There is no disputing the benefits of breastfeeding – many studies have shown breast milk to be beneficial to newborns and nursing to be beneficial to mothers. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusively breastfeeding babies for the first 6 months of life and then to continue breastfeeding in association with introducing other foods until 12 months of age, or longer if desired by mother and child. Breastfeeding has been shown to decrease infections in newborns, the risk of SIDS, and even the chance of childhood obesity. For new mothers, breastfeeding can decrease blood loss after delivery, helps the uterus return to its normal size and can even help with losing the “baby weight” for some women.
Sounds pretty perfect, right? Well, it can be. But anyone who has ever nursed a baby can tell you that it isn’t always this wonderful. It is actually really hard. It is exhausting and sometimes painful. Breast infections can occur. And sometimes babies don’t latch well, there isn’t enough milk produced or babies can have allergies or sensitivities that make nursing even harder.
There are things we can do to try to optimize the breastfeeding experience. During pregnancy, women should consider what their nursing plans are and discuss this with their doctor. Taking a breastfeeding class prior to delivery is very helpful as it helps new moms know what to expect, which can alleviate some of the fear and uncertainty in the early days of nursing. In the hospital after delivery, ask to see the lactation consultant for extra help getting started. And get their contact information when you are discharged. The lactation consultants at the hospital are available for outpatient appointments if you need help once you are home. Many pediatric clinics have lactation consultants on staff as well.
But what if, despite being well prepared and getting the help you need, nursing still isn’t going well? What if the baby doesn’t latch well, your supply is low and the pediatrician is worried about inadequate weight gain? These things are common and so often can lead to sadness, frustration and guilt. The number one thing to remember is “feed the baby!” Sometimes, the best thing you can do for your baby, yourself and your family, is to stop nursing. And if this is the situation you find yourself in, snuggle your beautiful baby, feed him or her bottle and do it guilt free!