Deciding to exclusively breastfeed an infant is not usually a decision that's made lightly. There are many factors to consider including a mom's lifestyle and whether they have any emotional triggers associated with breastfeeding. Many women know that even though breastfeeding has been a trend since the dawn of time, that doesn't mean it'll easy. Once in the trenches of nursing, you may wonder how to survive exclusive breastfeeding, especially when you feel like you really want to stop. Rest assured, many moms have felt the same way you have, and there are ways to get through breastfeeding, even the hard parts.
Women should aim to exclusively breastfeed for at least one year, according to The World Health Organization. There are plenty of proven benefits to a nursing mother and her baby like emotional bonding, immunity, and the cost. This is all good and well, but that doesn't mean it's easy and free from hiccups along the way. Exclusively breastfeeding a baby takes commitment, practice, and a whole lot of patience.
Whatever your challenge is or whatever breastfeeding challenges crop up, there are ways to get through them. Just because you're struggling, doesn't mean you have to stop all together (unless you want to, and that's totally your choice). Here are seven easily implementable things you can do to help you survive exclusive breastfeeding.
"Support is vital to successful breastfeeding- and parenting, in general," Monique Cowan, postpartum doula and family coach, tells Romper. "Having folks to help around the house, bring you water and food, and to just be your cheerleader can make all the difference in the world."
Back in the day, postpartum women had the support of other women: mothers, grandmothers, sisters, etc. They were physically available and geographically close by to help with all things mama and baby. If you have this set up, take advantage of it, and direct those around you to your needs.
For those breastfeeding moms that don't have family and friends nearby, build modern support systems. Nursing moms can join breastfeeding support groups on Facebook, online breastfeeding chat rooms, purchase online lactation sessions with a certified consultant, or simply video chat with a fellow mom who can lend an ear. There's always a way to build a support system, and it's important that you find ways to do it if you want to survive and thrive during all phases of breastfeeding.
Maybe they can't breastfeed for you, but there are plenty of other things they can do.
"Your partner likely wants to help, but just doesn’t know how," Lindsey Janeiro, certified lactation counselor and nutritionist, says. "Communicate what you and the baby need."
If you have a partner or spouse, have them hold a boob for you, or ice pack your nipples, grab a burp cloth, or fetch you a one-handed food item to shove in your mouth while nursing. Additionally, if you get touched out from breastfeeding the baby non-stop, Janeiro suggest you enjoy some "sweet post-nursing snuggles."
"Breastfeeding is a natural process, but sometimes, it has a learning curve for both mom and baby," Cowan says. "So, it is very important that mom is gentle with herself."
This might make perfectionist breastfeeding moms kind of twitchy, and I get it. Ditching the idea that perfection is the goal is imperative with breastfeeding. Learning is the goal and figuring it out with your baby together is generally how the process goes. Perfecting your practice will come later, and if you're unkind to yourself during the journey, you could really suffer.
"Stress will send your milk supply on a downhill slope," Cowan says. She advises new moms to learn relaxation techniques and say affirmations. If you feel ridiculous saying them, think of your own, then say them. You're breastfeeding survival depends on it, even if you feel silly.
"Just remember that breastfeeding for the first time is never easy for any new mom," Dr. Sherry Ross, an OB-GYN at Providence Saint John's Health Center, says. "Allow yourself to struggle, it’s completely normal."
Literally, no one knows what they hell they are doing when the nurse or doula puts a baby to their mother's breast the first time. Again, while breastfeeding is touted as natural, that doesn't mean it's easy. You will struggle with a plethora of breastfeeding issues including cracked and sore nipples, dips in supply, and maybe even mastitis. It's all part of breastfeeding, it's all normal, and it's all OK.
There is no need to judge yourself and feel shame, there are lot of other women who have the same struggles, or who have been there before.
According to What To Expect, a breastfeeding mother is burning roughly 500 calories a day nursing. Nursing takes a lot out of you. Eating well will help keep your energy levels up, your mood in check, and provide your body with all of the necessary nutrients it needs to function (which is super important when taking care of a baby that needs you non-stop), including aiding in your milk production, as explained on the same website.
"While being on-call to your little one, do not forget to nurture yourself," Cowan says. "Take time to do things that feel good to you and make you come back to yourself, remembering that you must care for yourself in order to care for your baby."
It's like when you're on a plane and they tell you about the oxygen masks. Secure yours, before helping others.
Just because breastfeeding is supposedly a natural human experience, that doesn't mean help isn't needed. Sometimes professional help can help you get over your hardest nursing hurdles, you just need to know where to find it.
"Whether you’re just starting your breastfeeding journey or you’re coming to a close and weaning, there are several points along the way where it’s good to know where to turn for help," Janeiro says. "Find local lactation consultants, breastfeeding groups, or contact your local La Leche League International."
Exclusively breastfeeding is a commitment and along the way there may be struggles. That doesn't mean you can't get through them. The most important thing to remember is to cut yourself some slack, and take comfort in knowing other moms have been where you are. However you choose to handle your breastfeeding challenges, is OK, and will ultimately be the best thing for you and your baby.