Most new mums understand and agree that breast is best, but going the distance in reality is a whole other story. For some new mamas breastfeeding is a breeze – some babies and boobs take to each other like ducks to water. Genuine high-fives and a big sigh of relief for all those success stories. For many others however we know that breastfeeding can be an anxiety inducing, painful, and steep sudden learning curve of trial, error and many tears. It’s not easy, it takes time and it doesn’t always work out for everyone.
I remember vividly with my first baby back in 2012, it definitely felt like I was “slicing my nipples with glass.” This is exactly how Whitney Port – former reality star and new mum from ‘The Hills’ (a very shallow trashy tv show which I admittedly binge watched when my first was born) – described how it felt in her Vlog “I love my baby but…breastfeeding”. She opens up about the challenges of breastfeeding her newborn and touches on the difficulty and pressure she felt to get it right quickly and continue with it despite being in so much pain. Her raw, honest and emotional take will resonate with many new mums in the same situation.
“I totally went into this whole thing with the intention of breastfeeding and I heard that obviously, it doesn’t come so easy to a lot of people. Basically, we had the baby and they immediately tell you to start breastfeeding, if that’s what you want, but you might not be producing milk yet. I did that and the nurses said that the latch was good, but after 24 hours to 48 hours of doing it, it just started to get so incredibly painful and we came home and I hit a breaking point and said “I can’t do this. It feels like someone is slicing my nipples with glass.”
Port’s words and emotion deeply resonated with me. It took me a long and very painful 4 weeks of trial and error with breastfeeding before I figured it out. With the help of the miracle cream Lansinoh, some nipple shields and some fast and furious googling, and youtube watching of other breastfeeding mums, I finally found my groove and started to enjoy the time bonding with my daughter. I really kick myself now for suffering for so long, not preparing ahead, and not reaching out for support soon enough. Although I attended a few lactation groups including the one at the hospital after birth, they were short and impersonal and didn’t properly equip me with the right tools and knowledge early on.
For Port, aside from the pain, she was also plagued by a sense of guilt for not getting it right, and then wanting to quit: “I feel like a lot of people are going to tell me to just have patience and try to do it cause its only been a week. But I just don’t know if it’s something that is going to get better or not. So that’s what I’m anxious about….I’m not blaming myself for hurting, but I’m blaming myself for possibly quitting. I don’t know if it’s something that if I give it one more week it will be better. I just don’t want to be regretful that I haven’t tried everything.”
It’s often this combination of pain, along with a sense of guilt or anxiety, and a lack of proper preparation, information and support, that contributes to the early attrition rate Australia wide. Statistics from the 2010 Australian National Infant Feeding Survey** results indicate that 96% of mothers initiate breastfeeding. Thereafter, the rates drop off to less than half (39%) of babies who are still exclusively breastfed at 3 months, and less than one quarter (15.4%) at 5 months.
No doubt there are a range of other factors that contribute to this as well including the need to return to work, inadequate milk supply, and various other medical difficulties, but the most common feedback we often hear is that it was excruciatingly painful and it all became too hard and overwhelming too soon.
Lynne Hall – Sydney based IBCLC* Lactation Consultant and Endorsed Midwife from Better Beginnings -specialises in antenatal & breastfeeding support, and knows through her years of experience with new mums that breastfeeding should not hurt.
Lynne often says to her clients that “this is the one time in your childs’ life you cannot compromise. It’s comfortable painless breastfeeding or bust! You wouldn’t put up with a broken limb for six weeks, so why put up with painful breastfeeding. The unnecessary stress and struggle with pain and reading your baby’s cues is often due to the conflicting advice and inconsistent support received in hospital and from friends and family at home.”
So many of us expect and assume that we should just ‘get it’ or ‘know it’ instinctively and be natural solo subject matter experts at light speed. Sink or swim. We narrow our focus to the birth as our primary goal dismissing the fact that there are so many other important skills to be learnt for the long road ahead after this singular event.
How naïve of us to think that we can become highly skilled in a complex task without role modelling or expert guidance up front. We don’t expect this of ourselves in a paid work context! And what a sad state of affairs it is that so many of us feel like we have to soldier on in silence when we are most vulnerable and exhausted physically and emotionally following birth. We are essentially setting ourselves up to fail from the get go.
It should be obvious that what all new mums-to-be really need and deserve is early preparation with a role model and expert, guided practice, ongoing support and encouragement. If there was ever a time when you need to call in the experts – like Lynne Hall – it is both before and after you have had your baby – “Before the birth you learn the specifics about breastfeeding. Afterwards, a lactation consultant can help reduce your anxiety by solving early breastfeeding and settling issues while explaining what to expect in the early weeks as a new mum.”
This should NOT be seen as a luxury or an added extra, but rather accepted as an essential and critical measure to set yourself up for success. Remember prevention is better than cure. And if it doesn’t work out for whatever reason, we need to be told and reassured that it’s OK. That our mental health and wellbeing comes first and foremost. And that at the end of the day, fed is best.
If you would like breastfeeding support you can contact Lynne Hall at Better Beginnings: 0419 245 966 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. www.betterbeginnings.com.au
If you would like to work through any stress, anxiety or trauma associated with breastfeeding or your birthing and broader parenthood experience, you can contact us at The Parents Village for a confidential counselling session.
*IBCLC – International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.
**Australian Breastfeeding Association: https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/bf-info/general-breastfeeding-information/breastfeeding-rates-australia
**Department of Health: http://www.health.gov.au/breastfeeding