When you're struggling to breastfeed, as so many of us do, there may come a point when you just want to quit. Maybe you have low supply or a breast infection or baby has a tongue tie. Whatever it is makes you feel like you just can't do it anymore. Postpartum self-care is essential for all new moms, but breastfeeding mothers can especially benefit from giving themselves a little bit of grace. I'm not the best at taking it easy on myself, but I did find a few ways to cut myself some slack on my most difficult breastfeeding days.
I wanted to love breastfeeding. I really did. However, I found nursing to be incredibly stressful. I had painful engorgement, and my baby wouldn't latch without a nipple shield. I frequently pumped only a quarter of an ounce of breast milk at a time. During those first few weeks, I was constantly with a doctor, nurse, or lactation consultant to weigh the baby. Breastfeeding just never came naturally to me, and switching to formula seemed like the easier option. At the end of the day, however, I wanted to give my baby the benefits of breast milk for as long as possible.
If I was going to keep breastfeeding, though, something had to give. This is what it looked like for me:
I Let Myself Sleep
I Decided Not To Sweat The Small Stuff
Because I was prioritizing sleep, I had to let a lot of other stuff go. "The house can wait" and "the dishes will still be there tomorrow" became my mantras. Breastfeeding can take up a lot of time and energy, so it's a good idea to give yourself a break from your other obligations.
I Gave The Baby Formula
The fact is, supplementing with formula is what allowed me to continue breastfeeding. I needed it to get me over the hump, and I don't regret it.
I Let My Partner Take A Turn
Bottle-feeding (whether it's formula, pumped breast milk, or a combination) can be very freeing for a mom who's starting to feel chained to her baby. It can also promote the bond between your partner and child. When I just couldn't take it anymore, I handed the baby and a bottle over to my husband.
I Had A Drink
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Drugs, the consumption of alcohol is compatible with breastfeeding. I was careful. I would have a single glass of red wine or a beer directly after feeding my baby, usually at the end of the night to ensure I had a two-hour window before the next feed. It was a treat I couldn't enjoy while pregnant, and it helped me relax.
I Trashed The SNS
I received a message from a woman who said the supplemental nursing system (SNS) saved her breastfeeding relationship. I don't doubt it. Basically, the SNS allows mom to breastfeed and supplement with formula at the same time (that way, baby is still stimulating more breast milk production). Sounds good, right?
Well, personally, I couldn't get my baby to latch onto my nipple and the tiny tube. The whole system got clogged multiple times. I was so upset that I sobbed on the way home from the clinic. Putting it out of sight was necessary for my mental health.
I Eased Up On Pumping
I realized that because I was supplementing with formula, I needed to pump to compensate. Unfortunately, pumping was also ruining the whole breastfeeding experience for me. One nurse wanted me to pump through the night after every feed. I was willing to do that during the day, but I gave my nights to myself and my baby.
I Remembered It's a Learning Process
When breastfeeding is a challenge, it's often a "two steps forward, one step back" type of situation. You are working toward a goal, and you have to celebrate all the little victories. I was so thrilled the day my pediatrician helped me change my hand position to allow baby girl to latch on her own.
Nursing can have a steep learning curve. Cut yourself some slack, mama, and crack open a pint of Ben & Jerry's. You deserve it.