Breastfeeding grief can occur when a mother has desired, and even prepared, to be able to breastfeed her baby but is unable to do so because of circumstances. In these cases, very intense emotions are often experienced. The experience of motherhood is full of sacrifice that involves multiple emotional processes that can be categorized as grief. Although these are always natural and normal emotional processes, the healthiest thing for the person experiencing them is to feel accompanied and supported by their environment, including the healthcare professionals who care for them.
Grief processes are frequent in all situations of daily life in which a loss occurs. We associate grief with death; however, the grieving process can be experienced in everyday life experiences such as a breakup of a relationship, the loss of a job opportunity, or the loss of an exciting achievement. Often, a professional accompaniment favors the processing, elaboration, and experience of the natural grief process.
The experience of grief is personal, so it is essential to treat each case individually. Grief processes are not done well or badly; they gradually evolve. The goal of “overcoming grief” loses meaning when we understand that they are life experiences that are recorded as memories. So it is normal that they are remembered in people’s accounts of their life experiences.
The difference between an evolved or processed grief and one that is not is the way in which we can relate to it, that is, how we can sustain the emotions that are naturally provoked by the memories of experiences that have been painful for us.
Having a basic knowledge of how the grieving process works is fundamental when you accompany mothers in situations of desired but failed breastfeeding journeys. Only in this way will you be able to offer a respectful space for the mother’s experience, far from judgments, opinions, and traditional cultural norms that send an urgent message to mothers about “getting over,” or even forgetting, what they are feeling.
When you encounter unsuccessful breastfeeding journeys, it is important not only to accompany them in the emotional processing of grief but it is also essential to help them to create an emotional connection when establishing formula feeding. Although sometimes this can be perceived as something contradictory, multiple emotions coexist simultaneously in emotional processes.
Therefore, as healthcare professionals, we have a fundamental role in giving space to different emotions, supporting and accompanying the mother in the process of grief, and in the creation of a formula feeding experience, as she feels more respectful with her baby and with her family system. By offering this room for emotions, it will be the mother herself who will be able to develop the way to proceed and gradually find ways, moments, and joy with her baby, regardless of the feeding method.
Psychologist specialized in perinatal care and grief at LactApp