Speaking from the perspective of a midwife and a mother who struggled greatly with breastfeeding, the biggest thing I would like to encourage is open conversation about breastfeeding and parenting in general. People have a baby, and they don’t know what to expect and have never seen feeding and parenting in reality. We get such sanitised images of the whole experience. We can’t understand what we can’t see.
The first six weeks are hard. Sleep deprivation is intense, and you are trying to learn a whole new skill set. You need to have realistic expectations of what those weeks will be like. Babies are 24-hour creatures, and they need to feed regularly. Their tummies are tiny, and they use breastmilk efficiently, so they need to eat frequently, up to 12 times in 24 hours. Night feeds are really important for your milk supply and babies’ growth.
Your baby will be skin-to-skin and feeding a lot of the time.
To exclusively breastfeed or breastmilk (expressed) feed your baby is a huge commitment in today’s society because we are expected to be doing so many other things as well. If you commit to breastfeeding, you are also committing to not rushing around being a “productive” person out in the world. You will need a support system (or village) to help you manage the other things you feel need to be done. Having a hands-on, supportive partner is one of the biggest keys to successful breastfeeding. We need to learn from Eastern cultures and nurture breastfeeding people and remove any other work from their agenda.
Breastfeeding works smoothly for some people, practically and emotionally it is a positive part of their parenting. They master the process and can participate fully in the other work they need/want to do.
This is not the case for everyone.
Struggles with breastfeeding are closely linked to mental health issues in new parents and with interventions during the birth process. It is so important that we understand what we are going to be doing and can talk about how our experience is playing out. We don’t need to keep the hard things secret. We don’t need to feel guilt and shame. It is hard, and the more we share that, the easier it gets for everyone.
If you choose not to breastfeed your baby, then you do not need to justify this decision to anyone. Make the decision that works for you, your family, and your life.
There are services to help you prepare for becoming a parent, to help you work through breastfeeding issues, and manage your mental health. Please use them and talk to your social group about the realities of pregnancy, breastfeeding, and parenting. The more we share, the less we stigmatise.
Further information and Resources:
Attend antenatal classes through your hospital or a private agency.
Consider using a postpartum doula if you have not got a support network.
Look for a private lactation consultant in your area.