To the struggling breastfeeding mom — I hear you, I see you, I was you. With my first child, I wanted to breastfeed. All the lactation consultants in my classes said breastfeeding was effortless, natural, and wouldn’t hurt. And it is best for my baby. I had grand plans to breastfeed for six months. Well, the best-laid plans are just that.
My son was born and had a hard time latching. As many moms do, we supplemented with formula for those first few days. But I assumed I would be able to go on to exclusively breastfeed with no issues. I will be very honest; I felt like a failure when my husband gave my son some formula on his second day of life. Looking back on it, it makes me sad that I even felt that way! It pains me that society has created a negative image of formula feeding. Breastfeeding may be natural, but it does not come easy or naturally to almost everyone I have ever spoken with about their breastfeeding journey.
The Challenge of Breastfeeding
Little did I know I would struggle to feed my son for four months. I was determined to be successful at breastfeeding, to the detriment of my mental and physical health. Due to undiagnosed oral ties, I spent the first four weeks with a baby I thought was colicky and not gaining weight very well. After hiring a private lactation consultant, she helped me realize that ties were the root cause of our problem. We quickly revised his tongue tie (for the first time), and things got somewhat better, but I was still in excruciating pain when I breastfed.
I fought through the pain and nursed when I could, but I also pumped and bottle-fed. It was a very challenging cycle. All I wanted to do was be successful at breastfeeding my son because they said it would be easy and natural! What was so wrong with me that I could not feed my baby the natural way? After a second oral tie revision, we finally saw his weight gain take off, and my pain subsided.
This story does have a happy ending. I went on to breastfeed my son for 19 months. He completely self-weaned when I got pregnant for a second time. I was one of the lucky ones as I had an extended, fully paid maternity leave from work. He was also my first baby, so my only job was to keep him fed and happy.
Common Struggles in Breastfeeding
Despite what you may have heard, breastfeeding is not always easy, natural, or pain-free. Many women experience struggles. Common struggles with breastfeeding include but are not limited to the following:
- supply issues (low supply or oversupply are both issues!)
- latch problems, including oral ties
- pumping at work
You can speak with a professional to help you navigate some of these challenges if you want to try to continue breastfeeding (and I promise, it is okay if you don’t!). I had a private lactation consultant come to my home and help me in a relaxed and informal setting. It was the best thing I could have done. I would have never been able to breastfeed my son without her support. Later, I had her come to my house within days of my second child being born to try and get ahead of any potential issues.
Supplementing with formula or donor milk is a fantastic option if you are struggling with supply challenges, pain, or any other struggle. (Please note: we know of the formula shortage and understand formula feeding also has its challenges). Nutritionally, science has come a long way, and infant formula is similar to breast milk.
Donor milk is also an option. I recommend checking out your local Human Milk for Human Babies (here) chapter to learn more about donor milk. Breastfeeding is as good as combo feeding, which is as good as formula feeding. All your baby cares about is that they are fed and have a happy mom to love and care for them.
Supporting the Breastfeeding Mom
How can you support a struggling breastfeeding mom? Be there for them and support them the best way you can by listening or helping them find resources that can support their journey. Reassure them that it is okay if they want to continue breastfeeding and it’s okay if they want to stop breastfeeding. It’s also okay if you don’t know the right thing to do. Remind them that they are not alone. Perhaps you can help them find an online support group or provide a loving and non-judgmental shoulder to lean on.
If you are a breastfeeding mom, do not forget to take care of yourself. The postpartum period is already so challenging with hormones and healing. Give yourself some grace and do what you can to protect your mental and physical health. You may have to stop breastfeeding for some reason or for no reason other than it is better for your family not to breastfeed. No matter what decision you make, it is the best decision for you.
Remember that your end goal is a happy, healthy baby. I always remind breastfeeding moms struggling that you can tell no difference between breastfed and formula-fed babies when they walk into their first day of school. Keeping your baby happy and healthy is all that matters!