In my clinical work as a psychologist, I support many new moms as they begin the journey of motherhood. I can't do my work alone. Let's face it -- not only does it take a village to raise a child, it takes a village to support new families. In the moments and days following birth, both mom and baby are becoming acquainted with the dance that will forever be called "motherhood." As moms adjust to the new rhythms of parenthood, one of the challenges many face is navigating and coping with breastfeeding difficulties.
Until I, too experienced this, I had no idea how helpless and frightened this struggle can leave women feeling. When my newborn daughter came home from the hospital, her weight dropped because she was not receiving enough milk from me. I felt utterly helpless because my body was not able to do the one thing I most needed it to do: supply nourishment for my newborn daughter.
Unbeknownst to many new moms, partners, grandparents and friends, breastfeeding difficulties often correlate with emotional lows during the new weeks and months of motherhood. For me, not being able to fully feed my daughter added substantial stress during an already vulnerable period. Thankfully, I reached out to a lactation consultant and my pediatrician, and we were able to set a plan in motion. They were my village.
To help other new moms struggling with nursing concerns during the postpartum period, I asked my colleague and lactation consultant, Jenn Suffin, IBCLC, RLC to share some tips with new moms who may need them the most.
1. Become a Student:
Breastfeeding does not come as easily as it appears. I was naïve and didn't even take a class before my daughter was born. Just as my body grew and nurtured my baby during my pregnancy, I imagined nursing would happen in a similar way, and that my body would intuitively know what to do.
Jenn recommends that all women take a breastfeeding class before birth. According to her, "Breastfeeding is instinctual to a degree, but like motherhood, it is a learned and practiced dance." She reminds expectant and new mothers that 90 percent of nursing challenges can be remedied with correct latch and positioning.
2. Explore Options:
There are many options when it comes to feeding your baby. I felt panicked when my daughter was not gaining weight. My OB suggested that I resort to formula feeding, but my pediatrician and lactation consultant gave me a larger menu of options to work with including supplementing, medication to increase my supply and a rigorous feeding schedule.
Jenn tells all moms that her mantra is, "Happy Mom, Happy Baby." The mantra "Breast is Best" puts a lot of undo pressure on new mothers during an already emotionally vulnerable time. Each woman needs to make the informed choices that take the best care of her and her baby.
3. Find Your Village:
Before your little one enters the world, line up support during the postpartum period. I recommend that all expectant moms have the name of a lactation consultant to whom they can reach out should questions or concerns arise.
Ask your OB or midwife for a list of local breastfeeding and new parent support groups in your area. Bonding with other people who are coping with similar stressors can be soothing during this time of transition. It reminds us that we are not parenting solo, and that others are adjusting to a wide range of new feelings and challenges, too.
4. Be Flexible:
"Flexibility is key," says Jenn. I find this advice can extend well beyond nursing your baby. When we become too attached to certain ways of parenting, we can set ourselves up for disappointment, because things so rarely unfold exactly as we envision them.
When breastfeeding, Jenn reminds all mothers that there may be a need to pump frequently, or supplement based on recommendations from your pediatrician. Align with a team of people who are on your side and support you. Whatever your challenge, you will feel more secure knowing you have a village caring for the two of you.