Breastfeeding is so much more of a learning process than it’s made out to be.
There can be a lot to fear about breastfeeding for a woman who has never done it before. In fact, so many women expect it to happen naturally and instinctively that, when it doesn’t, they are left feeling inadequate. And while there is nothing wrong with having to supplement or formula feed instead, being unable to breastfeed can be heartbreaking for many women who were determined to do it.
Even a mother who has breastfed a previous child has fears about doing it again. Each child latches differently and has their own feeding preferences and habits. Breasts also go through changes with each pregnancy and round of breastfeeding. The most seasoned breastfeeding mom may still have concerns, or run into problems that she has never encountered before.
It’s perfectly normal to experience different levels of fear about breastfeeding. Here are some common ones that many mothers experience.
Fear of Not Producing Enough
This is probably the most common fear about breastfeeding. Unlike formula/bottle feeding, there is no way to precisely measure how much milk baby is getting. This requires moms to monitor things like diapers and weight gain to ensure baby is getting enough. That can be a tough task for a new mom who isn’t quite sure how much is normal. [Download a free printable feeding and diaper tracker from Milkology]
If moms are really concerned, they may resort to pumping their breast milk and bottle feeding it to baby. But they need to be aware that the amount of breast milk pumped out is not equivalent to the amount that baby can drink straight from the breast. Even the best breast pumps are not nearly as effective as a well-latched baby.
Another factor that contributes to the fear of not producing enough milk is baby’s eating pattern. Cluster feeding, which is totally normal in newborns, can make a mother believe that baby isn’t getting enough and is therefore continuously hungry. Not getting enough hind milk can also cause a baby to feed more often than usual, and not an indication of a low supply.
There are several ways to increase milk supply naturally. Stress about not having enough can actually hinder the production of breast milk.
Fear of Pain
A common myth is that it shouldn’t hurt if you are doing it correctly – but even with the proper latch, it can still feel uncomfortable. The pain does lessen over time, but sore nipples are almost unavoidable for the first few months. Many new mothers hear painful horror stories and develop a strong fear about breastfeeding.
There are several conditions that can cause pain during breastfeeding:
An oversupply or forceful letdown
It can be difficult to tell the difference between pain caused by a problem and normal soreness caused by breastfeeding. Here’s a great article from KellyMom about breastfeeding pain, but the best way to know for certain is to get the help of a certified lactation consultant.
Fear of Breastfeeding in Public
It’s every woman’s legal right to breastfeed their baby in public, but that doesn’t mean that every woman will want to. The lack of privacy that comes along with breastfeeding is something that can cause a lot of fear and anxiety for new mothers. It can even cause latching problems because a mother feels uncomfortable and vulnerable feeding in public.
The first few days after birth can be the most overwhelming for a new mother learning to breastfeed. For a person who has likely never had their breasts exposed to strangers before, there will suddenly be all kinds of interest in them. Nurses, midwifes, lactation consultants will all want to watch as you latch the baby. They may even hold or touch your breasts in an effort to help you get into the right position or correct the latch. Even well-meaning relatives may try to help, not realizing that their presence is causing you stress. With a steady stream of visitors lining up to see the new baby, it can be difficult to find enough privacy to focus on breastfeeding correctly.
There are also more and more stories circulating about women being shamed for breastfeeding in public. No matter how discreetly you do it, or how well you know your rights, the fear of being confronted can cause a lot of unwanted anxiety. Some women resort to pumping and taking bottles when they go out, but pumping breast milk is so much more work that it often discourages mothers from long-term or exclusive breastfeeding.
We all want to be those brave mothers who nurse in public and tell strangers to mind their own business. But the reality is, when it comes down to it – we end up feeding our babies in a bathroom stall instead because the fear about breastfeeding in public is real!
Fear of the Unknown
Breastfeeding is a learning process. There’s a reason why there are entire careers dedicated to the skill of lactation. Thousands of years ago, women were taught to breastfeed by their mothers who learned from their mothers before them. If a woman could not breastfeed their child likely died, so it was a matter of life and death. Thankfully, we have the luxury not to worry about that anymore. However, that also means that breastfeeding correctly isn’t as high of a priority now.
Being educated about breastfeeding is not just a necessity, it’s our right. We have so much knowledge available to us that it makes no sense to go about it blindly and expect it just to happen automatically. We fear things that we know nothing about. The only way to defeat that fear is to get educated.
Learning about breastfeeding doesn’t have to be complicated and involve tons of research. Nor does it always mean having to get help from a professional. There are several resources available that have done all the hard work and research already, such as The Breastfeeding Handbook from Mom Smart Not Hard. It’s only $9 and includes a ton of information and printables. It is designed to help you gain the most amount of knowledge, in the shortest amount of time.
If you’re more of a visual person, then there are courses like Milkology which has tons of pictures and instructional videos. At only $19, it’s quite affordable compared to other lactation courses. And the best part about online courses or e-books is that they can be accessed so conveniently and privately, that there’s really no excuse why anyone couldn’t do it.
Knowing what to expect and how to handle problems as they arise can help to reduce a new mother’s fear about breastfeeding.
Fear of Stopping
There is so much pressure on mothers to breastfeed that the fear of NOT breastfeeding can cause a lot of stress. That stress in itself can cause all kinds of breastfeeding problems. Many mothers don’t get the support they need to breastfeed and end up unsuccessful. But even doing everything right isn’t a guarantee of success. Some women try everything possible to breastfeed, and are still unable to produce enough milk.
The fear of quitting breastfeeding and switching to formula can cause mothers to continue doing it despite the pain and stress. They might worry that they will be less of a mother if they are unable to breastfeed. Perhaps they are worried about letting down their spouse or feel disappointed in themselves. There is also the additional costs associated with formula feeding that can add financial stress.
The women who are successful at breastfeeding may worry about weaning their baby. If they need to go back to work or need to leave baby for an extended period of time, there is the worry that baby will not settle without nursing or won’t take a bottle. Some mothers might worry that their baby will want to wean suddenly, before they are ready to give it up.
Mothers shouldn’t feel guilty or afraid to stop breastfeeding as long as they are doing what is best for themselves and their babies. A fed, happy and healthy baby will result in a happier, less stressed out mom. And the mental health benefits of that are much more important than those of breastfeeding.
Some mothers experience a higher level of fear about breastfeeding than they do about childbirth. When you consider all the pressure there is to do it plus the stigma that still exists about doing it in public, it’s no wonder why. The best way that mothers can get over their fears is to learn everything they can about it and know where to turn if they need help. With the right support and tools, breastfeeding can be an enjoyable experience, instead of one to fear.