One of the most integral parts of being a mother is breast feeding. However, while it can eventually nurture bonding between your baby and you, nursing can also be quite a challenge especially for new mothers. I’ve heard a lot of people say that nursing happens naturally; while this might be true for many, the fact is that some of us have struggled in the first few months. Combined with post labour recovery and postpartum blues, problems with breast feeding can be highly frustrating for the sleep deprived and hormonal new mom. How do I know this? Been there, done that. For the first couple of days, my daughter simply refused to latch on and hence lost far too much weight than what was considered to be normal. Even after coming home from the hospital, nursing was a nightmare and I often desperately longed for the day when my daughter would turn 6 months – the doctor prescribed age limit to start solids. Today, 9 months down the line, I’ve come to realize that nursing is a magic cure for all! What’s more, it is a much easier, quicker and healthier way to nourish your child.
The World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breast feeding for the first 6 months of a baby’s life. It is a well-established and undeniable fact that nursing is indeed beneficial to both mother and child. However, the breast feeding route is not necessarily smooth sailing for every new mother.
There are a number of hiccups that a new mother might face when beginning to nurse. One of the most common problems that new moms face is blocked ducts. Blocked ducts occur when there is an imbalance in supply and demand, leading to a build-up and blockage of milk in the milk ducts. Blocked ducts do hurt a lot. Hot or cold compresses, massages, and frequent nursing on the affected side are the only ways to cure blocked ducts. Pumping or manually expressing milk helps to an extent but it is not as effective as nursing. Please do not disregard blocked ducts. It is crucial that they are attended to immediately; else the risk of developing an infection increases and you might need to resort to antibiotics or even surgery to remove the blocks.
Flat or inverted nipples is yet another roadblock to trouble-free nursing. If you suffer from inverted nipples, you might be asked to nurse with a nipple shield. Nipple shields need some practice in the beginning and your baby too needs to get used to suckling through the shield. However, if you suffer from cracked or sore nipples – yet another common ailment that affects new mothers –it can be excruciating to nurse your baby and breast feeding sessions will become miserable. Using nipple shields will protect your nipples from further damage. Once the wound is healed you can try nursing directly again. Nipple shields from the Pigeon brand are highly recommended although there are several other ones available in the market too. If you have recurrent cracked nipples, then your baby might not be latching on correctly. Make sure that the baby takes most of your nipple into her mouth and is not just sucking at the tip. There are a number of videos available online which can guide you in achieving a proper latch.
One other tip to make your nursing journey easier would be to get a nursing pillow. A nursing pillow is of course not strictly essential to nurse your child, but I found it to be a real blessing. A proper nursing pillow takes the strain off your body and it is a huge relief to your back, shoulders and arms. New-borns nurse a lot and nursing pillows are really useful at such times. One word of advice – avoid pillows with Velcro straps as the straps make noise when undone which tend to startle a sleeping baby.
A lot of women are not comfortable about nursing in public. One hears stories of perverts filming or photographing nursing mothers and it sickens most of us to even consider such possibilities. As a result of this, many new moms remain holed up in their homes in the initial few months. Of course, when out and about, if the baby gets hungry and cries, every mother will feed her child no matter who stares. But if it is possible to avoid such scenarios by staying at home, then many of us choose to do so. The lack of nursing rooms in most malls or public spaces in India only compounds the issue. I do know some mothers who are pretty nonchalant about nursing in public, but if you do not fall into that category do read on. Firstly, feed and burp your baby just a short while before heading out. This is the simplest way to ensure that baby remains satisfied for atleast a part of your trip – and if the trip is a short one, then you might be back in the privacy of your home before the next feed. The next option would be to pump some milk and to carry it along in a sterile and well protected container. If you do not want to nurse in public, you could offer the pumped breastmilk to baby whenever he gets hungry. Pumped breast milk will remain good for atleast 4-5 hours if stored properly. Lastly, always carry a shawl with you to cover up in case of unavoidable situations when you might just have to feed your baby. You could even try nursing covers – but make sure to try them out a few times at home too since babies who are unaccustomed to nursing under a cover might get annoyed by this new development and will fuss and constantly try to remove it! Alternatively, you could try the two shirt method. Basically this approach involves wearing 2 shirts; outer one is pulled up and the other one is pulled down when nursing. This is a tried and tested way to ensure your privacy whilst nursing in public.
If you are one of those women who always found nursing a breeze, well, good for you. However if you find yourself having a million questions about breast feeding, you can always join breast feeding support groups and forums, where there are other mothers and experts who will be more than willing to share their experience with you. Alternatively, you could also join a community called La Leche League and contact a local lactation consultant for a helping hand.
Nursing might not come easily to you at first and it could even be a painful experience at the beginning. You might even wonder if you’ll ever master it. Don‘t worry. Although you might flounder a bit, keep in mind that numerous women ahead of you have nursed their children successfully. Hang in there, and soon you too will become a pro at breast feeding!
Last but not the least, if you have tried everything and have finally come to the conclusion that you need to supplement with formula, please go ahead and do what works for you and your family. Sometimes, people tend to judge mothers who feed formula milk instead of nursing. Rest assured that there is absolutely no need to feel guilty about it – you’ve done your research, you’ve tried your best, you know your child best and just like any other mother out there, you have the best interests of your children at heart; there is simply no reason for you to justify your choices to anyone else. Rock on mamma!
Anne John has donned several different hats at various points in life but lately one of them seems to have dwarfed the rest, namely, motherhood. She’s a relatively new mommy who is still getting used to being known as someone’s mom. She describes herself as an explicit caricature of the new mommy – sleep deprived, scatter-brained, in crumpled pyjamas bearing tell-tale signs of baby’s spit-up and other unmentionables! After torturing friends and family with my endless mommy tales, Anne has decided to move on to the internet to share her so-called nuggets of motherly wisdom! I try to keep up an online presence over @annejwrites.