The Great Breastfeeding Hoax

The Great Breastfeeding Hoax

Mommy Myth:  Only 1-5% of women are unable to breastfeed

I was a mom who was desperate to breastfeed.  I worked with lactation consultants, took supplements and prescriptions, pumped endlessly, and still my daughter was crying in hunger.  And she wasn’t the only one sobbing.

When I went to the web for support, the first thing I saw was “only 1-5% of women are unable to breastfeed.”  I was shocked.  If nearly everyone else could do it, maybe I just wasn’t trying hard enough.  My mommy guilt skyrocketed.

But, being the thorough mom that I am, I had to see from where that statistic came.


The Study

This often quoted “fact” comes from a study done in the late 1980’s in Colorado.  It followed 319 first-time mothers who were highly motivated to breastfeed.  Nearly all were white, married college-graduates who made more than $35,000 per year.  Each of the babies (all singletons) was full-term and healthy.  In the study, 10% needed help to increase their milk supply and 5% were never able to produce enough.


The Problems

There are some definite problems with this study if it is to be used as proof that very few women are physically unable to breastfeed.  First of all, 319 mothers is not a very big sample.  Secondly, these are pretty narrow demographics to represent the entire population of women giving birth.  As a first-time married mothers who are making a good living, we can assume that all were able to eat well.  Lack of nutritious food can lead to inability to produce abundant milk.  Also having a full-term and healthy baby greatly increases the chances of being able to breast feed.  Many infant conditions such as prematurity, GERD, allergies, cleft palate, and Down syndrome can cause feeding problems that may result in a lack of milk production for the mother.

But despite the predisposition to being able to produce enough milk, still 10% of women needed help and 5% of women were not able to at all.  To me, it indicates that there may be a higher percentage of women throughout the U.S. who cannot produce enough milk to sustain their child.


The Truth

But the truth is, we don’t know.  No studies have been done to specifically answer this question. The study in Colorado was to see if women’s breast size, shape, and augmentation had effect on supply.  It wasn’t meant to speak as the definitive percentage of women who cannot breastfeed for the entire country.  More research is needed to give us that type of insight.

Although the common knowledge is “Breast is Best”, the truth is that some women are simply unable to produce an amount of breast milk that will sustain their child.  And feeling guilty doesn’t improve the situation one bit.  So, I reluctantly let go of my dream to breastfeed, bought some formula, and fed my hungry daughter.  And we were all much happier for it.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at 

However you choose to or are able to feed your child, I support you!



Neifert et al. 1990. The influence of breast surgery, breast appearance, and pregnancy-induced breast changes on lactation sufficiency as measured by infant weight gain. Birth 17(1): 31-38)

3 Comments on The Great Breastfeeding Hoax

  1. Jenifer @ Not Quite Mom of the Year
    June 26, 2013 at 9:28 pm (3 years ago)

    Thank you so much for this article! I am one of those moms that tried desperately to nurse her babies, but without success. I’ll never forget the night my mother (who was staying with us the first few weeks to help out) woke up after I attempted to feed my middle child for nearly two hours and she was still fussy. She said, “For goodness sake, Jeni! Give that baby a bottle!” I had always been told not to by other mothers, and even told that the reason I couldn’t produce enough milk for my first baby was because I had supplemented with bottles. But I was exhausted, my poor baby was exhausted…so I made her a bottle. Do you know what happened then? She slept for 7 hours straight! And when she woke up, she was happy! I didn’t give up on nursing all together, because there are too many good things in breast milk to completely forgo it. But the majority of my children’s food became formula in a bottle. You have no idea how many people have criticized me for this decision, but I have absolutely no regrets! Thanks again for shedding light on this subject!
    Jenifer @ Not Quite Mom of the Year recently posted…You know you need the advice of a professional organizer when…My Profile

  2. Stephanie from Burbs to the Boonies
    July 13, 2013 at 9:49 am (3 years ago)

    Oh my gosh, that was my experience as well! I wanted so much to breastfeed and it just didn’t work out after weeks of desperately trying. I was so heartbroken, but my son and I were so much happier and healthier when I finally made the switch to formula. I so didn’t want to, but that was what we had to do. Thank you for posting this.
    Stephanie from Burbs to the Boonies recently posted…Pen pals: A lost tradition?My Profile

  3. Valerie Forest
    May 20, 2015 at 1:35 am (1 year ago)

    I’ve been breastfeeding successfully for 10 months and don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. I happen to have done a lot of reading and research regarding breastfeeding beforehand to get me through the tougher times, but not everybody does so and simply listens to various bits of ‘bad’ advice from friends/family and even supposed health care professionals. Fortunately, I happened to read that l-carnitine intake help women for breastfeeding. Anyway, I hate young Moms who do pacify their baby or prefer bottle milk. There is a serious need for more breastfeeding re-education so thank you for contributing to that!


Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge