breastfeeding support

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Previously, I had the general idea from my own breastfeeding experience that when I made the commitment to exclusively provide breastmilk for my daughter for at least the first year of her life between a combination of breastfeeding for six months and strictly pumping for 7 months, I began to strongly get the feeling from society overall that my choice was something “out of the norm.”

It seemed to me what I knew was ideal for my infant’s health by breastfeeding was something the majority of other new mothers were not doing. This made me feel as if I was the “odd mother out”, and as if formula feeding shortly after childbirth was not only the more convenient thing to do, but what was overall more accepted by society.

When we were having all sorts of challenges with breastfeeding, I was pressured to give my baby formula versus breast milk by physicians and other health professionals as well as by close friends and family members. I received the strong message from society that formula feeding your baby shortly after childbirth was considered by many to be equally beneficial to infants’ overall health as breastfeeding was.

This caused me to want to know the reasons why this unfortunate reality was the case. I learned that when multiple patents of formula first came out in the 1970’s, their were major investment dollars put towards advertising and marketing campaigns put forth to the general public, creating the false notion that formula was equally as beneficial as breast milk was. Generations from this period on who were raising children became and still continue to be staunch believers of the false notion that formula-feeding infants is the optimal feeding method.

Despite clear recommendations to new mothers from the American Academy of Pediatrics for mothers to breastfeed exclusively for at least the first year of an infant’s life, presently the U.S.’s exclusive breastfeeding rates (measured at infants’ age of six months) have declined to an unimpressive 12% and decline more each year. These declining numbers have dropped so far that exclusive breastfeeding rates in the U.S. are extremely low.

Volk’s evidence suggests is that as the U.S.’s breastfeeding rates decline, infant mortality will increase. This is a major problem and will continue to detrimentally effect our overall nation’s health, throwing another large rock into the pile of our already existing health crisis.

Despite breastfeeding’s multitude of health benefits, why else are so many new mothers giving up so quickly on breastfeeding? I myself, did almost give up on breastfeeding that first year of my infant’s life more times than I can count. Wasn’t breastfeeding supposed to be easy? It seemed like common knowledge that once we as humans had a human baby, upon the birth of that baby, shouldn’t breastfeeding come naturally without the need to troubleshoot so much?

The reality was, that at least for me, learning to breastfeed was not an easy task at all, and I had to overcome many obstacles to get through that first year of exclusively breastfeeding/providing breast milk for my child. The article by Volk on explaining how breastfeeding is not an automatic thing, helped me understand the logic behind why the skill of breastfeeding is not at all an easy task for not just me, but most women. Most women trying to breastfeed for the first time feel isolated in their efforts and are unaware of the fact that many other mothers are experiencing the same struggles as them, and I greatly believe this is the first reason why most new mothers prematurely give up on the idea of breastfeeding.

Volk’s theoretical descriptions helped me to understand more in-depth how our evolutionary changes have contributed to the U.S.’s declining breastfeeding rates.  In the past, breastfeeding was more successful because humans interacted more with each other face to face and learned how to breastfeed by watching other women breastfeed in groups where they connected more with one another and learned from each other in person. It is not as much that way anymore in today’s day and age due to advanced technology and the accessibility of computers and cell phones.

Today, people have more of a tendency to individually seek out information from the internet allowing people the option of not needing to interact as much in person. New mothers often think they can solve an intimate problem such as breastfeeding because it entails a private part of their body (their breasts) and additionally most women believe when it comes to feeding their child, they should not have to seek out an expert’s advice (or are unaware that breastfeeding experts even exist) or face to face support and by searching for the answer from the internet.

However, our nation’s declining breastfeeding rates prove otherwise and women ultimately are often giving up breastfeeding before realizing that skilled professionals can provide support and help them to learn to have the strength and motivation to continue trying.  Volk’s evidence suggests that since human breastfeeding is not automatic, the face to face help of a lactation consultant, support group or other health professional is crucial in learning to breastfeed successfully.

Because many of today’s physicians that treat new mothers are not formally educated on the numerous lifelong benefits breastfeeding, their support on recommending that their patients breastfeed is lacking, causing many new mothers not to realize how important breastfeeding truly is. The insufficient amount of breastfeeding knowledge on the part of today’s physicians and health professionals only adds to problem of the continuing decline in U.S. breastfeeding rates. As a breastfeeding educator, I hope to create more of an awareness about the importance of breastfeeding with other health professionals as well as provide individual and group breastfeeding support to new mothers to help work towards making positive change.

References
Berger, K.S. (2014). Invitation to The Lifespan 2nd Edition. New York, NY: Worth, 110
Miller, P.M & Commons, M.L. (2010). The Benefits of Attachment Parenting for Infants and Children: A Behavioral Developmental View. Behavioral Developmental Bulletin, Vol. 10. Cambridge: Harvard Medical School Press. 1-14
Volk, A.A. (2009). Human Breastfeeding is Not Automatic: Why That’s So and What it Means For Human Evolution. Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology . 305-314
Witters-Green, R. (2003). Increasing Breastfeeding Rates in Working Mothers. Families Systems & Health, Vol. 21, No. 4, 415-433

12 Tips to Help Reduce Back Pain While Breastfeeding a Newborn

Some women seem to have no trouble breastfeeding their newborn child.  They could breastfeed doing a handstand and never claim discomfort even for a minute.  That wasn’t me.  I had bad back problems before, during, and after my pregnancy.

Sitting to breastfeed a newborn, as awesome as the experience itself was, seemed to aggravate my back repeatedly in all of the suggested breastfeeding positions. To add to it, I had to hold my baby’s head and body up closer just to get to my breast over and over again where I started getting aches and pains like carpel tunnel in my hands and wrists and even shoulder, neck, and back pain from leaning over to get closer to my baby.  I thought there had to be an easier, more comfortable way to breastfeed.  I was very committed to making breastfeeding work and didn’t want to quit, so I did every possible thing to be creative to make the experience more comfortable for me and my baby.  I went to many lactation consultants, physical therapists and various other specialists and tried absolutely anything that could possibly help in breastfeeding more comfortably.

During this time, I was also spending quite a bit of time with other new breastfeeding mothers.  Being new moms, we would often breastfeed our babies together and I noticed it wasn’t only me – my new mother friends were breastfeeding in similar awkward positions contorting their bodies especially by leaning over to get closer to the baby and I often heard them complain of their own aches and pains.  I was also taking a “Mommy and Me” Yoga class where women would do yoga together when the babies were newborns and we would all need to sit on the floor against the wall and take breaks during the yoga class to breastfeed our babies.  Again, I noticed lots of leaning over and slouching and no breastfeeding mother of a newborn in that yoga class ever looked comfortable.

I quickly began to realize that breastfeeding a newborn 10-12 hours a day involved quite a bit of sitting for long periods of time.  Here are some tips that helped me along the way to modify my body aches and pains from breastfeeding my newborn baby and hopefully they can help you breastfeed more comfortably too:

