Most newly pregnant mothers today are aware of the importance of breastfeeding, often taking the ability to breastfeed for granted. But when that precious baby is born, the depth of emotions can be profound if you don’t have enough milk or baby can’t breastfeed well.
You have a choice about how you remember your breastfeeding experience by framing it in terms that are gratifying to you. This is not to say that you should dismiss or ignore negative feelings, but rather that it is important to find peace in your breastfeeding experience before too much time has passed so that negative feelings don’t overflow into other areas of your life, especially your feelings about your baby’s earliest days.
Making Peace with Your Milk Supply
No matter how you feel, you’re not alone; other breastfeeding mothers have been down this road before you and felt the following emotions. Identifying understanding, and processing them will give you peace.
Guilt or Regret
Some mothers feel guilt about decisions they made that affected the amount of milk they could produce, such as cosmetic breast surgery or using a poor-quality pump. Others feel as though they “starved” their baby before realizing he wasn’t getting enough milk. Sometimes guilt is imposed on you by a doctor or family member who blames you for one thing or another. It’s important to distinguish guilt from regret. Guilt assumes that you deliberately decided to do something knowing what the outcome would be. Regret happens after we learn something that we did not know at the time of the decision Almost certainly, you made the best decisions with the information available to you at what was probably a very confusing time. You did not know then what you know now or you might have made a different decision. It’s natural and healthy to feel regret because it helps us make better decisions in the future. But there is no need to entertain guilt when you didn’t know what the outcome of your decision would be.
Anger and Resentment
Let’s be honest-it isn’t fair that some mothers have to work so much harder than others to breastfeed their babies. Anger and resentment are understandable feelings when breastfeeding doesn’t happen the way you originally envisioned. When the problem is on your side, you may feel that your body let you down. Maybe a physician or family member was unsupportive or gave you inaccurate information that contributed to your difficulties. You may even feel anger toward your baby if he played a role in the problem, then feel guilty because you know that your baby doesn’t understand and is doing his best.
Deflating anger and resentment starts with acknowledging your feelings. While it’s nearly impossible to think objectively about intense feelings when you’re experiencing them, examining the source of your anger after you’ve cooled down allows you to step back from the emotion and observe it impartially. Think about your trigger points and “hot buttons.” If you’re angry at someone, try to separate the behavior from the person as you consider the reasons for it. Sometimes we project our anger onto a person who may not deserve it. By removing yourself from the feeling momentarily, your natural compassion will allow you to see the situation from a kinder perspective.
Sometimes it helps to talk it over with a partner or friend who is already more objective Depending on your situation, it also may be helpful to take an assertive stance that takes your needs into account. Recognize that your feelings are valid. But then work at letting them go and accepting your situation as fully as you can. Recognize and appreciate the positive moments that you would not have had without the difficult ones. Acceptance and gratitude for the silver linings will help to replace anger and resentment with peace.
It’s not uncommon for women struggling with milk production to confide that they feel inadequate as mothers and that their babies deserve better. Yet mothering is not about perfection or proving yourself to anyone; it is about creating relationships, Think about how much your baby is growing to love you and how much you are growing to love him. Many kinds of milk can nurture the body, but only your love can nurture his soul.
Feeling Rejected by Baby
In the midst of all your hard work, it can be dismaying if baby seems more satisfied by the supplement than your milk. Even worse, if he fusses during feeding at the breast, it can feel as if he’s rejecting you. Such a belief can profoundly affect the way you feel about yourself as a mother and undermine your confidence. In these moments,it is important to realize that feelings of rejection are an interpretation of your baby’s feeding behavior, not the reality of how your baby feels about you as his mother. Keep in mind that you are his mother, no matter what. You are the person who knows him best. You are the person he knows best. You are the person he thinks about when he needs comfort. His need and love for you are deep, even though he cannot yet tell you this in words.
Feeling Selfish for Wanting to Breastfeed
It’s ironic that in the midst of the struggle, you may feel or be told that you are being selfish for wanting to breastfeed your baby. But think about your original motives for breastfeeding You simply want to give your baby the wonder- ful and normal relationship of feeding him at your breast and the lifelong benefit of the unique nutrition and immunities of human milk. This is not selfish.
