What they don’t tell you about breastfeeding
Every mother and her baby are individuals, so it can take time to sort out breastfeeding together – and there’s no piece of advice that will work for all.
No one could deny that breastfeeding is a natural act: a mother’s breasts are designed to lactate and babies are born with an inbuilt reflex and desire to suck. But just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s always easy.
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For all sorts of reasons, breastfeeding can be challenging – for mothers and their babies too. It often takes time to learn the skills involved in correctly attaching a baby to the breast and to ensure they are sucking effectively. Sustaining confidence and persevering when breastfeeding isn’t easy can be draining, and it’s common for moments of doubt to erode the most self-assured mother.
- It’s worth remembering, though, that the benefits of breastfeeding are so significant that it’s worthwhile to work through the problems and remain positive. Time and effort will lead to a lot of benefits for you both.
- Does breastfeeding hurt?
Yes, it can, especially in the first few weeks until initial sensitivity subsides. Generally, pain is a sign that the baby isn’t attached correctly and needs to be reattached. As long as your baby is properly attached, with her mouth over your areola and with as much of the nipple in her mouth as possible, nipple trauma is avoided.
- Full breasts can cause feelings of heaviness and tightness across the entire chest area. Expressing the breasts between feeds can be useful, but this can also lead to an overall increase in milk production.
- If you have inverted, cracked or very large nipples, attachment can be more difficult. The best placement of the nipple is over the baby’s tongue so that during sucking, the nipple is positioned far enough back to be in the junction between the baby’s hard and soft palate.
Breast and nipple discomfort can be further avoided by:
- frequently breastfeeding, especially in the early weeks when supply is being established
- keeping your baby close to you, and avoiding separation. The best place for your baby to sleep is in their own safe cot, beside your bed
- not introducing bottles, especially in the early weeks when breastfeeding is being established. These can interfere with the success of breastfeeding.
Is breastfeeding difficult?
Breastfeeding can seem tricky if it’s unfamiliar and completely new. Keep in mind that it’s normal for mothers to need lots of time and practice to work out the most comfortable position to sit or lie down to breastfeed – and this is quite separate to the next step of working out the mechanics of attaching a hungry, squirming baby. Synchronising the process of waiting for your baby’s mouth to open in a wide gape, bringing her to your breast, ensuring her chest is against your chest and making sure her mouth is correctly aligned with the nipple may all seem difficult – but remember that you’re not the only one who has felt this way when learning!
If you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed by it all, try to keep in mind that babies who are well, alert and hungry are biologically driven to seek out the nipple and attach without too much help. Don’t underestimate your baby’s ability to know what they need to do.
Be kind to yourself and don’t expect to know it all. Although information from friends, family and health professionals is undoubtedly useful, it won’t be until you go through the mechanics and emotions of breastfeeding yourself that you’ll know what’s involved. Be open to what your baby can teach you as well.
What if it’s not working for me?
Like most problems, solutions can come from various sources: friends, family, health care professionals such as your midwife, child health nurse or a lactation consultant can all provide support. There is also a multitude of information available on the internet.
Below are some common breastfeeding issues – and some solutions to try.
- Returning to work can make breastfeeding more difficult, but not impossible. A range of breast pumps and feeding equipment designed for expressing and storing breast milk makes pumping a practical alternative to weaning completely. Breast pumps are available in manual and electric forms with single and double versions to suit every mum.
- Although it’s legal to breastfeed everywhere in Australia, even in public, some women feel embarrassed when breastfeeding and report feeling that they are “exposing” themselves. Positioning a wrap over the breast and baby, finding a quiet, distraction-free zone to breastfeed or timing outings to not coincide with feeds are workable options.
- Many mothers say they’d prefer to know exactly how much milk their baby is drinking with each feed. Some women express their breast milk and offer it to their baby via a bottle; another alternative is to alternate breast and bottle feeding. Breastfeeding is not exclusively about attaching your baby to the breast – there are other options for offering breast milk.
- Repeated mastitis, nipple trauma, insufficient milk supply or an unsettled baby are all commonly cited reasons for not breastfeeding. There are practical, effective solutions for all these – see a professional for more advice tailored just to your case.
Will my baby still love me if I don’t breastfeed?
Yes, absolutely. Babies are hardwired to seek attachment and form loving, emotional bonds with their parents, and breastfeeding is far from the only way this connection occurs. Holding your baby close, talking gently to them, looking into their eyes, kissing and cuddling them will help support strong emotional attachment and love. Feeding is just one of the many caring tasks which mothers do for their babies; it shouldn’t eclipse all the other, equally important jobs which are done through everyday care.
Avoid feeling guilty or comparing yourself toothers. Mothers who breastfeed their babies don’t have a monopoly on emotional attachment and connection with their babies; breastfeeding doesn’t make them into more authentic or “real” mothers. Every mother and her baby are individuals, each a unique mix of their own environment, genetics, history and personality.
Only you and your partner can know what is right for you and your own special baby.
For more advice, visit the website of the Australian Breastfeeding Association, or talk to a health care professional such as your GP, child health nurse or lactation consultant.
This article was written by Jane Barry, a registered nurse, midwife, and child health nurse, as well as Philips AVENT’s baby feeding and wellbeing adviser.