Set yourself up for success to begin with.
It had it all mapped out: I was going to breastfeed for 3-6 months. I watched a YouTube video or two on getting a good latch and went on my merry way. Since then, I have talked to so many other women who were as surprised as I was that it really isn’t as simple as one would assume or hope. I learned pretty quick: breastfeeding is hard–both physically and mentally. I only breastfed for 2.5 weeks because my supply was so low. And I am in good company in quitting earlier than I expected to.
“60% of mothers do not breastfeed for as long as they intend to.” According to this CDC article on breastfeeding facts.
There are many societal and cultural barriers to breastfeeding.
Some of the women who quit earlier than they expected to simply rightfully changed their minds. But there are many factors that go into how long a woman is able to sustain what can be a very draining, not to mention time-consuming practice. Common barriers are everything from issues with latching, to lack of family support, to unsupportive work policies or cultural norms.
My point is: although many women would like to breastfeed their babies, those many barriers prevent it from being a reality for very long for a lot of women. And for those who don’t have interest in breastfeeding at all or for long, you will find no judgment from me. What I do know first-hand is it can be nothing short of traumatic when you plan to feed your baby this way and it’s cut short early for you. It’s something I’ve openly struggled with for many months.
Here’s what lactation consultant, Melissa, had to say.
I talked to lactation consultant and all-around B.A., Melissa Ostroth AKA Milkitivity. She got into this because she noticed so many women having a hard time breastfeeding and not getting the support they needed. She also saw a lot of conflicting information coming from uneducated sources. Or alternatively, valuable resources that were simply way too expensive for the average woman to afford. We’re talking up to $400/hour. Yikes.
She wanted to become the accessible, knowledgeable lactation resource she wished she had when she went through BF struggles of her own with her first child. So she took classes and educated herself on the topic. Now she offers free video calls to make this information available to all women. Yes, mama! I said free.
Melissa also said women from lower income or ethnic communities have even less help and access to resources in support of breastfeeding. They’re also more likely to be offered bottles and formula when they don’t want to feed that way than any other group.
Here’s why it’s important to consult a breastfeeding specialist.
One of the problems is pediatricians typically have very limited training on the topic. And by limited training I mean: shockingly only an hour or two. So they don’t know how to properly help women who run into problems. This is a good lesson to us all. If you’re looking for breastfeeding resources, make sure the person you’re asking is properly qualified to give expert advice.
When women run into too many barriers, they simply quit, even if they don’t want to, because they feel like they have no other options. And unfortunately, Melissa says 80% of women regret quitting breastfeeding as early as they do. In that sense, “Mothers are being robbed of what they want to do. That is traumatic when they don’t get the support to mother the way they want to mother.”
Have you experienced any of these common issues?
Ready for some shocking information? Besides pain while BF and trouble latching, one of the most common issues she sees is a perceived low milk supply. Remember when I mentioned my “low milk supply”? After speaking to Melissa, I’m 100% convinced this is what I was actually dealing with. Here’s what happens: moms tend to think if their baby is fussy after eating, wants a pacifier, eats too quickly, or isn’t pumping very much, that they aren’t getting enough milk. By the way, babies are more efficient at removing milk than pumps–your pumping output is not an indicator of how much milk your baby is getting at each feeding. Ugh. told you breastfeeding is hard.
“Only about 5% of women actually have a low milk supply. Some reasons for this are breast reduction, low glandular breast tissue, or gastric bypass surgery.”-Melissa Ostroth
It’s a vicious cycle.
When women supplement with formula, their supply decreases. Because each time your baby feeds on demand, it programs your body to know how much milk it needs to make. When you give formula instead, your body doesn’t know to make more milk, so you don’t. It is a terrible actualization of the thing you were afraid of in the first place. Scheduled feedings can also cause a lower supply for a similar reason. And finally, tongue, lip, or cheek ties in babies can also cause low supply or pain during feeding.
What’s normal and not normal with baby eating behavior?
A big part of Melissa’s job is also simply reassuring mothers about what a great job they’re doing, because fussy babies and cluster feeding are both totally normal. But it may seem like indicators that something is wrong. Overall, if you’re not in pain while feeding, and your baby is gaining weight and has consistent wet diapers, there’s nothing to worry about. She says mature milk comes in on an average 3-7 days after you give birth. Until then, your baby is just fine eating only your colostrum which is really thick so you “Don’t need to freak.” Easier said than done, though. Am I right?
