Mothers have been breastfeeding their babies since the beginning of time, but that doesn’t mean the process is seamless for all new moms and their babies. And that can come as a surprise to many new parents.
My colleagues and I work with mothers to help them navigate their breastfeeding journey and meet their personal feeding goals.
Through years of supporting new moms, we've identified a few pieces of advice. They're not about what to buy or how to arrange your nursery, but rather concern how to prepare for one of the most beautiful — yet challenging — experiences you'll encounter as a mother.
Clear out distractions.
The amount of time you'll spend feeding your baby during the first weeks can be shocking for new moms. Newborn babies have small tummies and typically need to feed every two to three hours, around the clock. Especially for moms who struggle a bit with feeding at the beginning, it can seem that there is little time for anything other than feeding and changing your baby.
Freeze dinners in advance for those first couple of weeks. Initiate conversations with family and friends about when visitors will be welcome and how they can help. Prioritize the need to rest, bond with your baby and establish your breastfeeding relationship.
Sleep becomes a precious commodity after the birth of a baby. Interrupted sleep can play havoc with maternal moods when accompanied by hormonal changes and breastfeeding challenges. Try and compensate for interrupted night sleep by taking frequent naps during the day when baby is sleeping. Resist the urge to resume all prior chores and responsibilities, and delegate to family and friends during the newborn transition.
Identify a support system.
In addition to lactation consultants and your pediatrician, every breastfeeding mother needs a breastfeeding "cheerleader." Have a person (or persons) picked out — someone who supports your decision to breastfeed, has been through the breastfeeding journey and will know where you're coming from. It can also be helpful to look into local breastfeeding support groups.
Breastfeeding challenges are not uncommon in the first couple of weeks, and most of them resolve with time and a little guidance. Unfortunately, when compounded by lack of sleep and postpartum hormones, breastfeeding challenges can make you feel confused and vulnerable.
Social media, in particular, can be a great source of support for breastfeeding mothers, but it can also cause angst and confusion. Don't compare yourself to others. Every breastfeeding mother's relationship with her baby is different. What worked for one mom may not work for you, but that is not something you can control and is certainly not your fault.
You will know your baby better than anyone else. Rely on your breastfeeding support system to help filter out discouraging information, and on lactation consultants and breastfeeding-friendly pediatricians to help you sort through all the "advice" and help you make a plan for any challenges you face.
Know it's worth it.
Despite the challenges, most mothers do not regret the time and effort they invest in breastfeeding or providing breast milk to their babies. It is for the lifelong health of both mom and baby, though it takes time, patience and perseverance.
The loving bond between a mother and her infant is unlike any other human relationship. The desire to provide your baby with the best nutritional start in life is powerful motivation, and the time you spend feeding your baby during these early days is some of the most important moments you'll ever spend.
With patience and lots of support, you will settle into the right routine for you and your baby.
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