The Fear of Breastfeeding

Does it hurt? Will I have enough milk? How will I know how to latch my baby? If I couldn’t nurse my first baby, should I try to nurse my second?

These common modern concerns about nursing are a great source of fear for new moms. The CDC says that only 49% of women are still breastfeeding at six months. The percentage of women who can’t breastfeed for physical or medical reasons is low and imprecise, but it’s definitely not 51%. There must be something else going on.

Before formula existed, breastfeeding was part of life that was automatic, expected. This was in a time when new moms would have their mothers and grandmothers and other family around who had all breastfed their babies and could fully support them in their new role. Seeing women out and about breastfeeding their babies was also a normal occurrence, so women were even subconsciously preparing for their future roles as mothers.

Today, many new moms have 6-12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave, most of it spent at home alone in an overwhelmingly messy house. Pumping after going back to work can be overwhelming and sometimes inefficient.

There is also misunderstanding about how often a breastfed baby needs to nurse, even at night, sometimes leading to the belief that there is not enough milk. Making a baby sleep long hours at night ensures a lower milk production, often leading to the need to supplement with formula, thus lowering milk production even further. Since formula feeding was the norm just a few generations ago, not many older mothers can pass down advice and encouragement about breastfeeding. There is no blame to be placed on mothers, young or old. Formula companies have attempted for years and years to “prove” that formula is just as good as breastmilk.

In light of the need to go back to work early, the inexperience, the robust advertising by formula companies, and the misunderstandings about normal infant behavior there is no wonder why every expecting mother I’ve talked to lately has expressed some sort of fear related to breastfeeding.

Since there are fewer unofficial experts in the area, professional breastfeeding specialists became part of the postpartum dynamic. Trained professionals are now able to address concerns and ease fears about breastfeeding. Hopefully one day, natural term breastfeeding on cue will be the norm and these professionals will not be necessary. I’m one of these professionals, hoping my job becomes obsolete! Until then, we at By Your Leave thoroughly enjoy joining moms in their breastfeeding journeys. Empowering women to birth and feed their babies by their own strength with the support of their loved ones is our utmost passion.

The Intuition of a Mother

In all things, there needs to be a balance of trusting those who are most knowledgeable and trusting ourselves to know what’s best for our families. We are fortunate in the western world to have resources to rely upon when they are needed.

In the world of pregnancy, birth, and parenting, there is often a clash between the “professionals” and a mother’s intuition. We are not accustomed to listen to our intuition, and there usually is an aspect of the situation that feels like a life-or-death decision.

For example, if an obstetrician says “You need a cesarean because your baby is big and his heart might not tolerate labor much longer,” a laboring mom who isn’t aware that a “big” baby is not usually a true cause for cesarean will follow the doctor’s orders because the safety of her baby is at stake.

Another example is when a mom reads a book by a “sleep expert” saying that if her baby doesn’t sleep through the night by six months, he will never sleep through the night and he will always need human contact to settle. So she will stand outside her baby’s door, listening to the cries for however long the book suggests while her heart aches and her milk leaks, not knowing that it is not normal for babies to sleep through the night in isolation and it benefits milk production to have babies nurse frequently (even at night).

The biological bond between a mother and her children is a source of great wisdom. When a mom feels something is “off” with her kids, she should listen to that feeling and pursue an answer. More often than not, there will be something amiss.

It’s so important to trust ourselves to know how to birth and to trust our babies to tell us what they need. Trust balanced with education from evidence-based sources can produce a holistic, peaceful outcome for all involved. Pregnancy, labor, birth, breastfeeding, and early parenting are all short seasons in the whole of our lives. Cherishing these times and avoiding unnecessary interventions is beneficial to the whole family.