I think it’s safe to say that most people have a number of expectations of what parenthood is going to be like. Even before you fall pregnant, you might have a vision of playing with your children in the park. Of teaching them to ride a bike. Of rocking your baby in your arms. We romanticise a lot of parenting, before we are hit with the realities of it, and as a result, we often set the bar pretty high! This can lead to a lot of pressure on us and how we feel we ‘should’ be as a parent.
Breastmilk is undoubtedly the best start for babies and comes with many amazing benefits including reducing the risk of infection and disease, helping with bonding and the milk being perfectly made up every time to suit your baby’s needs. Best of all, it’s free and available anytime you need to feed. However when it comes to our expectations of breastfeeding, we often set the bar high too; getting started with breastfeeding isn’t always easy. We might have an idea of just popping your baby straight onto your boob, and bingo! One happy, contented, milky baby. However, in reality there are lots of points where breastfeeding doesn’t go as planned, and this can be stressful for parents to overcome.
For instance, if your baby has tongue-tie, this can cause difficulties with baby latching on, and not able to suckle as much milk as needed, resulting in sore nipples and a hungry baby. Other mothers find it difficult to find the right breastfeeding position, especially if they have a physical disability or sensory issues. Very often, mothers feel unsupported, and not confident in how to get it right.
Whatever the difficulty is, it can feel awful when you want to breastfeed but things aren’t straightforward. Very often, if breastfeeding issues mean that the baby isn’t putting on enough weight, it’s easy for mothers at this stage to feel incredibly guilty and blame themselves. Many parents give up breastfeeding when it doesn’t go smoothly, and can feel ashamed about the difficulties they have experienced, or feel they have failed their baby. This can have a real impact on maternal mental health as research has shown in a study of 2,500 women that mothers with a negative experience of breastfeeding were more likely to experience postnatal depression. Similarly, further research has shown higher rates of postnatal depression amongst those mothers who wanted to breastfeed but couldn’t.
So if you’re struggling with breastfeeding, or thinking about giving it up for whatever reason, it can be helpful to know the following:
1. The magic is in the breastmilk, not the breastfeeding itself
If feeding isn’t going well, could you use a breast pump and offer milk to your baby via bottle, with all the same wonderful bonding benefits of snuggling up together? Providing breastmilk using a bottle also means that your partner or other family members can help, which can make a real difference to you too if you’re in need of a break (and we all need a break sometimes!)
2. Help and support is out there
Trained breastfeeding counsellors can be amazing and help you overcome any initial hurdles. La Leche League provide support groups so you can search for one near you, as well as telephone support and online guides. You can also ring The National Breastfeeding Helplinewho can offer support and advice every day of the year 9.30am-9.30pm. Also newly available 24/7 is the BreastFeeding Friend– a digital tool available via your smart speaker or Facebook Messenger, and packed with NHS breastfeeding advice and daily tips.
3. Speaking to other parents can be invaluable
You might feel that you’re the only one experiencing breastfeeding issues, but the reality is that many parents will have struggled at some stage, whether that’s with latching, sore nipples, mastitis, cluster feeding or something else. It can be as simple as striking up a conversation with another mum at a baby group, or texting some friends who have had children before you. There are even free Baby Cafés run by NCT who can help provide further guidance and advice from qualified breastfeeding experts as well as a chance to meet other parents.
4. Don’t beat yourself up
Whatever choices you decide to make around how to feed your baby, being kind to yourself is going to be vital. It’s easy to criticise yourself when you have high expectations, but usually all that does is make you feel worse. Protecting your mental health is one of the most important things you can do for your baby too, as they need you to be ok in order to thrive themselves. See if you can find a way to challenge your inner critic with some soothing affirmations: replace “I am failing” with “I am doing my best”, or “I should be able to breastfeed easily” with “it’s normal that something new can be tricky”.
5. Reduce the pressure on yourself to breastfeed
Although breastfeeding has many benefits, it shouldn’t mean that you should feel guilty if you struggle or choose not to. It’s your personal choice as a parent and no one should make you feel ashamed about whatever choice that you make. If you decide to use formula milk to supplement or replace breastmilk, then there are lots of ways to ensure that feeding time is a wonderful, cuddly and beautiful bonding experience, such as making sure you’re picking up your baby lots and enjoying some skin to skin contact. Whatever choices you make, decide what feels right to you, and you alone. We parents don’t need any more pressure placed upon us!
As always, good luck, and I’d love to hear from you if you have any questions, via my website