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J Hum Lact. 2008 Feb;24(1):80-4. doi: 10.1177/0890334407312002.

Exploration of guilt among mothers who do not breastfeed: the physician's role.

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Center for Infant and Young Child Feeding and Care, Department of Maternal and Child Health, School of Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC, USA.


Physicians commonly state the concern that, if they promote breastfeeding, they may "impose guilt upon those who do not breastfeed." This article explores the genesis of this fear, who may benefit from this construct, and the terminology of guilt, shame, and loss. The article also explores the responsibility for both lactation failure and associated shame, considering the roles and responsibilities of physicians, the media, and society as a whole. An alternative construct for the guilt is offered, based on the consideration that the woman experiences lack of breastfeeding as a loss at some level, conscious or subconscious, and whether the choice to not breastfeed is her decision or imposed. Proposed approaches for acting to prevent and to treat shame and guilt are presented.

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