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Are you a breastfeeding and find it really challenging? You’re not alone! In this post, you’ll learn some tips for how to get through the struggling times in a way that will benefit you and your baby.
Like razor blades on my nipples, the pain of breastfeeding my daughter for the first three weeks of her life was excruciating. I was miserable. Sobbing, swearing, despairing. Yet I persevered! It turns out she was tongue-tied and a frenectomy worked wonders.
Though everything worked out in the end, I would not recommend my personal approach to other mothers. Not only was the physical pain intense, it triggered emotional torment, joylessness, and lost time with her. I ought to have been enjoying my new baby, not feeling desperate to steer clear of her because of the pain.
While the physiological side of breastfeeding is often examined—positioning, latch, frequency, newborn stomach size, weight gain, mastitis, tongue tie, thrush—the mental and emotional experience is rarely discussed. Particularly when it comes to the challenges of breastfeeding.
In fact, while we may experience physical pain from breastfeeding, much of our struggle comes from what we think (oh, the uncertainties!) and feel emotionally about it.
Understanding where you are physically, mentally, and emotionally in regards to breastfeeding can help you make the choices you need to stop feeling so lost and consumed by it.
To do so, here are six things to consider:
1. Your breastfeeding goals.
When I was struggling to feed my daughter, I had no idea what my goals were other than “to breastfeed.” My attention during those first weeks was on how miserable I was, not on the specifics of what I wanted to achieve, which I really should have determined beforehand.
Be clear on what you want, so you can focus on it (the positive) as opposed to what you don’t want (the negative). Knowing what you want (how long you want to breastfeed, whether you want to do it exclusively or with supplementation, how you want to feel while breastfeeding, the support you want to have, etc.) is essential to achieving a satisfying breastfeeding relationship.
2. Why these goals are important to you.
These are the reasons you’ve chosen to breastfeed. They may encompass the relationship you desire with your baby and/or who you want to be as a mom. Knowing why certain things are important to you can help you adjust your breastfeeding tactics as needed and in ways that stay true to your desires.
Since I failed to identify my breastfeeding goals and just knew that I wanted to breastfeed “because it’s natural,” I held no consideration for my mental and emotional well being or how my crying, swearing, and avoiding my baby may have been affecting our relationship. Simply asking myself, “Why am I doing this?,” not in an accusatory way, but in a curious one could have helped.
3. What you’re telling yourself about breastfeeding/your baby/yourself.
Because I hadn’t considered my own needs, the relationship between my daughter and me, or the possibility that breastfeeding would be challenging, I immediately found myself saying a number of unhelpful things:
She is so demanding; she wants to eat constantly!
I don’t want to hold her.
I wish someone else could do this.
I’m supposed to do this for how long?!
What have I gotten myself into?
Our thoughts are incredibly powerful. If you tell yourself happy, uplifting, and empowering things, you’ll feel joyful and strong. But if you tell yourself negative, heavy, or draining things then you’ll feel down, frustrated, and stuck.
4. What you could tell yourself that would be beneficial to your breastfeeding relationship, relationship with your child, and/or relationship with yourself.
This is all about changing the story you tell yourself, so you can feel better. Our thoughts create our feelings. What thoughts would reduce or eliminate your struggles?
Perhaps if I’d reminded myself that I was choosing to breastfeed then I would have felt more empowered. Or if I’d told myself that my daughter was not the enemy then I would have felt more peaceful. And what if I’d believed that taking care of myself was of the utmost importance as well? Lastly, what if I was aligning my thoughts with my goals?
For example, I want to exclusively breastfeed for six months because it is the best source of nutrition for her. What I’m doing will help us get there. Or, I want to feel happy about nourishing her through my milk, so I will think about other ways to do this that don’t involve such pain.
5. What you’re afraid of when it comes to breastfeeding.
Is it that your baby isn’t getting enough? That you aren’t mom enough? Or maybe that the two of you will never get it right? Or that other moms will judge you if you “fail” at breastfeeding?
Personally, I feared that I was weak, lazy, and not a good mom if I didn’t push through and continue doing this the “right” way. I also feared that my daughter wouldn’t be in optimal health unless she was getting milk straight from my breast without the interference of anything “unnatural,” from nipple shields to bottles of formula. (How foggy my thinking was then though common for many moms!)
So bring your fears to the light. You’ll be able to see what’s really going on for you and start approaching breastfeeding from a place of love, not fear, or as I did, fear disguised as love. (I love her and want her to be healthy! Translation: I’m afraid that if I don’t sacrifice myself to breastfeed her then she won’t be healthy.)
6. Options to explore or changes you could make.
When you’re struggling to breastfeed it can feel like you don’t have any options. Or… if you do see options they often don’t feel right or doable. Looking at the five points above will help give you the clarity you need to alter your approach—or keep it just as it is, should you so choose.
If I’d known my goals and why they were important to me, recognized the negative things I was telling myself, considered alternate thoughts, and realized that my ultimate motivation was coming from fear, then I may have chosen to do things exactly the same as I did or may have explored other options. Either way, I would have been able to see the many options I had and make conscious choices that felt good to me.
Breastfeeding is the biologically normal way to feed a baby. The thoughts and feelings that come along with it are also normal. Yet when they don’t lift you up, it’s in your best interests and those of your child to take a new look at your situation. Doing what you can to reach your breastfeeding goals while maintaining your mental and emotional well-being is paramount.