As we come to a close of 2022 there is a lot to reflect on in the world. The past few years have given us all an opportunity to reflect on our practices and how we provide services. They have also highlighted many challenging areas yet given us the opportunity to realise our ability to be flexible, think outside the box, and to provide hope.

Lactation, breastfeeding, chestfeeding, bodyfeeding are all inclusive to supporting a world with hope and acceptance. All of us that work in this field have at one stage or another thought that what we do can change the world, and it can. As lactation professionals, we have the ability to share knowledge with others and to guide our colleagues, communities and our governments in a direction that will benefit all.  

We sometimes (more often than not) feel we are climbing an uphill battle, and the families we are helping need the outreached hand that we offer. We have seen the overwhelming influence of industry during this COVID pandemic and the subtle manipulation of words. The concern of health professionals to discuss lactation, breastfeeding, chestfeeding, bodyfeeding with pregnant women, pregnant people, mothers, lactating people, parents and families due to the possibility of causing the feeling of guilt. Industry has done its work by subtly manipulating the message. In the words of the late Dr. Miriam Labbok “Maternal Guilt as a Marketing Ploy.”1

Who is guilty, who is causing guilt, and is guilt the right word?  As per “Guilt is an unhappy feeling that you have because you have done something wrong or think that you have done something wrong.” I remember years ago having these discussions with Dr. Labbok and reading that “Guilt Is Perhaps the Most Painful Companion of Loss” in her 2008 article Exploration of Guilt Among Mothers Who Do Not Breastfeed: The Physician’s Role.1

A 2021 systemic review2 suggested that guilt was experienced more frequently as breastfeeding exclusivity rates declined, especially when breastfeeding intentions were not met. The study conclusion indicated that for breastfeeding mothers, guilt was experienced in relation to family and peers, whereas for formula feeding mothers, guilt was experienced in relation to healthcare professionals and peers.2 The review also found a need for more realistic, nonjudgmental and mother/parent‐centred support to minimise guilt and shame experiences for those who breastfeed. Interestingly formula feeding mothers’/parents needs included practical support on how to feed safely and the need to provide emotional support to those who are unable to meet their breastfeeding intentions.

One of the key messages in the review was the recommendation away from a ‘6 months exclusive breastfeeding’ to an ‘every feed counts’ approach to providing breastfeeding support.2

Are we missing something, is this guilt being discussed actually grief?

What is grief? As per “Grief is mental or emotional suffering or distress caused by loss or regret.”  Labbok explains “When a person experiences loss and grief, experiencing and accepting these feelings is an important part of the healing process.” She relates the Kubler-Ross 5 stages of grieving to Breastfeeding Grief, and it is worth reading.

As lactation professionals we need to be aware of lactation, breastfeeding, chestfeeding, bodyfeeding grief and how to support those we are working with. We need to be advocates and to include grief support as part of our advocacy.  Many already do on an individual level and they are known as life-savers for so many women who wanted to breastfeed and couldn’t.3

A special thanks to Dr. Yvonne LeFort for our recent conversation about Breastfeeding Grief while walking along the waterfront in New Zealand.

Remember words may just be words but they can be powerful and empowering. When we use the words that work for our clients we include them in the inclusive conversation.

The Health e-Learning team wishes everyone the best for the holiday season and to welcome 2023 with strength and commitment to continue improving our education and services to the lactation community.

[1] Labbok, M. (2008). Exploration of guilt among mothers who do not breastfeed: The physician's role. Journal of Human Lactation, 24(1), 80-84. undefined

2 Jackson, L., De Pascalis, L., Harrold, J., & Fallon, V. (2021). Guilt, shame, and postpartum infant feeding outcomes: A systematic review. Maternal & Child Nutrition, 17(3). undefined

3 “World infant feeding week”: What this says about breastfeeding grief. (2018, August 22). Evolutionary Parenting | Where History And Science Meet Parenting. undefined