Feeling Judgmental of Other Mothers
Some mothers who struggle find it very disturbing to see other mothers overflowing with milk who wean early. The reality is that we can never know what is in the hearts and life experiences of other mothers. Their reasons not to breast teed or apparent lack of persistence in the face of problems may be related to serious personal issues-present or past-that make breastfeeding as much a difficulty for them as breastfeeding with low milk production is for you. On the other hand, it may be that they simply didn’t have accurate information about the benefits and joys of breastfeeding or the support they needed to overcome other obstacles.
Breastfeeding in the face of low milk supply can be difficult and lonely. Support is as important as good information when working on breast- feeding issues. You simply cannot do it all alone. Meeting other mothers who have felt the same way and faced similar challenges is reassuring and validating. They may even have ideas to help that only someone who has experienced similar issues herself could know.
Feeling Hurt by Insensitive Remarks and Criticism
One new mother was asked by a nurse how breastfeeding was going. When the mother answered that she was having to supplement, the nurse replied, “Of course you do, dear. Most new moms have to supplement, You’ll get it right with the next baby.”
Sometimes people say hurtful things even though they mean well. It’s similar to wanting to comfort a bereaved person after a death but not knowing quite what to say and uttering something insensitive instead. If firmly held beliefs about infant feeding are being challenged, the person may be especially unable to show empathy. On other occasions, the remarks may even be outright criticisms.
The natural reaction to hurtful comments is defensiveness, usually expressed by an angry reply or stunned silence. However, standing up for yourself doesn’t have to mean a full blown confrontation. Say something that acknowledges the other person’s concern without agreeing with it; this tactfully asserts your right to your position. For instance, if Great-Aunt Matilda says that you are wasting away your baby’s childhood with “all this breastfeeding nonsense, you can take a deep breath, think about what she might really be concerned about, and calmly reply, “It sounds like you’re worried that I’m not spending enough time nurturing and enjoying my baby.” Stop there. Don’t justify what you are doing. Answer her next comment, which is likely to be a bit gentler, with another simple articulation of her fears. Addressing her underlying concerns may lead to a genuine, respectful discussion that can help you both understand each other better.
It can feel even more hurtful to be criticized by another nursing mother because you’re not breastfeeding exclusively. Mothers tell stories about feeling judged by other moms at breast feeding support group meetings because they were supplementing with formula. Don’t wait for the shoe to drop; head off judgment by explaining up front that you have to supplement because you don’t have enough milk yet, and that you’re there because you need support. Once they understand your situation, they’ll almost certainly empathize and applaud your efforts to breastfeed. If not, don’t be discouraged. Look for a more accepting group, even if it is farther away. It’s worth the effort to find a group that is open-minded and understanding of the challenges you’re facing. Fortunately, there are many out there waiting to welcome you.
The struggle to make more milk, lack of sleep, and never-ending obligations may wear you down until you feel as though you are sinking into an abyss. When you become aware of these feelings, it is time to find a re-energizing activity that can make you feel better without interfering with your breastfeeding efforts. Sneaking off for a bubble bath when dad comes home, for instance, or escaping for a manicure or a quick cup of coffee with a friend can really help recharge your batteries. It is amazing what a few moments of self-pampering and indulgence can do for your outlook. Involving family members to help with things like washing pump parts can also reduce some of the responsibilities that feel overwhelming. If these suggestions don’t seem enough, seek help from a baby-friendly therapist who will support your efforts to breastfeed but help you maintain emotional balance.
Most mothers experience some moments of depression when they have a new baby, even when their road is smooth. Exhaustion from adjusting to the nighttime needs of a baby can magnify these feelings. This can also be a normal response to the sudden shift in self-image and identity as a woman becomes a mother and undertakes the great responsibility of parenting, Coping with low milk higher risk for depression because you are under additional stress as you do double duty, taking care of baby and working to build your milk supply. Have people begun hinting that you should wean? Don’t listen to them. Weaning often leads to increased depression, not less.
In most cases, depression improves when your physical and emotional needs are being met. When was the last time you had enough sleep, exercise, or a balanced meal? When you take the time to attend to your own needs, your outlook on life will be much more positive, But if you find yourself seriously beyond the brink of exhaustion, one good long sleep can really make a difference. Just once, ask someone else to take care of your baby. Then go to bed and sleep until you wake up on your own. You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel, and you may even find yourself producing more milk after a good rest. Take your baby with you for a walk outdoors or at a local mall if it’s cold or raining.
