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♥ Breastfeeding is Hard and That’s Okay♥

 

You’ll see a lot of different opinions about breastfeeding if you look on social media. Some people will tell you that it’s easy and everyone can do it without putting in any effort. Others will tell you breastfeeding is hard and they don’t know why anyone would even try. The reality is often somewhere in the middle, and the ease of it will vary over time. Here are a few things you can do to make it feel easier and less overwhelming during the challenging times.

Breastfeeding is Hard and That's Okay!

Feed Early and Often

We’ve all been there. The baby is crying so hard, you can’t even get them to latch on, even though you know they’re hungry. You’ve been trying to get them to just take the nipple for nearly half an hour, but they’re just so angry, they refuse. Every time you think they’ve got it, they push away again and swing their fists like a tiny boxer. You’re at your wits end at this point, begging them to just calm down. In the end, you have to wait for them to tire themself out to the point they’re half-asleep before you can get them to nurse.

It’s okay. It happens. But it shouldn’t happen on a regular basis. This should describe a once-in-a-while event. If this is happening regularly, chances are that you’re missing your baby’s early hunger cues. Feeding your baby when they first start to show signs of hunger makes it much easier to get into a good position with a proper latch. If you wait until  baby is crying before offering the breast, they’ll become so upset that they can’t control themselves, and may rage themself halfway to sleep before accepting any kind of comfort.

If this happens in between scheduled feedings, you may want to evaluate why you’re feeding on a schedule and consider feeding on demand instead. There may be some very rare instances when strict scheduled feedings may be part of a medical treatment plan, but in most cases, there’s no reason to deny feeding a baby when they’re hungry. If you’ve been instructed by a medical professional to follow a strict schedule, and baby is getting this hungry between feedings, let them know. Ask if the schedule can be adjusted to make baby (and you!) more comfortable. Get a second opinion if necessary.

 

What hunger cues look like

Learn to Recognize the Cues

Here are some hunger cues that you can use to recognize when your baby is getting hungry before they start crying. I’ve organized them in order from early to late.

  1. Licking their lips and making smacking or sucking sounds

  2. Opening and closing their mouth

  3. Sticking their tongue out

  4. Sucking on anything nearby

  5. Rooting – digging their face into any nearby skin or fabric and moving it around

  6. Turning their head and opening their mouth

  7. Bringing their hand to their mouth

  8. Fidgeting or squirming

  9. Breathing fast

  10. Trying to get in position for nursing

  11. Fussing

  12. Hitting you repeatedly

  13. Making frantic, agitated movements

  14. Crying and turning red — too late!

 

Create Helpful Habits

When I nursed my babies, I offered them the breast any time they fussed. Eventually, I got in the habit of offering it any time they moved while I was holding or wearing them.  This became sort of an automatic reaction that I performed without even thinking about it.

It also created a funny story that my best friend and I like to retell our daughters who were born only a few months apart: I was visiting my friend for the day. She had asked me to hold her baby for a few minutes while she got dinner started. My daughter had already nursed herself to sleep and was taking a nap. Not long after my friend walked away, her baby started to wiggle and, without thinking, I started to unsnap my nursing tank. I caught myself quickly, but not before my friend saw and began laughing hysterically. Then I told her how I had almost done the same with with the new puppy we had just gotten a few weeks before. She nearly died laughing!

Beyond providing you with some much-needed laughter, my point is that, by paying attention to my baby’s cues and making a habit of feeding at the first sign of hunger, I was able to relax more. It alleviated the stress of trying to calm my baby when she had gotten too hungry to nurse, or wondering if her cries were from hunger. This made breastfeeding so much easier for me.

 

Make a Plan

When you’re out of the house, be sure to watch baby for these hunger cues, then decide where you’re going to nurse, and get there before the hunger gets too overwhelming for them. If you’re comfortable nursing anywhere, anytime, go ahead and offer the breast right away.

