Breastfeeding can be one of the most heated topics among new parents. For something that is supposed to be a personal choice, we all seem to have some really strong opinions about it. Sure, breastfeeding is natural and it can be an absolutely wonderful way for a new mom to bond with her child. It also isn’t right for all people and can be a cause for conflict, sometimes between mom and her child’s pediatrician, particularly when mom or baby isn’t taking to breastfeeding like they hope to.
New mom Jennifer says, “What I didn't expect was for breastfeeding to be a full-time job (in addition to my first full-time job of raising a child, and my other part-time job that pays the bills.) I also didn't understand how much of an emotional roller coaster breastfeeding would be.” Breastfeeding can be an emotional journey creating a toll on personal relationships, particularly when one partner feels unattached to their baby because the other is spending so much time feeding the baby. Breastfeeding when it’s not working can impact the relationship between mom and baby’s pediatrician, particularly when baby’s health is at risk.
These are 15 things that breastfeeding moms do that drive their doctors up the wall!
When your body is recovering from pregnancy and birth it needs rest, and part of that rest means avoiding getting pregnant again. A recent report released from Michigan University discovered that some new mums encounter child-birth injuries that are equivalent to those sustained by athletes in an intense event, meaning it could take your body significantly longer than six weeks to heal itself. Pregnancy-related hormones like relaxin can remain in your body for as many as four months after you stop breastfeeding. Even though this is true, and if mom has not had her first postpartum period yet, it doesn’t mean that she can't get pregnant again. While you're less fertile while breastfeeding, this doesn’t mean you’re infertile. Sure breastfeeding can slow the hormones that cause ovulation, but you won’t know when you’re ovulating again until you receive your first period (two weeks later).
Moms with babies who sleep through the night early often become fertile again in as little as three to eight months post-birth. It takes up to two years for your abdomen to heal post birth and a 2012 University of Salford study concluded, “Women need a year to recover both physically and emotionally after childbirth. Relationships, personal self-worth, finances and health are all put through the mill in the first 12 months.” So when your doctor suggests you use backup birth control, don’t scoff, they know what they’re talking about.
Breastfeeding women who are struggling will often find themselves at a crossroads. In one position is a well-meaning lactation consultant who will encourage them to stay the course and try harder, the other may be a doctor who will suggest they try supplementing with formula. Both want the best, but when mom is not producing enough milk for a while it can be hard on her health and extremely dangerous for baby.
Dr. Amy Evans notes that up to five percent of all women have medical conditionals that will prevent or seriously impact their ability to breastfeed their babies. These conditions can include, hypoplasia, thyroid problems, hormonal imbalances, insufficient glandular tissue, and others. While very few women actually are unable to breastfeed they need to figure out what is best for them and baby and find a medical practitioner who is going to be supportive of their position, so long as everyone’s health is a priority.
Moms on the fence one way or another could consider a visit or two to a lactation consultant just to make sure they have truly done everything they can to try and make breastfeeding work. Remember baby’s health comes before any preconceived notion of what breastfeeding should be about.
One of the most frustrating things about breastfeeding is that you really have no immediate measurement of how much milk baby is getting. I mean they’ll cry when they’re hungry, but you’re not going to know how much they’re actually consuming. Here’s the thing: newborn babies have teeny tiny stomachs that are about the size of a marble, so it takes a very small amount of milk to satiate them in the early days. That being said, newborns aren’t exactly effective eaters, and it can take half an hour or an hour to get the milk they need.
This also means they could cry a lot, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t getting their nutrients, so don’t call your doctor and panic.
Another thing to note, and not to call your doctor in the middle of the night about, is that breast milk gets digested really quickly. This means that baby could be hungry and crying again less than an hour after the last time you fed them. Newborns will nurse a minimum of eight to 12 times in a day, because they’re so hungry and their tummies are small. A good indication on whether or not they’re eating well, beyond gaining weight and thriving is by checking their diapers. Babies who are getting enough milk will be peeing in their diapers at least eight to 12 times a day.
