Breastfeeding: Breaking through the barriers

Breastfeeding a child seems like it would be a natural and easy thing to do and often times it is. Occasionally though, things don’t go smoothly and it can be challenging.

Mothers can face several barriers to achieving the ideal breastfeeding experience. Every delivery is unique and comes with its own challenges. There are times when the infant needs special care and may be separated from its mother. Sometimes, the mother is exhausted or in pain from the trials of labor and delivery or she may have just had surgery.

Mostly though, success comes from having quality, uninterrupted time to bond with baby and get to understand baby’s feeding cues. Often times, the feeding cues are subtle and can be easily missed, especially if there is a lot going on in her room. Initially, newborn babies just do three things – sleep, eat, and fill their diapers. If they have woken up, it’s to feed. They do not become social for a couple of weeks. It’s important for infants and mothers to be together so that this bonding and recognizing of the feeding cues can be developed.

Celebration challenges

The arrival of baby is exciting for family and friends, too. It’s cause for celebration! Mom and Dad will be eager to show their little one off. It’s important though to remember that the baby needs to be fed frequently and around the clock. This is a time when new parents become tired. I encourage you to sleep when your baby sleeps. Visitors should keep visits short so mom can tend to baby’s needs. It is a good idea to call the new mother ahead of time and choose the best time for her to have you visit.

Technique barriers

Some babies have difficulty making a good latch at the breast. This is something that the nursing staff will be looking for and assessing. When there is a poor latch, nipples will become tender, cracked and sore. This is something that should be addressed right away. The nursing staff and the lactation counselors are trained to assess and assist with latch. Things to look out for are a wide gape, an asymmetrical latch and positioning with body alignment.

All mothers should consider taking a breastfeeding class, especially if this is their first child or their first child they are considering breastfeeding. I encourage you to do as much research as possible. I recommend reading “Breastfeeding: A Parent’s Guide” by Amy Spangler.

New breastfeeding mothers need help beyond the hospital. Moms need access to someone if things aren’t going well or if they have pain or discomfort while feeding. They may just need the support and understanding of their partner, or they may need to see a lactation counselor. You can usually find a lactation counselor at most health facilities. In addition, your local WIC office will have access to a counselor and additional resources.

Attending a class

I do encourage you to attend a breastfeeding class before delivery. The classes will typically last around two hours and include information about:

  • Physiology and anatomy of the breast
  • Process of lactation
  • Benefits of breastfeeding for mom and baby
  • Positioning of infant
  • Feeding cues
  • Clogged ducts and mastitis- what to do about it
  • Nutrition and hydration
  • Going back to work or school and breast pumping

You can also look in your community or online for breastfeeding support groups.

The important things are to keep an open mind, positive attitude and establish a support network. It is good to attend the class even if you aren’t sure about breastfeeding. You can still see what it’s about and make an informed decision.