Breastfeeding is a natural, beautiful thing that promotes mother-baby bonding and gives your child a great start in the world of nutrition. It’s also incredibly challenging.
Breast might be best, but that doesn’t make it easy.
Lots of women struggle to simply feed their babies. If you’ve been feeling frustrated — or worse, like a failure — because breastfeeding has been an uphill battle for you, then know that you’re not alone. This very natural process can be anything but easy for a variety of reasons.
To celebrate World Breastfeeding Week, here are five things that can make breastfeeding harder than it has to be.
#1) Lack of information
If you’re having trouble getting the hang of breastfeeding, first know that you’re not alone. Breastfeeding does not come naturally to every mom and baby. There’s a learning curve.
Babies are born with the ability to breastfeed, but that doesn’t mean it’s love at first latch.
In fact, it might take weeks to get into a good rhythm with your little one. Despite all the books and blog posts you might have read on the subject, breastfeeding can be a truly unique experience. From physical challenges to emotional overload, there are lots of things that make breastfeeding difficult.
Arm yourself with information — from the right sources.
Start with your own doctor, then include your child’s pediatrician and a lactation consultant. Your health insurance plan may even cover extra, at-home lactation support, so call your insurer to find out. If not, ask the hospital where you gave birth (or are going to give birth) if they offer lactation services. Some pediatrician offices also offer this kind of care.
The point here is to reach out for help if you need it, even if that’s to put your mind at ease about anything that you didn’t expect.
Breastfeeding takes practice and work. Ask the pros for help and information, which could make the experience less daunting.
#2) Emotional and mental overload
Emotions run high during the postpartum period. Even if you never experience the so-called “baby blues” or wade into the heavy waters of postpartum depression, you may not be firing on all cylinders for a while after birth.
That’s okay. And it’s normal.
But normal as it might be, emotional and mental overload can interfere with basic functions, including breastfeeding. If you’re overwhelmed with worry, fear, anger or other negative emotions, then you may find breastfeeding less appealing.
You might even come to resent it.
Adding to this mixed bag of emotions? The pressure to breastfeed in the first place.
Well-intentioned they may be, but doctors can sometimes forget how hard breastfeeding is on new moms. “Breast is best” messaging may also contribute to an increased sense of guilt about breastfeeding itself, especially if you’re having problems at the outset.
Find a way to take time for yourself, even in the early weeks.
Share the load with your partner, family or friends. Get as much rest as you can, and practice deep breathing and other relaxation techniques when possible.
And if you’re still feeling overwhelmed or suspect that those baby blues have progressed into something more, talk to a professional. Your doctor can recommend therapists who specialize in postpartum issues.
Getting help early could help mitigate symptoms and make this transition period better for everyone.
#3) Physical issues
We don’t have to tell you that bodies aren’t uniform. But it’s easy to forget this fact when it comes time to breastfeed.
Translation? Your anatomy can play a big role in how well (or not) breastfeeding goes. So does your baby’s. Common physical problems that can make breastfeeding harder include:
- Flat, inverted or very large nipples
- Oversupply or low milk supply
- Plugged ducts
- A baby’s tongue tie (ankyloglossia)
If you’ve been trying to breastfeed with limited or no success, get a professional involved. Your doctor, your child’s pediatrician or a lactation consultant can help you figure out what’s wrong. Best of all, they can offer workarounds, adjustments, extra support and other options for addressing physical limitations.
Don’t assume that you’re failing if you can’t get the hang of it. There could be several reasons that it’s harder for you than it was for your best friend.
Also, know that breastfeeding should not be painful 100% of the time. Early discomfort is normal. Ongoing pain is not. Reach out to pros if you suspect something’s amiss.
#4) Lack of support
New parents need all the support they can get. Breastfeeding mothers aren’t unique in this regard. But breastfeeding can be especially hard even in ideal circumstances. Throw in physical pain, stress and the avalanche of emotions during the postpartum period, and you’ve got a recipe for tough times.
It’s important to surround yourself with people who support you, including your spouse or partner, family members and friends, and medical experts.
This may shock you, but doctors don’t always agree on the best methods for, well, anything.
But if your own doctor and/or pediatrician makes you feel guilty, nervous or just plain bad about asking questions, find a new provider.
You want providers who are on your side.
You don’t have to agree with every single thing they say, but you should feel confident in their advice and guidance. That starts with respecting how you feel about breastfeeding. Signs that it’s time to find a new doctor:
- Your feelings get brushed to the side or passed off as no big deal;
- You can’t ask a question without feeling like you’re bothering her;
- You feel unsupported, or like a child asking a parent’s permission rather than an adult seeking advice from another adult; and/or
- Your doctor lectures more often than she offers guidance.
Breastfeeding isn’t a solo sport. Or at least, it shouldn’t be. You need people in your life who support you. That goes for your family and friends, too.
We’re not telling you to ditch your friends if they won’t stay overnight to handle nighttime feedings. But we do recommend reaching out to people who want to help and accepting any help that’s offered freely.
If you exclusively breastfeed, then consider letting friends or family take care of chores you can’t get to during the day, like dishes or grocery shopping. If you pump or supplement with formula, let other people — like your spouse — handle some of the feedings.
The early postpartum period can feel isolating, especially since breastfeeding can sometimes mean spending hours of your night alone in a nursery recliner. Ask for and accept help. The right support can make those early weeks and months feel more doable.
You’re an adventurous eater with a zest for new tastes. Unfortunately, your newborn might not be. Babies get a vague hint of whatever you’re eating via breastmilk. And for babies with allergies or food sensitivities, that can make feeding sessions uncomfortable or upsetting.
This isn’t a widespread problem, but it happens. About 6% of babies under two have a food allergy.
The solution? Talk to your doctor or pediatrician about an elimination diet.
Doctors recommend elimination diets for people who are trying to identify food allergies. It might work to help you pinpoint foods that make breastfeeding unpleasant or stressful for your baby. Common culprits include cow’s milk, eggs, nuts, peanuts, wheat and soy.
Note that you might not have to give up these foods forever.
Most infants outgrow food allergies over time. Once your bundle of joy starts walking and eating solid foods, you might be able to reintroduce those offending foods safely — with a doctor’s guidance, of course.
Fed is Best
Despite its obvious benefits and status as the gold standard for feeding babies, breastfeeding isn’t cut-and-dried. Plenty of women struggle with this very natural method. From physical and emotional issues to practical setbacks, breastfeeding can be even harder than it has to be.
Surround yourself with good support, ask for help from professionals when you need it and — most important — know that you’re not alone in your struggles. And remember: fed is best, no matter how it happens.