On that topic, I asked what can be done to increase a woman’s supply. And contrary to popular belief, “There’s no magic food or drink that’s going to give you an abundance of milk. On demand and skin to skin contact are the only things that can truly boost your supply.“
What can moms do if they’re struggling?
The best things you can do if you’re struggling physically or mentally is get support from breastfeeding resources (Some great ones are listed at the end of this article). Specifically, an expert who can both validate your experiences and help turn things around for you. At the end of the day, Melissa wants you to know, “You shouldn’t sacrifice your mental health for breastfeeding. You need to take care of yourself. You need encouragement and support. It’s hard. People forget about the mother a lot. Do what you need to do to take care of yourself.”
And when you decide you’re done breastfeeding, your lactation consultant can help you dry up your milk and move to formula if necessary. Because they are there to inform and support you in whatever decision you make and empower you to make your own decisions for your baby and your body.
Breastfeeding is hard. So here are 10 things Melissa wants women to know, to have a more positive experience.
- Take a breastfeeding class while you’re still pregnant. Hospitals often provide these resources. There, a Lactation Consultant goes over what is normal, when your milk will come in, the importance of feeding on demand, what to look for in diaper output, normal breastfeeding poops and pees, when it’s normal for them to poop, and how to get a good latch.
- Getting a good latch is all about how you feel, not about how it looks. Also, every type of nipple can breastfeed–even inverted!
- It’s never normal or OK to experience pain during BF.
- You almost never have to exclude anything from your diet when breastfeeding. This includes all food and drinks. Yes, even spicy foods, coffee, alcohol, broccoli, and whatever else you’ve been told.
- You don’t have to pump and dump. The only concern about alcohol these days is making sure mom is not too drunk to safely care for baby.
- If you work out while breastfeeding, you should consume extra calories for your own health and energy. But it’s not necessary to make milk.
- BF mothers should always, “Eat to hunger and drink to thirst.”
- Nipple confusion can be real with bottles, but not with pacifiers since no milk is coming out of them.
- During certain times it’s normal for babies to cluster feed, sleep less, and eat more.
- Other things lactation consultants can give you information about are baby sleep, normal baby behavior, and when to start solids. So you can have realistic expectations which reduces your stress.
Are you ready to stop breastfeeding. Or not so ready, but quitting anyway?
Melissa also shared her perspective on the many feelings associated with quitting breastfeeding. “There’s a postpartum period during weaning–especially if you’re doing it earlier than you want to–because you’re also weaning from the Oxytocin feel good hormone that’s produced when you feed your baby. When you stop, those hormones also stop going to your brain. There’s a physical change happening in your brain, and you may feel like you failed yourself. If things don’t meet your expectations, women can have real trauma and real emotion that are overlooked so easily.”
She also said it’s a totally natural feeling and an emotional decision, no matter when you stop. Yes, even for mothers who breastfeed until their baby is four years old. This is so validating to me, how about you?
So if things didn’t go the way you’d hoped or expected, she says, “It’s important to remember that every baby and every experience is different. Whatever happened the first time, doesn’t predict what will happen in the future. Some women breastfeed their first baby until they’re four years old, then struggle with their second. I encourage you, if you desire, to go for it. It doesn’t mean it’s not going to work out this time around.“
I’ll leave you with Melissa’s advice for breastfeeding moms, so you can avoid quitting earlier than you hope to. She says simply, “Don’t give up on your worst day.” Because breastfeeding is hard, but you’re stronger than you know, mama.
Check out these helpful breastfeeding resources.
- Contact with Melissa on Instagram or join her massive following on Facebook
- Kelly Mom is a well-regarded resource on the ins and outs of breastfeeding
- If you’ve given birth recently, call your hospital and ask if they have a lactation consultant you could speak to. Check out this article about which scenarios your insurance covers, or simply call your insurance provider to double check
- La Leche League is an international free resource for breastfeeding support with a website, hotline, and Facebook groups
- Melissa likes The Cleavage Club, and you can find many other statewide and international support groups on FB if you search for them
- Are you an exclusive pumper? Find FB support groups and IG pages with information just for you
Hope these help.
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