If you are like most pregnant and newly postpartum mamas you are aware of the many benefits that breastfeeding offers to you and your baby. You also probably have a goal in mind for how long you would like to breastfeed whether it be until you transition back to work, six months, one year, or more!
Breast milk is a human baby’s normal food, and while the physiology of lactation is a natural process, breastfeeding is a learned skill and many mamas say it can be really hard at first.
Even if you don’t experience any of the most common complications like low milk supply, nipple pain, engorgement, plugged ducts, or mastitis, you may still find the commitment and the demands of breastfeeding around the clock to be exhausting.
So what do you do if the mechanics of breastfeeding are going well, but the effort required feels herculean and you secretly wonder how much longer you can keep at this? Whatever your goals, whatever your challenges, many mamas share your sentiment.
Here are a few suggestions to help get you through:
- Know what is normal nursing behavior for a healthy newborn. Calm your fears, gather your confidence. Newborn babies nurse 8-12 times every 24 hours. That’s a lot of time spent nursing! Read up if you can before your baby is born. Check out from the library or buy your own copy of a comprehensive and evidence based reference guide like The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, and visit Kellymom.com. Find a local chapter of La Leche League and attend a meeting—you’ll meet other moms in all phases and stages of breastfeeding who’ve been there and done that so bring your baby, or a friend, and a list of whatever is on your mind. Most importantly, take heart and know that you are not alone in navigating the highs and lows of nursing your baby.
- Eat, drink, rest. Stay hydrated, nourish your body, and find opportunities to rest whenever you can. The postpartum period can be a stressful time of recovery with a steep learning curve as you find a rhythm in your mothering and navigate changing roles and responsibilities within your household. Take care of yourself. Focus on your baby and let others cook, clean, and keep the house running. Eat healthful foods when you are hungry; drink water, milk, or fresh squeezed juices when you are thirsty; and rest when you are tired. Research says that breastfeeding mamas report being less tired and get more sleep than mothers who formula feed or do a little of both.
- Identify a support network. You will have many questions as a new mama and you will need emotional support, encouragement, and love from people you respect because breastfeeding is a huge commitment. Identify a support network before you need it. Write down names and numbers on a piece of paper and tape it to your fridge. When you need to vent or connect, look at the list and take your pick. To get started: consider your husband or partner your key to success. Mamas committed to breastfeeding will be more successful if they have their partner’s support. He may not understand exactly how you feel in your darkest moments but with his love, support, and appreciation you will have more determination to continue, even when it feels hard. Also consider adding to the list: Local La Leche League leaders, girlfriends and female family members who have successfully breastfed and who believe in your goals, local support groups and mothering circles, and professional lactation support like an international board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) for troubleshooting if you need it.
- Build in time for privacy. At the same time that you need great support, you also need time alone and privacy from visitors and fans in order to learn your baby’s feeding cues and personality and to settle into a routine. Establishing visiting hours at home can be a great thing.
- Reframe time spent nursing as YOUR time. Your baby is a beautiful little creature and while you will spend countless hours admiring her, you shouldn’t feel obligated to actively bond with your baby for the duration of every nursing session. Breastfeeding is as much about nutrition as it is about nurturing; it satisfies your baby’s emotional needs for comfort, safety, human touch and connection, which are as important to her overall development as good nutrition. The bonding is built-in! Set up a comfy nursing station in your bed or living room with a water bottle, easy to eat snacks, a current read, and your iPhone. Enjoy this time to rest (learn to nurse in the side-lying position!), catch up on your favorite television series, talk on the phone, visit with friends, download the latest game from the app store, FaceTime, or listen to an audiobook. Enjoy the opportunity to relax and to do something that makes you feel happy and recharged.
- Take a shower. Sometimes you just need a reset. Bonus if your partner or someone you trust can hold the baby for you so that you can shower in peace and quiet.
- Put on some makeup and some comfortable clothes that make you feel like yourself, and get out of the house (even if it’s only to take a walk around the block). Practice nursing at home with or without a nursing cover to help you feel more comfortable to feed your baby whenever and wherever your baby needs to eat so that being out of the house feels less stressful.
- Redefine normal. Life will never be as it was before you had kids. Don’t wait for your life to return to “normal” before you start living and loving it. Life with kids is lived in phases and a lack of sleep coupled with the very physical effort required to care for your family day and night makes the newborn and infant stages incredibly demanding. Take a time out with your partner and get creative to identify strategies and small actions that you can take to focus on your individual needs and to foster your relationship.
- Ask for help. Accept help. The people who love you most don’t always know what you need or how best to help you. If someone asks how they can help their interest is probably genuine, so take them up on their offer! For practical help outline a list of chores to refer to when visitors come to the house and ask what they can do. (Be as specific as you need to be in order to delegate the task.) Ask a friend to set up a meal train (we like: Take Them a Meal or MealBaby) for your family in the weeks after your baby is born; there is nothing better than a hot meal prepared with love and delivered to your dining room table. Hire skilled help to fill in the gaps until you are ready to fold in to your routine the everyday not baby-related responsibilities. Find a postpartum doula, a house cleaner, or a dog sitter. Renegotiate your responsibilities within the household so that you can focus on your baby and let other people care for you in the ways that you find helpful.
- Wear your baby. Much of your day will be devoted to breastfeeding and when not nursing many babies prefer to be held in arms, even while they sleep. If you feel like a hostage find an attractive and functional carrier so that when you’re not nursing you can carry your baby and tend to the other things you may want to do. You will love having two free hands and many carriers can be used by your partner too, which will give you a break when the baby isn’t nursing.
- Take a load off when your baby isn’t nursing. Encourage your husband or partner to bond with your baby when she isn’t nursing. A few ideas for Partner: Offer to take the baby between feeds so mom can rest or have a break; get to know your baby’s personality and learn to recognize her feeding cues; burp her, change her diaper, play with her, read her a book, hang out together skin to skin; listen to your favorite music together; talk to her about life; take her for a walk outside; or wear her in a carrier while she sleeps.
- Take each day one at a time. Breastfeeding in the early months will be the focus of much of your energy as a new mama. You will not love every minute spent breastfeeding, but know that you won’t regret a minute of your investment. You will carry with you forever the sweetest memories from these hours and days spent nestled-in with your babe. Relish that glossy newborn hair. Be awestruck and amazed by the tiny life that rests right there in your lap; how did this one little being change everything? Don’t stress about what comes next, whether it be a transition back to work or learning a new role at home. Focus on making each day as good as it can be and work together as a family to tackle the big decisions. The days are long but the years are short. Hang in there! What may feel like active work now will be second nature before you know it.
- You are a SUPER MAMA! Be proud of yourself. You will look back on this time with a full heart and gratitude for the shared experience. You are exactly the mama that your baby needs and you are doing a great job.