What You'll Learn
- How Lactation Consultants Can Help on the Breastfeeding Journey
- The Importance of Education on Our Breastfeeding Journey
- Common Struggles Moms Face With Breastfeeding
- How Partners Can Help with Breastfeeding
- Ways Other Support People Can Help
- The Value of Flexibility on Our Breastfeeding Journey
- Why Less Is Sometimes More When It Comes to Breastfeeding
Has your breastfeeding journey not gone the way you imagined? You aren’t alone. From medical issues to latching difficulties to engorgement, breastfeeding doesn’t always look like a peaceful bonding experience from the beginning.
Today, I’m joined by Lactation Consultant Amey Fields, founder of AZ Breastfed Babies, to discuss the common struggles moms face on the breastfeeding journey, the importance of flexibility, and why our support system matters.
My Breastfeeding Journey
Before I had my first son, I did a lot of planning. Where to put the crib. What colours to decorate the nursery. Which brand of diapers to use.
But I didn’t plan much around my breastfeeding journey. I knew I wanted to breastfeed—but I believed that it was what my body was made to do. I thought that it would come naturally.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. We battled latching issues, low supply, engorgement, trouble gaining weight. I spent time crying in the shower from the pain and pumping between feeds to try to increase my supply.
We found our footing over time, and I breastfed all three of my sons. But I had no idea how complex the breastfeeding journey could be.
I had no idea how complex the breastfeeding journey could be.
Once I started working in the maternal mental health space, I saw the impact breastfeeding can have on moms, from struggles with expectations to grief if it doesn’t turn out the way we want it to.
I was excited to chat with Amey about support for moms on all places in their breastfeeding journey.
How Lactation Consultants Can Help on the Breastfeeding Journey
We often think of lactation consultants as pushing the “breast is best” narrative and only offering advice on breastfeeding. But Amey said that for many lactation consultants, there’s more to it than that.
In her practice, they offer breastfeeding education, support for moms during latching and milk supply struggles, guidance on pumping, discussion about combo feeding and formula feeding, bottle skill training, and even weaning advice.
Breastfeeding means different things to different people and families.
She pointed out that breastfeeding means different things to different people and families. The all-or-nothing thinking and pressure around breastfeeding is outdated, and it shouldn’t be how it is anymore.
Amey said that her hope is that a mom enjoys her new baby and feels supported toward her goals, whatever those might be.
The Importance of Education on Our Breastfeeding Journey
Many moms experience the same struggles that I did. They often go into it believing that breastfeeding will be natural and easy. But it’s actually a skill that moms and babies need to learn.
Amey pointed out that giving birth is natural, but we know that moms need a lot of support, from birthing classes to doulas to potential interventions. Yet, we don’t apply that same thinking to breastfeeding.
She encountered her own difficulties with breastfeeding after having her first daughter while working as a labour and delivery nurse. When she realized how hard it actually was, she was angry. Not only had nobody ever told her how difficult it could be, but she had also never told any of her patients that.
Her experience made her realize how important it is to help moms through the difficulties of feeding. That’s why she’s a proponent of breastfeeding education and prenatal consults. She believes in preparing new moms for the fact that breastfeeding is a learned skill, and that it sometimes takes a lot of time, commitment, and practice.
For example, many new moms are blindsided by the second day feeding frenzy when they bring their babies home. They worry that the frequent feeds mean their babies aren’t getting enough milk or that something is wrong. But if moms know it’s coming, they can prepare and understand that it’s normal.
She preps her clients to know that:
- Day 1 will likely consist of a sleepy baby who might need to be woken up to eat.
- Day 2 will probably consist of lots of fussiness and cluster feeding.
- And days 3-5 will bring engorgement, which might come with pain and latching difficulty.
Common Struggles Moms Face With Breastfeeding
One of the most common struggles Amey sees with new breastfeeding moms is that they do come in with unrealistic expectations. The initiation phase can be difficult.
Another common struggle is worrying about your supply and wondering if baby is getting enough milk. We can’t tell how much baby is eating, which causes a lot of anxiety for many moms.
Counting wet diapers is one of the best indicators of how much a baby is taking in. Baby is likely getting enough milk if they produce:
- 1-2 wet diapers the first day
- 2-4 wet diapers on days 2-3
- 4-6 wet diapers by day 4
- 6 or more wet diapers from day 5 on
There are other indicators to look for, including a swallowing sound once the milk comes in, and a softening during feeds after breasts become engorged.
