By Julie Stockman
This is a companion article to this, on the benefits of nursing.
There are loads of real, daily benefits of breastfeeding your baby. You don’t need a degree in nutritional science to see them and they won’t be the first ones your male pediatrician talks about. Your experience will show you how nursing builds a healthy mama-child relationship in both tangible and intangible ways.
But what about when nursing is hard?
Yes, the drive to nurse a baby after it is born is instinctual for most moms. And yes, our bodies – like all mammals – are designed to feed human babies human milk. But just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s easy. Truth be told, most moms that I know personally struggled a little (or a lot) during the first few months as they learned this new skill of breastfeeding a baby, but most problems have a solution.
Breastfeeding is a new skill. It is common for it to hurt at first. Most women describe the hurt as a discomfort, but for some, it is more painful. Inverted or flat nipples can cause pain in the beginning, as can an incorrect latching technique. If the baby doesn’t latch well, it can lead to plugged ducts or mastitis. How can you solve it?
Inverted or flat nipples will resolve themselves in time. If this is the issue, you will notice that it doesn’t hurt after the first minute or less of each nursing session. Try counting slowly to 10 each time you start to nurse and by the time you get to 10, the pain should have subsided.
A correct latch is incredibly important and isn’t as intuitive as you might think. It can be hard to learn this by yourself, so unless you have a friend or family member to show you, or a lactation consultant to guide you, videos can be invaluable. Try KellyMom for some links to videos and detailed written descriptions of a good latch.
Plugged ducts or mastitis can resolve themselves, but if you have a fever, you might need antibiotics. The fever from mastitis coupled with the breast engorgement and pain is hard to work through and your baby needs you so much at this time. Just remember to alternate every couple hours with quality probiotics to protect your own health and to help prevent thrush.
Poor Weight Gain
This is also known as “not having enough milk.” A few issues could be at play, including infrequent nursing, pumping, stress, a poor latch, or dehydration. Also, the days right after birth can be particularly difficult because your milk hasn’t come in yet. You’ll know when it does! In the meantime, rest assured that your baby is getting what he or she needs – your nutrient-rich colostrum.
The act of nursing itself is what causes your supply to increase. During the first several months (or more), your baby should have no limits placed on the length and frequency of feeding times unless it’s absolutely necessary. When baby cries, mama nurses. This helps build your supply of milk and helps the baby gain weight at a good pace. Also, if at all possible, try to minimize or avoid pumping in the first few months. Your milk supply is best built by your baby himself, and if pumping is stressful for you, it can swiftly decrease your milk.
Whenever you can, try to nurse in a quiet, stress-free space. Give yourself plenty of opportunity to learn how to latch properly without having to worry about being modest or discrete. Learning how to latch under a blanket is hard! And if nursing itself is stressing you out, ask yourself why and try to solve that emotionally. Relaxed moms let down more milk.
Dehydration can be a silent supply killer. You’ll be amazed at how thirsty you always are when you are first nursing – don’t ignore it! Drink as much as you want and then some. Your body needs to be hydrated to make more milk.
In today’s world, it’s not at all uncommon for women of childbearing age to regularly take some sort of prescription medication. If you ask an obstetrician or your baby’s pediatrician, don’t be surprised if they tell you that you shouldn’t breastfeed while taking the medication. But, if they don’t offer you any alternatives, then definitely seek out a second opinion.
You could consult with another doctor right away, or you could consult La Leche League to find a local group leader for ideas on medications in your category that are safer when breastfeeding. You could then visit your doctor or another doctor armed with the list.
While there are a few rare cases of women being unable to nurse while treating a condition with prescription medication, most women can find a different medicine that is safer. Or, the pharmaceutical they had been taking might transfer to their milk at such a low level that they are comfortable with that small exposure.
If you can hang onto only one thing during those first few months, it’s this: nursing your baby is a long business. It might take two or three months to get it right, but once you do, you could have years to enjoy that special relationship with your baby. It is absolutely worth every bit of struggle you put into it and then some, as it will pay dividends for life.
Other posts by Julie:
Julie Stockman lives in Farmland, Indiana where she homeschools her children with her husband, Jeff. She spends her days baking, gardening, keeping chickens, listening to the nature around them, practicing gratitude and faithfulness, and stealing minutes to write about it all.