Engorgement and cluster feeding and sore nipples, oh my! Plugged ducts and milk blebs and bad latches, double oh my! I’ll take the lions and tigers and bears any day, thank you! Breastfeeding is the hardest job nobody told you about. It’s one of the most natural things our female bodies can do, yet it definitely does not come naturally. I’ve heard on more than one occasion from moms who would rather repeat the pains of childbirth to never have to breastfeed again. Yep, sounds like this nursing gig is no walk in the park.
When I gave birth to my daughter, I struggled with getting a proper latch, which made breastfeeding very painful for the first few weeks. I also dealt with repeated plugged ducts and almost constant leaking while my milk supply was trying to regulate. Throw in a forceful letdown that caused my daughter to choke, gag, and scream while nursing, and I had a wealth of challenges that could’ve derailed my breastfeeding goals completely. Sometimes it was flat out discouraging, scary, and anxiety-inducing.
Well, I’m here to tell you that it is possible to push through the incredibly difficult job of learning to breastfeed and find lasting success. No, it won’t happen overnight, and yes, it will take some real grit and grace for sure, but you can do it!
Breastfeeding is the hardest job nobody told you about.
Here are some tips I’ve picked up along my breastfeeding journey that I hope will be as beneficial to you as they have been to me.
1. Get Educated
There are some amazing people called Lactation Consultants who are in the biz of helping mommas successfully nurse their sweet babies. I’ve met with and received help from countless LCs. If you are pregnant, I highly suggest attending a breastfeeding class taught by an LC to help you prepare (bring a supportive partner with you if possible). My husband and I attended classes in my third trimester put on by my OB/GYN practice that took place at the hospital at which I would be giving birth.
For a nominal fee, we were given a great introductory education into the world of breastfeeding. So ask your doc if they provide such classes to help you get ready to nurse your little one. Additionally, a quick Google search for research-based breastfeeding websites and videos is also helpful (kellymom.com being my favorite and LC recommended).
2. Schedule a One-on-One Consultation
After you have your baby, those Lactation Consultants that taught your pre-baby classes will become even more of your breast friends. As much as getting educated during pregnancy is helpful and important, once your baby is here IRL, you’ll need even more help.
When my daughter was one week old, my husband and I met with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). This designation is the highest level of lactation training and certification. IBCLCs are the best in the business. Our pediatric practice has one on staff who you and your baby can meet with one-on-one to get hands-on instruction, troubleshooting, and nursing plans. And get this—it was covered 100% by my insurance company! They see these appointments as preventative care since breastfeeding is so beneficial for babies that they want you to be successful.
So, ask your pediatrician if they offer this, and check with your insurance, too. If that’s not available, look for an independent IBCLC in your area, and schedule one to come to your house. You’ll have to pay them out-of-pocket, but the help is definitely worth it!
3. Get a Breastfeeding Partner
Whoever thought new moms could execute their first nursing sessions all on their own never breastfed before. You’ll need help, and there is nothing ever wrong with asking for help. Recruit a “breastfeeding plus one” which could include your baby’s father, your mother, sister, or an experienced breastfeeding friend—someone you feel comfortable with who is available, even just occasionally, to lend a helping hand. Research has proven that when a “significant other” is supportive of the mother’s breastfeeding efforts, she is much more likely to stick with it and succeed.
In the first couple weeks after your baby is born, you’ll especially need that person to help position your pillows and baby, give you a drink of water, feed you a snack, hand you a burp cloth, and cheer you on. He or she can also help your “baby brain” to remember all the important dos and don’ts you learned in your classes and IBCLC consultation. Trust me, it’s a lot of information, and having a partner to be a second brain to remind you is crucial. As the weeks go on, you (and your baby) will get better at breastfeeding and won’t need your partner at every feeding. Soon you’ll be able to get the job done all by yourself! Like all new skills, it takes time and practice, but you’ll get it!
4. Join a Support Group
Every week, I attend “Mother’s Milk Club” at the hospital where I gave birth. This is a free breastfeeding support group, and it has been a godsend. A gathering of new moms (and seasoned mothers, too) get together with an IBCLC leading the group to share our breastfeeding struggles and triumphs. Hearing from other moms that they’re having the same issues I am is so reassuring that I’m not alone. We give each other tips and tricks we’ve learned, and the IBCLC is there to guide our discussion and share her expertise. It’s a safe place to open up and get the support you need.
In the months I’ve attended, I’ve been able to see how far my baby girl and I have come in our breastfeeding journey as I reflect on the struggles I shared my first few weeks to the victories I now can share. And it’s so encouraging to see moms go from crying in frustration and discouragement one week to celebrating a success the next. If your hospital does not offer this, simply Google “breastfeeding support groups in my area.” We have other groups that meet in libraries and homes in our city, so I bet you can find one in yours.
5. Quit Tomorrow
Now even with all the great education, help, and support, breastfeeding is still hard! Many times, you’ll want to give up, and those feelings are completely normal. But a great piece of advice given at my support group was to tell yourself that you’ll quit tomorrow. Just getting through one day (or even one feeding) at a time is all you need to do. After telling yourself each day that you’ll quit the next, eventually weeks and months will pass, and you never actually quit.
As you already know, breastfeeding does not work out for everyone, and that is a-ok. If you give it all you’ve got, and it just ain’t working, you are not a failure. If you can only nurse for a few weeks and then must return to your job where pumping isn’t an option, it’s okay. If you’ve battled breastfeeding issues from thrush to mastitis and everything in between, and it’s just too painful, it’s okay. If your baby isn’t growing the way he or she should be and needs to be supplemented with formula, it’s okay. Whatever seemingly insurmountable challenge you might face, it’s okay to switch to plan B, or C, or whatever plan works for you.
At the end of the day, all that matters is that your baby is fed and loved, and you can do that! You’re the best mother for your baby, and that’s not dependent on whether you succeed with breastfeeding. Kick that “grit” into gear when it gets tough, and pour out that “grace” on yourself when you feel like you’re failing—because you’re not.
Hey new mama, need some more encouragement? Start here:
Being Pregnant Is Hard! 4 Truths for a Mom-To-Be
When a Strong Woman Is Quitting, But Not Failing
Practical Mom Advice on Breastfeeding and Formula
Ask Dr. Zoe – Help! I Can’t Do It All!
You Need to Know This Before Having a Baby
7 Tips For Battling Baby Blues
Remember This When Your Baby is Growing Up
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Research has proven that when a “significant other” is supportive of the mother’s breastfeeding efforts, she is much more likely to stick with it and succeed.