We hear a lot about how wonderful and magical and beautiful breastfeeding is. We hear about the benefits to mom and baby, the cost effectiveness, and the incredible bond it can form.
What we don't often hear about or talk about is how challenging it can really be. We don't hear about the sleepless nights, the cracked nipples, being attached to your kid 24/7 through a growth spurt.
We believe and amplify the glamour, but shy away from the messy.
Well, I'm here to tell you that if breastfeeding was or is a challenge for you, you are not alone!
Doulas of Orange County recently posted the following picture on our Instagram feed and the response was surprising to say the least.
More than 30 moms posted about their challenges with breastfeeding...
"Being the only one that could calm and feed baby... sometimes you just need a break."
"The first 6 weeks. It was painful and no one could help ease the pain."
"Food sensitivities! Second guessing that everything I eat is causing my babe issues. And having people question why I don't just formula feed to make it 'better'."
"Getting through the first few months of dealing with engorged boobs from over supply. Having inverted nipples and having to use nipple shields, and going through mastitis twice."
"Feeling like I needed to defend why we were still nursing or worse, sometimes feeling embarrassed about it!"
Many commenters also mentioned that once they got support things drastically improved and the challenges dissipated. Others shared different things that worked for them to get through - relying on pumping, using nipple shields, address tongue/lip ties.
In my work as a Birth & Postpartum Doula I've had my fair share of clients who struggled to feed their babies. The one thing often heard from these moms who had breastfeeding goals was that they didn't understand why it didn't come naturally.
I can see how these thoughts form. We tell women everyday that breastfeeding is natural and instinctual. And while I absolutely agree with those sentiments, we don't give women realistic expectations. We tend to leave out the part that breastfeeding is also a learned behavior. The instinct involves knowing when baby is hungry and having the instinct to feed your baby so he/she will thrive. But knowing HOW to feed your baby is another story entirely.
Just as it takes months (sometimes years) of practice to be proficient at playing a musical instrument or excelling at a sport, it takes new parents weeks or months to become truly comfortable and confident with breastfeeding. But somehow we've come to believe that if breastfeeding doesn't work within a week of birth or a month or two months, we've somehow failed.
The truth is, most people struggle in the early days. Whether you struggled with getting a good latch, had inverted/flat nipples, dealt with a tongue tie, or were just overwhelmed with the fact that your baby needs you ALL THE TIME... again, you are not alone.
So what can you do about it?
If you're relating to what we're laying down, we have a few tips
1) Take a Breastfeeding Class
Typically marketed to you when you're pregnant, you can still get a lot of help and information by attending after baby arrives. If you take a class prenatally it will help you have some good knowledge at your disposal and help you set realistic expectations for the first few days and weeks of your breastfeeding journey. Taken postpartum it can offer support and reassurance as well as give you ways to troubleshoot some of the struggles you're dealing with. And don't forget to bring your partner! We all absorb different information and having your partner on board and supportive through your breastfeeding journey adds an extra layer of encouragement.
2) Get Support
Many of the hospitals in Orange County have Lactation Consultants on staff to provide support after baby arrives. Additionally some hospitals have Lactation Clinics. We highly recommend finding an IBCLC or CLEC to help you with individualized care if you're facing some hurdles. Having one-on-one support can be a game changer! Having someone validate your feelings and give you a customized care plan can help you get over that hump and begin enjoying that wonderful, beautiful, magical experience we mentioned above.
Hiring a Postpartum Doula can provide you day-to-day support with all things motherhood. Your Doula has lactation training and can offer suggestions for comfortable positioning, reassure you of normal newborn behavior, encourage bonding and help you identify when a Lactation Professional might be needed. Additionally, she can help take away some of the external pressures of running your home by assisting with baby care, providing nourishing meal preparation to promote a healthy milk supply, and running errands or accompanying you to Pediatrician/Lactation visits.
Contact us if you need help getting connected with someone in Orange County or Long Beach.
3) Find Your Tribe
Regular connection with other new or experienced moms is a LIFESAVER. Being able to commiserate with people who truly understand what you're going through can help you remember that you aren't alone. Being in the baby blues bubble can be really hard, but getting out of the house and getting social can do wonders for your mood. Join us for our weekly New Mama Cafe in Costa Mesa or find a local La Leche League meeting.
4) Be Gentle With Yourself
Don't get discouraged and don't feel that you failed if things don't work out exactly as you imagined they would. Sometimes small changes to the plan are what you or baby need in order to flourish in your relationship. Don't be afraid to admit that it's hard and don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it. There is no shame in getting professional lactation support! A lot of us need it... that's why it exists! In the end, no matter the outcome do what works best for you, your baby, and your family.