Breastfeeding. Of all the things crowding your mind during pregnancy, this one probably goes on the backburner. That’s because most of us just assume it will come naturally and easily for us and the babe—and sometimes it does! But often breastfeeding can be one of the biggest challenges during those first few days and weeks and even months of new motherhood. The fact that there’s a 352-page book entitled Breastfeeding Made Simple exemplifies that it most certainly is not. (The book is actually very helpful though!)
One of the reasons breastfeeding isn’t always as simple as it may seem, is because there are just so many elements and oftentimes nothing but guesswork to help get to the bottom of an issue. Is it a poor latch? Is my supply low, my letdown fast? Is my milk fatty enough? Is baby eating enough? How do I know if I’m doing it right?? These are questions only a mama can answer for herself, but we’re here to offer a few of our best tidbits and advice, from the practical (nipple balm!) to the motivational— you’re not alone no matter what your challenge.
1) Tap your Support Network:
Nothing helps assuage concerns and calm anxieties when it comes to breastfeeding like a friend who has been there and done that. Simply receiving acknowledgement from another mother that nursing is a major under-the-radar challenge can be enough to make you feel better about your own breastfeeding journey. Having a friend who is currently breastfeeding, or has recently breastfed, can be such a comfort, especially when they actually answer your middle-of-the-night texts, whether you’re asking about latch tactics or looking for a TV show rec to watch while nursing.
2) Understand your Milk Supply:
The amount of milk your body produces, and even the way it releases it—aka the letdown—can affect your breastfeeding relationship with your baby. Having issues with low supply can be discouraging, but an over supply is no walk in the park either. Thankfully there are ways to address both. If you’re producing more milk than your baby can eat, or have a fast letdown that makes your baby sputter when it’s time to nurse, you can try feeding in a laid-back position, which will give your baby more control. You can also manually express or pump a little before feeding, to help slow the flow (but not too much, or you might exacerbate the problem). If you’re dealing with low milk supply, try adding foods (like oatmeal) and herbs (including fenugreek) to your diet that help boost supply. Be sure to eliminate antilactogenic herbs (including parsley and peppermint), and try a lactation tea. Of course this is easier said than done, but try getting as much sleep as possible, which will have a positive effect on your supply.
3) Make Use of Resources:
IRL friends aren’t the only ones who can make you feel supported during your breastfeeding journey. Online groups can be super helpful. Ask your mom friends if they’re in a Facebook group they can add you to, or follow La Leche League or Kelly Mom on different social platforms. If getting dressed and getting somewhere by a certain time seems manageable, actual support groups can provide a wonderful resource too. Most support groups provide scales so that you can weigh your baby before and after feeding so you can get a more concrete idea of how much they’re eating (sometimes taking the guesswork out of it is enough to make you feel more confident). For dedicated help, meeting with a lactation consultant can work wonders—because of their trained eye and experience, they might be able to quickly see issues that can be fixed, or offer guidance for whatever challenges you may be facing.
4) Details Matter:
Sometimes it’s the little things that can be a huge help. If you’re having issues with low milk supply, even when pumping, try a different pump, swap flange sizes, or experiment with your pumping method. If sore nipples are a hindrance, try Earth Mama Organics’ soothing Nipple Butter or see if nursing with a nipple shield helps. If latching is proving challenging, try holding your baby in a variety of positions until you find the one that works best, whether it’s a “football” hold, or you’re cradling them. And if the way you’re nursing isn’t comfortable, try using a breastfeeding pillow, like the Boppy, or if you like more structure, My Brest Friend.
5) Don’t Give Up:
Breastfeeding challenges can feel overwhelming, but if breastfeeding is important to you, keep trying. There are so many different ways to address any number of issues, and as with anything baby-related, sometimes the one thing that wasn’t working may simply change overnight! But, that said, if you’re ready to move on from breastfeeding, don’t beat yourself up about it either. You know what’s best for you and your baby, trust that mama instinct and you’ll both thrive.