Breastfeeding 202 - The good, the bad, and the crap no one every told you.
Breastfeed your baby they said. It will be easy they said. It's better for baby, it's cheaper, and it' so much easier than mixing bottles in the middle of the night...right?
I'm all about positivity and creating your own magic. And yes, "breast is best" when it comes to nutrition for the babes. That being said, there's often a lot more that goes into breastfeeding than is typically told to new mamas, especially before they start, and it can lead to feelings of guilt, failure or worse. So lets start talking.
Recent research shows that nearly 60% of mothers do not breastfeed for as long as they intended to. 60%! That's a lot of unmet expectations.
First off, if you're having difficulty breastfeeding, you're obviously not alone if 6/10 women stop earlier than they meant to. Secondly, clearly women aren't getting either enough education, support or both when it comes to the ins and outs of breastfeeding.
The feedback I get from most of my patients is that the breastfeeding classes that are offered do an excellent job of going over the basics of breastfeeding. What they still weren't prepared for was troubleshooting, or even expecting that issues would pop up during their journey.
In the hospital, its often all a blur. You've got your new bundle of joy, you put them to the breast and the lactation consultant says "they're latching great" and so you breathe a sigh of bleary relief and relax. Fast forward three days and now you're at home. Your baby is not "latching great", it hurts like the dickens, your nipples are getting raw and your little bundle of joy is red in the face screaming with hunger. You're freaking out.
There are so many different scenarios that can throw a wrench in the gears of a good BFing relationship. Situations like a NICU stay, health issues with mama after the birth, a poor lactation education in the hospital, lack of support, low supply problems...the list goes on and on. But no one is really telling you these things or what to do about them if they occur.
I couldn't possibly touch on all these things in one blog lest it turn into a novel, so what I'll do here is highlight the best practices on how to ensure that you know what to do if there are bumps in the road of your BFing journey.
First - Know or find a great IBCLC (international board certified lactation consultant), and do it BEFORE you have your baby. Trust me on this, when you're frazzled out with no sleep and worried like hell that your baby isn't getting enough to eat, hopping on google and trying to research IBCLCs in your area is not going to be a thing. Interview them before you have your babe to be sure that their personality is a good fit for you. Ask questions like "what do you recommend for low supply" or "do you often deal with lip and tongue ties". Use your mama intuition to feel out whether they are really a master of their craft. If you're working with a midwife, doula or prenatal chiropractor ask them for a recommendation. These professionals have often done all the work for you in researching out the brightest and best in their field to recommend to their clients.
Second - Study up a little on lip and tongue ties. Lip ties and tongue ties are a part of what it called tethered oral tissues, or TOTs for short. What this means is that the bit of tissue holding either the lip, tongue or sometimes even cheeks to the inside of the mouth is attached incorrectly. What this mean for BFing? Babes with TOTs will often have difficulty latching, sucking, and emptying the breast. This can lead to low weight gain, reflux, colic, excessive gas, trouble sleeping as well as a host of issues later down the road. Moms of TOTs babes often experience low supply, needing to use nipple shields, sore/bleeding/cracked nipples, painful latching, recurrent mastitis/clogged ducts. The great news TOTs can be easily corrected. The key is having someone on either your birth team or postpartum team who is skilled in recognizing a tie and can point you in the correct direction to have it corrected so it's just a little blip in your BFing story!
Third - ASK FOR HELP! Stress will never ever make a breastfeeding relationship any better. In the beginning your supply is based off hormones and these hormones are all about the warm fuzzies. It's hard to feel warm and fuzzy if you're also over tired, over thinking and not getting the support you need. So, we recommend having a good postpartum support team. While we're sure your partner is amazing, most will often add more to the stress than decrease it if they feel like they are "helpless" since you're the one with the boobs. Having a good IBCLC, doula, or supportive friend or relative who's been down the BFing road to come help can be the key to turning things around. Getting quick help with a latch, changing up positioning, or TOTs diagnosis can turn around a tough start to BFing fast! Ask people to help you with food, cleaning, taking care of the other kids, to hold your baby while you sleep or take a shower. Whatever you do, don't waste precious time feeling guilty, ashamed or embarrassed about the troubles you're having breastfeeding. 60% of women don't meet their own BFing goals remember?? You aren't alone and no one is going to think less of you if your BFing relationship doesn't immediately start out a bed of roses.
Some final thoughts. YOU CAN do this! If your dream is to breastfeed 2 months or 2 years, you can do it.* The most important thing to know is that it can be a walk in the park, but often times it isn't. The real question is, are you committed to it and why? There are so many benefits to both mama and babe that it would seem a "no brainer", yet if 60% of women are stopping sooner than they intended then we have to look at how we are approaching it. The first step is to commit. Commit to preparing in advance, havning a great team of support and doing your homework. The second step is to accept that BFing might be easy, but that it might also be hard. It might be a chore, it might take work. Be sure you know WHY you're doing it and remember that if the going gets rough. The third step is to realize that things won't always turn out how you wanted them to and giving yourself grace when those things happen.
*I hate caveats. But while I'm being a cheerleader, and I believe that a HUGE majority can get past many of the difficulties that can come up during breastfeeding, I want you to know that there are women who simply can't breastfeed. Sometimes there are medical conditions that prevent this, and I want you to know if that's you, its OK. You're still a mom, a great mom and you'll still have a wonderful healthy baby.
Dr. Katie O'Connor is a Webster Certified prenatal chiropractor. In practice for over 10 years, she is passionate about all things pregnancy and helping women have the best experience possible while becoming a mother.
16335 S. Harlem Ave
Tinley Park IL 60477