by Katie Madden, RN, BSN, IBCLC

Have you ever noticed that if you ask a pregnant woman,

“Are you going to breastfeed or bottlefeed?”

She usually says,

“I’m going to try to breastfeed.”

What’s with that? This is something that really annoys me and something that I happen to think it at the root of why so many women fail at breastfeeding.

Think of anything else hard that we set out to do in life:  Earn a degree.  Run a marathon.  Lose weight.  Start a new career.  Stay married.

Nobody says, “I’m going to get accepted into graduate school, invest $40,000 and try to complete my degree.”

No!  They set a goal for themselves and they make a plan to succeed!

Now, I am not saying that everyone attains the goals that they set, but they don’t begin with the suspicion that they will probably fail anyway.

But isn’t that what every woman is doing when she says “I am going to try to breastfeed” when she should be saying,


In fact, plenty of women try to breastfeed.  The CDC estimates about 77% of women try to breastfeed, meaning they put the baby to breast at least once after birth. That’s great! But, at six months, that number plummets to 49% of babies who are breastfeeding at all; only 16.4% (!) are exclusively breastfeeding at six months as is recommended by the AAP.  At one year, a measly 27% of babies are still being breastfed.  So it seems to me that women certainly aretrying to breastfeed.  It is succeeding at breastfeeding that is the problem.

The CDC has a lot of speculations about what makes it more or less likely for a woman to be breastfeeding at six months or one year.  They take a look at the type of hospital a baby was born in, if baby had skin-to-skin contact right after birth, what the ratio of IBCLCs to new mothers is, how supportive child care centers are… but what nobody is talking about is how the mother prepared herself during pregnancy.

I’m going to shake things up here.  I have been working in maternity care for about ten years now and what I know is that women spend 12-24 hours in childbirth education preparing for their birth, which will last about 12 hours; they spend 0-2 hours preparing to breastfeed, a process that hopefully lasts a year or longer.

And most mothers put a higher value on breastfeeding success than they do on having the optimal birth experience.

This just doesn’t compute for me.

There is so much that a pregnant woman needs to know before her baby arrives in order to succeed at breastfeeding! And I am not just talking about rules like “no pacifiers,” “no bottles,” and “feed on demand.”  There is real life stuff a new mom is going to need to deal with that can make or break breastfeeding.

For instance, everyone knows you’re not supposed to feed a breastfed baby formula, right?  But what if the pediatrician comes to you on the third day of your baby’s life and tells you that your baby has lost too much weight and is danger of becoming dehydrated and you really must feed him formula?  Then what?  Well, you feed the baby formula, of course, because you are scared to death that you are starving your baby. Then you promptly feel like a breastfeeding failure for feeding your baby formula when you weren’t supposed to. Then what?  Who will be there to make sure you protect your milk supply and move forward believing breastfeeding is still the best thing for your baby and that you can do it? Not your OB. Not your pediatrician.  Maybe you will get to see a lactation consultant in the hospital and maybe she will be helpful, but what about after discharge? Then where will you turn?

You must be educated about situations like this before they happen so you can feel empowered, in control, and confident that you will still succeed at breastfeeding even when you hit bumps in the road (and you probably will hit bumps!).

I’m going to tell you what you need to know to succeed!  You know the first one:

You have got to plan to breastfeed–not simply try. Because when you try to do something, there is a much, much higher likelihood that you will fail. You must plan so that failure isn’t an option.

The best way to craft a successful plan? Get educated.

If you are local to the Wilmington, DE area, I would love to meet you at an upcoming Breastfeeding Basics class.

Too far to travel? No time for live classes? Check out comprehensive online program: The Pregnant Mama’s Guide to Breastfeeding Success


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