We often talk about the physical side of breastfeeding – the pain caused by a bad latch, the different latches, the hours spent on the couch, the exhaustion… But for many women who choose to breastfeed, the mental toll can be experienced as something they feel. re totally caught off guard.
“So many new parents start breastfeeding completely exhausted, physically and emotionally, after a long labor and delivery,” says Alison Lovett, founder of breastfeeding support service, The Latch (thelatch.co.uk). “My clients often tell me that their prenatal classes haven’t given them enough warning of how marathon breastfeeding can be.”
The mental balance
It’s definitely a marathon – Lovett estimates that newborns feed eight to 24 times a day (depending on the size of the baby and the storage capacity of the mother’s breasts), for 10 to 60 minutes at a time. “Babies may also need extra drinks and periods of comfort at the breast, especially when it’s hot or they’re not feeling well,” she says.
Cluster feeding (lots of short feedings over a few hours, or sometimes constantly) is common anytime during the first three or four months. It can all be very overwhelming, especially if you don’t expect it to be that intense. Plus, it’s unclear exactly when it might become less frequent or take less time – and psychologically, it can be difficult to deal with.
“Many women feel overwhelmed by their baby’s demands, especially if they have little sleep,” suggests BACP registered counselor Cate Campbell. “[Feeling] they are supported; that their bodies no longer belong to them. They may feel guilty for the resentment they feel, which does not help them to relax and enjoy the experience, or allow them to realize that their feelings are natural.
Lovett says new moms need real “emotional and physical stamina” for the first six weeks after birth (the generally accepted time when breastfeeding is established). “It can come as a huge shock, and it’s undoubtedly one of the main reasons why new mums don’t manage to breastfeed for as long as they had hoped and planned – they just didn’t the stamina and motivation to keep going.”
So if you want to breastfeed, how do you make sure you have enough emotional stamina?
Preparing for pregnancy, especially first pregnancies, can often be spent mostly thinking about the birth – and understandably, it can be daunting – but thinking about how you’re going to feed yourself and learning what to do can take a bit of a step back. .
“New moms are well-advised to spend time during pregnancy identifying sources of help and support they might need if/when they have difficulty with breastfeeding later,” says Lovett.
Besides reading and watching tutorials, your best source of knowledge may be friends who have recently breastfed. While everyone’s experience is different, it might help you get a realistic picture of what’s to come — and how best to deal with it.
Anticipating difficulties can help avoid some of the “mental stress and exhaustion” that is so often felt, suggests Lovett.
A support system will be a big help. Lovett says, “The support network is a major factor in breastfeeding success, and I think that’s sorely lacking in the western world, where a lot of socializing is done on social media, and the practice is to share a impression that ‘everything is beautiful in the garden’, when in reality a new mother may have difficulties, feel very isolated and need support.
Of note, she says, in cultures where breastfeeding rates are high, “it is often customary for new mothers to be supported by other female friends and relatives, who mentor the new mother to pass on their skills and experiences during the first weeks after childbirth”. .
“Partners should also understand the important role they play in encouragement and practical help – making sure the new mother eats and drinks well, is able to sleep when food permits, occasionally to go for a walk or swim.”
Try not to be hard on yourself
“Be confident in yourself and your body,” Campbell emphasizes — and remember to be kind to yourself no matter how things go.
“Even before you have a baby, it can be helpful to make a short video or write a note to remind yourself that everyone is different and it’s normal to feel a wide variety of emotions about breastfeeding. Talk about how you feel with the person who seems to understand – this could be a friend, partner, relative or healthcare professional.
You might feel guilty if you’re not able to feed as often or for as long as recommended, but Lovett says, “An important message is that any breastfeeding you’ve been able to provide is better than none at all.
Various services (like The Latch) offer one-on-one video support in the first few weeks, there are local council breastfeeding support groups and organizations like NCT (nct.org.uk) and La Leche League (laleche. org.uk) have helplines.
Lovett recommends writing down everything you learn and saving it for later: “In a crisis, because when you’re completely exhausted from a crying baby, your hormones are all over the place and you feel overwhelmed, it’s surprisingly difficult to concentrate. find a source of help.
For many women, the decision to stop breastfeeding – regardless of their baby’s age – is a very emotional moment, often fraught with complex and sometimes conflicting emotions.
“It’s made worse by our bodies making less of the hormone oxytocin, a hormone that makes us happy and well,” says GP and mental health coach Dr Hana Patel (drhanapatel.com).
Oxytocin “declines with withdrawal, which means women may feel a sense of loss and sadness. Symptoms should disappear within a few weeks, but if you still feel emotionally weak talk to a health visitor or GP.
Campbell adds, “I hope parents and baby stop breastfeeding when the time is right, and not because someone else tells them it’s time. Even so, it can be difficult to envision the last stream. It may be helpful to gradually introduce an alternative behavior to replace this emotional/comforting element of breastfeeding – [such as] listen to a story at night with a hug.
“Similarly, parents shouldn’t feel bad if they can’t wait to quit. We’re all different.
The best videos delivered daily
Watch the stories that matter, straight from your inbox