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During your breastfeeding journey, sometimes you can feel like you’re the only one who’s struggling with the less-than-rosy moments. This article will discuss some of the lows that come with the incredible highs — from the initial few weeks to the end of your breastfeeding journey. We’ll also give you some advice on navigating those challenging times. Because, with the right support, you’re never alone.
A whole new role
Even the most passionate breastfeeding mothers will usually tell you that the first few weeks are challenging. Not only are you and your baby trying to establish a bond and a rhythm, but your body is still recovering from birth while providing milk for your baby.
It can take a while for your body to get comfortable with breastfeeding. Between engorged breasts, cracked nipples, and having a baby (or pump) attached to you throughout the day, it’s normal to feel a bit of discomfort. However, breastfeeding shouldn’t be painful. If you’re hurting, a likely culprit is a poor breastfeeding latch.
Your comfort in the first few weeks largely depends on where your nipple lands in your baby’s mouth. You’ll know you’ve got a good latch if your baby’s chin and tip of nose are touching your breast. Keep an eye on their lips, too – they should be flanged (like a fish) instead of being tucked in. Once you’ve got a good latch, your baby should fall into a rhythmic suck-swallow-breath pattern, and any pain is usually massively reduced. However, getting the latch right isn’t always easy. If you’re having trouble, talking with a lactation consultant can help.
The hormonal component
It’s not just the physical factors that can contribute to stress in the initial stages of breastfeeding. Your hormones have taken you on the wildest ride of your life during pregnancy and labor, and this rollercoaster continues during breastfeeding. That’s because the hormones prolactin, dopamine, and oxytocin are all linked to both breastfeeding and emotions.
When it’s time to feed or pump, oxytocin levels rise to trigger milk release, and prolactin increases to make more milk. At the same time, dopamine – also known as the “happy hormone” – dips slightly to allow prolactin to do its job efficiently. Together, these changes create a sense of wellbeing and facilitate bonding during breastfeeding. But when coupled with a lack of sleep, your heightened emotions could leave you feeling both drained and overwhelmed while trying to navigate feeding.
The key to staying positive about breastfeeding and pumping is to make the experience as pleasurable for you as possible. Stock up on healthy, energy-boosting snacks, settle down somewhere really comfortable, and try to see it as an opportunity for some much-needed me-time. The life of a new parent is busy and demanding, so take the chance to enjoy your favorite box set or catch up with friends, while simultaneously knowing you’re doing something that will benefit your little one.
When your feeding journey ends earlier than you hoped
Faced with this combination of physical and emotional strain, some women decide to stop feeding and pumping after the first few weeks – and we get it. According to a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) survey, 84% of U.S. women breastfeed their newborns, but the percentage drops to 58% by the time their babies reach six months.
Many new mothers assume breastfeeding is instinctual and feel like they’ve failed in some way if it doesn’t come naturally. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Most mothers need guidance and support to get the latch right, treat and prevent complications, and navigate challenges like returning to work. If you’re pushing through pain or stress to reach your breastfeeding goals, it’s important to reach out for help.
If you’ve decided to stop breastfeeding earlier than you hoped, remind yourself that any amount of breast milk has had a positive impact on your baby’s health. Give yourself permission to make the best choice for your family when the time is right.
For professional support and advice on everything from latching to feeding positions, there are support groups you can reach out to, including:
- The Association of Breastfeeding Mothers (ABM)
- The Breastfeeding Network (BfN)
- La Leche League International
- United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC)
- Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association (BMBFA)
- Global Health Media (offers a range of breastfeeding videos, available in nine languages)
Remember that while breastfeeding is natural, it can also be challenging. It’s a time of readjustment for both you and your baby. But with a bit of practice and the right support – you’ll get there!
Elvie’s mission is to improve women’s lives through smarter technology. To that end, they’ve created the world’s first silent, wearable breast pump. Elvie Pump makes it possible to pump on your own terms. Go ahead and lead the conference call, play with your kids, cook a delicious meal, or simply enjoy some peace and quiet — all while you pump.
- Miranda L. Buck, Lisa H. Amir, Meabh Cullinane, Susan M. Donath, and the CASTLE Study Team. “Nipple Pain, Damage, and Vasospasm in the First 8 Weeks Postpartum.” Breastfeeding Medicine. 9(2):56-62. Web. March 2014.
- LaFleur, Elizabeth, R.N. “What causes a low milk supply during breast-feeding?” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic. November 24, 2020. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/infant-and-toddler-health/expert-answers/low-milk-supply/faq-20058148
- “Breastfeeding Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. September 28, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/data/facts.html
- Brown, Amy Ph.D.; Rance, Jaynie Ph.D.; Bennett, Paul Ph.D. “Understanding the relationship between breastfeeding and postnatal depression: the role of pain and physical difficulties.” Journal of Advanced Nursing. 72(2): 273-282. Web. October 23, 2015.