Why Is Breastfeeding So Hard?

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Yes, breastfeeding is natural, and you might think it should be easy, but for many mothers it’s not. Why do so many new mothers struggle with breastfeeding issues?

The truth is, most new moms don’t have the kind of support they really need.
As a society, we are still newbies at breastfeeding. It only took us 2 generations to lose the accumulated knowledge of the ages that still exists in many parts of the world.

Prior to the 20th century, breastfeeding was the social norm in the US. Babies were delivered at home by experienced midwives who taught mothers how to care for themselves after birth. As they learned the art of breastfeeding, new mothers were surrounded by a community of support that included the wisdom and experience of generations of breastfeeding mothers.

We are designed to breastfeed our babies within a community of support. Today it’s up to each mother to build her own support network.

Around the world, including in this country, women have historically observed a period of “lying in”. For up to six weeks, a mother rested her healing body, bonded with her baby, and learned to breastfeed. She let go of responsibility and control, while family members and friends cared for her and assumed her normal tasks and burdens. This period of rest typically lasted up to six weeks, allowing the new mother to recover, get to know her baby, develop her milk supply, and gain strength and confidence in her new role.

Many moms expect way too much of themselves and their babies way too soon

No one masters breastfeeding in a day or even a week. Many of the breastfeeding challenges I see are the result of moms who have too little support and expect way too much of themselves and their babies way too soon. Partners often must return to work soon after the baby arrives. Well-meaning visitors are often more focused on getting their hands on the baby than making sure mom has what she needs. Moms become sleep-deprived and frustrated, and begin to doubt their ability to make breastfeeding work.

New mothers often turn first to their physician for breastfeeding help. While there are certainly physicians who provide excellent breastfeeding support (the ones I know personally are breastfeeding mothers themselves), most know very little about breastfeeding support. It’s no secret most physicians (and nurses) have received no training in how breastfeeding works and how to help a mother who is having difficulty. There is little time and privacy in the hospital to practice breastfeeding, but there is usually a lactation consultant available for support.

Tips for Making Breastfeeding Easier

  1. Look for a doctor that has first-hand knowledge of breastfeeding. You may find one who is a breastfeeding mother, or who has a spouse that has breastfed. Make sure you and your doctor agree about what is important to you.
  2. Find a lactation consultant (ask your friends) who is experienced and has a good reputation. Consider a prenatal consultation to ask questions and discuss any concerns. Once your baby arrives, take advantage of the breastfeeding support available where you deliver. DO schedule a lactation visit for 3-5 days after you and your baby are discharged, preferably in the privacy of your home. The first two weeks can be tough, and this is the time when moms who are having difficulty are most likely to throw in the towel. If you need help, get it early to prevent a small problem from becoming a big one.
  3. Prior to delivery, find a breastfeeding support group in your area.  Identify a few friends and family members who have been successful with breastfeeding, especially moms with more than one child. Every baby is different, and each one presents different breastfeeding challenges.
  4. Discuss your desires and expectations with those closest to you.  Ask your partner to be the gatekeeper–you need someone to take responsibility for protecting your privacy.  Consider encouraging visitors not to visit you at hospital, and ask them to wait a couple of weeks before stopping by.  Ask family and close friends to help in ways that will allow you uninterrupted time with your baby, like preparing a meal, doing a load of laundry, and running errands.

Remember, it can be easy to expect far more of yourself, your partner and your baby than is realistic in the first few weeks. It can easily take a month or more to feel confident with breastfeeding.

Take the time to cherish this brief chapter in your life, relax and let each day unfold without expectations for a clean house, a feeding schedule, or long stretches of sleep.

It takes time to learn to breastfeed, just as it takes time to adjust to life with a new baby. Whatever else you might have thought needed your attention right now, just let it go!

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