  1. Try changing your breastfeeding position frequently. Give your body’s muscles a rest from the same repetitive position.  If you have a “go-to” breastfeeding position and place you always like to breastfeed, step out of your comfort zone and try something new!  For example, lay on the bed or even on the floor on top of a blanket with your newborn.  Look up the “side-lying” position, “football hold”, “laid back”, and “cross-cradle” nursing positions.  Try out each one to see which works the best for you!  Seek the support of a lactation counselor and/or your local La Leche League to help you in learning the different breastfeeding positions.
  1. Make sure you are breastfeeding in the right kind of chair. Sitting is one of the most strenuous activities for the lower back.  A deep cushioned couch or chair can contribute to poor posture habits causing you extra pain when breastfeeding.  Be sure to sit in an upright, firm chair.  This helps in making sure the bones in which you sit on are grounded evenly and will better support healthier postures helping to alleviate your lower back pain.
  1. Try breastfeeding standing up by using a baby carrier or a wrap. Standing up and moving around while breastfeeding can give your back a needed break from the constant sitting.  Find a local “Baby-Wearing” organization in your area to help you learn how to breastfeed easily standing up with an infant carrier. These organizations will often let you borrow different kinds of infant carriers for free!
  1. Get a massage. When you are busy with caring for a newborn, it is easy to forget about yourself. Jump at the opportunity to get a massage at a spa, from your partner, or another family member or friend.  If anyone asks what you would like for a gift – do not hesitate to ask for the gift of a massage!  The benefits of reducing pain from breastfeeding with a massage are priceless and will leave you feeling renewed and refreshed!  Remember to drink a lot of water afterward!
  1. Leave your seat to stand and walk as often as possible. Get up and go for a walk between feedings even if you can only manage to do it in five minute incrementsIf you feel you don’t have the time or the weather doesn’t permit to go outside, walk around your house for at least ten minutes, twice a day.  Pace back and forth in a couple of rooms and/or walk up and down the stairs a few times.  If you have the opportunity to get outside, try to walk for at least 30 minutes a day.  Take frequent breaks and always stay hydrated by drinking a lot of water.
  1. Begin exercising soon after the birth of your baby to restore muscle tone to the abdominal and back muscles. While the baby is napping, take ten minutes to do stretching exercises each day.  Lie on the floor on your back, bring each knee to your chest and hold for 20 seconds.  Straighten your leg up while laying on your back and hold a belt over your foot on top of your straightened leg and slowly move your leg closer to you with the belt for 20 seconds.  Do a “wall sit” three times starting at 30 seconds and up the time every few days by a few extra seconds as your muscles strengthen.  Join a “Mommy and Me” yoga class! It’s a great way to help modify your discomfort, get back into shape, and get out into the world with your new baby, as well enjoy yourself and meet other new moms!
  1. Sleep when the baby sleeps. It may seem near impossible to ever get any sleep with a newborn in tow. The first time I heard this advice it seemed silly to be taking frequent naps at odd points throughout the day.  I learned quickly though that if I did not sleep when the baby slept, I never got any sleep at all!  Take it when you can get it!  Rest is one of the most important factors in helping your body to heal and repair itself.
  1. Try alternating with ice and heat to alleviate your back and shoulder pain from breastfeeding. As simple as it sounds, cold alternated with heat compresses are excellent ways to alleviate pain anywhere on your body.  Take an ice pack and hold it to the area that is in discomfort for about 20 minutes and then remove the ice pack for about ten minutes. Then try applying heat to the same area for another 20 minutes.  Vary this treatment back and forth as many times as you like throughout the day until you feel desired relief.
  1. Stay hydrated! Try to drink at least eight cups of water a day.  When you are involved with caring for your newborn, it is easy to forget to drink enough water.  Dehydration can lead to exhaustion as well as aggravated body aches and pains.  An easy way to remember is to take a 64 ounce pitcher, fill it up to the top with water each morning, and make sure by the end of the day the pitcher is empty.  Make it a goal to fill the same pitcher and drink this much water every day.
  1. Ask for help from your partner or other loved ones. If you are experiencing uncomfortable pain, don’t continue to do everything yourself.  Ask for help with the constant lifting of the baby from a loved one until you feel better enough to handle the task on your own.  Many other women are going through the same experiences as you.  Join a local breastfeeding support group where you can meet other women like you to speak with in person at meetings such as La Leche League or any other new moms support groups held in your area.  There is great value in listening to other’s shared experiences and offered support!
  1. Bring the baby to your breast rather than bending over to the baby. Since you will be sitting for extended periods, try not to let the lower portion of your spine curve forward excessively.  Put a pillow or couch cushion behind your back to keep it straight, but still comfortable while you breastfeed your baby.  Bringing the baby to your breast rather than bending over the baby will help you avoid upper back pain.  Try any items that can provide you with additional support like pillows on your lap or in bed to help you bring your baby closer to your breast while breastfeeding.
  1. Do your best to maintain a positive outlook. Breathe deeply throughout the day. Meditate.  Enjoy breastfeeding your new baby!  Make the most of the sit-down time.  You deserve it!  Turn the television on, put your feet up, and relax.  Keep your motivation up by having things around that help keep you comfortable and entertain you while breastfeeding.

Congratulations with your new baby and happy breastfeeding your baby comfortably!

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