Bottles, Herbs and Frustration: When Breastfeeding Does Not Go As Planned


Imagine spending months looking forward to breastfeeding, taking a class and reading every book only to find yourself struggling to feed your baby.  Breastfeeding is our biological norm so it should come naturally and quickly to all mother baby pairs, right? Unfortunately, no, it does not always come easily. While the majority of mother baby pairs are able to exclusively breastfeed with proper support and education, some pairs have unfortunate hurdles (maybe even mountains) standing between them and exclusively breastfeeding.  Certainly our birth culture impacts breastfeeding, some common delivery and postpartum practices can complicate things. For some pairs though, regardless of delivery and postpartum experiences, breastfeeding is unfairly challenging.

Unexpected NICU stays, tongue ties, insufficient gladular tissue (IGT), thyroid conditions, a baby with poor muscle coordination or developmental difficulties can all impact desired breastfeeding goals. For these pairs breastfeeding becomes a bittersweet part of their lives. Some women choose to employ every possible aid, while others decide to formula feed and many fall inbetween and combo feed. There is not a right or a wrong, every pair and lifestyle varies.

Whether a mom experiences minor or mountainous breastfeeding challenges it is always difficult when things go unexpectedly. The first step when challenges arise is to seek help and come up with a plan. An IBCLC lactation consultant can help you decipher between common breastfeeding challenges and challenges that might require a second opinion for diagnosis (tongue ties, IGT, thyroid, etc). If you see a lactation consultant, physician or other professional and you are not confident in their recommendations never be afraid to seek a second or even third opinion.  A mom’s intuition is a powerful thing!

Once you know what is going on the next step is to develop a plan. If breastfeeding exclusively or in part remains important, despite any diagnosis, there are options available to help reach your goals. Some women opt to exclusively pump and bottle feed. Some utilize their pumped milk, formula or donated milk from another mother in a supplemental nursing system (SNS). An SNS ensures a certain intake while stimulating mom’s breasts to maximize her possible output. It is also great for bonding and infant oral development. Traditional breastfeeding and using bottles of formula, pumped or donor milk to supplement is a common way to handle some challenges. Galactagogue herbs and medications are sometimes used in addition to pumping and feeding at the breast.

Developing a plan is not always difficult but maintaining one might be. Even without challenges life with a new baby is demanding and tiring. Make sure you seek help and accept it as needed. Lactation consultants can help you develop a plan, a postpartum doula can help you carry out a plan, and friends and family can support you emotionally and practically. Seek advice and support from other moms facing similar challenges, there’s a Facebook group for almost everything you can think of these days!

Most importantly, remember that you are an AMAZING mom! However you get through your feeding challenges, you are the best mom for your baby. Exclusively breastfeeding is a healthy goal but thankfully we have options available for when things do not go as planned.

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