All mums are different and make different decisions about their mothering. And that’s OK. We make decisions based on an array of values and circumstances. Sometimes life is out of our control and decisions are made for us. Sometimes it is hard and we choose to persevere. Sometimes we choose a different path. And that’s ok. For me, I really wanted to breastfeed my babies but it has not been easy. One of them, I weaned onto formula sooner than I would have liked. Another was offered formula many times in desperation but he refused to take it so I had no choice but to continue breastfeeding. I hope that sharing what I’ve learnt from my experiences will help other mums who are also struggling to succeed at breastfeeding. If that is you – I hope this blog is helpful.
What do we mean when we say “successful breastfeeding”?
“Every breastfeed is a success” is something I often recited to myself on the days when breastfeeding was just plain hard. I love this phrase because it is true! But also because it took away the guilt when I felt like I was failing.
“Even if I can’t keep breastfeeding, I have still given him 3 months of breastmilk!” I would tell myself. That’s three months of immune boosting, three months of complete and totally free nutrition, three months of special milky snuggles (and some screamy-milky snuggles too).
So I think it’s important to redefine success – if you have breastfed your baby at all, then those feeds were successful!
But there are also some practical things that may help with continued successful breastfeeding.
I’ve been feeding my third child for 6 months now and it’s going well. But over the years of breastfeeding three kids, I have battled through flat nipples, mastitis, grazed and bleeding nipples, fussy and biting babies, tongue and lip tie, and low milk supply. So I’ve picked up a few tips along the way.
- Motivation. Why are you breastfeeding? With my first child, I was simply breastfeeding because that’s how you feed babies, right? With my third, I had a goal – I was going to breastfeed until 18 months! (What is it about goals that makes us want to eat our words? He has been my most challenging child to breastfeed yet.) Of course, it’s fine to just breastfeed without having thought about your reasons much at all, but I found it helpful to know about the benefits of breastfeeding because it made all the hard work feel like it was worth something.
- Set the mood. Breastfeeding works best when you are relaxed and comfortable. Stress hormones can inhibit your milk letdown and tense up your muscles, which your baby can feel. For months now, I have been feeding in a darkened and quiet(ish) room, while my bigger kids play with their toys or watch TV. At first they hated me going away from them but with persistence (and a bit of bribery) they have learnt to give us some space. This helps the baby and me to focus on what we are there to do, away from distractions.
- Healthy routines. Routines can be useful, but don’t allow yourself to be bound to them. There’s no such thing as too much breastfeeding – babies will stop feeding when they are done. But it can be helpful to keep one eye on the clock as you observe your baby’s natural patterns and guide them into a rhythm that fits with the rest of the family. I’ve found that our babies get into a more predictable routine between 3 and 6 months old (and I feel my sanity starting to return!).
- Ask for help. If things aren’t going well or you’re not sure what’s normal, reach out – ask your mum friends for advice, call the Australian Breastfeeding Association or book in to see a lactation consultant. Needing help doesn’t mean you’re doing a bad job and problems with breastfeeding don’t mean you have to give it up.
I hope these tips are helpful to you whether you are just starting or well into your breastfeeding journey. And it is indeed a journey – with ups and downs; rough patches and moments of sheer bliss.
Remember, if breastfeeding doesn’t work out for you, you didn’t fail because – “every breastfeed is a success!”