Ok ladies— let’s talk breastfeeding. Have you ever thought to yourself, “I hate breastfeeding”? I have.
After giving birth, did you feel unprepared or intimidated by the thought of breastfeeding? I did.
Have you suffered through sore and cracked nipples while feeling the pressure (largely self-imposed) to “produce” while you fight off exhaustion and frustration? I have.
These feelings are universal. Unfortunately, many women don’t feel comfortable discussing their breastfeeding issues. Add the pressures from society . . . that ringing mantra in your ears, “breast is best,” and the strain on a new mommy can be overwhelming. Believe me, I get it— and I want to help.
Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s easy.
I was an OB/GYN resident when we had our first child, Allison. I knew the importance of breastfeeding, but I had no idea how difficult it would be. The only research I did for myself was to watch a video in the hospital the day I was to give birth. What else did I need to know? Breastfeeding is natural, and therefore easy, right? The same can be said about giving birth, but I can tell you after watching thousands of women labor over the years, just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s easy. When I got home and started the “process” of breastfeeding, I was tired all the time, I felt isolated when I needed to pump and I never felt like I was producing enough.
This is a struggle for many first-time moms. Generally, there is an enormous physiological and biological desire to breastfeed. Your breasts swell, causing pain, and just your infant’s cry can cause let-down (the reflex that causes your milk to flow). Additionally, there’s often a strong emotional and intellectual need to breastfeed; you want that bonding time with your child and feel guilty if you aren’t successful at getting them to latch or don’t have enough milk to satisfy them. These feelings are universal.
The benefits outweigh the drawbacks.
There are very few medical reasons not to breastfeed and many advantages for both mom and baby. Protection for your newborn against respiratory infections, faster return to pre-pregnancy weight and cost-effectiveness are but a few of the perks of breastfeeding. Organizations such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend breastfeeding exclusively for six months. Most new mothers are familiar with at least some of these benefits and start out enthusiastic about breastfeeding.
However, the stress of having a newborn, the longing or financial need to get back to work and the physical exhaustion can make it seem impossible to accomplish consistent and extended breastfeeding.
Tips for a happy baby (and breasts):
I like to say breastfeeding is a demand and supply system. The more you demand of your breasts, usually the more milk they will make. Some ways to achieve your goals:
- Breastfeed every time your baby is hungry.
- Pump between feedings to increase milk production—which also has the added benefit of building up your stored milk supply for later! You can store your breast milk in the refrigerator or freezer.
- Make sure you consume plenty of decaffeinated fluids (e.g. water, decaffeinated tea, fruits and veggies with high water content). Ensure an adequate supply of iron and calcium through your diet or continuing your prenatal vitamins.
- As a new mother, find a quiet, calming place to breastfeed—maybe while listening to your favorite playlist. High stress levels can reduce milk supply.
- Avoid nipple soreness by frequently alternating which breast the infant is feeding, changing the position of the breast and your baby while breastfeeding and use more frequent/shorter feeding times.
- Lastly, get support! Remember, there aren’t many reasons why a new mom CAN’T breastfeed and most women can achieve their breastfeeding goals. If you feel you are not alone, you have a better chance of continuing breastfeeding for as long as you and your infant desire; reaping the benefits for you both!
Dr. Francine McCain is a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist with UT Health East Texas Physicians in Athens. For questions regarding breastfeeding or to make an appointment with Dr. McCain, please call 903-676-5553.