Monday 8 June 2015

So you want to breastfeed? 10 tips & expectations for those that struggle...

So you want to breastfeed? Ten tips and expectations for those that struggle...

Whenever issues surrounding how you feed your baby are raised people automatically assume you are strongly in one camp or another, and after my last post a small minor it concluded that I sought to put mothers off breastfeeding simply because I support all mothers feeding choices. The aim of my blog is encouragement, and yes, I want to encourage those who have felt marginalised because they chose (or had to) bottle feed, but this does not mean I do not want to encourage breastfeeding. It got me thinking about how breastfeeding could be encouraged more to those who find it difficult, not just physically but mentally and emotionally. So, I guess I'm aiming this post at the people who haven't yet had children or to those who may be struggling as a guide to what you can expect and how you can get help to overcome hurdles. Basically, I wished someone else had written a post like this for me when I breastfed my first baby, so here are ten tips that you may find helpful if you find the prospect or the reality of breastfeeding difficult.

1. Take ownership
I think there is a vital difference between breastfeeding out of duty and breastfeeding out of choice. When I breastfed my first baby I felt pressured to do so and when I had setbacks I begrudged feeding my baby, which affected our bond. The second time I CHOSE to breastfeed, and because I owned the decision, I was more accepting of the setbacks and the experience was a lot more positive. 

2. Make note of your learning style
Breastfeeding is like learning a new language; it can be both challenging and rewarding. Are you someone who thrives off a challenge or is easily dismayed? Do you need encouragement or goals? Are you all or nothing or a laid back learner? Knowing these things about yourself is important. For example, for some people going to a breastfeeding support group can be an invaluable way of getting encouragement, for others they find feeding in groups daunting and prefer one on one help from a support worker or friend. Learning breastfeeding is more of a marathon than a sprint, it is a steady learning curve, so be prepared to continually learn new things and develop the skill of breastfeeding.

3. Pain is likely (sorry)
Unless you're incredibly lucky, it is likely that you will have some pain when you start breastfeeding. This is not to put you off but it is important to be realistic so you can be prepared. A few health professionals told me that if I was breastfeeding correctly I shouldn't have any pain and I, along with several other mums I have confided in, can vouch that this is not true. Breastfeeding pain is on a par with the pain you get when you learn to play guitar - in time it should get easier with practice. If it doesn't there may be underlying issues such as a tongue tie, thrush, mastitis or just a fussy feeder and it is vital that you get help early on to make life easier for you. Being a first time mum, you may find you get fobbed off as lacking in experience - that is absolute nonsense, if you are in pain or having difficulty you have absolutely every right to get to the bottom of it. Please don't battle on for months in pain, you will only end up resentful or negative about your feeding experience. That said, there are mums who find breastfeeding pleasant from day one, so you may get lucky.

4. Find Support
The fight kind of support is essential. Your midwife should be able to offer advice and give you details of local breastfeeding support advisors and groups. I would personally avoid any online open discussions on breastfeeding as people can be quite aggressive and not understand your personal struggles, however many find mums networking sites helpful so just be aware if you are sensitive. I had an amazing breastfeeding support worker who discovered I had thrush (which 3 other health professionals missed) and saved me a lot of continued pain. She also encouraged me and didn't judge me when I told her I had given my baby a bottle of formula; instead she applauded me for getting help and how well I'd done (which really encouraged me, rather than giving me an attitude of 'oh well, I'll just give up now.' which I can be prone to). My best source of help was through talking to other friends who had similar issues who were free from judgement and supported me, not only with practical help, but on the days I just needed someone to cry with, or laugh with. Make sure you get medical help, though, if you are concerned that your baby may not be thriving.

5. Remember that it's YOUR body
One of the reasons many women struggle with breastfeeding is adapting from a previously sexual being to a now maternal one (though really you are very much both, even if you don't feel like the former!). Our society gives all sorts of messages to women that are unhelpful and can cause many women to have body issues. If you struggle in this area it is important to remember that although a large part of your role is now to provide for your baby, it is still your body and you have a right to feel comfortable. Many health professionals don't think twice about asking women to breastfeed in front of them and you have a right to say no if this is difficult for you. There are many psychological issues surrounding breastfeeding that get overlooked, if you can confide in a friend or get counselling this may help. 

6. Be prepared
That said, It may help you to decide in advance on how to handle things such as unexpected visitors at feeding times, or unexpected feeding times in public - are there things you can say or ways to make you feel more at ease? Explain to close friends how you're feeling and they will no doubt find ways to support you, or at least can understand if you don't answer the door. Most people are very understanding and will be happy to pop back at a more convenient time. There are also many facilities for helping you to feed your baby when out in public, so you may find it helpful to find out where the baby feeding facilities are in your area, or cafes with secluded corners. There are also plenty of great feeding covers available online if you prefer to cover up.

7. No one is watching (mostly)
Although you may feel uncomfortable about feeding your baby in public, it's important to know that the vast majority of people aren't bothered what you're doing and are incredibly supportive. You will always get some ignorant idiot who may say something, but be encouraged by the number of people who simply let you get on with it. When I breasted my first baby I was convinced that everyone was looking at me, and looking back it was probably all in my head because when I breastfed my second baby I felt like all anyone did was smile at me (and no, not because I left a boob out by accident!).

8. Take yourself less seriously 
When I became a parent I learnt a whole new level of humility. No matter how swimmingly childbirth goes it is likely that you will end up behaving like a drunk lady, staggering around like a wild animal and revealing your naked body to several strangers. Motherhood is both beautiful and bewildering, empowering and degrading, insightful and raw. The fact is, that if you want to breastfeed, you will find it easier the more willing you are to embrace your humanity; to make mistakes or to ask 'silly' questions. Try to take yourself a little less seriously - who cares if you flash your boob to the postman, at worst it makes for a good story! Try to be open to advice and not to think that everyone is judging you - most of the time they genuinely want to help. 

9. Be kind
Be kind to yourself - you are doing a tough job and it takes TIME. Don't beat yourself up if you or your baby can't get the hang of it straight away. You may feel like you're the only one awake at three in the morning with a screaming baby, struggling to get them to feed - you're not! You may feel like it will go on forever and you'll never see the day when you'll be out of nursing bras, but although it may feel like an endless task, for most people it does get easier. Make sure people are in place to give you a break when you need it: I value mental health as much as physical and sometimes a good rest can be what you need in order to start again the next day. If things don't work out how you planned, please don't be hard on yourself, it will only fill you with resentment and may affect the bond you have with your baby.  If you are confident in your decisions and you are kind to yourself your baby will grow in a secure and loving environment which is more important than anything!

10. Don't have any expectations 
Now I've just told you what to expect, I'm telling you not to expect anything! The truth is that everyone has a different experience - some babies will latch on straight away, others take time. Some mothers have excessive amounts of milk supply, others don't. Throughout my whole time of breastfeeding I didn't need one breast pad - That didn't necessarily mean I wasn't producing enough milk, it was just the way my body worked (though this is probably unusual!). All I'm saying is, every mother and every baby is different, so don't compare yourself with others. 

I hope you find this post helpful. If you have physical difficulties it is always best to seek a health professional, these are just my thoughts on how to encourage you on a psychological level. Remember, you are doing a great job! 

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