Make sure to always wear a top that provides quick and easy access. There are a plethora of cute nursing tops these days. But you don’t have to spend a fortune on special clothes to wear just for nursing. Many tank tops are stretchy enough to simply pull your breast out of the top without harming the fabric. If you prefer more coverage, you can wear another shirt over it, and just pull it above your breast while nursing. Once I got comfortable with nursing in public, I just pulled T-shirts and blouses up from the bottom. My baby blocked the view of nearly all of my exposed skin. You could also carry a small blanket with you to use to cover any areas you don’t want seen.

For long car trips, make sure to plan to stop an average of every two hours or so, according to your baby’s usual feeding times. Allow for enough time to feed and change baby at each stop. Being in a rush only creates extra unnecessary stress, which also interferes with your body’s oxytocin production, and can make feedings take longer due to delayed let-down.

 

Don’t Stress Over Time

You may have heard some people say things like “breastfeeding is hard because it takes too much time.” The truth is that bottle feeding takes much more time when done properly. The bottles need to be sterilized, as does the water used to prepare formula. Then it needs time to cool to body temperature. After all this has been done, you then have to hold the bottle and ensure that baby isn’t drinking too fast, and take frequent breaks for burping.

Breastfeeding doesn’t have to take all of your time. You don’t have to boil your boobs and then let them cool (I’m wincing just at the thought of that!), and babies don’t need to stop to burp as often during feedings directly from the breast. Not using bottles does mean that you are the only one that can feed baby, though. You could pump and allow someone else to bottle-feed baby if you want, but if you’d rather not, then there are ways to get things done while nursing, too.

Babywearing has become increasingly popular over the last couple of decades, and for good reason. It frees up your hands and allows you to get things done without needing someone else to care for baby. With a front-carry in a wrap, sling, or other carrier, you can nurse hands-free. This gives you the mobility and freedom to do dishes, laundry, care for your other children, or write that book you’ve been working on. 

 

Get More Rest

Okay, so you can get the housework done, but what about sleeping? Good news! The Lullaby Trust has some excellent guidelines for how you can safely co-sleep with your baby. This can allow you to get more sleep at night. This way, you don’t have to get out of bed when you hear baby crying. Remember, crying is too late, and this can make it take longer to feed baby. You can respond to cues much sooner when baby is in bed with you. If you sleep with your breasts exposed, you might even find baby helping themself without even waking you!

With side-lying or laid-back breastfeeding, you can even get in a nap while nursing. Follow the safe co-sleeping guidelines even for naps, or anytime you feel so tired that you think you might fall asleep while nursing. Sometimes our bodies will produce hormones that make us fall asleep during nursing sessions. Normally, this is meant to help us fall asleep after feeding, but when we are already sleep-deprived, our bodies may ramp up production of it too soon. I fell asleep during every nursing session throughout the first week with my oldest. It’s important to listen to your body. If this is happening to you, go with the flow (no pun intended!) and just allow yourself to nap while nursing. It can be helpful to keep this in mind when scheduling your day whenever possible.

 

Seek Out Solutions

How many times have you heard of someone that simply said “breastfeeding is hard!” and then gave up sooner than they had wanted to? I’m betting a lot. Many of them probably tried to ignore issues they either didn’t realize were common but solvable, or didn’t know where to look for help. Most of them probably didn’t even know anyone who had breastfed their babies.

If you’re experiencing pain…

If you’re experiencing pain while breastfeeding, you may have thrush, clogged ducts, or mastitis, or your baby might have lip and/or tongue ties. It could also just be from bad positioning or a bad latch. A little pain is normal at first, especially if you have large breasts, as your baby’s tiny mouth is still learning how to navigate feedings. But if it goes on for more than a few days, or gets to be too much to bear, you should get advice from a qualified professional. This could be a lactation consultant, pediatric dentist, speech therapist, or ear, nose, and throat specialist. You might even want to consult all of them. A second opinion never hurts, either.

