You’ve read all the advice and literature, and now you have decided to give breastfeeding a try. Or maybe you are already trying and are wondering why its seems so much harder than everyone promised.
The truth about breastfeeding is that it isn’t always easy. That truth is sometimes lost behind the rosy picture painted by successful moms, lactation consultants, and general public health information.
As a breastfeeding mother living in an area with almost no support, I had to survive by trial and error and my own extensive research and experimentation. The hard work paid off, and I was able to nurse my eldest daughter until she was two, and am currently nine months into a breastfeeding relationship with twins. We have fought through practically every issue that can affect breastfeeding, and I want to share what I have learned about common mistakes, and how to avoid them. You and your baby deserve a great breastfeeding experience, so read on!
1. Believing Everything You Hear/Read
This is quite possibly the biggest mistake a mother can make. Its absolutely essential to do your homework, but it is just as important to view all advice objectively. Why? Because no two mothers or babies are the same.
When you read breastfeeding advice, especially online, the common tone is that breastfeeding is a cut-and dried process. You do this, the baby does that, and everything is fine. Authors may also tell you that if you do one thing, everything will be ruined. Or if you don’t do something, you will fail.
The truth is, if breastfeeding isn’t working for you the way you are doing it right now, then you should try something different. For example, when my first daughter was born, the LC in the hospital told me that since I had larger breasts, I HAD to use the football hold while nursing. I was in so much agony I consider switching to formula. The baby wasn’t able to take in enough milk, I hated nursing, and my supply dropped until the baby started losing weight.
Feeling useless and exhausted, I tried a different position. It wasn’t an instant cure, but the difference was noticeable. Before long, we were on our way to breastfeeding success.
Do your own research, listen to the advice of many different women, and experiment. Listening to only one source of advice is usually what leads to some of these other common mistakes.
2. Breastfeeding Isn’t Always Free
A great way to sway most humans into choosing a certain lifestyle is to promise them that it will save them money. When it comes to breastfeeding, you may see lots of figures and statistics about how cheap (or free) breastfeeding is compared to formula.
This is certainly a persuasive argument for parents on a budget. It is absolutely true too, as long as everything goes exactly as planned. How often does that really happen though?
Here are few breastfeeding costs that could crop up. Not all are necessities, but most moms will end up needing or wanting a few of these things to help make breastfeeding easier:
- Breast pumps and spare parts
- Milk storage bags or bottles
- Bottles designed for breastfeeding babies
- Lanolin creams
- Breastfeeding pillow/s
- Nursing bra
- Nursing cover for public feeding
- Sterilizers for pump parts
- Services of a lactation consultant and/or nutritionist
You may also need additional groceries and supplements such as teas or vitamins to aid in extra milk production. Sometimes there may be costly surgeries or therapies to help babies who have a physical issue that prevents them from breastfeeding.
Although it is cheaper over the course of a year to breastfeed even with some of these extra costs, it is not free. At the very least, parents need to set aside some extra cash to cover any possible expenses.
3. Not Saying No To Stress And Guilt
New breastfeeding moms can face a lot of stress and guilt. Health professionals may make you feel inadequate if your baby isn’t gaining weight well enough. Relatives may accuse you of starving your baby if he seems fussy after eating. In a moment of sleep-deprived desperation, you may offer a bottle, only to be told later that you have ruined your chance at breastfeeding.
If you can’t listen to advice without taking it to heart and feeling guilty, then tune it out. Stress will only make breastfeeding harder. Some babies gain weight slowly, some fuss even when they aren’t hungry, and plenty of babies (including mine) received supplemental milk from bottles and still went on to breastfeed exclusively.
Most importantly, you don’t have to quit nursing just because other people have determined it to be wrong.
4. Worrying About Latch And Ignoring Position
I’ve met so many breastfeeding mothers who agree that the most frustrating issue they experienced was having someone tell them that their baby had a great latch. Even though that is exactly what you want your baby to have, it doesn’t help to hear it if nursing is still hurting.
I was told my daughter had an excellent latch, and therefore, I was not really in pain. Easy for the LC to say… she wasn’t the one crying! I made the mistake of believing the lactation consultant, and it was weeks before I realized that it wasn’t the latch, it was the position that was causing the problems.
I’m not talking about the way you hold your baby to nurse, but rather, how close or far away the baby is to your body. In my case, I was not using a tall enough nursing pillow, and I had my daughter too far towards my arm. As a result, she was pinching with every suck as she tried to keep the breast in in her mouth.
Latch is important, but it isn’t the only thing to consider. You might feel silly, but use as many pillows and blankets as you need when you nurse to keep things in place.
5. Fixing Things That Aren’t Broken
After bottle feeding her first three children, a friend of mine wanted to try breastfeeding her fourth. During a visit, I noted that she was constantly unlatching and re-latching her son, much to his frustration. When I asked why, she said “his latch doesn’t look like the ones in the photos.”
It was true. Her son had a rather small mouth, and when latched on it didn’t seem like he was doing it right. However, there was no pain, he was thriving, and she had plenty of milk… all signs that his latch was more than effective.
Breastfeeding is a mysterious art, and it can’t always be by the book. There are many “issues” that moms might think they are having, when actually they are doing things just right. For example, a woman whose baby does not gain weight quickly may think she isn’t making enough milk or that the milk is not high quality.
A woman whose baby fusses may think he isn’t able to nurse or that she has low supply. Or maybe a mother worries that because her baby doesn’t want to stay on the breast very long, it means the milk tastes bad or that her baby doesn’t like nursing.
It is very important to pay attention to the health of yourself and your baby to ascertain whether or not nursing is going well, but as long as you are relaxed and comfortable, baby is gaining weight, and all the signs are there that the milk is plentiful – then there is no reason to worry about things that don’t need to be fixed.
6. Not Taking Care Of Yourself
Breastfeeding can take an enormous toll on the body while it is already healing and recovering from pregnancy and birth. (as well as adjusting to sleepless nights, hormonal fluctuations and stress). It is very important for the mother to eat well, rest as much as possible, and stay hydrated.
She will also benefit from having fewer responsibilities around the home, from limiting visitors, and by restricting her exposure to germs.
7. Not Getting Help When You Need It
If it is at all possible, you should always ask for help whenever it is needed. Whether your need is for a professional to help you with a direct breastfeeding question, or for someone to help you with household tasks so that you can focus more attention on your baby.
As a woman and a mother, of course you are amazing, but there is no reason for you to have to do everything alone. And if you don’t get the help you need the first time you ask (for instance if your doctor, the pediatrician or a lactation consultant don’t listen or help), don’t assume they are right and you are wrong. It never hurts to get a second opinion.
Breastfeeding is an incredible adventure, and one that is filled with overwhelming benefits for both you and your baby. Therefore, it is worthwhile to fight for success as hard as you can.