How To Cope With Breastfeeding Problems
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How To Cope With Breastfeeding Problems

Id 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 doesnt go as planned or expected, but no matter what the reason, sometimes its 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. Youve read all the things, joined all the groups, youre set up with a nursing pillow, youve reviewed all the videos on latchingand its 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 doesnt seem to be full after feeding and you worry that you dont have enough milk, or maybe your baby keeps losing weight even though youre 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 isnt part of their plan, or they are ambivalent. Sometimes there isnt 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.

How To Cope With Breastfeeding Problems

Six Tips for How To Cope With Breastfeeding Problems

#1: Its 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 didnt screw up. Sometimes its a matter of bad information or a lack of support. Sometimes there are medical reasons why lactation isnt working as youd hoped. And even the most well-intentioned advice can backfire spectacularly.
As parents, we tend to internalize blame when things arent going well. Guilt is a very common emotion when challenges emerge, but feelings arent necessarily facts, and feeling bad about a situation doesnt 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 doesnt 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. Its easy to get frustrated when you have a screaming, hungry baby and milk is getting everywhere and youre fumbling with unfamiliar equipment. Its ok. Feed your baby the best way you know how. Youll get another chance in a couple of hours. Theres no such thing as failure here; you just try different things until something works.

#5: Its not all or nothing

Often folks feel like they have to choose between breastfeeding and formula, that if exclusive breastfeeding isnt possible, its time to throw in the towel. Not true. Its perfectly reasonable to continue breastfeeding your baby and also supplement as is necessary.

#6: Dont quit on your worst day

Its often tempting to make big decisions in the heat of the moment, but its generally not the best time. Take a few days to get some perspective. Sometimes situations feel very different when things settle down, and youre less likely to make a decision that youll 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 dont 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. Im 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.

How To Cope With Breastfeeding Problems (1)

How To Cope With Breastfeeding Problems

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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