Todays post is from Jessica from Breathing Oxygen. Jessica Fox-Wilson is an educator, poet, writer, and mother to a joyful toddler. Her guest post today is easily one of my favorites which is why I have saved it for the final guest post. Jessica’s post for me discusses the difficulties a breastfeeding mom faces, and some helpful and not so helpful suggestions on how to support a new breastfeeding mom. Thank you Jessica! I hope everyone enjoys this post!
Love, Hugs and more to come later!
How to Support a New Breastfeeding Mother
When I was pregnant, I assumed breastfeeding was going to be a snap. I did my research. I read a few good books, but I figured that learning to breastfeed would come naturally. I was clueless.
I never anticipated the difficulties in establishing breastfeeding. I should mention that I also anticipated a relatively easy transition to motherhood as a whole, which was not the case for me. I was generally clueless about motherhood, but also specifically clueless about breastfeeding.
This is not to say that breastfeeding (or motherhood) is awful. It isn’t – I love breastfeeding and have continued to breastfeed my now 22-month daughter. And I’m pretty sure I’ll remain her parent for the foreseeable future. I just now know that as mothers, we need to be real about the work that it takes to learn how to breastfeed and parent.
In that light, I’ve described below 5 challenges that new mothers may experience while establishing breastfeeding and strategies that friends and family can undertake to support her. In my own experience, I’ve found that some of the ways people want to help can (unintentionally) backfire, so I’ve offered suggestions on what I’ve found to be most helpful.
Learning how to breastfeed is surprisingly hard to do.
NOT AS HELPFUL: Telling the mom, “Don’t worry, it will all work out in the end, just hang in there! “
HELPFUL: Sharing your own feeding struggles, regardless of the type of feeding you do.
Your body is sore. You have postpartum hormones racing through your body. And you haven’t slept in two days. Now, try to take a baby who has no head control and teach him to latch to your boob. Right now, while he’s crying.
It took me about three weeks to learn how to breastfeed. Three weeks where I felt like a failure. Most people just told me some variation of hang in there/you’ll do great/don’t worry. In my postpartum brain, my baby’s entire survival hinged on me learning how to breastfeed and I was failing. One of my turning points came when I posted a status on Facebook, early one morning. It just said, “I’m learning.” One of my friends from college, who I hadn’t really kept in touch with well, wrote me a long private message about her own struggles learning how to feed both of her kids. I needed someone to acknowledge that this stuff doesn’t always come naturally. I felt much less alone after her kind message.
Establishing breastfeeding takes a lot of time alone.
NOT AS HELPFUL: Visiting the new family and wanting to hold, play with, or entertain the baby for long periods of time.
HELPFUL: Visiting the new family and cleaning the house or cooking for the new parents.
When I was on maternity leave, I spent most of my waking hours breastfeeding. Breastfeeding on the couch. On a chair. In bed. Standing up. I watched five seasons of Cake Boss on Netflix while breastfeeding – and that wasn’t the only show that I watched. The key to successfully establishing a milk supply is to breastfeed on demand. It’s lonely, but also necessary.
Of course, friends and family want to visit with, hold and play with the new baby. But, every visit interrupts the breastfeeding on demand process. As a new mother, you want to entertain and hear what a great job you did building a baby from scratch, but as a new breastfeeding mother, you have to breastfeed often. And you may not be ready to hand over that baby or breastfeed in front of friends, just yet.
Instead of offering to hold the baby (unless the mom needs a shower – get her to the shower), offer to cook some food, do the laundry, clean the kitchen, vacuum, or set up the nursery. If she is anything like me, she’ll be too polite to ask for it, but she’ll be eternally grateful.
Early breastfeeding is exhausting and causes severe hunger.
NOT AS HELPFUL: Reminding the mom of all the weight she will magically lose, because she is breastfeeding.
HELPFUL: Bring the mom a postpartum and breastfeeding survival kit that includes lots and lots of protein-packed food…and chocolate.
After pregnancy, I thought I understood hunger. But early breastfeeding is a whole other story. When you’re breastfeeding on demand, through growth spurts and cluster feeding, you become a ravenous beast. In the early days, my husband would make pans of Rice Krispy treats slathered in chocolate frosting (because he’s awesome) and I would eat half the pan in a day. I’d eat bowls and bowls of Frosted Shredded Wheat. I would eat literally anything and everything that I could. Needless to say, the weight didn’t melt off as promised.
One of my good friends, who had a baby six weeks before me, sent me a postpartum care package, filled with protein packed treats. She included nut butters, postpartum cookies with lots of protein and fiber (for those other fun postpartum challenges), dried fruits, and teas to increase milk supply. It was the best, because it was relatively healthy, and it was plentiful. Now, whenever a close friend has a new baby, I pack my own postpartum survival kit for her.
Early breastfeeding is painful.
NOT AS HELPFUL: Telling the mom, “Breastfeeding, when done right, shouldn’t hurt.”
HELPFUL: Bring the mom tools for relieving the pain of cracked nipples, engorged boobs, and blebs.
When researching breastfeed, every book, website, and experienced friend will tell you, breastfeeding doesn’t hurt. And my favorite – if you’re doing it right, it shouldn’t hurt. These people are well intentioned. There is a lot of fear that it will hurt. But, when a new mom hears that it shouldn’t hurt if she is doing it right, then experiences the typical amount of pain associated with new breastfeeding, she begins to doubt herself.
Let me tell you the truth: it hurts at first and most of the issues that cause pain are easy to solve.
First, your nipples have to get accustomed to constant use. They can be raw, and if you’re not careful, they can crack. Coconut oil applied topically, after every feeding, can solve the cracking. Next, when your milk comes in, your boobs are suddenly sore and rock hard. The solution is to breastfeed often and to apply cold packs after feeding. Eventually, as your supply regulates, engorgement should stop. Lastly, I found that during my first 6 weeks of breastfeeding, I developed several blebs on each nipple. They are very small, but incredibly painful milk blisters. Unfortunately, you have to nurse through them. You can use Epsom salt soaks on your breasts, which softens them. What worked most for me was taking lecithin supplements, which thin out the milk a little. These pills also work for milk duct clogs, which can develop at any time during breastfeeding. Consider adding lecithin, coconut oil, and Epsom salts to that breastfeeding survival kit.
Leaving the baby (and leaving the house) is hard at first for a breastfeeding mom.
NOT AS HELPFUL: Providing opportunities for the mom to leave the house alone.
HELPFUL: Providing safe opportunities for the mom to leave the house with the child.
HELPFUL: Visiting the mom in the house with exciting treats/gifts.
While staying at home all day and all night with a baby is lonely, it’s even harder to leave the house with a breastfeeding newborn. Since you must remain in close proximity to breastfeed on demand, it can be challenging to time your escape. When I was a brand new mother, my mom took me for a pedicure – which involved lots of planning and a quick return home. My dad sent me a gift card for a massage at a salon, which was fabulous, but meant I was away from home for almost two hours. I had to wait until my baby was four months old, before I could use it. These were generous, very well intentioned treats that stressed me out.
It’s important for any new mom, but especially breastfeeding moms, to learn how to leave the house with the kid. If you want to drag the new mom out of the house, encourage her to bring the baby and provide her with private opportunities to breastfeed. Not every new mom is comfortable with feeding in public, even the public of another friend’s home, so make sure that there are clean, quite, non-bathroom stall places that the mom can breastfeed in frequently. Alternatively, stop by the mom’s house with things to do. Bring a board game, a DVD (or 10), new books, magazines – anything that can help entertain her for long periods of time.
Of course, all of the above is based on my experience. What helped you most during the early months of breastfeeding?