5 reasons why some women can’t breastfeed


5 reasons why some women can’t breastfeed

Breastfeeding is advantageous for both parents and babies. This is why professionals advise exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life. However, while most mothers can breastfeed, there are sometimes issues that prevent them from doing so.

Some parents cannot produce a healthy breast milk supply, while others may take certain medications or need to undergo a medical treatment that isn’t safe for breastfeeding.

5 reasons why some women can’t breastfeed

1. Contagious infections

Many common infections are effortlessly treated and do not impede breastfeeding or harm the baby. However, there are contagious diseases that can pass through breast milk to a baby. In some cases, the risk of transmission outweighs the benefits of breastfeeding. 

Some of these infections include HIV, Human T-cell Lymphotropic Virus 1 (HTLV-1), Active Tuberculosis Infection, and Herpes in the breast.

2. Low breast milk supply

A lot of mothers fear that they may not be producing sufficient milk for their baby, but in truth, only a small percentage of people who want to breastfeed can’t due to a truly low breast milk supply. A true low milk supply is rare, and it is usually the result of an underlying condition. The causes of a truly low milk supply include:

  • Insufficient glandular tissue (hypoplastic breasts)
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Previous breast surgery, such as mastectomy or a breast reduction surgery
  • Prior radiation treatment for breast cancer

3. Contraindicated medications

Many medications are compatible with breastfeeding, but some are not. Some of these medications can pose a hazard to breastfed babies when taken by the breastfeeding parent. They include:

  • Chemotherapy drugs
  • Antiretroviral medications
  • Radioactive iodine
  • Some sedatives
  • Seizure medication
  • Medicines that may cause drowsiness
  • Medications that suppress breathing

Other medications can cause a decrease in the milk supply. These include cold and sinus medications that contain pseudoephedrine and particular types of hormonal birth control.

4. Substance use

It is hazardous to use recreational drugs while breastfeeding because these substances can get into your breast milk and pass to the baby. If this happens, it can cause irritability, drowsiness, poor feeding, growth problems, neurological damage, or even death. If you’re struggling with addiction, help is available. However, those that are sober or in treatment may be able to breastfeed safely.

5. Baby’s medical needs

Infants born with conditions such as prematurity, cleft lip and palate, or Down syndrome may not be able to take the breast immediately but can still take pumped breast milk in a bottle. With patience, time, and help, these babies may go on to breastfeed successfully. It’s only when a baby is born with one of a few rare genetic metabolic conditions (e.g Classic Galactosemia, Phenylketonuria (PKU), Maple Syrup Urine Disease) that breastfeeding may not be possible. But, even then, a baby can still partially breastfeed.


As hard as it may be, remember that breastfeeding isn’t the only way to provide nutrition and build a close relationship with your child. Your baby can get the nutrition they need from donor breast milk or infant formula. Bonding and connections will strengthen each time you hold, talk to, comfort, and even feed them with a bottle. Just because you can’t or shouldn’t breastfeed doesn’t mean you can’t be a great parent to a happy, healthy child.

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