Many of us start on our breastfeeding journeys armed with a very basic understanding of how it all works. Perhaps we attended a prenatal breastfeeding class, learning about concepts like latching, positioning, and expected feeding frequency but left feeling a bit overwhelmed and then forgot everything we learned in the count-down to birthing. Alternatively, we might have gained insights from family and friends—some valuable, others possibly unsettling.
Yet, in practice, what you anticipate about breastfeeding often is very different than reality. The art of positioning a baby doll for nursing pales in comparison to the challenge of wrangling a fussy, squirming infant (naturally, right?). Those endless nights of nursing marathons or cluster feeding sessions? You can't truly brace for them until you're knee-deep in the experience. Sigh.
Additionally, there exist certain aspects of breastfeeding that rarely find their way into conversations, unlike the more common discussions around latching and tender nipples. We've all had those moments while breastfeeding when we thought, "Why didn't anyone warn me about this?!"
8 BREASTFEEDING TOPICS THAT DESERVE THE SPOTLIGHT:
Breastfeeding & Uterine Contractions
Contractions keep on coming after birth. This is because, following childbirth, our uterus must contract back to its pre-pregnancy size, and these contractions can be quite uncomfortable. However, what you might not be aware of is that breastfeeding can amplify the intensity of these contractions. This is due to the release of a hormone called oxytocin during breastfeeding. Oxytocin not only triggers the contraction of milk ducts to release milk but also stimulates uterine contractions. Once again, this is beneficial as uterine contractions aid in post-birth recovery. Yet, they can also cause significant discomfort. It's a good idea to consult your healthcare provider about potential medications or natural remedies that could alleviate the pain.
The Learning Curve of the First Two Weeks
When people mention the challenges of breastfeeding, it might seem like they're implying that it's a perpetual struggle. However, this isn't usually the case; typically, it's the initial few weeks that pose the greatest difficulties. Following that phase, many of us discover that breastfeeding becomes more manageable and enjoyable.
During those initial weeks, you and your baby are getting to know each other. You're mastering the art of achieving a proper latch, deciphering your baby's hunger signals, and emerging from the haze of postpartum while adapting to your new role as a mother.
Should you encounter issues such as nipple discomfort, engorgement, or any other hurdles complicating breastfeeding, don't hesitate to seek assistance from a lactation consultant or specialist. International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs) are invaluable sources of support during this period.
Excessive Milk Supply Can Be An Issue
Those who've confronted challenges with low milk supply understand the frustration and sometimes heartache it can bring. However, it's worth noting that dealing with a fast let-down and excessive milk supply can also prove remarkably demanding. Oversupply can bring about considerable discomfort for babies. It can influence their latching technique, digestion process, and result in issues like milk choking, gassiness, nipple clamping, and colic-like symptoms. In some cases, infants unable to cope with oversupply or a forceful milk flow might outright refuse the breast.
If you suspect an oversupply concern, seeking guidance from a lactation consultant is strongly advisable. It's important to confirm that oversupply is indeed the issue and not something else. Subsequently, you can explore strategies for managing this surplus, which may encompass adjusting your breastfeeding posture (slightly reclining can help), allowing your baby to complete one breast before switching, and opting for smaller, more frequent feeding sessions instead of waiting for your breasts to become overly full.
Stage Fright: Breastfeeding in Public
If you plan to go out with your breastfeeding baby, it's likely that you'll encounter breastfeeding in public situations. Fortunately, it's important to note that breastfeeding in public is legally protected in all 50 states. However, this doesn't guarantee universal acceptance or immediate personal comfort, especially during your initial attempts.
Remember that, while nursing your little one, you actually see more of your own body than any observers do. Your focus is on your baby and your breast, creating an intimate, up-close perspective. Try nursing in front of a mirror, and you'll realize that what others perceive of your breastfeeding experience is typically quite minimal.
As a general suggestion, it's beneficial to rehearse your "breastfeeding in public" routine prior to heading out for the first time. Consider acquiring breastfeeding-friendly attire that allows convenient access. Additionally, scouting the location you'll be visiting for discreet nursing spots can be advantageous.