In the meantime, don’t hesitate to ask for help with meals or order takeout if the budget allows Adding EPA and DHA fatty acid supplements to your diet can also help improve feelings of depression. It is also helpful to share your feelings about your experience with a trusted friend, family member, or partner. Other mothers may be the best confidantes because most have felt depressed at one time or another.
If the depression you feel interferes with your ability to function or care for your baby, you may be experiencing postpartum depression (PPD). Tell your physician or midwife how you are feeling so that they can help you. In some cases medications or herbs are helpful, while in others therapy works well. Medication and therapy combined can also be very effective. In most cases, the drugs to treat PPD are compatible with breastfeeding. Most lactation consultants have a copy of Medications and Mothers’ Milk by Dr. Thomas Hale that can tell you for sure. Also keep in mind that the usually small risk of the drug is even less with a baby who is partially supported with supplements.
It is likely that, as a mother with low milk production, you have experienced at least a few of the emotional issues that we have described Although it is sometimes necessary to consult a physician or professional therapist, the following coping strategies may also be helpful
Take It One Day at a Time
A single day can seem to go on forever, and you may wonder how you’ll ever manage through weeks and months (or even years) of breastfeeding. On days like that, it is hard to believe that the rough spots will one day be behind you. But try to block out all thoughts of the future. It is easier to handle the effort of breastfeeding just for today. It may even help to say to yourself, “I’ll breastfeed just for today and wean tomorrow if I want to.” Of course, you’ll almost never wean the next day (or anytime soon), but knowing that you can provides a sense of control that helps you get through the day.
Set Short Goals
Set short but specific goals that you can easily achieve so you can feel good when you accomplish them. For instance, tell yourself that today you are going to give every supplemental bottle in an upright position to minimize the flow rate. That’s easy to do, and at the end of the day you can give yourself a pat on the back for accomplishing that goal. Don’t skip the congratulations; you deserve it and you need it. Your confidence will build with each goal you reach.
This is a great tool when you’re at your wits’ end and completely overwhelmed with stress. Take a deep breath and try to imagine as vividly as possible what things will be like in five, ten, or even twenty years. For instance, when your four- month-old baby has fussed and cried all day and you don’t think you can take another minute, picture ten years from now when your child will be an independent, perfectly charming third- grader, capable of heartwarming conversations and the excitement of discovering new interests As hard as it is to believe today, you really won’t remember most of the stress you were feeling when he was four months old. It really will get easier. And all of the time, patience, and love that you gave him will turn out to be a very worthwhile investment
Confront Painful Feelings
Take some time alone when you can be unobserved for a while. Make yourself comfortable and put a box of tissues by your side. Then allow all the disappointments of your breastfeeding experience to come to the surface. Feel compassion for yourself-you’re completely entitled to these feelings. You may even want to pour it all out into a journal. Or you may prefer the shoulder of a trusted friend; healing seems to reach a deeper level when it is shared with others.
When you’re ready to leave the painful feelings behind, make a conscious choice to focus on the good memories. In the same way you took time to think about the painful times, now take time to recount the good times. Look for the silver linings of all the benefits you and your baby received and the personal growth you have experienced. They do exist! You may need to go through this catharsis several times before you feel you’ve come to terms with all the pain and integrated the positive aspects fully into your memories of this unique time.
Once you’ve processed your feelings, you have only one hurdle left in order to find peace: forgive yourself for anything you regret. You must be kind to yourself and remember that you made the best decisions you could at the time and you had the best intentions. When you have honestly forgiven yourself and others, you can have complete acceptance and soothing peace about the breastfeeding experiences that you leave behind.
Realize That You Are a Successful Breastfeeding Mother
This is not about how much milk you were able to produce or how long you were able to breastfeed. It is about the commitment you made to give your baby the best start in life and the tremendous effort you put into pursuing that goal. Even if breastfeeding didn’t work out quite the way you may have hoped, you undoubtedly shared some special moments that you would not have had otherwise.
Woven through all the information and strategies we’ve given you in this book are two important messages. One is that each mother must develop a feeding strategy that best meets the needs of her baby, her family, and herself. The second is that you must view your experience with an appreciation of the mothering capabilities you do have, rather than feeling deprived of what you cannot have. It has taken tremendous courage for you to undertake breastfeeding in a difficult situation. You have set the stage to continue to make parenting choices that will help to form a solid foundation for your baby as he develops an understanding of himself and his worth.