Breast milk is often called liquid gold. No wonder many moms who are lucky enough to produce a lot find this a sense of pride. Unfortunately, if mom is making milk faster than she’s feeding baby, or expressing it, this can lead to a blocked milk duct. Some moms will just push through this, when they probably shouldn’t, and wait until it’s absolutely unbearable before they visit a physician. A blocked duct causes the tissue surrounding the area to get swollen, inflamed, and press on the duct itself, causing the blockage. Signs of a clogged duct include a small hard, tender lump, redness, a warm sensation/ swelling that might improve slightly after nursing or expressing milk. This becomes dangerous as it can make you feel feverish, run down, and achy (think flu-like symptoms), which means the duct has become infected, which can easily lead to mastitis. Stress can also be a cause for blocked ducts, as can another illness that has led mom to not feed or pump as often. Some find that it’s helpful to take some pain medication (that is approved for use when breastfeeding) and pump through the pain, or using cold and warm compresses. Either way don’t wait until you’re in constant agony to connect with your doctor about a suspected blocked duct.
Many parents panic when their newborn baby loses a bit of weight before gaining it back. A friend of mine was beside herself after her daughter lost a great deal of weight in the first week, only later to find out that there was an issue with the scale at the doctor’s office, not an issue with her daughter’s ability to breastfeed. Babies who are losing weight in the early days need to be monitored closely to make sure they are getting enough nutrition from their mom’s milk, and they also need to be screened for other possible underlying health issues. One mom says of the importance of keeping regular appointments for your newborn, “At the first week doctor’s appointment, the doctor said it was normal that she would lose a little bit of weight before beginning to gain it back. And though I still wasn’t sure that she was getting enough, by the second week, she had gained back a half ounce so we figured we were on our way. I was hopeful. The next few weeks would prove otherwise.” If your doctor is concerned and wants more follow up appointments, don’t freak out, they’re just doing their job. If you think you’ll be too upset to ask the questions you need the answers to consider asking a friend or family to join you for the appointment to take notes, or prepare your questions in advance.
The attitude you bring into the doctor’s office is going to determine how you’ll be treated. If you walk in with a judgmental air about you, boasting that breast milk is liquid gold and anything else being fed to your baby being McDonalds, odds are your doctor is going to be rolling their eyes at you, along with their staff. If your baby isn’t thriving, they’re going to recommend supplemental feedings, so hear them out before you interrupt them with your personal findings.
Many parents connect their ability to breastfeed with their worth as a parent, and that isn’t fair to yourself as a breastfeeding mom, or that other woman in the waiting room you’re secretly judging for feeding her baby a bottle. While breastfeeding is natural, and free to those who can, it’s not necessarily the miracle cure all that we read about. Some research by Courtney Jung confirms that while there are definite benefits to breastfeeding, it’s not quite as magical as we’ve been told.
Jung says, “Breastfeeding will stop one single ear infection for every 10 babies who are exclusively breastfed for six months.”
So if your doctor is making other recommendations, take a deep breath and really listen to what they’re saying.
Many people believe that breastfeeding is going to be this magical bonding time with their children, and sometimes it is. Other times it can be challenging, frustrating and downright impossible. Just because a mom was able to produce enough milk for previous babies doesn’t mean that she’ll be able to every time. When I had my twins, the doctor at the hospital told me to be certain to supplement with formula if I didn’t produce enough milk. He also disclosed that he was currently treating two infants for dehydration and other complications because their moms refused to supplement. How long a mother breastfeeds, or if she does at all, is her own decision, and no one elses. But for some, returning to work early may make breastfeeding very difficult.
Doctors understand that it is recommended that most moms exclusively breastfeed their children until they turn six months, but if breastfeeding begins to negatively affect mom or baby’s well-being, it may be time to stop. Doctor’s experience frustration when mom isn’t willing to give up on something that isn’t working. For those looking to wean your baby from breast milk, talk to your doctor. They may have fantastic suggestions on gradually cutting down, like beginning to routinely offer something else instead of breast milk for specific feedings.
We’ve all heard the saying ‘if mama isn’t happy than no one is happy’. Mothers will often sacrifice their own needs for their children; it’s pretty much hardwired into our DNA. Unfortunately, many of us have this preconceived notion of what ‘real motherhood’ is and will do anything to make it work, even if it’s making them sick. As many as 15 percent of women are unable to produce enough milk for their children, but for whatever reason, this has become a dirty little secret.