Listen to your intuition…

I was surrounded by birth professionals and consulted multiple specialists with my second daughter. All of them told me that her latch was fine. This was not my first baby. I knew this pain was not normal. My mothers’ intuition told me that she had ties. After doing my own research, I was convinced she had both tongue and lip ties. Thankfully, I didn’t let them talk me out of seeking help. I eventually consulted a pediatric dentist that was highly recommended in my state. He was able to diagnose and treat her ties. Imagine how much harder my journey would have been if I hadn’t persisted until I found a provider willing to listen. I may have just given up and regretted it for the rest of my life.

If baby isn’t gaining enough weight…

If your baby is not gaining weight, or isn’t gaining quickly enough, don’t immediately resort to formula. There is always a reason. That reason is only very rarely because you are medically incapable of producing enough milk. It’s almost never that your breastmilk is inadequate in comparison to formula, unless you are severely malnourished yourself. Supplementing with formula can sabotage your own milk supply, as well, leading to more difficulty.

Your baby could have tongue and/or lip ties, and be unable to physically suck enough milk from your breasts without expending too much energy. In this case, even bottle feeding, done properly, could still be insufficient for baby to gain weight any faster. Remember that story about my second daughter’s ties? Unfortunately, it took until she was six weeks old before we were able to get her ties revised. During that time, I suffered through the pain of feeding her as often as possible, while also giving her pumped milk using a spoon and then a fingertip feeder, since she was unable to take in enough milk from my breast or a bottle. If I had just given up and formula fed her, it still wouldn’t have solved her issue. Then she would have had even more troubles, including later in life.

Baby also just might not be getting enough milk due to scheduled or too-short feedings. Our bodies are made to respond to our babies’ needs. When we interfere in that process, their needs may not be adequately met. Remember that nothing about babies is one-size-fits all. Breastfeeding is hard enough without trying to fit it into a neat and tidy box.

 

Don’t Try to Fulfill the Expectations of Others

Chances are, nearly everyone is going to have an opinion about your breastfeeding journey. You’ll hear lots of well-meaning advice, as well as not-so-well-meaning marketing from formula companies. A lot of it may discourage you and make you feel like you’re “doing it wrong”. But that isn’t necessarily true. Our society is very focused on image. If it doesn’t get likes on social media, people don’t want to talk about it. This can make you feel like you’re the only one struggling. It gives the impression that completely normal situations are rare instead of common. Trying to live up to these impossible ideals is enough to make anyone feel inadequate. So stop putting that pressure on yourself. 

When you let go of the expectations of others, you’ll feel a lot less stress. You will be free to find your own way. Every breastfeeding journey is unique. Maybe your baby wants to nurse every hour for twenty minutes during the evenings when you get home from work, but refuses bottles while you’re gone. Or maybe they prefer to nurse for over half an hour every four hours around the clock. What works for one baby won’t work for all babies. You are the only one who can decide what works for you and yours. And you are the only one that should. 

 

Accept That There Will be Times When Breastfeeding is Hard

I know I make it sound easy. It really is, a majority of the time. But even the easiest breastfeeding journey has challenges. You need to accept their existence. You’ll only frustrate yourself if you expect it to be sunshine and rainbows all the time. There will be ups and downs, just like any journey. Celebrate the good times. And hold onto them during the bad ones. Believe in yourself. Know that you will get through them. Breastfeeding is only a season of our lives. It will be over before you know it. Learning more about the history of why we think breastfeeding is so hard might help.

 

Build Your Support Network

You can overcome any obstacle in your path if you seek help when you need it. Don’t ever suffer in silence. And don’t ever let anyone tell you that you should. Talk about your troubles. Keeping it bottled up inside will only make it worse.  Asking for help is not shameful. Everyone needs help now and then. It takes a village, after all!

Join the Baby Led Enlightenment Village
Click here to join the Baby Led Enlightenment Support Village and find the support you’ve been searching for.

