This blog deals with how to cope with your concerns or fears about breastfeeding, and help you prepare for whatever you might experience.
What Do Parents Worry About Most ?
I have so many ideas for blog posts that I felt I needed help narrowing down what was really going on in parents minds. I asked my FB Parenting Support Group to help me by answering 3 questions
- What did they worry about most whilst pregnant (apart from the actual birth).
- What did they have most problems with in the first few weeks.
- What did they have most problems with in the first year.
I was pretty sure the answers would be mostly about sleep…but I was wrong.
There were concerns about sleep, but by far the biggest concerns and problems were related to breastfeeding, so I decided to focus my next blog on that and see what I could do to help.
Over the next few months I will be creating blogs, videos, tutorials and checklists etc in an effort to offer practical help and support in coping with all the different problems you might encounter whilst breastfeeding, combi-feeding and formula feeding.
But to start with, I want to focus on what is going on in your head, because this is where a lot of problems begin.
Fears About Breastfeeding
Dealing with an actual problem is bad enough, but dealing with something you have been worrying over for months beforehand is even worse.
- It can skew your perception of reality, making things seem worse than they are.
- It can create self-doubt, and lead you to mistrust your own instincts and abilities.
- It can confuse and de-rail your problem solving abilities.
- It can seriously damage your quality of life and enjoyment of your baby.
There is so much conflicting and inaccurate information out there, that it can be difficult to get a clear picture of what you might be facing as a first time breastfeeder.
One thing that definitely seems to contribute to feeding stress is the current focus on ‘exclusive breastfeeding’ and the ‘all-or-nothing’ approach that panics you with scare stories about the terrible things that will happen if you don’t do x, y, or z.
I don’t subscribe to either of these mindsets…because I have seen too much over the years.
“You are an individual, with your own unique biology, psychology, lifestyle and circumstances, and this combination will influence what difficulties you might experience, and also how you deal with them.
Comparing yourself, your baby, or your experiences with anyone else serves no purpose, and, whilst it might give you inspiration or ideas, it won’t give you ‘the right answer’ …only you can figure that out”
Breastfeeding Case Studies
What I thought might be of some practical help would be to share some of my clients breastfeeding journeys, and how they figured out how to move forwards, so you can see that there are many, many more possibilities and outcomes than you are probably aware of.
Wanted to breastfeed, then had a difficult birth which left her in so much pain she couldn’t physically hold her baby for more than a few minutes at a time, and breastfeeding was excruciating.
She pumped as much as she could to try and protect her milk supply, but we had to supplement with formula.
Mum was readmitted to hospital on and off for the next 2 weeks, and taking baby in for feeds would not have helped her recovery, and risked possible infection for baby so she stayed at home with me.
We worked out a pumping schedule which the mum stuck to as much as possible whilst she was in hospital, but sometimes it just wasn’t possible.
Week 3. Once she got home we focused on getting the supply back up by regular pumping sessions in a way that didn’t stress her recovering body. We then got baby back in to the habit of latching on to the breast, and over the next three weeks gradually reduced the amount of formula baby took, and increased the time spent breastfeeding.
By six weeks mum was fully recovered and baby was fully breastfed, apart from 1 bottle in the night, which was sometimes expressed milk, and sometimes formula, and was given by me to start with, and then by Dad when I left.
Single parent – Baby came early so mum was on her own for the first two weeks as I was with another client.
Baby was not great at latching and every feed was a struggle so mum pumped to protect supply whilst she tried to get help.
She went to an NCT breastfeeding support group but was told that ‘if she was going to supplement with formula and not even try properly there was no point in them trying to help’ !!
This upset her so much that she never went back, stopped trying to breastfeed, and pumped every feed instead.
I arrived at the beginning of week three, but before we could get the feeding sorted, baby stopped breathing due to reflux and ended up in hospital for 2 weeks.
We were instructed by doctors to not even try to breastfeed as they needed to carefully control his intake so mum continued to pump, and we also supplemented with formula when necessary to allow her to rest, and be there for her son.
Once baby was home, on reflux medication, and recovering well the mum still wished she could have breastfed so we got the all clear from the hospital, and made plans to try again.
At this point baby was 8 weeks old, and had never latched, not even once.
We set aside a whole weekend, and between us we just practised and persisted, and by day 2 he was starting to feed directly from the breast.
He and mum got better and better, until he actually started to prefer the breast, and reject the bottle.
By 4 months he was exclusively breastfeeding, and mum continued this way until he was 2 years old.
Older mum, wanted to breastfeed and baby latched, but wasn’t gaining weight very well. She was pumping after feeds to stimulate supply, but it didn’t seem to be having any effect.
At 2 weeks, out of curiosity I suggested we do a ‘diagnostic feed, where she pumped the whole feed so we could see what was going on. This revealed that, although her supply was great at the beginning of the feed, after 7 minutes the supply stopped, and no matter what we tried, she never got a second let down, which is what happens in a lot of women.
We tried 3 days of power pumping (10 mins pump, 10 mins rest, and 10 mins pump again) which did increase the length of good milk production to 11 mins, but we still needed to supplement with formula.
