Even though women spend nine months creating a human inside their bodies, there is no amount of time or research that can prepare them for motherhood. Not only is there a landslide of hormonal shifts happening post-delivery, but they also face pressures from friends and family members, self-imposed expectations, and anxiety about caring for a tiny newborn. Even though breastfeeding is a common discussion in the media and pop culture these days, many new mothers report feeling intimidated, lonely, disappointed, fearful, frustrated, and unworthy about their ability to feed their babies.
To help navigate this steep learning curve and promote not only their child’s health but also their own, lactation consultants offer support, often from day one. Because they’ve worked with a myriad of families facing various issues and hurdles, they are often considered the expert on all-things breastfeeding, bonding, nutrition, and health. Here, two qualified professionals offer their best advice to new parents who may have breastfeeding on the brain… Their insights hopefully will make you feel less alone—and remind you that hey, you’re doing alright, after all, mom:
So, what is a lactation consultant?
According to certified lactation counselor Danielle Ritter, a lactation consultant is trained to provide a mother with knowledge, resources, and support surrounding breastfeeding. Though they will step in to help with any and all issues, they are most commonly utilized when women struggle with latching, pain, milk supply, or sudden shifts in nursing behaviors. They can be hired throughout the breastfeeding tenure or at certain points when issues or questions come up.
“Everyone’s circumstances are different and we are here to cheer you on and support you every step of the way,” Ritter adds. You can think of a lactation consultant as someone who is your extra, unbiased hand who has strategies, solutions, and the right amount of push you need to explore this new world with your babe.
Fed is best.
If you’ve shied away from hiring a lactation consultant because you were afraid they’d judge your decision to pair formula with breast milk, reconsider. As Ritter shares, a quality consultant would never pressure you to breastfeed longer than your goals or to do anything you’re uncomfortable with.
“Your goals are our goals,” she continues. “We are here to support mom and baby through the process, making sure baby is gaining weight and thriving. If that means supplementing with formula or completing your breastfeeding journey, we are here to help. Whether your journey is one day, one month, or several years, we are proud of you.”
Remember, it takes time to learn to breastfeed.
When mom and baby finally find a rhythm, breastfeeding can provide some incredibly special and intimate moments. But for most new moms, it doesn’t happen fresh out of the gate, and it can be difficult to exercise patience. This is especially true for women who are hyper-critical of themselves. As lactation consultant and Lamaze certified childbirth educator Ella Goldberg, MPH, LCCE explains, babies are born knowing instinctively how to latch onto the breast; however, moms need to learn how to breastfeed.
“Like any other skill we learn in life, successful breastfeeding takes preparation, information gathering, and perseverance,” she explains. When you keep hitting a dead end, it’s time to bring in a professional who will come up with answers and new tactics to try.
Don’t quit on your worst day.
If you are hopeful to breastfeed until your baby wants to stop, Litter says it’s important to follow these six important words: don’t quit on your worst days. Just like you would approach learning a new skill or studying for a test, there will be times when you feel as if you’re failing miserably. But in reality, you’re merely getting closer to the good stuff. Rather than focusing on everything that went wrong, Litter says to seek and savor any silver linings or wins.
“Finish out your day. You’ll be proud you did. Find something, no matter how small the victory, and let that be when you complete your breastfeeding. Instead, end your breastfeeding journey on a good day—it’s empowering,” she shares.
Refrain from playing the comparison game.
Though your best friend, your mother, your partner’s sister, and that kind lady at the grocery store all mean well—they aren’t experts on your boobs. And even if they were able to breastfeed without any issue for six months, that doesn’t mean your journey will be the same. As much as you can, Goldberg urges new moms to refrain from comparing their experience to others and to not take their opinions as gospel. When someone hops up on their soapbox, turn the conversation into what would actually be beneficial to your new life change.
“Rather than unsolicited advice, friends and family can support new moms by helping out with housework, food preparation, and doing all the things mom can’t do while breastfeeding and caring for a new baby,” Goldberg explains. “Mom’s responsibilities in the first three months include feeding herself and her baby and sleeping. Everyone else should do everything else.”
Ask for help.
Whether it’s from a partner or your solid support system of friends and family, remember that it’s OK to ask for help in your early days—and beyond. If you are in a relationship, Goldberg says it’s vital for moms to ask for help when they need it and to be open and honest about what they’re feeling and experiencing with breastfeeding.
“Partners can and should take a prenatal breastfeeding course together, and learn exactly how they can support mom and baby by doing everything from bringing snacks and water, tending to housework, stocking up on nursing pads, and giving a good massage when needed,” she recommends.
If you don’t express what matters the most to you, what’s hurting, and what’s causing you stress—no one can step in and make a difference. When in doubt, speak up!