4 tips for when breastfeeding gets tough
How to survive the early daze
Lets face it. Breastfeeding can get tough. It might be what nature intended but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. If it was so easy to get the hang of, then the breast vs bottle debate wouldn’t exist. There are many reasons why mums stop breastfeeding earlier than they, or their baby, planned to. There’s nipple pain, difficulty with attachment, constantly feeding baby, fatigue, supply issues, lack of support, lack of in depth breastfeeding knowledge, terrible comments by health professionals and the list goes on. I had a difficult start to breastfeeding, so I’d like to share a few things that got me through the ‘early daze’.
Expressing is tough too
My first baby was born premature. 14 weeks premature! Yep, he was a 26 weeker. You can’t breastfeed a baby at 26 weeks gestation. They are tiny, sometimes as small as your hand. Even if their tiny mouth could attach to your nipple – big in my case, they don’t develop the suck-swallow reflex until around 32-34 weeks. That’s nature for you. So while my baby was finding his way in the world outside the womb, the only way I could feed him was to express milk that was then fed to him by a tube.
Although I always intended to breastfeed, it became more important to me once my son was born early. At the time I saw it as the only way, that I could contribute to his physical health and development now that he was not inside the womb for his third trimester. I armed myself with a breastpump and fumbled around trying to make milk for him. It was not easy. Breastfeeding can be tough but so is expressing! My body was in shock due to the early delivery. It didn’t really get the signal to produce milk. I struggled to make milk. 30 minutes of pumping would yield 30 mls of milk! All that work for little reward. So soon we had to supplement with formula.
Expressing is tough too
I continued to pump and soon enough my son was able to attach and developed the suck-swallow reflex and we started breastfeeding. But premature babies tire quickly. He would feed for a short time and then fall asleep and not wake up. He was carefully monitored and we would top him up with expressed milk or formula. While I learned a fair bit about breastfeeding while my son was in the special care nursery, there was so much more I needed to know and things were different when I took my son home. The journey with my daughter, my second child, who was born at term, just, was just as difficult for different reasons. Here are the four main things that helped me along our breastfeeding journey.
1. Find your support group
So I had to find other ways to get me through the tough times before I wanted to quit. During my extensive pumping sessions, I got online and did some searching. I was lucky that I came across the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) Forum. This was pre-Facebook days when forums were more heavily used. I really loved the supportive nature of the group which was heavily moderated to reduce or remove negative comments and trolls. I had a lot of support from encouraging comments to links to information or even just funny memes or photos. I met many of the lovely ladies in person and I’m still friends with some today. The forum is still around, though Facebook has taken over a lot. But its worth checking out while FAK (feeding at keyboard).
ABA do have a Facebook group that you might like to join and there are many others based in different regions. You can also join your local group if you in person support is more what you are looking for. Meetings are held regularly and everyone is welcome, dads, siblings, friends.
Other places to find support are your local mothers group. I know not all are supportive but I was very lucky to have met a wonderful bunch of mums who bonded and twelve years on, I still catch up with them for coffee and kid talk! Hopefully your local maternal child health centre can also give you a list of local groups for mums to go to meet other mums.
Find your support group
2. Little bits of breastfeeding knowledge go a long way
We have lost a lot of breastfeeding knowledge in our culture since breastfeeding rates declined from the late 60s onwards. But there are so many little bits of information that you can learn that will help you get through the tough moments or even give you confidence to keep going or try things differently.
One day when my son was 6 months old, 3 months corrected, I was ready to quit. It had been a tough six months especially with my low supply issues and regular pumping, plus the bouts of nipple thrush (ouch!) and mastitis. On this day I noticed that the ABA had a group meeting so I went along even though I had never been before. One of the lovely counselors realised that I was struggling with it and she took me aside and we had a lovely chat.
Research breastfeeding to expand your knowledge
One little pearl of wisdom she gave me that day was to tell me that your breasts will be ready with 80% of a full feed within 20 minutes of a feed. Wow, this was a game changer for me. Other people had been telling me that I was running out of milk, when in actual fact feeding more frequently meant that more milk was removed so my body was learning to produce more. I felt better about how things were going and I actually changed the way that I pumped to take advantage of this knowledge and I was able to improve my supply.
Reading widely about breastfeeding and talking to trained professionals can help you learn these little bits of useful information which will help you solve problems or give you encouragement along your breastfeeding journey.
3. Seek professional help
If you are really struggling with breastfeeding but want to continue, then seeking professional help is your best option for getting you back on track. I was a regular visitor with our local Lactation Consultant. Well actually she was a regular visitor at my house! Even though my daughter was born at term, she struggled with breastfeeding more than my son did. So the Lactation Consultant visited us every 3 days at first and then fortnightly for about 3 months! She was a life saver.
Some councils across Australia provide free Lactation Consultant services to new mums in their municipality. That’s how I came to find mine. Check with your maternal child health service if you have this service available in your area. If you have the means to pay for a Lactation Consultant yourself then you can find a list of all the ones registered in Australia through the Lactation Consultants of Australia and New Zealand (LCANZ). Some private health insurers may provide you with rebates for Lactation Consultants and some are covered by Medicare through GP practices. You will need to investigate what is available in your area. If it’s at all possible, a GP or a Paediatrician who is also a Lactation Consultant is one of the most valuable medical professionals you can have!
Seek professional help wherever possible
Other ways to access a Lactation Consultant is through the maternity hospital where your baby was born. Many have breastfeeding clinics where you can drop in or spend time there during the day for help. Any time you access the services of a Lactation Consultant you should check that they are registered with LCANZ as they have completed training that will ensure they give you correct and accurate advice.
Of course don’t forget that the ABA have free breastfeeding counselors through their local groups and via the National Breastfeeding Hotline 1800 686 268. While these mums are not qualified Lactation Consultants, they have been trained and hold a Certificate IV in Breastfeeding Education and they have all breastfed themselves. They can give you support, help you find ways to solve problems or answer questions you have about breastfeeding.
4. Be kind to yourself
Often our biggest judge is ourselves! As new mums we can also be a bit sensitive to people’s comments and take them as judgements or criticisms when people think they are helping (granted sometimes they aren’t). We are a big bunch of messed up, tired, hormonal emotions trying to get to know this new human being we have created and it can be difficult! So if things aren’t going how they expected, or things are tough, don’t blame yourself, don’t think you are failing or a failure.
Seek the help you need as a first step. Most things can be resolved with support, time, education/instruction or breastfeeding aids. If today is not going too well, do what you need to do to get through until you can get the help you need. Tomorrow is a new day and will bring a different energy. Reach out to someone who you know will support you, even if they are online only. Everything you are doing is the right thing for you and your baby (even weaning if that's what you choose to do) and hopefully you can work through the tough times and end up ceasing breastfeeding at a time that suits you and your baby.