 

 

Sources:

1. https://kellymom.com/bf/normal/hunger-cues/

2. https://kellymom.com/bf/pumpingmoms/feeding-tools/bottle-feeding/

3. https://www.lullabytrust.org.uk/safer-sleep-advice/co-sleeping/

4. https://kellymom.com/ages/newborn/bf-basics/latch-resources/

5. https://lllusa.org/lie-back-and-relax-a-look-at-laid-back-breastfeeding/

6. https://www.laleche.org.uk/breastfeeding-how-the-biological-norm-became-perceived-as-a-modern-day-pressure/

♥ Let’s End Toxic Positivity ♥

 

Pregnancy is amazing. It’s an incredible time in your life, and leads to the most precious gift of all: your baby. It’s also messy, painful, and at times downright miserable. These facts are not mutually exclusive. You can love your baby and be grateful for their existence without enjoying the aching hips, the inability to keep food down, and the mood swings that make you cry at how cute something is, then want to smack your partner for trying to give you a compliment because you’re absolutely certain they said it sarcastically and think you look like a beached whale that’s been tarred and feathered. Toxic positivity can make you feel ashamed for these valid feelings that are completely normal during such a tumultuous time in your life.

What is Toxic Positivity?

Toxic positivity is a sugar-coated form of gaslighting. It is a way of invalidating a person’s genuine feelings and making them feel shamed for them. It is the belief that a person should maintain a positive mindset regardless of their circumstances, and that any voicing of negative emotion makes them responsible for those emotions’ very existence.

A Phenomenon on the Rise

Lately, I have been seeing an increase in the number of pregnant moms hurting because their family or friends have invalidated their feelings for the umpteenth time. One mom said that her grandmother told her that she had a miserable time when she was pregnant with her oldest daughter, then later that day, told her she needed to “stop complaining and just love her baby” when she tried to vent about how tired she was feeling on her own personal facebook timeline. Another told of her aunt who would tell her she needed to stop being ungrateful and “suck it up” every time she heard her mention anything not 100% positive about how she was feeling. I have heard the anguished cries of loss mamas, shamed into suffering in silence by toxic positivity, unable to seek support from their friends when they needed it most, as they went through their pregnancies with their rainbow babies.

Every Mama’s Feelings are Valid

This treatment is not okay. Just because she is having a hard time does not mean she doesn’t love her baby, and we as a society need to stop pretending it does. I love my girls with all of my heart and soul. They also drive me up the walls at times. And that’s okay. It doesn’t make me an ungrateful mother to wish they were able to see things from my perspective once in a while. I would never dream of telling another mama that she didn’t love her children just because she didn’t always love their behavior.

The Double Standards Need to Stop

Have you ever been so incredibly annoyed by something your partner did, but still loved them anyway? Unless you live in a fictional world or have never loved anyone, you probably have. Why can the same principle not be applied in parenthood as in relationships? Would you tell a woman she couldn’t possibly love her husband if she felt hurt that he chose to go out for an impromptu drink with his friends while she was at home puking her guts out after having to cancel plans with her friends because she felt so sick? Maybe you can see it from both sides, and think maybe he just thought she wanted to have some peace and be alone, but he should have asked her if that’s what she wanted instead of assuming. But you probably wouldn’t tell her “You should stop whining and be glad you have a husband!” or “It isn’t good for your marriage to get so stressed out over everything, you need to calm down!”

Trauma Is Not Healed By Positivity

A growing number of women suffer from trauma of one kind or another during pregnancy and birth. Many more have experienced it prior to pregnancy, and will experience it after. Some of us will even develop PTSD from our experiences. Being positive does not erase the trauma. The only way to heal from it is to process it. Yes, therapy is extremely important, especially in cases of PTSD. But support from your friends and family is, too. Shaming or shunning someone because they have unhealed trauma might make your ego feel better about your own trauma, or allow you to wrap yourself in a bubble to avoid facing it altogether, but it can be incredibly damaging to the other person, and can serve to deepen and reinforce their trauma. If the goal is to help them develop a positive mindset, this is entirely counterproductive, not to mention cruel.

A Positive Mindset Does Not Exist in a Vacuum

Yes, during pregnancy and immediately postpartum, it is important to protect your emotional space and try to keep a positive mindset. It’s important for success in all areas of life. Having a positive mindset, however, doesn’t protect us from all possible negative feelings and experiences. The human brain needs to be able to process the things that happen in order to move forward. To do this, we need to talk about them. Holding it all inside can foster resentment, anger, fear, and a whole host of other negative feelings. Letting it out can help to release those feelings, allowing them to be replaced by more positive ones.

