August is National Breastfeeding Month, and breastfeeding is an intricate topic. This stems from there being more to it than just putting a nipple in a baby’s mouth. Many women face latching issues with their baby, not producing enough milk, or an unbearable pain that comes from breastfeeding. The special bond that you form while breastfeeding is indescribable, and knowing you are giving your baby all the antibodies and nutrients they need can make the pain worthwhile. Another plus side is that it helps you lose your baby weight. First, you must get through
the challenges of breastfeeding before you reap the benefits.
A survey of 418 new mothers, researched by the UC Davis Medical Center, brought more clarity to breastfeeding issues. Within the first 3 days, 92% of women stated they were having issues, mainly latching issues, pain, and lack of milk production. About 50-60% of women gave up on breastfeeding within the first couple of weeks. By month 6, only 13% of babies are exclusively breastfed. There are some tips to try before you throw in the towel.
Reading about breastfeeding is one thing, but actually doing it is another. The first time you feed your baby, it might not come naturally to you. Some babies have issues latching on, while others cluster feed and don’t ever want to get off your poor sore nipple. I, unfortunately, was the latter, with both of my kids. They wanted to eat all the time, and it was so painful that I would cry when they were hungry.
Some babies have a hard time latching on to their mother’s nipples. This may be due to the nipple being flat or smaller, or your nipples may be too large. In order for your baby to latch on correctly, first stroke the baby’s cheek to allow the rooting reflex to start. When the baby’s mouth is wide open, take your entire nipple, plus some of your areola, and place it at the baby’s mouth. This will make it easier for the baby to suck, and get the milk out quicker.
If you are having issues with your baby latching on, thankfully there are some gadgets that will help with the process. You can pump your breast so the nipple is longer and thinner, that way the baby can get it in their mouth easier. You can also use a nipple shield over your breast that will help the baby latch onto it.
Let’s talk about the pain associated with breastfeeding. This is the main reason people give up on breastfeeding. It hurts a lot in the beginning. Your nipples are very sensitive, and the suction from the baby will lead to extreme soreness, cracking, and even bleeding. The first couple of days may hurt the most because you are waiting for your
milk to come in. Different positions may help with the pain, I preferred the cross-cradle, in which you cradle the baby on your side, use the opposite arm to hold the baby’s head and neck, and the other hand can position and shape the breast. They also now make creams that will soothe your nipples from the pain and discomfort. Other soothing products are the breast shells to prevent rubbing of your clothes on sore areas, or hydrogel pads from the fridge. The cool pads will bring some serious pain relief.
The Lack Of Milk
Some women produced satisfactory amounts when their milk finally comes in, while others, such as myself, worried they were not getting enough. You can feel anxiety about your baby getting enough to eat. A simple solution is while your baby is feeding on one breast, pump the other side. This will trick your body into thinking it needs to produce more milk.
Your breasts will become engorged, and hard. This has happened to me on many occasions, and let me tell you, it is uncomfortable. Your breasts become rock hard, and super tender. The reason for engorgement is a swell of milk that needs to come out. You can either feed your baby to reduce the engorgement, pump it out, or express it. Expressing is when you continuously squeeze your nipples to get the milk out on your own. Doing this will relieve some of the pain.
The rare occasion that I went out on a date night with my husband, I became engorged because it was past the time for my baby to feed, and I couldn’t pump it out. What did I do next? I went into the bathroom and expressed the milk out into the toilet. I had no choice. If you do not release the milk, a milk duct will become blocked and can cause mastitis- an infection of breast tissue that is painful, can cause fever, and requires antibiotics.
Nothing is worse than walking around the office, and your shirt has a large circular wet spot right in the middle of one, or both of your breast areas. Leaking usually happens when your milk first comes in. It can happen when you hear a baby crying (yes, it totally happens). Your breast can also leak when you are feeding your baby (or pumping) on the other breast. Luckily, there are disposable nursing pads that you can wear inside your bra to prevent it from leaking onto clothes.
Through all the bad, there is always some good. This is the joyful part of breastfeeding. Nothing can bring you so much fulfillment as locking eyes with your baby while breastfeeding them. At that moment, you share a special bond. Also, the hormones and antibodies in breast milk help protect your baby from getting sick. It lowers the baby’s risk of asthma, ear infections, eczema, obesity, type 2 diabetes, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and more. Breastfeeding actually lowers the mother’s chances of developing type 2 diabetes, certain types of breast cancer, and ovarian cancer.
Did I mention it helps you lose your baby weight? Breastfeeding burns calories each session, and helps shrink your uterus size back down from being stretched out due to pregnancy. Nourishing your baby, while losing weight, that is what I call a win-win!
Breastfeeding is complex, different for everyone, and their babies. Make sure when you give birth, if you plan to breastfeed, that you meet with a lactation consultant. They will teach you how to latch on the baby, give you information and tips on breastfeeding, and make you as comfortable as possible with the new endeavor. Nothing happens in an instant, it takes time, so be patient. We all learn things from experience, and every baby is different. Do not be so hard on yourself, and try not to get discouraged. It is OKAY to cry, get frustrated, and have some hiccups. If you cannot breastfeed, it is not the end of the world, your baby can take a bottle, or formula. The main goal is to provide our babies with nourishment to grow. If you are ever struggling, take a deep breath, and remember you are doing just fine. You got this momma!