Furthermore, it's worth noting: if you feel entirely at ease with breastfeeding in public, that's absolutely natural! Feel free to nurse wherever you are and in the manner that best suits your comfort.
Baby Goes on a Breast Strike
Here's something that frequently catches new parents off guard. Your baby might be a breastfeeding pro and a contented nurser, and then unexpectedly decide to have nothing to do with breastfeeding. Alternatively, they could become fussy and cry whenever you attempt to offer them the breast. This can be one of the most distressing and concerning experiences for a new parent.
If your baby is less than 12 weeks old and the fussiness mainly occurs at night, it might be linked to cluster feeding, a growth spurt, or evening fussiness. Some babies develop colic after initially seeming content. As long as your baby is growing and healthy, and they nurse well at other times of the day, there's usually no need for alarm. Sometimes changing the environment (taking a walk outside or nursing in a dimly lit room) and practicing patience can help. Refusal to nurse can also happen if your baby has an upset stomach. If you're concerned, it's a good idea to consult your doctor or a lactation consultant.
Occasionally, older babies may suddenly reject the breast. This is typically due to a nursing strike, often triggered by a distressing event (like accidentally biting the breast and reacting strongly) or illness. Nursing strikes usually resolve on their own. Continue gently offering the breast, and if the strike persists for more than a day or two, consider pumping your milk.
There Are More Than Two Options
Breastfeeding doesn't always unfold as expected. Perhaps you're contending with low supply and need to incorporate supplementation. Maybe the prospect of pumping extensively at work doesn't align with your preferences. Recognize that breastfeeding need not be an 'all in" scenario. Every drop of breastmilk holds value, and your role as a breastfeeding parent remains intact whether you engage in it full-time, part-time, for a brief period, or for an extended span. Your definition of success is personal, and the nature of your breastfeeding experience doesn't diminish your identity as a mother or parent, regardless of its form.
Breastfeeding Can Be Amazing
Breastfeeding isn't always a picturesque journey. We've all encountered unsettling stories about breastfeeding from others, and it's important for people to openly share their experiences. For some, breastfeeding can be distressing, potentially triggering past traumas. Stress can become synonymous with breastfeeding, and some mothers might grapple with external pressures to keep on trying even when their heart isn't in it anymore.
However, it also may seem like there's less room to express the joy that many parents get from breastfeeding. Particularly after navigating the initial weeks, a sense of rhythm often develops, and a genuine love for breastfeeding emerges. Nestling close to our baby for a feeding session might become the only opportunity in the day to truly relax and unwind. Additionally, breastfeeding triggers the release of various feel-good hormones that enhance our well-being.
It's absolutely acceptable to revel in the experience of breastfeeding and to celebrate personal triumphs and milestones along the way. Embrace every drop, cherish each day, and acknowledge every milestone you've worked so hard to achieve!
Deciding When to Stop Can Be Bittersweet
The initial challenges of breastfeeding is commonly discussed, but the journey's conclusion can be equally demanding for many of us—deciding to wean, be it after a few weeks or several years, is often an emotional process. Furthermore, it seems like everyone has an opinion on when and how to wean. Stopping breastfeeding is an intimately individual choice, one that you have the right to shape according to your terms. If you decide to end your breastfeeding journey, that's perfectly acceptable. Truly, it is. Similarly, if you wish to continue breastfeeding as long as your child desires, even if they're older, that's entirely valid as well. Remember, the decision is yours to make.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE
If you find yourself with questions or worries about breastfeeding, rest assured, you're not alone. Reaching out to fellow breastfeeding parents, whether through online platforms or in-person connections, can be immensely valuable. It offers a space to share experiences, gain practical advice, and feel a sense of solidarity. Additionally, we recommend working with a lactation consultant as you navigate your journey of nurturing milk. Check with your health insurance as you may discover professional support could be partially or fully covered as a health care benefit.