By Chelsea Skaggs: Postpartum Coach
When it comes to breastfeeding, we’re often sold a picture-perfect image: a serene mother cradling her content baby, both blissfully enjoying this natural bonding experience. But the truth? It can be messy, challenging, and downright painful at times. Let’s debunk the fairy-tale and talk about the realities of breastfeeding – the common issues and solutions, and most importantly, ways to navigate this journey with grace and patience.
The Latch Factor
Latching difficulties are one of the most common breastfeeding challenges. An improper latch can cause pain and affect milk transfer, leading to stress and anxiety. A Breastfeeding Pillow can help provide optimal positioning for your baby and give your arms a break. Seeking support from a lactation consultant or using a breastfeeding course, like Milkology, can be instrumental in navigating this hurdle. While I’ve had a couple of friends who felt like latch just happened naturally and without stress, for many of us it is a challenge and we need the extra support. Figuring out a good latch is a game changer.
Pain and Discomfort
Breast pain, from sore nipples to engorgement and mastitis, is unfortunately common among breastfeeding moms. This can make an already demanding task feel almost unbearable. Using a nipple cream, like Motherlove Nipple Cream, can offer relief from soreness. When I didn’t have nipple cream on hand, I used coconut oil which is also soothing and moisturizing for the skin. Warm compresses and gentle massages can help with engorgement. A more recent development in the breastfeeding world is a massager like this LaVie lactation massager. This helps you avoid clogged ducts and provides comfort. They also offer a 3-in-1 warming lactation massager which provides heat and vibration. This was not available when I was breastfeeding, but I’ve heard wonderful things from my small group coaching clients. Always consult with your healthcare provider for issues like mastitis, it can require medication and/or medical care, but know that these challenges, while painful, are temporary.
Milk Supply Concerns
Many new moms worry about milk production. Before turning to lactation cookies or teas, remember that your body is designed for this task, and frequent feeding is often the best way to increase supply. When you feed, it signals to your body that it needs to make milk. If you’re having concerns, consult with a lactation consultant. Ask your friends or a local mom’s group for recommendations on local lactation consultants.
To work to boost your supply, you can try a supplement like Legendairy Milk’s herbal lactation supplements. Additionally you can use the LaVie massager which helps the milk flow with heat and massage. (Seriously feels good!) But always remember – every body is unique. Do your best not to compare your milk production to friends or strangers on the internet. And if you continue having difficulties, check to see if you may have insufficient granular tissue. You can learn more about IGT on KellyMom.
Breastfeeding in Public
Societal judgment and lack of accommodating facilities can make breastfeeding in public challenging. But for most women, you still want to leave the house without having a 2 or 3 hour deadline to get back for baby’s next feeding. There has been a lot more societal acceptance of breastfeeding in public over the last 6 years (since I had my first). But there is still a long way to go. The more women normalize it for one another, the more progress we can make.
Here are a couple of things that can make breastfeeding in public easier for you:
- Wearing a breastfeeding-friendly top or using the “double shirt method” which basically means a tank under a loose t-shirt or button up.
- Pack a lightweight nursing cover that can help you feed your baby with confidence when you’re out and about.
- Know your breastfeeding rights and practice growing your confidence.
- Ask your friends for support or extra help when you are out together.
Time and Commitment
Breastfeeding is time-consuming and can be mentally and physically exhausting. The demand for breastfeeding, especially during seasons of cluster feeding, can lead to less sleep. Remember to take care of yourself too. Stay hydrated with a refillable water bottle at hand, have snacks like the Bobo’s oat snack bars available, and take short breaks when you can.
While some moms feel more in control and confident when tracking each feed, others find it more peaceful to pay attention to baby’s cues and not worry much about the schedule. Unless your baby is struggling to gain weight, tracking can cause extra anxiety for some, so follow your gut.
Returning to Work
Returning to work adds another layer of complexity to breastfeeding. First and foremost, know what your rights are for pumping at work (click to learn more). Next, if you are comfortable, talk with a coworker who has also pumped at work and learn from them what did and didn’t work well. If necessary, talk with your manager about your needs and how to create an accomodating schedule.
Next, prepare yourself to use your time efficiently. A reliable breast pump and a milk storage solution like these silicone reusable breastmilk storage bags are key to this transition. If you have a long commute, a cute small cooler to take back and forth is going to be helpful.
Some women like to keep a traditional plug-in pump in their office or pumping room for each pumping session. Some women like to use a hands-free pump like the Willow breastpump at work so that they can continue working on their computer or phones while working. You have to evaluate your job and job responsibilities, your preferences and what you are most comfortable with, and your time and logistics. Do what works for you.
Support is crucial in your breastfeeding journey. Whether it’s from healthcare providers, family, or friends, don’t hesitate to reach out. You can also connect with fellow moms on platforms like Peanut or in small group coaching for shared experiences and advice.
Breastfeeding can be especially challenging if you’re dealing with postpartum depression or anxiety. It’s not only okay, but it’s important to reach out to professionals for support. Breastfeeding is a sacrifice in many ways. Your time, your energy, your diet, your body… all of these are impacted. That sacrifice can have many beautiful things to it, but sometimes it is too much. Check in with yourself consistently and have your partner or a friend check in on you too. Evaluate the cost and benefit at each season, and make sure you are caring for your mental health so that you can show up for your baby.
Lastly, remember, while breastfeeding has many benefits, the “breast is best” narrative can sometimes cast a shadow over the fact that ‘fed is best.’ You’re not alone if you’re struggling with breastfeeding, and there are other healthy ways to feed your baby. A baby formula, like the award-winning Bobbie formula, might be the right choice for you, whether partially or fully, and that’s okay.
As Dr. Jack Newman, a renowned breastfeeding expert, rightly said, “Breastfeeding is an art.” And like any art form, it requires patience, practice, and time. It’s perfectly okay to ask for help and seek out resources. It is also okay to decide that art isn’t for you.
Remember, every breastfeeding journey is unique, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Your journey is yours, mama. And no matter how it looks, it’s perfect because it’s yours.
If you are in a space where you’re ready to explore how motherhood has grown and changed you, and how you want to live your best life now, let’s talk about small group coaching for new moms.