5 things every mom needs to hear about breastfeeding from a lactation specialist (and mother of 3)

Mother's carrying toddler and breastfeeding at home

Breastfeeding is complex and personal. Every mom wants to give her child the best, starting with nutrition. But stress and circumstances can sometimes get in the way.

“Breastfeeding is wonderful, but it is not the end of the world if you can’t or don’t breastfeed,” says Mary Duncan, registered nurse and women’s health case manager at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. “You have to do what is best for you and your baby.”

As a lactation counselor and mother of three, Mary knows all the joy and comfort of breastfeeding a baby. She’s also heard nearly every problem that comes along with it.

“If I haven’t heard of a problem, I’ve gone through it!” she says. “With my first baby, the journey was emotional but relatively simple. My second had silent reflux, and we struggled to get him full. I would nurse, then bottle feed, and then follow up by pumping — aka ‘triple feeding.’ And then, with my third, she had issues with something in my diet. Once we switched her over to formula, we had to try 8 different options before we found one she could tolerate.”

Stress & feeding baby

Naturally, this journey was stressful. But as a professional, Mary knew she wasn’t alone — studies of first-time mothers have found that up to 9 in 10 have problems breastfeeding at some point in their breastfeeding journey.

For some, the cause is pain (44%). For others, it’s a feeling that they’re not producing enough (40%) — something that causes stress whether it’s a physical problem or just a perception. Whatever the challenges are, Mary says, moms often experience them in a vacuum, and that’s one thing we can change.

“So much of the time you get with your newborn is dependent on your mental health as a mom,” Mary says, “and feeding plays a huge part in that. Before we get to specifics, I want to say a few things to all moms — whether you just had a baby or you’re still feeling guilty about things you did ‘wrong’ with your kids years ago.”

5 things every mom needs to hear

1.     Every baby is different. Every journey is different.

2.     Every mom needs to do what is best for her baby and herself, with the guidance of her provider.

3.     You are the one that has to feed your baby — not the book, not the Pinterest board, and not your friend’s baby.

4.     The best advice I can give: Take it one day at a time, and one feeding at a time.

5.     Don’t spend more time worrying about breastfeeding than appreciating your newborn.

Time, Mary says, is the one thing you can’t get back.

“No matter how well your experience goes, every mom will have regrets,” says Mary. “The biggest one for me is wasting so much time worrying about breastfeeding — and all the other things I felt I wasn’t ‘getting right’ — rather than actually enjoying my baby. If I can help one mom avoid that, it’s all worth it.”

3 more key takeaways for moms about feeding babies

1. Getting to know your baby takes time

Mary: In life, reading a room is an important skill — learning to get a feel for people and adjust your behavior to connect with them. Well, you need to learn to read your baby, too! And that takes time.

So much of the newborn phase is learning each other, especially when it comes to feeding. Bonding is what we’re working toward. If you try everything you can to breastfeed but you’re too stressed to bond with your baby, try a bottle. Building that connection is what’s important, however that looks for you.

2. Don’t feed the clock, freezer or diary

Mary: I can’t tell you how many moms say, ‘I gave him a bottle so I could increase my freezer stash for when I go back to work.’

To non-nursing moms, that sounds like an odd thing to do — to give a baby formula now in order to give them breast milk later. But it makes some sort of sense when you’re in the thick of it! Instead, follow the 3 don’ts:

1. Don’t feed the clock

Mary: If it’s been three hours since the last feeding and the baby is finally fast asleep, give yourself some leeway. While the clock may tell you it’s time to feed or pump, watch for the cues — from your baby and your breasts.

2. Don’t feed your fridge or freezer

Mary: Don’t worry about stashes early on. You can figure that out after nursing is established.

3. Don’t focus on ounces

Mary: Feed your baby, and watch their response. Do they still seem hungry after 3 ounces or do they seem satisfied? If your baby is gaining weight and seems satisfied, don’t let a book or a blog convince you to chase a magic number that doesn’t exist.

3. Cut yourself some slack

Mary: In an ideal world, every mom would be able to breastfeed as long as she wants — whether that’s 6 months or 2 years. Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world.

Mary: Studies have shown, breastfeeding is more realistic for moms who have the resources, time, energy and support to do it — and even that is challenging! Many moms feel isolated during those first few weeks and months, especially as they work to establish good breastfeeding habits. But we can’t ignore the fact that the journey is going to be harder for moms who work at a retail store or factory and may not have maternity leave or a safe place to pump.

Mary: The bottom line is this:

  • Every mom who wants to breastfeed should try. And the people around her should support her in every way they can.
  • As a mom, you can only do what you can do. Do that, and then cut yourself some slack.
  • Take care of your baby. Take care of yourself. Everything else will take care of itself.

More resources on breastfeeding

Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley has been writing about food, culture and health for more than a decade, and has lived in three of Tennessee’s four major cities (Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville).

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Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on bcbst.com. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.