 

How You Can Help

Don’t invalidate a mom’s feelings and experiences just because they are unpleasant. Empathize with her. Try to understand what she is going through and hold space for her to talk about it and process it. Allow her to speak on it and seek to better understand her through it. Let her know she is not alone. Make her feel heard and validated. Support her. If you see someone participating in toxic positivity against another (or even themselves), gently remind them that all feelings are valid and deserve the space they need to be processed. That is how we change lives and make the world a better place.

 

Are you searching for a safe place to talk about your troubles while being supported instead of invalidated? Would you like to join a community of moms coming together to educate and empower each other in healthy ways? Come join us and help us build the village we all need.

 

♥ Black Birth Matters ♥

“According to the CDC, black mothers in the U.S. die at three to four times the rate of white mothers, one of the widest of all racial disparities in women’s health.” ¹

We Need Change

I am calling on my followers to learn more about the abysmal treatment of black women and transfolks in pregnancy, birth, and postpartum, and what you can do to help.

“There is much evidence to document the impact that generations of imperialism, colonialism, racism and white supremacy has had on African people in general—and on Black women in particular… Black mothers, children and families… are unseen and unheard in a health system driven by the remnants and realities of institutionalized racism.” ²

According to the most recent CDC data, more than half of maternal deaths occur in the postpartum period, and one-third happen seven or more days after delivery. The majority of initial postpartum appointments don’t happen until four-to-six weeks after birth. These are also frequently the only postpartum appointments that occur. Anyone that has had a c-section, pre-eclampsia, depression, or is taking anticoagulants needs to be seen sooner than four weeks after birth. Black women and transfolk are far more likely to experience all of these things, sometimes more than twice as likely as white women. In one study published in 2017, two-thirds of low-income black women never made it to their doctor visit.

The high risk of death surrounding black birth spans all income and education levels. It happened to Shalon Irving. It almost happened to Serena Williams. Their education and money did not change the way that their providers brushed off their concerns and ignored them. This shows that the problem does not stem from race, but from racism.



All of this was even before COVID-19 came along and highlighted the disparities even more.

 

What Can You Do?

  • If you are a black mother or a care provider, read this guide for how to acknowledge and address racism in prenatal and postnatal care.
  • If you are a care provider, pay attention to your unconscious biases that may arise when serving black women and transfolks. Work hard to be mindful and overcome them. Talk about them with others in your field, to help them give voice to their own unconscious biases, which is the first step to removing them.
  • Support the NAABB in their mission to “combat the effects of structural racism within maternal and infant health to advance black birth outcomes.”
  • Check out the resources offered by and support Black Women Birthing Justice.
  • Speak up and speak out. Raising awareness of black maternal mortality rates helps inspire policy changes, targeted funding, additional training for providers, and other solutions. Vote for candidates that support these solutions. Talk about these issues with your friends.
  • Share the IRTH app with your black birthing friends and acquaintances, so that they know about this resource for reading and sharing reviews of black care providers. This helps black birthing people make informed decisions when choosing their care providers.
  • Have a look at the anti-racist reading list and other black maternal health resources offered by Every Mother Counts, an organization working for equality in maternal health care around the world.
  • Support National Advocates for Pregnant Women, an organization working protect constitutional and human rights for women of all races, but primarily focused on black and low-income pregnant and parenting women. They provide legal defense and advocacy services.
  • If you are black and have a passion for helping pregnant women and babies, consider becoming an OB/GYN, midwife, pediatrician or other medical specialist, or doula. Currently, only 4% of doctors are POC. According to a review in 2019, the mortality rate is cut in half when black babies are cared for after their birth by doctors of the same race.

