The Mental Load of Breastfeeding
We've all heard about how hard breastfeeding can be, but we don't always understand why it can be so tricky sometimes. Even when there is an absence of physical challenges, like an improper latch, the mental and emotional difficulties can be overwhelming.
Loss of Autonomy
All parents lose some sense of autonomy when they have kids and breastfeeding mothers lose even more. Not only are they the sole nourishment for their child until introducing solids, but they are required to schedule their life around feeding. Breastfed babies often nurse every 2-3 hours, even as they get older some may want milk every 3-4 hours. This means the nursing mother is required to think about situations like-
- Can I go out for a night with my friends and for how long?
- Will I have access to pump and store my breast milk at work?
- How much milk do I have in the freezer and is it enough?
When you’re a breastfeeding mother, more often than not, you are the parent who gets up at night to feed your baby. Those middle-of-the-night wakings can leave you feeling depleted and frustrated.
Breastfeeding mothers also have to be aware of what they eat, drink, and even what medicine they take. If the baby has a suspected or diagnosed lactose intolerance, the mother may have to abstain from dairy products until the baby is weaned. Certain foods, like cauliflower, that the mother eats can make her baby gassier. Caffeine and alcohol can pass through milk as well, so take note of how much you consume. Some medicines can also pass through milk, speak with your midwives or doctors about which medications you are taking and ask if they are safe for breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding mothers are often worried about their child's weight and if they are getting enough milk, even though more often than not, their child is getting adequate nutrition from nursing. Social media has led many mothers to believe they should have a freezer full of breastmilk and when most women fall short of a freezer full, they believe they are not producing enough.
The reality is, under producing breastmilk is rare. More commonly, mothers make more breastmilk than their babies are able to consume. If you’re having difficulties getting enough milk from pumping, try troubleshooting the issue. Check if your pump’s flanges are the correct size for your nipples. Most pumps come with flange sizes 24mm or 28mm, but you may need to size up or down depending on your nipple size. Remember to replace pump parts regularly- about every 3-6 months or sooner depending on the part. You can also try hand-expressing milk into bottles if pumping isn’t right for you.
Keep in mind that babies are often more efficient at removing milk from the breast than pumps are, so it’s likely your baby is getting more milk from you than the pump is. Don’t be discouraged if you aren’t happy with how many ounces you get after pumping.
Is it Worth it?
The short answer is yes, but the long answer- it depends. Breastfeeding can drain so much of our mental energy that we are left feeling exhausted, but there are also so many benefits that both the mother and the baby can gain from.
Benefits for the Mother
Women who breastfeed have a reduced risk of:
- Heart disease and stroke
- Ovarian cancer
- Breast cancer
- Type II diabetes
- Postpartum depression
The non-medical benefits include bonding, a sense of accomplishment, and in terms of price, breastfeeding is free.
Benefits for the Infant
It will come as no surprise that there are many aspects of breastfeeding that are beneficial to the infant.
- Specialized milk that changes depending on the baby's nutritional needs
- Colostrum is nutrient dense and helps the newborn eliminate meconium
- Foremilk has more water to hydrate, while hindmilk is fatty and is more cream-like
- Increased fat content during growth spurts
- Illness-specific antibodies when the baby is sick
- Breastmilk can even change throughout the day- evening milk is designed to help the baby fall asleep
- Lower risk of asthma, type I diabetes, obesity, and SIDS
- Mental and emotional development from observing facial expressions and personal interactions
Breastfeeding is hard, especially when you feel like you’re alone in your struggles, but you can reach out for support. If you are wanting to vent, friends and family are great options. They know you, they love you, and you can feel safe with them.
For troubleshooting, reach out to our midwives for help, and they can also give you recommendations for local lactation consultants. You can also find support with La Leche League to gain access to free information from volunteer leaders and free meetings.
To get breastfeeding support, contact our midwives today.