Breast milk. What could be more natural? It’s a living food, made by humans for humans. So, shouldn’t breastfeeding come naturally?! It seems entirely reasonable to think so. I sure did. Then, when my child was born, I remember sitting in an uncomfortable hospital bed, desperate and wondering what the heck was going on. Attempting to breastfeed my baby was like trying to squeeze a square peg into a round hole. A close friend of mine said incredulously “Just feed him!”. Breastfeeding had just happened for her. She didn’t understand how or why I could be feeling at a complete loss; a failure, unable to feed the baby I brought into the world. Although I didn’t know it, I was not alone. The truth is that breastfeeding doesn’t always come naturally, for so many reasons and nobody could possibly list them all. Any of us can experience breastfeeding difficulties, but what do you do if it happens to you?
Firstly, take a deep breath. You have just been through the life-changing experience of a child being born into your life. What a huge thing! So, start with a deep breath and know that you are doing an amazing job, even if you don’t feel that’s true just yet. When breastfeeding doesn’t come naturally, it can be a good idea to start with some perspective: when we get behind the wheel for the very first time, it is impossible to know absolutely everything there is to know about driving. Most people bunny-hop and stall their way down the road many times before becoming a smooth, calm and intuitive driver. You might hit a curb, fail to give way, miss a head check, or fumble the clutch so badly that your car rolls forward and nudges an entire family off a log during their Saturday arvo picnic (sorry, guys). Learning to drive is a huge learning curve. For many people, learning to breastfeed is much the same. However, we often aren’t afforded the same patience, understanding, or mentorship that learner drivers are – by others or by ourselves. So, start from a place of understanding, patience and if you feel you need it, forgiveness. Breastfeeding is one of the most natural things in the world, but if it hasn’t happened naturally for you, please understand that this does not mean you are lacking, incompetent or just not cut out for breastfeeding or parenting in general. It does not mean you will never breastfeed. It does not affect your worth, as a parent or as a person. You have not done anything wrong. If you do not believe these words yet, see them and read them until you can wholeheartedly believe and know them yourself.
When breastfeeding doesn’t come naturally, there is usually a physical side, too. Tongue and lip ties; inverted nipples; high palates; reflux; colic; physical birth trauma; breast refusal; ductal thrush; mastitis; dietary intolerances... whatever is happening in your breastfeeding relationship, seeking the appropriate professional assistance can be a boob-saver. For those experiencing breastfeeding difficulties, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) can make all the difference. IBCLCs are qualified medical professionals and experts in breastfeeding and lactation and can play an invaluable role in your breastfeeding support team. Depending on your individual circumstances, other practitioners may also play a role in your support team, but an IBCLC may be a good starting point (after your GP or your child’s paediatrician for any immediate medical concerns, of course). Not all practitioners are a perfect fit for each breastfeeding relationship, so never hesitate to seek a second (or more) professional opinion when you’re putting together the right support team for you and your babe/s.
Breastfeeding difficulties can throw even the most experienced parents for a loop; all babies are different and each breastfeeding relationship is different. If breastfeeding has not come naturally for you and your baby (or babies), please know that you are not alone, even though 3am is a pretty lonely time. Just as we learn to drive, we also learn to breastfeed and this can take time and the right support. Sometimes, we meet obstacles along the way. That doesn’t mean you have failed or aren’t cut out for this gig. Breastfeeding relationships come in many forms, so it may be a good idea to engage a professional support team to figure out how breastfeeding looks for you and your babe/s. That’s what they’re there for. Hang in there!
Where to get support:
Locate an IBCLC: http://www.lcanz.org
Tongue and Lip Tie Support: http://www.tt-lt-support-network.com
Australian Breastfeeding Association: http://www.breastfeeding.asn.au; 1800 MUM 2 MUM (24/7)
For information about medications during pregnancy or breastfeeding (including pumping – high five!): http://www.monashhealth.org; (03) 9594 2361 (Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm)
Your GP, child health nurse or child’s paediatrician
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Mai is a Mum who would love to roll down hills, if it wasn't for a grass allergy. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Cultural Sociology and is currently undertaking a postgraduate degree in counselling. Passionate about all things birth and breastfeeding, Mai has a special interest in: debriefing parenting experiences; birth trauma; grief; and loss. She is an advocate for tongue and lip tie support; breastfeeding rights; and feeding choices, including breastfeeding to term. She believes everyone deserves to tell their story and truly be heard.