Remember to Share Positivity

It’s easy to share the scary articles and statistics surrounding black birthing women and transfolks. But sharing and celebrating the positive stories is just as important. There are lots of beautiful, peaceful, relaxed, and/or powerful black births that happen every day, and they deserve to be recognized, too. Black birthing people need to see the happy stories and know that they can have those kind of stories themselves. The media likes to share things to scare everyone into believing there is no happiness or joy in the world anymore. Even Google brings up only horror stories and dismal statistics when searching “black birth”. That means it’s up to us to prove them wrong.

 

  • You can tune into the podcast Birthright for inspirational black birth stories.
  • The podcast NATAL Stories also provides positive black birth stories alongside empowering ones that tell of overcoming the issues that black women face.
  • Homecoming Podcast is a podcast focused on black home birth, working to dispel the myths that hospital birth is safer than homebirth and that black people don’t birth at home.

 

sources:

1. https://www.npr.org/2017/12/07/568948782/black-mothers-keep-dying-after-giving-birth-shalon-irvings-story-explains-why
2. https://thenaabb.org/advocacy/

3. http://www.ajog.org/article/S0002-9378(17)30368-X/fulltext

4. https://theeverymom.com/black-mothers-are-dying-at-an-alarming-rate-how-to-be-an-ally/
5. https://www.nytimes.com/article/black-mothers-birth.html
6. https://thenaabb.org/
7. https://www.blackwomenbirthingjustice.com/
8. https://irthapp.com/
9. https://everymothercounts.org/anti-racist-reading/?gclid=Cj0KCQjw5auGBhDEARIsAFyNm9F3mczdvIMSeK4uWb5pb03WdxsoQfICIvx9Z5HLJPb0vLxEw2qtvpYaAuhTEALw_wcB
10. https://www.nationaladvocatesforpregnantwomen.org/
11. https://1410c6d1-d135-4b4a-a0cf-5e7e63a95a5c.filesusr.com/ugd/c11158_150b03cf5fbb484bbdf1a7e0aabc54fb.pdf
12. https://birthrightpodcast.com/
13. https://www.natalstories.com/
14. https://www.instagram.com/homecomingpodcast/

 

The Community of Motherhood Unites Us All

 

 

Today is International Day of Charity

How have you received or given within the community of motherhood?

 

I have received and I have given

My oldest’s first diapers were from a nonprofit organization that was shut down shortly after. I then gave diapers to other mothers in need. 

My oldest’s first clothes were from a generous woman on freecycle. I have donated many clothes to other moms and places that hand them out for free. 

I have sent birthday presents to friends for their children when they had no money to buy any. I have bought Christmas gifts for foster children from the charity tree at my husband’s place of work. 

I donated breastmilk to a tongue-tied baby whose mama wasn’t able to produce enough, and to another mama whose circumstances I don’t recall. I have had milk donated to my tongue-tied baby when I was not able to pump enough and she was unable to nurse enough.

A dear friend lent me her birth pool for my freebirth VBAC and, a year later, I bought a birth pool and had it shipped to another mama having a freebirth. 

My family has received community help in paying rent when we had no income due to tragedy striking. I have also gathered with a group of women sending all we could spare to a mama who needed to pay her rent.

It ebbs and flows. Motherhood is a sacred bond that unites us all. The community of motherhood is ever-growing in an endless cycle of giving and receiving.

 

A Tender Balance 

Take a look back at your own journey and think about how you have given and received within the community of motherhood. Do you feel the two have been balanced along your journey? 

If you feel you have received more than you have given, do you want to give more? Is there a way you can give your time if you can’t afford to give anything material? Can you provide a service to someone that they would otherwise go without, like setting up a meal train after a birth, or helping an overworked mom do laundry? Can you provide emotional support to a mom going through a tough time? What other ways can you think of to give more in the community of motherhood?

If you feel you have given more than you have received, do you feel you’ve not received all that you need? Can you find more support to help ensure you are getting all that you need? Do you have trouble asking for help? Do you have trouble accepting help? Have you searched within the community of motherhood for what you need, or have you been relying on other sources?

 

If you need help answering these questions, book a free discovery call with me, and find out how I can help you reach the ideal balance you need!

 

 

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