It's well established that breastfeeding is difficult for many women. Breastfeeding attrition is a serious problem, especially here in the United States. Given the incredible benefits of breastfeeding, how do we keep new mothers from burning out? Support is key, and it should be emotional as much as it is practical. If you're a mom struggling to nurse your baby, I have some thoughts for you to get you through the hardest breastfeeding moments.
My own mom exclusively breastfed both me and my brother. We never even had a bottle, but went straight from boob to cup. I wanted this for my own child and assumed it wouldn't be a problem. I was so wrong. My baby wouldn't latch without a nipple shield, pumping was unproductive, and the doctor insisted on supplementing with formula right away. It was enough to make me want to give up altogether, but I continued to plug away at it and was able to breastfeed for seven months.
The best advice I can give breastfeeding moms is advice I'd be smart to take myself: don't be so hard on yourself. (And maybe start singing "Don't Cry" by Seal, to yourself, on a pretty regular basis.) But for real. What you're doing is hard, wonderful work. When you're at your worst, try to remember the following:
"This Is A Learning Process"
You and your baby are a breastfeeding team. You're just getting to know each other, and this is a new skill for both of you. Keep in mind that you both have the necessary prerequisites. Your newborn has a suck reflex, and your breast milk is specially designed to give them exactly what they need. Rome wasn't built in a day. Give yourself, and your baby, time.
"It's Really Good For My Baby"
Every time you nurse your sweet lamb, remind yourself of the amazing gift you are giving them. Breastfed babies contract fewer infections than formula-fed babies thanks to antibodies from mom. Breastfeeding lowers the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), asthma, ear infections, and childhood obesity. Knowing breast really is best can spur you to keep on keeping on.
"It's Not Forever"
It can be helpful, in many situations, to remember that this too shall pass. Whether you breastfeed for a few months or well into toddlerhood, it will eventually come to an end. Remember that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and someday, you may even long for those sweet days of nursing.
Breastfeeding promotes attachment and skin-to-skin contact is beneficial for mother and baby. As you gaze lovingly down at your child, they develop a sense of security that they are loved and cared for. When you nurse, you get a big boost of oxytocin, which helps you develop those all-important mothering behaviors.
"There Are Alternatives"
If breastfeeding isn't working for you, you don't have to do it. Formula is a viable, healthy alternative. In fact, recent research suggests that breastfeeding doesn't affect kids' intelligence, so there you go. Sometimes simply knowing that there's another option is just what you need to get over the hump.
"I Can Get Support"
As a breastfeeding mom, you do not have to figure this out all by your lonesome. Not everyone has family or friends who can provide expertise, and those without good insurance (or without coverage at all) might not have access to a lactation consultant. That's why it's so important to know about La Leche League. Not only do they have extensive information available online, they can also put you in touch with a local leader who can provide the level of personal support you might desperately need.
"Many Women Have Gone Before Me"
Women have breastfed since the dawn of humanity. I expressed concern that had my daughter been a cave baby, she would have been sh*t out of luck. My mom reminded me that if I'd been unable to feed her, her cave auntie probably would have nursed her for me. Mamas have been making it happen for thousands of years, and they did that without all the awesome technology and knowledge we have now.
"I'm Not Alone"
It is perfectly natural to find breastfeeding challenging. Don't believe me? Type in "breastfeeding struggles" and give it a Google. There's nothing wrong with you, and many mamas are in the same boat. I certainly was. We all figured it out eventually, and so will you. You've got this.