Why is breastfeeding so hard for so many new moms? For some, it's an immediate struggle. For others, the realization that something is not right becomes apparent weeks later.
Human babies have an innate need to breastfeed but human mothers, unlike other mammals, do not have an innate knowledge of breastfeeding. As a result, new mothers mistakenly believe they should know what to do. This, in a nut shell, is at the core of why so many women and babies struggle at the breast.
Other related reasons, are many:
- unrealistic expectations
- lack of support from partner, family and/or community
- poor latch
- lip and/or tongue-tie
- labor or hospital intervention
- poor milk supply (real or imagined)
- painful breasts and/or nipples
- no experience seeing breastfeeding normalized
- lack of workplace support
- postpartum depression
- prior breast surgery
- and more...
Of course there are women who, for whatever reason, cannot or actively do not want to breastfeed. That should always be respected. But for those who have breastfeeding goals - whether it's for 6 weeks, 6 months or 16 months - maximize your chance of success with these 6 tips.
1. Be prepared
During your third trimester, take a Breastfeeding 101 or Intro to Breastfeeding class. This will inform you of the basics, dispel any misinformation or old wives tales you may have heard and set you up with realistic expectations. Make sure to sign up for a class in which partners are welcome! It's important for partners to also be informed and supportive of the challenges breastfeeding may bring. Your OB, local birthing hospital or breastfeeding friends may all have local recommendations for you. I also like to recommend reading ahead of time, Breastfeeding Made Simple by Nancy Mohrbacher and Kathleen Kendall-Tackett and to use it as a reference once breastfeeding becomes a reality.
Studies have shown that skin-to-skin contact at birth have improved breastfeeding outcomes. If there are no extenuating circumstances preventing baby from being put on your chest immediately after birth, make sure your doctor and staff, midwife, and/or birth doula know it's important to you. The Cleveland Clinic has this suggestion on their website:
Keep your baby skin-to-skin as much as possible. Snuggling gives you and your baby the best start for breastfeeding. Eight different research studies have shown that babies who have had the benefit of skin-to-skin breastfeed better. They also continue to keep nursing an average of six weeks longer. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all breastfeeding babies spend time skin-to-skin right after birth. Keeping your baby skin-to-skin in the first few weeks makes it easy to know when to feed your baby, especially if your baby is a little sleepy.
3. Question hospital intervention
It goes without saying that mother and baby's health are paramount to anything else. But if the hospital wants to give your otherwise healthy baby formula, ask why. If they want to introduce a pacifier or bottle, ask why and decide if that's what you want for your baby.
Colostrum, or the initial milk that mothers produce is a thick, sticky substance that transitions to a more mature milk several days after birth. It contains everything a newborn needs during those first days. In the first week, a 7-10% weight loss is normal in healthy breastfed babies who were born vaginally. Formula fed babies tend to lose less weight. To keep track of your baby's weight loss and gain, check out this free app that does it for you! https://www.newbornweight.org/
4. Ask for help
Taking a breastfeeding class helps us understand, intellectually, what to expect. This knowledge base also informs us of when to ask for help. If you can't get a deep latch, if your nipples hurt, if breastfeeding is painful, if your baby is not having wet diapers, if you can't get comfortable when nursing, if you feel you don't have enough milk, if your baby is crying at your breast - it's ok to ask for help. You and your baby have never done this together before. You're both learning and sometimes a little assistance is all you need. Contact an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Counselor) or CLC (Certified Lactation Counselor) or an experienced friend or family member. And if you feel that postpartum depression is adding to your breastfeeding struggles, call your mental health provider right away. Don't wait to get the help you need.
5. Join a support group
Whether it's specific to breastfeeding, a "new mommy" group or a broader "first time parent" group, find a friend hive where you feel comfortable, accepted for your choices and supported in your desire to nurse your baby. We all need cheerleaders when we're doing the hard work of breastfeeding. And even though it's "natural" doesn't mean it's not hard work. The silver lining, though, is that it gets easier! Find a breastfeeding support group near you, here.
6. Plan ahead
If you're heading back to work after maternity leave, take a look at Your Rights as a Breastfeeding Employee and make sure both you and your employer know their responsibilities before your first day back. You'll want to know ahead of time where you can pump in private and how you'll plan to store or chill your breastmilk. If you're not leaving the house for work, you may be thinking about nursing in public spaces or pumping at home so that you can get out of the house by yourself. An IBCLC, CLC or postpartum doula can work with you to design a plan that's right for you. Fellow moms are also a great resource for what worked (and didn't) work for them!
If your goal is to breastfeed: Be informed. Don't hesitate to ask for help. Find people who support your decision. And most of all, be kind to yourself - however your baby is fed.