The mum continued to breastfeed, then, pumped after the feed, when she had the time and the energy (3 or 4 times a day usually). This kept reminding the breasts they needed to try a bit harder, whilst baby was kept safe with formula and expressed milk top ups.
Gradually the mum’s supply did increase (still only with 1 let down) and she could reduce the amount of formula she used, until baby was exclusively breastfed by 3 months.
If the mum stopped pumping, her milk supply quickly went down. She felt that the continuous pumping was too much of a strain and was impacting her enjoyment of her baby, so she backed off slightly, and reintroduce formula for 1 bottle a day to give her some flexibility and respite.
First baby, wanted to exclusively breastfeed…it was very important to her. Baby had no problems latching, and there were no supply issues, but mum experienced a lot of pain which didn’t improve even after all mine and lactation consultants efforts to try and improve the latch.
We did get an improvement when the mum used nipple shields, but she then refused to use them after a friend told her that it would ruin her supply and her chances of feeding long term.
Mum continued to grit her teeth and suffered severe pain when feeding, to the point where I started to feel guilty even taking baby to her at feed time.
By 4 weeks she became so afraid of the pain that she started to resent the baby, and bonding was effected.
I spoke to the husband and explained how serious this situation could get, and how the mum was becoming isolated, unable to go out to meet friends if it involved feeding in public.
He managed to persuade her to go back to using the nipple shields, and things improved massively.
The mum was very afraid for her milk supply but did say the shields reduced the pain by almost 90% and made the feeding totally bearable, though it took a good week for her sore and badly bruised nipples to heal.
She went on to breastfeed with no further problems, and was reassured when she realised that her supply was unaffected.
She always used the nipple shields, her bonding problems went away, and her life with baby became normal and happy, and she never experienced any dip in supply.
First time mum, adamant from the beginning that she didn’t want to even try breastfeeding, and she and her husband were happy with her decision.
Formula feeding went well, and mum recovered from her birth well.
On day 5, when her milk came in, she decided that actually, she wanted to give breastfeeding a try so we had a go, and baby latched pretty easily.
Pain was there, but not bad, so she had a little try whenever she felt comfortable over the next few days.
She was uncertain as to whether she wanted to go with it, but gradually she found her own groove.
She found that whilst it wasn’t something she wanted to do all the time, she really enjoyed ended breastfeeding once a day, first thing in the morning, and she continued with this for the next 8 months.
First time single mum, IVF donor baby.
She was very definite that she was going to exclusively breastfeed, but found she actually hated every single aspect of it, which threw her completely !
We talked in depth about what she didn’t like, trying to pinpoint problems, and find solutions but nothing made any difference…she hated breastfeeding.
She carried on for 3 weeks because she was dealing with pressure from people around her to keep trying , and guilt from herself, along with confusion about how she was feeling.
But in the end, after trying formula and noticing how much happier she was, she decided that breastfeeding really wasn’t for her.
She said that the day she decided to give up, she felt like a weight was lifted from her shoulders, and she knew it was the right thing to do for her.
This was the only baby she would ever have, and she didn’t want to waste a single minute being unhappy.
“Breastfeeding is never black and white, just a million different shades of grey, with no absolute rights or wrongs.”
Please don’t stress or worry about how you will feed your baby. I promise you that you will find your own way.
If I could give you my 4 best pieces of advice that apply to feeding and all aspects of parenting, it would be to
- Always be completely honest with yourself, and with your partner if you have one.
- Educate yourself from trusted sources…don’t rely on other people, especially if they make you feel there is only one answer to a problem, or one path to take.
- Trust your instincts …you know more than you think.
- Never be afraid to try something if you think it might help…its very hard to get it wrong…you can always go back to doing what you were doing before so you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
This last point is perhaps the most important.
Many of the parents I meet are so afraid of ‘getting it wrong’ that they end up crippled by indecision and inertia.
The more open minded you are, the more options you have, and the more chance you have of finding the right solution to whatever problem you are experiencing.
Use your open mind to question everything, and use your initiative to experiment and try new things, because it really is very difficult to ruin breastfeeding by trying something once.
“Just as your milk supply can’t be increased with a single lactation cookie, neither can your supply be decreased with a single mistake…nature is more forgiving than that or we wouldn’t have survived as a species for so long.”
I want you to feel confident, and to enjoy your baby, so I hope this helps in some small way, but just get in touch if you need more help.
I run a closed Baby Detective Parent Support Group on Facebook, which is aimed at pregnancy and the first year of baby’s life, and it is also totally unbiased and non-judgemental.
I’m in there a lot, and its full of lovely people, so feel free to come along and join us.
I think it is very important that people realise there are many different infant feeding journeys, and that things can change from day to day, so if you are happy sharing your own feeding experiences, I would love to hear them in the comments.
If you have any ideas for future blog posts please add them below because it helps me know what people are struggling with the most,
Sarah Norris is one of the UK’s most accomplished maternity nurses, with over 25 years experience caring for hundreds of babies and families in the UK and internationally.
She treats all babies and families as individuals, and respects all forms of parenting and feeding, aiming to help and empower new parents with sensible, practical tips and advice that is always non judgemental and non biased.
She is the author of ‘The Baby Detective’ with Orion Books, out now.