By Suzanne Greeley
I often hear from new mothers that they are amazed at how something that is supposed to be so natural and beautiful could feel so uncomfortable and awkward. For those moms, their early breastfeeding experiences can make them feel like a failure. When our expectations don’t meet reality, we feel discouraged and disappointed.
What many people don’t realize is that breastfeeding is a learned art for both mom and baby. It is a dance of attunement that takes patience and perseverance. I counsel mothers to break down breastfeeding goals into smaller and smaller parts. While every health organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, this can be a daunting goal if you are experiencing pain, exhaustion and disappointment. However, you can get to the long-term horizon if you can plan for the short term — just get through this next feed! — and where you are right now.
Getting the baby on the breast for good latch is more than half the battle when it comes to breastfeeding. A good latch ensures comfort for mom and good milk transfer for baby. If you are moving milk, your baby is growing and you create adequate long-term supply.
Another thing to remember is that babies arrive with small tummies that empty frequently. Don’t assume your baby isn’t getting enough milk because she constantly wants to nurse. This is just the way the early weeks are. Instead of wishing you could do things other than sitting and nursing, enjoy it. Now is your time to relax. Pretty soon you’ll be running around the house chasing a toddler, wishing you could sit all day (or at least for five minutes!) and read a good book.
If you are an expectant mother anticipating the arrival of your baby, there are a few things you can do to prepare. The first recommendation is to set realistic expectations. Allow yourself the latitude to have breastfeeding disappointments. Breastfeeding is best for your baby; it just may be challenging at times. Try to find friends or relatives who have successfully breastfed and ask them about their greatest challenges and successes. These are the people you can call on when you are feeling defeated. It is also really helpful to take a breastfeeding class so that you have a chance to learn how to latch a baby, set realistic expectations, and find out the causes of early breastfeeding problems.
Another recommendation: after the birth of your baby, start breastfeeding within the first hour of life. While you’re in the hospital, learn as much as you can about breastfeeding. Ask questions, and have the nurse or lactation consultant watch you as you latch the baby on. Then you can feel comfortable going home, and confident that you know the proper latch position.
Finally, don’t panic if breastfeeding does not get off to a good start. According to lactation expert Linda Smith (www.bflrc.com), here’s what to do if you get off to a rocky start instead:
- Feed the baby. If possible, use our own expressed milk in whatever way works for your family. If you opt to use a bottle, ask your nurse or lactation consultant how to transition a baby back to the breast later on.
- Protect the milk supply. To bring in the milk supply, rent a hospital-grade pump. Some insurance companies will reimburse for the purchase or rental of an electric breast pump.
- Fix the breastfeeding. Offer plenty of skin to skin to help reinforce a positive relationship for your baby at your breast. Attempt to nurse when you’re both calm and he’s not too hungry; many babies will catch on all on their own. If not, ask for help from an experienced lactation consultant.
There is no doubt that breast milk is perfectly matched to your baby’s needs for proper growth and development. Studies prove that breast milk provides optimal health, and benefits the baby and mother for as long as you choose to breastfeed. With your choice to breastfeed, you have joined the majority of women who understand the evidence that breastfeeding is the best and most ideal way of feeding your baby. And, with a little perseverance and good dose of patience, you canget off to a good start!
Suzanne Greeley, BS, ICCE, IBCLC, is a board certified lactation consultant. She can be found at the DHMC Women’s Health Resource Center in Lebanon, N.H.