Wednesday, September 6, 2017

How hard (or easy) breastfeeding can be


A mother shared a tearful photo about the pain of breastfeeding, saying that “I cannot hide the struggle.” She wrote, “I love seeing all these beautiful women in their beautiful nursing clothes smiling down at their babes as they lovingly look up back at them hand in hand while breastfeeding…That is not my reality.” As the post going viral, we have to ask, how hard breastfeeding can be?

The truth is, it can be as hard as one can imagine, for both stay-at-home and working moms.

Breastfeeding moms can have a variety of issues: Whether the baby is latching on properly; whether the mom is producing enough milk; whether the mom’s nipples are adequate. Maybe the new role overwhelms the mom; maybe the hormones have her; maybe the nipple shield is ill-fitted. Some babies demand nursing every 10 minutes and it exhausts their moms. Some breastfeeding moms are starving all the time and have to get up at 3 a.m. and eat. Some moms struggle with nursing twins. Some preemies are too small to nurse.

And it’s even harder if the mom’s breastfeeding while working. Even before going back to work, these moms have to build up their breastmilk supply and store extra milk. Pumping can be an unpleasant, sometimes hour-long process. And pumping at work sucks for many women. In spite of the workplace support in federal law, many of the working moms are still stuck pumping in bathrooms, or attempting to find privacy. Those lucky moms who actually get support at work still have to block off at least two 30-minute increments on their calendar to protect pumping time. The stress at work can impact breast milk production, not to mention some mothers are facing breastfeeding discrimination situation at workplace.

The “breast is best” message has returned after the formula-filled decades from the not-so-distant past. Breastmilk helps build crucial antibodies. Breastfed babies are less likely to face obesity, diabetes or other problems. Breastfeeding moms will lose the pregnancy weight easier… Most moms learned all of these in the lead-up to their babies’ birth and set their breastfeeding goals. But this kind of determination is not enough to help moms to reach their goal. According to a 2016 study, only 40 percent babies were breastfed at 12 month, though 63 percent of the mothers had planned to go to a year. What helps mothers to reach their breastfeeding goal, said the lead author of the study, is support.

Breastfeeding is a team effort. During this period of time, moms need their partners to be patient and assist them with a variety of houseworks. They need nurses in the hospital to assess their milk production. They need lactation consultants help them with the various holds until finding the one that feels quite right. They need encouragement from family members and friends.

Breastfeeding is hard. But with proper support, it can be wonderful like a breeze. Let’s help breastfeeding moms thrive, not just survive.

*This is an original post for San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition by To-wen Tseng.

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