Having babies is not for the faint of heart. On top of that, there is so much information to absorb and so many decisions to make about infant care and child-rearing. Women need support — not judgment — and certainly not shame.
However, somewhere along the way, how you decide to feed your child became controversial. Breast or bottle? It seems there is no easy answer.
Amy Berry, a nurse and lactation consultant for Mercy Health, says that it’s a touchy subject.
“I have met moms in the beginning who will jump through any hoop you throw at them… and then they hit the breaking point,” she says. “Six weeks is a long time to nurse with pain if a baby’s not latching well, and sometimes it takes that long or even longer to get it right.”
Breastfeeding is not easy to establish, and your continued success relies so much on the support around you, especially when you hit challenges.
The challenges of breastfeeding are as unique as the mom and baby. Mom’s milk supply may not be robust or a baby’s latch isn’t good, so nursing can become painful. Also, experiencing stress can reduce a mom’s milk supply.
There are also some physiological challenges that can discourage or prevent breastfeeding. Ankyloglossia, or “tongue-tie,” can make latching difficult for an infant because it limits the tongue’s range of motion. Birth trauma or a cleft palate can create structural challenges.
On the mom’s side, insufficient glandular tissue (which is rare, but does happen) is difficult to overcome. Inverted or flat nipples means it might take a while to draw the nipple out by pumping or using a breast shield.
These issues are real, but the most common deterrent from breastfeeding is lack of support. Berry says if the challenges of nursing are “affecting your relationship with your baby because it is all-consuming, and you find that you’re not even enjoying motherhood, that becomes unsafe.”
Support for Breastfeeding
Guidance and support from someone who understands the breastfeeding process can greatly improve a nursing relationship. That support is needed not only at home but at work and out in the world.
However, depending on your employment, finding the time and a private place for pumping to support breastfeeding goals can be a huge hurdle to overcome.
The U.S. categorizes maternity leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which only ensures 12 weeks of unpaid leave. And, that may not apply if you work for certain businesses.
For many moms, they can’t afford to take unpaid time off and decide to go back to work long before their leave ends.
“Trying to establish a breastfeeding relationship with your child under those constraints is nearly impossible.” Berry says. “That’s why it’s important to meet mothers where they are and support their journey.” For example, if your only goal is to put the baby to the breast in the hospital, then Berry says, “let’s do what we need to do to make that happen.”
Sometimes approaching it that way gives mom more peace. Moms shouldn’t feel like they have to battle feeding their child. They have to navigate what their support will allow. If there’s not someone at home who can support your breastfeeding journey, or if you’re going back to a workplace where your only option for pumping is in a bathroom, your chances of sticking with it drop.
Programs such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) have helped provide support for breastfeeding moms in low-income circumstances by pairing moms with peer counselors. WIC peer counselors have been on WIC themselves, so they understand the program, are either currently breastfeeding or have previously breastfed.
“They are in the throes of it themselves, and because WIC appointments are more frequent, they build relationships with new moms,” Berry says. “They know you, your baby’s name, and where you are on your breastfeeding journey. So moms are more likely to reach out to them to ask for help.”
For moms, it’s meeting them where they are and helping them feed their babies in a way that makes the most sense for them.
“You can decide to pump or you can decide to bottle-feed formula while you’re at work, but also keep those precious bedtime and early morning nursing feeds,” Berry says. “It’s not an all-or-nothing situation. The process can flex to meet your needs, but if you don’t have knowledgeable guidance and support, it’s pretty hard to navigate on your own.”