Attachment -- bonding -- comes from cuddling, says McCoy. "Mothers, even dads, can cuddle the baby just as closely when they bottle feed them. They can still hold them skin to skin, to get the bonding."
In neonatal intensive care units, cuddling is called "kangaroo care," she says. "With skin-to-skin cuddling with mom, intensive care unit babies' heart rates come back to normal, their oxygen levels go up, their blood pressure is normalized. There's just a remarkable attachment that babies feel. Even for older babies, it's a good thing to be up against mom's skin."
Whatever the decision, whether it be to stop breastfeeding or to not even start, don't feel guilty, says Nadine Kaslow, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University and chief psychologist at the Grady Health System, both in Atlanta. "Guilt implies they did something wrong, and that's not the situation. They're not bad mothers ... absolutely not.
"What's most important is forming a secure attachment with your child," she tells WebMD. "If you start feeling guilty, that makes you depressed. It takes away from the energy you have to connect in a positive, meaningful way with your child. That's what is most important. We know that children who develop secure, meaningful attachments with their caregivers are the children at lower risk for other problems later on."
A sense of loss, disappointment, a period of grieving if breastfeeding must stop -- "that's normal," says Kaslow. "But it needs to be kept in some perspective. They need to try to move through that process and connect with the baby."
To relieve some of the pressure mothers feel, says McCoy, it sometimes helps for the spouse, or the baby's grandmother, to meet with the pediatrician. "We involve them in the education process, let them know why it's not a good idea for her to continue trying to breastfeed."