I’d like to start off by saying that breastfeeding problems are as common as dirt. It hardly needs to be said, but you are certainly not alone. I often tell my clients that if breastfeeding went well for everyone, I would have a different job. There are many reasons why breastfeeding doesn’t go as planned or expected, but no matter what the reason, sometimes it’s helpful to have some tips on how to cope with what can be an overwhelming situation.
Please note, in this blog post when we mention breastfeeding we mean breast and chestfeeding.
So here you are with your brand new baby. You’ve read all the things, joined all the groups, you’re set up with a nursing pillow, you’ve reviewed all the videos on latching…and it’s not working, or at least not working as you thought it would. Maybe you have terrible pain or your nipples are cracked and bleeding. Or maybe your baby refuses to latch at all, ever. It might be that your baby doesn’t seem to be full after feeding and you worry that you don’t have enough milk, or maybe your baby keeps losing weight even though you’re feeding constantly. Maybe your baby is sleepy or fussy when feeding.
Any of these issues can be very stressful. There is a tremendous amount of pressure on new parents regarding infant feeding from all quarters; everyone from your doctor to your neighbour to that near-stranger in your prenatal yoga class to your mother in law has an opinion. Some more informed than others. Some folks feel pressured to supplement or discontinue breastfeeding altogether.
Conversely, some people feel pressure to breastfeed their babies (exclusively, or at all) when that isn’t part of their plan, or they are ambivalent. Sometimes there isn’t much of a choice, especially when there are medical issues such as jaundice. No matter what the situation, there can be a lot of big feelings involved.
Six Tips for How To Cope With Breastfeeding Problems
#1: It’s not your fault
Read that again.
As I mentioned above, lactation challenges can happen for any number of reasons, but no matter why, YOU probably didn’t screw up. Sometimes it’s a matter of bad information or a lack of support. Sometimes there are medical reasons why lactation isn’t working as you’d hoped. And even the most well-intentioned advice can backfire spectacularly.
As parents, we tend to internalize blame when things aren’t going well. Guilt is a very common emotion when challenges emerge, but feelings aren’t necessarily facts, and feeling bad about a situation doesn’t mean that you messed up.
#2: Feel your feelings
The early days and weeks with a new baby can be a storm of mixed, even conflicting, emotions. You can be head over heels in love with your little one, and also be frustrated, sad, angry, or scared. Nobody talks about it, but you might even feel regret in those taxing moments. The mix of exhaustion, hormones, and pain doesn’t help. Give yourself permission and space to feel whatever is happening for you, without judgment or attaching meaning or trying to change it. Giving yourself that permission is often the key to moving through the experience.
#3: Get help
Depending on where you are and your access to resources, there is usually some kind of support available. If you birthed in a hospital, often there are lactation consultants on staff or nurses who have done additional training around lactation support. Midwives also offer a wealth of information about breastfeeding. Depending on where you live, there might be groups such as La Leche League, or free public health clinics that offer support. Doulas usually have some training around lactation as well. Finally, there are folks like me who are board certified lactation consultants (IBCLCs) who can come to your home or see you in a clinical setting to help assess your situation and offer information and support.
#4: Take things one feed at a time
You may have been given some tools and strategies to help things along. Some plans are easier than others. Often there is a learning curve with things like pumps, lactation aids/SNS, etc. It’s easy to get frustrated when you have a screaming, hungry baby and milk is getting everywhere and you’re fumbling with unfamiliar equipment. It’s ok. Feed your baby the best way you know how. You’ll get another chance in a couple of hours. There’s no such thing as failure here; you just try different things until something works.
#5: It’s not all or nothing
Often folks feel like they have to choose between breastfeeding and formula, that if exclusive breastfeeding isn’t possible, it’s time to throw in the towel. Not true. It’s perfectly reasonable to continue breastfeeding your baby and also supplement as is necessary.
#6: Don’t quit on your worst day
It’s often tempting to make big decisions in the heat of the moment, but it’s generally not the best time. Take a few days to get some perspective. Sometimes situations feel very different when things settle down, and you’re less likely to make a decision that you’ll regret. In the meantime, feed your baby whatever way works.
How you feed your baby is NOT a reflection of you as a parent (nor is how you birthed your baby, for that matter). The end. We tend to attach a lot of meaning to these things, and they are indeed important considerations for many, but they don’t determine who you are as a parent. We hold a lot of toxic ideas in our society about birth and infant feeding that can cause a lot of unnecessary shame. It is far from conducive to promoting healthy parenting. I’m not going to rah-rah-rah “you got this!” here.
This stuff is hard, and platitudes are useless. I will say that you are the best parent your baby has and that you are good enough. That is what my best friend said to me when I was having challenges nursing my daughter. It remains the thing that I will remember when I think back to that stressful time.
Mary Lynne is one of the founders of The Breastfeeding Collective, a breastfeeding support service based in Toronto providing information, options, and support to all breast/chestfeeding families in a judgement-free environment.
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