Becoming a new parent is HARD. For biological moms in particular, it is challenging because not only is there an intense recovery period no matter the means of how baby arrived, there are a lot of changes that occur hormonally, emotionally, and physically. One change is the body’s natural response to a baby being born by producing nutrient-rich colostrum, and then breast milk to provide nourishment for the baby. Although not every woman has the ability to sustain breastfeeding for as long as they might plan or desire, many women try to feed their baby as nature intended. Because breastfeeding is considered to be the best option for baby’s health, women commit themselves to it, but experience confusion, mixed emotions, and feelings of failure if it doesn’t go well. Health professionals promote that “breast is best,” but often do not explain that there is a learning curve to breastfeeding. Something that is thought of as completely natural is far from simple for many breastfeeding moms. Details such as how difficult it can be for baby to learn to latch, for example, get lost on new moms and leave them bewildered and confused. As a breastfeeding mom, I was surprised to learn the following through experience:
1. Even if You're Off To a Good Start, It Might Change
The day after my son was born, we were the last family to see the lactation consultant of the day. Because we had to wait, a nurse gave me a nipple shield to help baby’s latch. I was unfamiliar with nipple shields and didn’t have an opinion about them one way or another, but figured it was worth giving them a try. When the lactation consultant came in, she spent about 10 minutes with us. She demonstrated a quick “football hold,” explained the benefits of it, enthusiastically complimented how “natural” my baby’s latch was (despite my attempts to express my discomfort with it since I had been using the nipple shield), and rejoiced that we were the “easiest case of the day” and she could go home. Once we got home and my milk came in, things changed. Baby started having a hard time latching, with and without the shield.
2. People Don't Typically Talk About Babies With Reflux
Sure, babies spit up. Burp cloths are a typical staple for new parents. However, continual reflux and vomiting is not a normal experience that every baby goes through. Unfortunately, this phenomenon can feel somewhat dramatic and traumatizing for the parents of a baby with reflux. The medical diagnosis for and infant with reflux is known as GERD, which stands for Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease. For anyone who is unfamiliar with reflux, consider a glimpse into life with a baby with GERD. For example, one of the most common recommendations for parents feeding babies with reflux is to hold them upright for 30-45 minutes after a feeding. Imagine this scenario at night; every night. Now imagine it during week 7, or 13, or beyond. Dutiful parents get up for several nightly feedings. Depending on how baby does during the feeding, the baby might cry, fuss, vomit, and writhe in pain until they are able to settle down once again. This can take anywhere from 15-45 minutes or more. Then the baby needs to be held upright for another 30-45 minutes. In my experience, keeping our baby upright didn’t keep our baby from vomiting. The minute he was laid back down, he would vomit and the cycle would begin again. Then, according to some pediatricians’ recommendation, the baby needs to eat every two hours or so, which means the parents might be up for an hour, rest for an hour, then up for an hour again; if they’re lucky. This pattern continues throughout the night and unfortunately, no one gets much uninterrupted sleep. To describe it as “crazy making” feels like a euphemism. As one might imagine, this is physically and emotionally exhausting and has a major impact on mood, which can contribute to postpartum depression.
3. Every Health Professional Has a Different Opinion About Mom's Diet
Ultimately, it is up to mom to decide what is best for her baby and her family. Especially when one is breastfeeding and caring for a baby with reflux, some health professionals will recommend that Mom restrict certain foods. Some of the most common foods that are restricted are eggs, dairy (due to the protein found in dairy, which is different than lactose intolerance), or anything else that causes either parent to have indigestion. Other foods that some moms swear to avoid include gas-inducing foods such as beans, broccoli, and cabbage. Depending on the health provider, the parents will get different information and different recommendations. Some lactation consultants will insist that Mom gives up dairy first (including anything and everything that contains milk as an ingredient such as milk chocolate, pastries, or anything cooked with butter). However, according to some pediatricians, if baby is exhibiting a reaction to dairy, there would be a constellation of other symptoms present including blood in the stool and a skin rash. The important thing about giving up dairy is the length of time it takes to notice a change. Once a mom goes completely dairy-free, it takes up to 7-10 days to clear her body and another 7-10 to clear baby’s body which means it can take up to three weeks to notice a difference in Baby’s mood and behavior. Although certainly not impossible, restricting a whole food group can be intimidating and difficult for moms to commit to doing long-term.
4. Supplementing is Not The End of The World
Neither is switching to formula. In fact, the statistics are pretty clear. Most moms stop breastfeeding at least in part after maternity leave because they go back to work and have difficulty maintaining their milk supply during the workday. It does not mean you are a bad mom. It does not make you a failure. You are feeding your hungry baby and you are doing your job.
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Parenting is hard work. What is odd is that not many people talk about it until they themselves become new parents. Breastfeeding, although “natural” is something that is far from simple and sometimes counter-intuitive. Parenting is hard enough. Things that pose challenges such as latching, low milk production, diet restrictions, reflux, and supplementing should not cause new moms to feel isolated or inferior. Feeling alienated because breastfeeding is more difficult than anticipated should not contribute to the struggles new moms face. If you or someone you know is dealing with one of the issues mentioned or another breastfeeding issue altogether, seek support. You are not alone in this struggle, and it is normal to struggle.