by Erica Neser IBCLC
“I never knew breastfeeding would be painful!”
I hear this lament very often at our breastfeeding clinic. Realistic expectations, enough information and more importantly, a good support system are essential for successful breastfeeding. Yes, breastfeeding can initially be painful. What we need to remember is that the pain will get less intense fairly quickly and will go away completely after a while. It helps to know it is normal, and it is temporary. And there are many ways of dealing with these problems.
I have thought a lot about how breastfeeding is portrayed. We see posters promoting breastfeeding showing a serene mother with glowing skin and hair, and pearls around her neck, her satin nightie delicately exposing just a little of her lovely breast. Her baby is gazing adoringly into her smiling face. Just beautiful.
And then we have the real mother in the real world, breastfeeding her newborn: she is sitting awkwardly, one hand holding her breast, the other holding baby’s head a little clumsily, trying to keep the two together; she’s not wearing a satin nightie, and certainly no pearls. She is in a wrinkled t-shirt with some wet spots where her milk leaked, and she is exposing not just her whole breast, but some of her tummy as well. She needs more hands. When baby finally takes the breast, she grits her teeth and counts to twenty and back. Her shoulders are in a cramp but she doesn’t dare to move in case baby becomes unstuck. She’s terribly thirsty. Baby is not gazing into her eyes, his face is squashed up against the breast and she worries that he won’t be able to breathe, but she doesn’t have another hand to help him with that. He keeps falling asleep, but as soon as she tries to take him off, he starts another sucking frenzy. And worst of all, she knows the whole feed is going to take over an hour. This scene is real and quite normal!
A few weeks down the line, we have the same mother sitting comfortably, baby tucked under her discreetly pulled up t-shirt. Her visitors hadn’t even noticed that she is breastfeeding. Her one arm is tucked under baby’s bottom and she holds a glass of water in the other hand. Five minutes later, baby’s face reappears from under her shirt. With one hand she quickly fastens her feeding bra and continues her conversation. This scene is real too. I see it all the time.
Breastfeeding can be painful and hard in the beginning. It takes commitment. But it can also be as easy as 1-2-3. I believe breastfeeding is 90% attitude and 10% technique. Success does depend on whether or not your nipples get very sore, whether or not you have enough milk, and whether or not your baby latches well. But success depends much more on your feelings about breastfeeding and the support you receive. Is it your own choice to breastfeed? Or do you feel pressured into breastfeeding? Do you feel that you are only breastfeeding because NOT breastfeeding would cause you too much guilt? It is wise to work through these feelings at some point, because they can impact on your ability to persevere with breastfeeding if the going gets tough.
It is OK not to enjoy breastfeeding initially (or at all). Most mothers feel this way at some point. It makes a tremendous difference if you can talk to someone who understands what you are going through, who can tell you that you are doing well, even if it doesn’t feel that way. A supportive partner can be the best breastfeeding counsellor, just by listening and sympathising. Support and encouragement from friends, family and your clinic can make all the difference. And it really does get easier!
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