Breastfeeding is natural but not always easy. Whether you are a first time mom or a mom with previous breastfeeding experience, each baby can be a challenge depending on the character and natural tendencies of that child.
Breastfeeding can be daunting. Even when moms want to breastfeed exclusively (giving only breast milk and no formula) for the first 6 months of life, as recommended by most global pediatric groups such as the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control, only 44% of mothers who start breastfeeding at birth are still exclusively breastfeeding by 2 months. Most first time mothers are less sure of their breastfeeding abilities and this lack of confidence can lead them to wean their babies earlier and use formula.
The good news it that these feelings are very common among new mothers and just having quality information and resources available can give first time moms the self-confidence and courage to keep going to meet their breastfeeding goals. Let’s take a look at a few of the common concerns that may interfere with continued breastfeeding. Knowing that these feeling are common among new mothers can help you feel less isolated.
Trying to find a balance between the needs of the newborn, the physical changes in your body, and the non-stop breastfeeding
It is normal to be surprised during the first weeks after birth about the pain with feedings, the relentless nature of the frequent feeds, the long nights, and the profound depth of fatigue. This can lead you to feel out of control and seek a sense of normalcy to your days and routines.
Time generally takes care of these issues as your breasts adapt to breastfeeding and become more efficient in making milk. Also, your baby will grow and have a larger tummy so they will be able to eat more at each session and leading to less frequent feedings. As your baby’s ability to eat more increases, their nighttime sleep will also lengthen allowing you to sleep more at night too!
Hitting the wall and trying anything to survive
The constant needs of your baby often make you put your own needs on the back burner. The lack of self-care, lack of sleep, and mental and physical exhaustion can make you question your ability to keep going and manage all the changes you are experiencing. Additionally, when you reach out for help but find barriers, mixed messages, or a lack of breastfeeding support, it can lead you to seek out your own answers. The frustration that develops can lead to self-diagnosis and management of breastfeeding issues, which can lead you to adopt erroneous breastfeeding beliefs, increasing anxiety, and an escalation of problems.
It is very important that you seek out breastfeeding resources and support services prior to having your baby. Taking a breastfeeding course is helpful to understand what breastfeeding will be like on an intellectual level and have some basic skills to support the process. After your baby is born, knowing where to seek professional support for any concerns that arise is necessary for your health and the health of your baby. Finally, having emotional support from your partner, family, friends, and a breastfeeding support group can make all the difference in surviving the tough moments.
Fear of failure and need for validation
Lots of new moms feel that their self-worth and identity are tied to their ability to breastfeed successfully. Many moms use the baby’s weight checks in the pediatrician’s office and the doctor’s comments on their milk and their baby’s growth measurement as indicators of success. Moms tend to take the doctor’s words and opinions as more important than her own daily assessment of her baby’s behavior and contentment. Interestingly, when breastfeeding success is not immediate, or when set backs occur, mom’s self-confidence can plummet.
It is essential to remember that breastfeeding is not a sport and there is no winning or losing. Breastfeeding is an experience between you and your baby that can be adapted to meet the needs of you both. More importantly, breastfeeding is a learned skill that can take up to 60 days for you and your baby to learn. Being patient and understanding that breastfeeding is a process rather than a race can help eliminate feelings of failure and the need for validation. Instead, you and your baby can focus on improving every day and celebrating each success as you look for resources and support to overcome any challenges that may arise.
The good news is by five to six weeks, most moms have overcome the initial breastfeeding difficulties and begin to feel more confident in their abilities. Knowing you are not alone and reaching out to different people for support can help you manage things until this moment arrives for you. Look to your pediatrician or lactation consultant for health related breastfeeding concerns. Reach out to your partner, family, and friends for emotional support. And be patient with yourself and your baby as you continue on your new adventure of breastfeeding.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Breastfeeding among U.S. Children Born 2002-2013, CDC National Immunization Surveys. Atlanga, GA: Author. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding /data/NIS_data/
Demirci, J., Bogen, D. (2017). An ecological momentary assessment of primiparous women’s breastfeeding behavior and problems from birth to eight weeks. Journal of Human Lactation, 33, 285-295.
Demirici, J., Caplan, E., Murray, N. & Cohen, S. (2017). “I just want to do everything right: Primiparous women’s accounts of early breastfeeding via an app-based diary. Journal of Pediatric Health Care 32(2), pp. 163-172.
About the instructor
Dr. Deanna Marie Mason PhD
More than 20 years of clinical experience helping families:
Bachelor's Degree in Registered Nursing, Master’s Degree in Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and PhD in Nursing. University professor, patient education specialist, pediatric researcher, published author and reviewer to first-line international scientific journals, continuous philanthropic activity related to health promotion and education, wife and mother of two children.