Week One Breastfeeding: Social Support
I often hear from families that the biggest adjustment to new parenthood is the sudden reduction in consecutive hours of sleep.
Babies feed every 2-3 hours around the clock for twenty-four hours a day. They don’t take nights off and rarely figure out the diurnal schedule (sleep at night, stay awake during the day) until about two months of life. There are ways to approach this frequent waking as a team approach with both partners participating, but in the early days of breastfeeding a mom also needs to empty her breasts frequently to establish and maintain her milk supply. She ideally needs to be the one feeding the baby in 2-3 hour increments.
It’s important to remember that sleep deprivation has often been used as a form of torture and there are times when you may feel like you’re undergoing some yourself. Research has shown that there are many negative effects associated with sleep deprivation—decreased alertness, decreased reaction time, decreased cognitive functioning, and increased emotionality. It has also been likened to the impairment experienced from alcohol consumption and can impact our ability to drive safely. This dramatic reduction in consecutive hours of sleep is the perfect set-up for increased emotions in the first few weeks of parenting and can put strains on our interpersonal relationships.
There are two sets of anatomy at work and despite a mother having a great desire to breastfeed, it is not uncommon for there to be a mismatch between the size and shape of mother’s breasts and the size and ability of a baby’s mouth. Another part of the mammalian experience is that we are social creatures. In early human groups, women would have supported each other with breastfeeding. Now many of us are discharged from the hospital to a house that is filled only with our small family unit. This isolation and mismatch of anatomy is a perfect set-up for difficulties with breastfeeding. There is no need for feeling ashamed or embarrassed that breastfeeding isn’t going as well as you imagined it would. It’s a learned behavior and just like learning to ride a bike, it takes practice! There are lots of local support groups that offer both a social outlet and tips for making life with a newborn easier.
Breastfeeding can also put some strain on your relationship with your partner that you didn’t anticipate. Dads and partners are often very involved in the pregnancy and delivery and may be surprised by a feeling of rejection that can happen because of the mother’s role with breastfeeding as both the primary source of nutrition and preferred source of comfort for the baby. In all other mammals, besides humans, the role of the mother is to feed the baby and that is likely easily accepted by the males, but human dads and other family members may want to be helpful, so may offer to help feed the baby. Until the two-week mark when milk is officially established, I would discourage mothers from taking anyone up on the help (unless medically required for 10% or more weight loss). The first two weeks are a crucial time to establish the feeding patterns necessary to create an adequate supply of milk. There will be plenty of time in the future for dads/partners and other family members to help feed the growing baby and child.
Postpartum Anxiety & Depression
The hormone changes in the first week postpartum are also their own roller coaster ride. In the lactation world, we always joke that those hormones that are making you weepy are the same ones that help your milk to come in. So weepiness is a good sign! However, I think a lot of new moms are blindsided by the new anxiety that comes on when becoming a mother. In fact, postpartum anxiety is more common than depression, and together they are the number one most common complication from pregnancy! Because you are caring for new life, and a heightened awareness is crucial to doing that, there are biological purposes to feeling anxious. If fear is becoming overwhelming, though, it is time to seek help.
Feelings of Loss
Sometimes breastfeeding isn’t possible, even when a mother desires to do so. Just as labor and delivery rarely follow a birth plan to a 'T,' the experience of breastfeeding may not meet our goals or expectations. The big message I try to instill in families is that any breastfeeding is still breastfeeding, and breastfeeding does not have to be an “all or nothing” experience. If it isn’t possible to exclusively breastfeed and a supplement of formula is needed, I do not consider this a breastfeeding failure, but consider it breastfeeding with a supplement. Or sometimes a baby won’t latch directly at the breast and bottles of expressed breastmilk are given instead of from the source. This is still breastfeeding! There are also times when breastfeeding isn’t possible, because, for whatever the cause, a milk supply didn’t come in. Moms in this situation may need time to mourn the loss, but in no way does this make them inadequate at motherhood. Our bodies don’t always perform in the way we want them to and beating ourselves up for something out of our power is fruitless. There are also mothers who may have never wanted to breastfeed and chose formula, but feel guilty about making this choice because they have felt social pressure to breastfeed. The bottom line is that formula is designed to emulate breastmilk and is also capable of growing happy, healthy, thriving children.
If breastfeeding isn’t meeting your expectation, I recommend meeting with an IBCLC trained lactation consultant to see what interventions can be made to help make breastfeeding a more positive experience.
A week at a time
It takes about two weeks for the breastmilk supply to be fully established. I recommend making short goals and avoiding projecting too far into the future. The good news about babies and children is that they are forever evolving, so no pattern is set in stone in the early days of parenthood. There are 8-12 opportunities every day for breastfeeding and improving the experience. Just remember to seek help when frustration levels are exceeding expectations or when there are more negative than positive feelings associated with breastfeeding. There is help out there!
DISCLAIMER: The contents and opinions expressed by Everett Clinic teammates and providers on “A Healthier You” blog and those providing comments are theirs alone and are not a substitute for medical advice. Consult your own provider for personal health recommendations.
About This Blog
Ready to take charge of your health? Join the conversation with our team of wellness experts. Get tips on prevention, exercise and strategies for a healthier you!