Breastfeeding is the most difficult physical thing I have ever done, second only to labor and delivery. Actually, maybe the two are equivalent in all aspects of pain and suffering. I'm not sure, I've repressed most of those memories. With my first kid, breastfeeding did not work for a multitude of reasons, but mostly due to lack of knowledge and support. With my second, breastfeeding worked out, but not before I survived six weeks of pure hell. Struggling with breastfeeding is common, so we should come up with some basic rules for talking to someone having trouble breastfeeding.
As I said, with my first I had no clue what I was doing. I received minimal attention from the lactation consultants at the hospital, because I did not know to ask for more time with them. I couldn't really afford to get consultants to come to my house and teach me, and I didn't know anyone else who could help. I was using a nipple shield. I was bruised and bleeding and in unimaginable amount of pain with each latch. I cursed the evil gods of breastfeeding. And, in the end, it was all too much. Between no sleep, pain everywhere, and a hysterical and jaundiced newborn, I had enough. I started pumping and that was it for breastfeeding. Yes, pumping sucked, but at least it wasn't painful and I didn't curl my toes from the stinging at each latch.
Fast forward five years and I am breastfeeding my second kid like a champ. Well, not right away, because why would it be easy? The first six weeks were brutal. My son didn't latch properly for weeks and I couldn't figure out the issue. This time I made sure I requested more time with the lactation consultants while I was in the hospital, though. In fact, I spoke with a few after I got home, too. I even joined breastfeeding support groups on Facebook. Thankfully, between the extra time with the lactation consultants and the extra support via the internet, I learned my son had a small tongue tie and that each time he latched I had to manually adjust his lips.
Eventually everything healed and breastfeeding became incredible. Still, the first few weeks were hell, so I know what it's like to struggle with breastfeeding (twice). So, if someone in your life is in the middle of the breastfeeding game and having a tough time, make sure to remember the following rules when you talk to them about their breastfeeding experience:
Even if you don't know how painful and uncomfortable breastfeeding can be, you should still be able to emphasize. You may not be able to put yourself in her shoes, but you could try to understand the struggle she is facing, the guilt she is feeling, and the disappointment she is harvesting. A struggling breastfeeding mother is sacrificing for her child. She is draining herself physically and emotionally because she believes in breastfeeding.
Offer An Ear
You may not be able to understand everything the new mother is going through, but you don't have to understand in order to be a supportive listener. You don't have to have any feedback at all, either. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to just be there. If she is willing to share, be willing to listen.
Share Your Own Experience
If you have similar experience with breastfeeding, share. It's comforting to know that someone somewhere also struggled with the same thing you're currently fighting through, and that you aren't alone. It's nice to hear success stories, too, which is why many of those mommy breastfeeding groups are so important and necessary. Maybe you did something that helped you and now you can pass on that knowledge.
Provide Guidance And Resources
If, and only if, the new mom asks you for your help, you can be prepared with a few local resources. Find a great lactation consultant, the best nipple creams, and effective latch techniques and positions. Be knowledgeable and forthcoming with the information you dig up. You never know which piece of advice will save that mom.
Remind Her She's A Warrior
Keep telling her how great she is doing. Tell her that she is doing a phenomenal job. Remind her she is the best mother her baby could ask for. Difficult breastfeeding doesn't only cause physical pain, it's also a very emotionally draining experience. An ego boost here and there is usually welcomed.
Do Not Recommend Pumping Or Formula
Not that there is anything wrong with either one, mind you. After all, everything has it's pros and cons. However, a struggling breastfeeding mama isn't interested in hearing what her other options are available to her. Trust me when I say she knows what they are and she has chosen to continue to breastfeed anyway. Offering obvious choices is not helpful, it's just slightly annoying.
Don't Tell Her How Wonderful Breastfeeding Is
For some women breastfeeding is the most beautiful act in the world. These women are the stock photos of reality. For others, breastfeeding is great, but only after some serious trial and error and more trial.
However, telling a new mom struggling to nurse how fantastic breastfeeding is, well, just mean. You may think you're being helpful, but you're actually just pouring salt on a very fresh wound.
Remember She Already Feels Judged
"Bottle or breast?" She's heard that question a million times. "Breast is best!" She's heard that motto a billion times. The new mom is one of the most judged species on the planet. It's truly awful how much pressure new moms feel to be "perfect." So, don't forget that when discussing any struggle the mom is facing. Don't be judgmental.
My heart goes out to all new moms who struggle with breastfeeding. Trust me, I know what it's like. While my second baby was a great eater, I still constantly felt as if I wasn't doing enough. I was embarrassed and upset that this supposedly natural thing was so difficult for me. While some friends just effortlessly plopped their babies on their breasts, I squirmed and mentally prepped myself prior to each feed. It was tough. So when talking to a new mom struggling with breastfeeding, the best you can do is come with an open mind and zero judgement.