Breastfeeding is natural right!?
So why do so many mothers find it difficult?
By Emma Biggar, IBCLCLast updated 9th October 2019
We talk about breastfeeding being "natural" so naturally you would think you can just bring baby to breast and away you go. For some mums this is exactly how they are introduced to breastfeeding but for many there are a lot of ups and downs along the way.
While it's the biological normal and "natural" way to feed an infant, it's also a learnt skill. Something both you and baby need time to practice and learn. Your baby will be born with instincts to find the breast and will have sucking reflexes that certainly help but don't necessarily guarantee a perfect latch or attachment from word go. Each time you breastfeed your baby they learn what to do, where to place the nipple in their mouth and so on and will repeat this the next time they feed. This is why it is so important to work on ensuring an optimal latch right from the start. If it doesn't feel right or is hurting it helps to use a clean finger, break the seal and detach and try again rather than carrying on feeding with a sub-optimal latch. Even if you need to take the baby on and off ten times before you get a good position and attachment that's okay. You are helping him learn for the next feed as well. It is much easier to teach the right way from the beginning than it is to go back and try unlearn something. It is also why it is recommended to wait until breastfeeding is well established before introducing a dummy.
So why is it described as natural when sometimes it can feel anything but!?
When we think of breastfeeding as being "natural" it is helpful to think of it as being "natural" like walking rather than "natural" like breathing. Walking takes time and is also a learnt skill. It's a delight to watch toddlers as they learn where to place their body and how to coordinate themselves as they learn to stand then walk. Even if they fall down, at no point do we turn to them and say "I don't think walking is for you". Instead we help them, we cuddle them when it's distressing and we seek support if something seems out of the ordinary. We can approach breastfeeding in the same way. There might be ups and downs and falls and bumps and knocks and so on along the way but persistence is more important than perfection. Sometimes breastfeeding might not look like what you had originally expected and that can be hard to accept. Breastfeeding success is largely determined by your ability to persist. Seeking support can greatly assist in guiding you or getting you back on track along the way.
Many mothers have shed blood*, sweat and tears in the pursuit of breastfeeding. We can learn a thing or two from watching our toddlers learn to walk. Determination is key and will serve you well.
*if you are experiencing painful, cracked, or bleeding nipples then it is quite likely that something is not quite right and needs adjusting. If you feel you would benefit from seeking professional breastfeeding support click here to book an appointment.
Emma Biggar is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), Registered Nurse and mother of three. Emma provides in-home breastfeeding and early parenting support to families in the Eastern and South Eastern suburbs of Melbourne. Click here to read more about the types of services available or here to visit the online booking page. Contact Emma by email here or visit her website or Facebook page.