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When Breastfeeding Gets Off to a Bad Start: Is it too late to get help?

I recently gave a private prenatal breastfeeding class to a lovely first-time “mom- to-be”. She was committed to learning everything breastfeeding before her baby was born so that she would be best prepared for her arrival. When I didn’t hear from her after her due date I assumed the best- that she and her new baby were likely thriving with breastfeeding and didn’t require further assistance. I was surprised when I received an email from her a few weeks later stating that she had delivered a healthy beautiful baby girl but that breastfeeding didn’t get off to a great start in the hospital. She had severe pain when the baby latched and the lactation consultant that came to see her was so persistent in perfecting the latch she worked on it for over an hour and as a result she was in pain for days afterward. She had switched to pumping and was prepared to give up on her breastfeeding goals when she thought that maybe it was worth reaching out to see if there was any way their breastfeeding relationship could still be salvaged. I am so glad that she did because in our one session together mom was able to latch the baby comfortably for the first time and the baby went on to enjoy a relaxed breastfeeding session. Just recently I received an email from this mother stating that they are doing well, still breastfeeding and that she is so grateful for our visit together. This encounter made me realize that while things worked out well in this case, there are unfortunately many mothers who after a difficult start to breastfeeding in the hospital – don’t think to reach out to a lactation consultant in the community or aren’t sure if there is anything further a lactation consultant in the community can offer. After giving it some thought I came to a conclusion, as with many things in life, it’s all about the timing.

Moms, give yourself a break- you just gave birth!! The day after giving birth to my daughter I was in terrible discomfort throughout my entire body. Concerned that this wasn’t normal, I mentioned it to my OB when she came to make her rounds. Her response to me was so validating and accurate: “Marninah, you should feel like you were hit by a BUS!” I couldn’t have put it into words more perfectly. In addition to the physical discomforts new moms are likely to be experiencing while in the hospital, they are also seriously hormonal, terribly sleep deprived and we haven’t even touched upon the challenge of coming to terms with their new role as “mom”. It’s no surprise then that an overwhelmed mother may not be in the optimal frame of mind for learning a new skill, which for many takes time and practice. Of course I am in favor of working on breastfeeding and asking for assistance from the experienced lactation consultants in the hospital, as those first days are critical for getting breastfeeding off to the best start possible – BUT if you still leave the hospital feeling like you are doomed to fail with breastfeeding, just know that a few days later you may be more receptive to learning and you could have a completely different experience with the help of a lactation consultant in the community.

While we are all well aware that new mothers are often given truly “conflicting” advice with regards to baby care, I explain in my prenatal class that sometimes the advice given isn’t necessarily conflicting but true for different points in time. A perfect example would be the answer to the question: how long should the baby breastfeed. In the hospital new moms are often told 10 minutes on each breast- while this is appropriate in the initial 1-2 days when there is only a teaspoon of colostrum available at each feed, it certainly would not be good advice as soon as the mother’s milk comes in; and the baby would do best to finish the first breast (sometimes taking over 20min- depending on multiple factors including breast size, strength of mom’s let-down, baby’s sucking abilities etc.) before offering the second. Our bodies change very quickly in the first few days after birth (from teaspoons of colostrum on day 1 to an average of 18oz of breastmilk by day 3) and while breastfeeding may have appeared more challenging in the early days- when there was little milk to be had and perhaps lots of pain, things generally get easier with time as the milk becomes available in larger quantities and as our breasts adapt to their new duties. In other words, breastfeeding evolves very quickly in the first weeks and while a mom may have met challenges in the hospital, these issues can resolve with just some persistence and practice. But if the tincture of time alone doesn’t remedy your problems, please know that reaching out to a lactation consultant in the community may be exactly what you need to reach your breastfeeding goals.

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