We often talk about the physical aspect of breastfeeding—pain from incorrect latch, different pregnancies, hours stuck on the couch, exhaustion…but for many women who choose to breastfeed, the mental toll can feel like a thing. Re not prepared at all.
“Many new parents start breastfeeding their babies completely exhausted, both physically and emotionally, after a long labor and birth,” says Alison Lovett, founder of breastfeeding support service The Latch (thelatch.co.uk). “My clients often tell me that my prenatal classes didn’t adequately warn them that breastfeeding could be.”
It’s a marathon for sure — Lovett estimates that newborns feed anywhere from eight to 24 times a day (depending on the size of the baby and the storage capacity of the mother’s breast), for 10 to 60 minutes at a time. “Babies may also need extra drinks and periods of rest at the breast, especially when the weather is hot or otherwise unwell,” she says.
Cluster feeding (lots of short feeds over a few hours, or sometimes continuously) is common at any time in the first three or four months. All of this can be seriously confusing, especially if you don’t expect it to be very intense. Plus, there’s no telling exactly when it might become less frequent or take less time — and psychologically, it can be hard to deal with.
“Many women feel overwhelmed by the demands of their children—especially if they also get very little sleep,” suggests BACP-registered counselor Kate Campbell. “[Feeling] They were seized. That their bodies no longer belong to them. They may feel guilty about the resentment they are experiencing, which does not help them relax and enjoy the experience, nor does it allow them to realize that their feelings are normal.”Read:Mail on Sunday health editor wins first prize at the Academy Awards for medical journalism
Lovett says new moms need real “emotional and physical stamina” for the first six weeks after delivery (which is the generally accepted time to establish breastfeeding). “It can be a huge shock, and it is undoubtedly one of the main reasons new moms can’t breastfeed as long as they hope and plan – they simply don’t have the stamina and motivation to continue.”
So, if you want to breastfeed, how do you make sure you have enough emotional stamina?
Preparations during pregnancy, especially in first pregnancies, can often be spent thinking about childbirth – understandably, it can be daunting – but thinking about how to feed you and learning what to do can take a bit of a back seat.
“New mothers are advised to spend some time during pregnancy identifying sources of help and support, which they may need if/when they later experience breastfeeding difficulties,” Lovett says.
In addition to reading and watching tutorials, your best source of knowledge may be friends who have recently been breastfeeding. Although everyone’s experience is different, it can help you get a realistic picture of what’s coming – and how you can cope better.Read:Dundalk FC announce a new mental health programme in memory of Harry Taaffe
Lovett suggests that anticipating difficulties can help avoid some of the so often experienced “mental fatigue and exhaustion.”
The support system will be a great help. “The support network is a key factor in achieving successful breastfeeding, and I think this is very missing in the Western world, where a lot of socialization takes place through social media, and where the practice is to share the impression that ‘everything in the garden is beautiful'” says Lovett. – While in reality, the new mother may be struggling and feel very isolated and need support.”
Notably, she says, in cultures where breastfeeding rates are high, “it is often the norm for new mothers to receive support from other friends and relatives, who guide the new mother to pass on their skills and experience during the first weeks after birth.”
“Partners also need to understand the important role they play in providing encouragement and practical help – making sure the new mom eats and drinks well, is able to sleep when breastfeeding allows, and gets a chance to walk or swim.”
Try not to be hard on yourself
“Trust yourself and your body,” Campbell stresses — and remember to be kind to yourself, no matter how things go.
“Even before you have the baby, it can be helpful to make a small video or write a note to remind yourself that everyone is different, and it is normal to feel a wide range of feelings about breastfeeding. Talk about how you feel with anyone who seems to understand — this could be A friend, partner, relative, or health professional.”
You may feel guilty if you aren’t able to breastfeed as often or for as long as recommended, but Lovett says, “One of the important messages is that any breastfeeding you’ve been able to provide is better than none at all.”
Various services (eg The Latch) offer one-on-one video support during the first weeks, there are breastfeeding support groups in the local council, and organizations such as NCT (nct.org.uk) and La Leche League (laleche.org.uk) have helplines.
Lovett recommends writing down anything you learn and saving it for later, “In the event of a crisis, because when you’re totally exhausted by a crying baby, your hormones are all over the place and you feel exhausted, and it’s very hard to focus on finding a source of help.”
Many women find that the decision to stop breastfeeding – whatever the age of their baby – is a very emotional time, often fraught with complex and sometimes conflicting emotions.
“It’s made worse because our bodies produce less oxytocin, a hormone that makes us feel happy and comfortable,” explains GP and mental health coach, Dr. Hannah Patel (drhanapatel.com).
Oxytocin “drops with weaning, which means women can feel lost and sad. Symptoms should go away in a few weeks, but if you’re still feeling emotionally weak, talk to your health visitor or GP.”
Campbell adds: “Hopefully, parents and baby will stop breastfeeding when it’s time for them, not because someone else is telling them it’s time. However, it can be hard to think about the last conclusion. It may be helpful to gradually introduce alternative behavior to resolve Replace this emotional / comforting element of breastfeeding – [such as] Listen to a story at night with a cuddle.
Likewise, parents shouldn’t feel bad if they can’t wait to stop. We are all different. “