August is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month as well as World Breastfeeding week. The theme this year is “Sustaining Together” which means getting a mother’s “community” around her to help her with her breast feeding. In my mind this means getting the father involved in being there for his wife, followed by the hospital nurses in the nursery, the lactation nurse if your hospital has one, your pediatrician and then any close family members who may be involved in helping a new mother.
Although breast feeding is “a natural process” it sometimes takes one baby or mother or both a bit longer to “figure out” the latch, how to hold the baby comfortably for a feeding and how to be successful with breastfeeding. One of the first hurdles is assuring a new mother that she is “not doing it wrong”. While there may be some tips…there is not ONE WAY to breastfeed. At times too much pressure from outside influences may actually cause more anxiety and I often find myself telling a new mommy that it just takes “practice, practice, practice…you cannot mess this up on day #1!!”.
But, for some new mothers, breast feeding causes a great deal of anxiety and they may need a bit more reassurance and support to hang in there and see how it goes… reminding them that a baby does not always nurse for the same amount of time, that they may eat in 2 hours one time and not want to eat for 3 hours the next. They are newborns and not robots…and we all eat a bit more or less at different times of the day. It is hard to “schedule” a new baby’s feedings and the best advice is to try and watch your baby’s cues and cries. While one baby may be a bit sleepier in the first few weeks, another may wake on its own..but either way it is important to try and feed the baby every 2 -3 hours to get breast milk and breast feeding established. Lots of poops and wet diapers is also very reassuring that something is working!
This is where the baby’s father may be extremely helpful. He can make sure that the mother is getting “fed” as well. She needs plenty of healthy meals and lots of fluids to ensure breast milk production. He may also get up with the baby and change the baby before the feeding and then bring the baby to the mother to nurse. Encouraging his wife is equally important. There are times when some of those hormonal changes in the new mother makes her feel weepy, sad or inadequate as a new parent….and he can reassure her as well. (even if he is unsure of himself - fake it a bit). Partnering from the beginning of parenthood is important for both a father and a mother.
In some cases if a baby is not feeding well or the baby is premature a mother will need to pump breastmilk and offer the baby a bottle. This is tiring for a new mother and so the grandparents may also help both new mother and father and offer to help feed the baby so the parents may get some rest (which is also important for milk production) or even wash the bottle and breast pump. Every little bit will help.
In my experience a new mother who has a lot of support and encouragement is more successful with breastfeeding. After the first few weeks of breast feeding the “newness” wears off and breast feeding usually seems to get easier and easier. Once parents see that the baby is gaining weight and the mother’s milk supply is equilibrating to her baby’s needs and breast and nipple tenderness is going away, many a new mother tells me how happy she is that she continued to “work on breast feeding her baby”.
Lastly, there are some situations where a mother may not be able to breast feed her baby and she should not be “mommy judged” or shamed for this. Not everyone knows a new mother’s medical history, or the reason she chose not to breast feed.