Babies might also experience medical issues, like lip or tongue ties, or even restriction and tension from the birthing process. Just like moms can be sore after birth, so can babies. Or babies might have to spend time in the NICU, preventing breastfeeding. This can all impact the breastfeeding journey and make the process tough at the beginning.
Other moms experience pain and latching issues. Amey pointed out that pain should not be an expectation with breastfeeding, and it shouldn’t be ignored. Many people do experience some pain, but it’s something to work through—not to overlook. Sometimes a change in position or a simple alteration can help. If you experience nipple damage, it should be addressed right away.
How Partners Can Help with Breastfeeding
Sometimes partners feel disconnected when a mom exclusively breastfeeds. They aren’t sure how to contribute to the breastfeeding journey or bond with the baby.
Amey encourages partners to download apps and participate in the tracking. This helps them take an active role in the parental knowledge, and takes some of the load off of mom.
Partners can also support with burping and changing diapers, giving them opportunities to bond.
It can be very hard as moms to let partners or other family members step in. For me, it felt like my family was walking around with one of my organs—I didn’t want my babies out of my sight.
Feeling that way is completely normal. But we also want to make sure we aren’t gatekeeping and preventing our partners from having a role—they want and need to feel useful and be involved.
Our partners want and need to feel useful and be involved.
Sometimes it doesn’t feel helpful when people offer to hold the baby while a mom goes to sleep. They might not be ready to be away from their babies.
Amey said that it can be helpful for a mom to lay in bed with her baby while a partner watches over them, offering safety and support while still allowing mom to be with the baby.
Ways Other Support People Can Help
She pointed out that in many cultures, it is a cultural norm for mom and baby to stay together for 30 days while a village of support people takes care of other responsibilities around the home. We might not be able to protect 30 days, but she encourages moms to spend the first week or two snuggling and feeding, experiencing a honeymoon phase with the new baby.
This might mean calling in other hands in addition to our partner. If you have family or friend support, they can help take care of pets, arrange playdates for siblings, or help with cooking and cleaning. They can change bedsheets or help keep the bedroom clean.
They can also bring snacks, food, and water to mom, letting her focus on feeding and bonding with the baby.
Breastfeeding doesn’t have to be a one-person job. We were never meant to do it alone—we can lean on our village and still spend time with our babies.
The Value of Flexibility on Our Breastfeeding Journey
Breastfeeding often becomes a polarized conversation. But there are many ways to feed a baby. It’s important to maintain flexibility in the way we view the breastfeeding journey.
Amey pointed out that some moms are hesitant to talk to lactation consultants because they think they will push only breastfeeding. But moms who combo feed or formula feed should be able to get support too.
It’s okay if breastfeeding doesn’t look the way we envision.
It’s okay if breastfeeding doesn’t look the way we envision, or if we encounter struggles. It’s okay if we choose to supplement with formula or pump and offer bottles.
Many moms put a lot of pressure on themselves to breastfeed, no matter the cost to their physical or mental health. Amey urges moms to move away from the all-or-nothing thinking. It’s okay to take breaks.
It’s okay if it doesn’t come right away. Some moms breastfeed even if they take a day or a week off. Breastfeeding takes time to become established, and it can look different for everybody.
Why Less Is Sometimes More When It Comes to Breastfeeding
Amey also pointed out that sometimes we get so caught up with all of the gadgets and things for breastfeeding, like pillows and gliders. And sometimes, we end up putting our babies and ourselves in unnatural positions, which can actually impede the process.
She is a proponent of biological nursing. Rather than propping mom up or repeatedly trying to shove baby to the breast, we can encourage baby to explore their natural reflexes.
Along with the comfort gadgets we buy, we also might cling to scales or apps for tracking weight, which can sometimes trigger anxiety.
These things can be useful tools for some moms—however, if we begin to spiral, panic, or become hypervigilant, it might be time to take a step back and talk to someone. Breastfeeding can have a negative impact on our mental health, depending on our experience.
If we begin to spiral, panic, or become hypervigilant, it might be time to talk to someone.
Amey pointed out that we shouldn’t overlook anxiety around breastfeeding. If we do, it can trickle down and carry into the next phase of motherhood. That’s why it’s so important to seek help early on, even if it means letting go of some of the gadgets and apps.
If you’re struggling with anxiety during the transition into motherhood, talking with a mom therapist can help! Our Wellness Center can connect you with a virtual mom therapist in your area. Book your FREE 15 minute consult today!