When breastfeeding doesn’t go as planned: Did you realize all the resources available?

Talk to most mothers, and you'll likely find you're not alone if you've struggled to nurse

A person breastfeeding a child. (Wendy Wei/Pexels stock image)

If you’re a new mother or an expecting mom-to-be, you likely don’t need another news article telling you about all the benefits of breastfeeding and breastmilk.

The hype is real, and it’s there for good reason: Breastmilk really is “liquid gold,” as the doctors like to say. There are almost too many benefits to name. According to the Cleveland Clinic, breastfed babies have:

  • Stronger immune systems
  • Less diarrhea, constipation, gastroenteritis, gastroesophageal reflux, and preterm necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC)
  • Fewer colds and respiratory illnesses like pneumonia, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and whooping cough
  • Fewer ear infections, especially those that damage hearing
  • Fewer cases of bacterial meningitis
  • Better vision and less retinopathy of prematurity
  • Lower rates of infant mortality
  • Lower rates of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
  • Less illness overall and less hospitalization

The problem is, breastfeeding can be hard for some mothers and babies. For something that’s supposed to be this natural, built-in ability to feed our babies, nursing can present itself as a challenge -- anything but natural, at first. You might have heard of mothers struggling to get their babies to “latch,” or get into proper nursing position, so that the newborn can fully empty the breast (which needs to happen, to trigger the mom’s body to make more milk). Remember, women aren’t the only ones who are new at this; babies need to learn how to effectively nurse, as well. But it’s not just the latch, which gets a lot of buzz. Did you realize just how many other problems could arise?

Maybe an infant has a physical issue that’s preventing him or her from nursing effectively -- a tongue or a lip tie, for example; perhaps your baby falls asleep at the breast and can’t stay focused enough on the task at hand to get through an entire nursing session. Maybe your body needs to make more milk. Maybe the baby’s palate isn’t lining up correctly. There are dozens of reasons why breastfeeding might be a challenge. And that’s not to make any new mothers feel bad. An incredible number of women go through some level of difficulty when it comes to breastfeeding, even moms who go on to lead incredibly successful nursing relationships with their babies.

So before you throw in the towel, just know that you’re not alone. This is why we have resources!

And regardless of whether it’s you who’s struggling, a daughter-in-law or a friend, perhaps you could (gently) remind her of these things. Keep in mind, the decision to breastfeed, and how we’re doing when it comes to this topic, can be incredibly sensitive. Don’t feel alone if you’re having a hard time or taking it personally. These are our bodies, and it can be not-so-great when we feel like our bodies can’t provide for our little ones. However, so many nursing issues can be alleviated with a little professional help.

Consider the following places to turn for assistance ...

  • The hospital or facility where you delivered. These places can set you up with support groups (which are great spots just to meet other local moms!), lactation consultants, websites and other go-to areas for help.
  • A trusted lactation consultant. Some work within the hospital system, some work privately. Try to find an international board-certified LC, if you can. Ask around for recommendations.
  • La Leche League International: This is a nonprofit organization that organizes advocacy, education and training related to breastfeeding. A chapter is in almost every community.
  • A local doula. Again, look for word-of-mouth recommendations, if you can. There are birth doulas, who help moms with support when it comes to labor and delivery, and postpartum doulas, who assist once the baby has arrived. Either way, all doulas are often great resources when it comes to referrals, suggestions and other baby-related help.
  • Your baby’s pediatrician, or your own personal doctor or midwife. If it’s your child’s pediatrician you’re turning to, this doctor can often help with weighted feedings and making sure your baby is appropriately transferring milk, and getting the nutrients he or she needs. When it comes to your own doctor, that might be best if you’re experiencing any post-baby blues, problems with your breasts (bruising is common as your body acclimates to this new practice), clogged milk ducts, signs of mastitis or other irritation.

If your baby had to spend any time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, or NICU, you might be going through even more as your baby transitions to the breast. Like we mentioned, there are almost too many benefits to name (when it comes to the breastmilk itself), and too many issues to name (when it comes to things going wrong).

Just know that you’re not alone. Use this August, which hosts World Breastfeeding Week, as a reminder for yourself, your friends and your family who might be struggling to nurse: You can do it, but it’s not always easy. Reach out, even during this strange time of coronavirus, and you’ll likely be glad you did.

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