing their children.

  7. My FIL gave me this kind of non-support while I was carrying my first.. He told me very earnestly about how his elder daughter had tried and failed to nurse her two elder children because of pain (she didn’t even try with her third). At the time I blew it off because I figured she just didn’t have enough support, and I knew I did. I also knew that she came from a family where breastfeeding wasn’t the norm, and it was in mine.

    I’m glad I came from a place of essential confidence, because I now see that if I hadn’t, his well-meant remarks might have destroyed whatever fledgling intent I had, despite my own knowledge.

  8. I definitely got a lot of this from random people when I was expecting my first baby. People could not wait to tell me about how they, someone they knew, everyone they knew, etc. could not breastfeed. In the end it makes me sad for those people who, because of the information, support, and confidence they had at the time, were not successful. Maybe they were not physically incapable, but they lacked the knowledge and social/professional support to breastfeed and that is a pretty huge barrier. This is why breastfeeding knowledge is important for everyone – not just expectant moms, or maternity nurses. We need to reclaim this basic component of infant care and make it part of our culture again. Think of all the unclipped tongue ties, the mothers who had no idea how to latch a baby so it didn’t hurt (and so that the milk would flow) the countless people duped into thinking if a baby was hungry in less than 3 hours, that baby was starving. Rambling, but still. I used to get seriously annoyed when I heard these statements made to me – now, I want to say, “You did the best you could then. You know, now that breastfeeding is becoming more mainstream, there is so much more help available for moms when they struggle the way you struggled. I’m sorry you didn’t get the help you needed then.”

  9. I had the horror story mixed with the success story all in one. When someone says they are BF I tell them it is great and that it isn’t always easy, but it is rewarding. I believe, regardless of my own quirky experiences, that they are likely to succeed if they know the truth, give themselves time to adjust, and realize, as you put it so well, that it isn’t always unicorns farting rainbows.

    I’m an official 2%er. I had the baby who nursed every hour to hour-and-a-half around the clock for 45 minutes to an hour and didn’t gain weight. He was 8lb 7oz at birth and dropped to 7lb 12oz and at 1 month was only 7lb 14oz). I’m the one who despite a lot of help from the doctor, multiple LCs, and my own best efforts could not increase my supply to fit the demand. I’m also the one who kept breast feeding, working on my supply, and supplementing with formula for a full year despite our troubles.

    I received no support from family and friends with the exception of my DH and his grandmother (whom we only see a couple times a year). I got ‘unsupportive support’ from women who both FF and BF. The FFer’s talked about all their horror stories with no glimmer of hope and used my troubles as fuel for their beliefs that bottle is easier and best and BFing was time consuming, difficult, and doesn’t work out. The BFer’s were aghast that I would supplement and had their own horror stories of bad latches and sudden weaning because of offering formula from a bottle and acted like formula was poison and I was harming my child or failing him.

    To this day I sit the fence between FFer’s and BFer’s and wonder why so many beat each other up rather than understanding that each woman, child, and family are different.

  10. Fabulous post! This is something that many don’t consider but the effects of this “unsupportive” support are insidious. It is these kinds of comments that plant seeds of doubt and that we pull out when we experience any challenges, making us question our ability. Being aware of this kind of negative support can help us overcome its affect. Thank you!

  11. I was blessed to be raised in a community (extended family wasn’t like this but everyone else in my friends circles were) where if you didn’t breastfeed something was wrong. Not that we considered formula poison or mothers who ff as inferior, but breastfeeding was what you did and the only ff I knew was my aunt a single mom, not in the best of circumstances and a bit to selfish and partyerish to be much of a mom until her daughter turned 4, she is now an amazing mom to 5 children now, 2 her own and 3 step children.
    So I had a lot of support and help from day 1.
    My best friend however was the opposite, no one but me and her mother supported her, her husband was jealous (he was an a$$ anyway) and told her she needed to go back to work because he was tired of being the only one working, her MIL kept nagging to be able to take her granddaughter over the weekend starting at 3 WEEKS! She made it 6m then her hubby took her camping for the weekend leaving baby with mil, and he *forgot* the pump, she never believed he actually forgot as he had been nagging her for a whole week to stop nursing and kept threatening to sabotage in one way or another. 3 days with no way to pump her supply was As I said before he was an a$$, and is now gone.
    I experienced the best and watched my friend experience the worst.