One woman confesses, “I was four days into being a mother, I was out of my depth and, after all the formula-bashing in the antenatal classes, I was crying out for someone to tell me it was a safe and acceptable choice for my baby.” Doctors are trained to monitor mom’s health, particularly during the early stages postpartum to keep an eye out for signs of postpartum depression as well as complete exhaustion.
Sometimes mom is too exhausted to breastfeed, and that’s okay, moms need rest and recovery, and their doctors need to encourage this. Everyone maintaining health and safety is more important than an arbitrary breastfeeding date, if it isn’t working, own up to it.
Contrary to what you might expect, breastfeeding isn't all that instinctive. You need lessons to help you master it. Your doctor can help, but they often won’t be the front of the line for breastfeeding advice. In fact, a recent Canadian survey from the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario found, “Doctors were lacking knowledge in a number of areas, including breastfeeding techniques, failing to recognize the characteristics of a successful latch, and incorrectly believing that drinking more milk increases a woman’s breast milk production.”
So maybe don’t pick up the phone to call them for every question you may have, that’s what the experts are for.
Many hospitals offer breastfeeding clinics where mom can take a class before she even leaves, and even have drop in hours if there is trouble getting baby to latch or feed. The survey also found, “Although physicians’ overall comfort level (with breastfeeding) was relatively high, they say, “self-reported confidence was much lower when participants were asked about specific breastfeeding counselling skills, suggesting that physicians may have difficulty self-assessing as they may not be aware of what breastfeeding counselling entails.”
Hopefully this gap will have more physicians increasing their know how on the subject to better help their clients.
The pressure to breastfeed and the number of women who equate their ability to produce milk with their ability to be a good mother is unnerving. A Time Magazine article on breastfeeding addresses this unfortunate parenting trend saying, “Perhaps most importantly, we need to stop demonizing mothers who can’t breastfeed, guilting them into starving their kids with insufficient milk supplies rather than supplementing with formula. Yes, breastfeeding can help prevent SIDS, obesity, childhood leukemia, asthma, and lowered IQ…but none of that matter if your baby is failing to thrive because of malnutrition.”
There are so many reasons why a mother can’t or shouldn’t breastfeed, and not liking it, or it not working with their lifestyle is a completely valid reason. Don’t think you’re alone moms. Despite what breastfeeding advocates are saying, in the United Kingdom only around 17 percent of babies are exclusively breastfeeding once they reach three months old. So even if mommy guilt is making some moms keep their feeding habits under wraps, there are more formula, or formula/breast milk babies out there than you think. Perhaps we are unaware of this because so many moms are afraid to admit that they have moved to the bottle. Hopefully, as more of us move to a ‘fed is best motto’ less moms will be so worried about what others think. After all, it’s really none of their business.
Your child’s birth was different than your neighbor's, so why would your breastfeeding experience be the same as anyone else’s? Going to your doctor with complaints of how easy feeding was for your mother, sister, or BFF isn’t going to do anything but waste everyone’s time. Recognize that baby will need to be fed very often to ensure they have enough hydration and nutrition to thrive. This is absolutely exhausting for new moms who are still recovering from pregnancy and birth. Talk to your doctor, or see if they have any recommendations on feeding schedules and possible supplements or diets that can help you increase your milk.
Some moms find that setting regular times to feed or pump milk is the best way to get things going, whereas others prefer to feed on demand when the baby is hungry. Remember the time baby feeds can vary each feeding. Sometimes the baby will feed for only five minutes on each breast, but other times they could spend close to an hour. Some children take a while to get the hang of breastfeeding, as do their moms. If you are really concerned about baby’s ability to feed don’t hesitate to ask your doctor to check for a tongue tie or anything else that may impact their ability to get milk.
Doctors don’t like it when you ignore something important, but at the same time you aren’t their only patient and you can’t monopolize all of their time with every question that pops into your head about your child. A big beef of family physicians is not respecting their time. A pediatrician says, "Don't ask if I'll take a 'quick look' at the sibling who doesn't have an appointment. If your mom went with you to the gynecologist, would you ever say, 'Doc, would you mind putting her on the table and giving her a quick look?' Every patient deserves a full evaluation."
Mom may be better off connecting with her fellow moms or even a lactation consultant to get some tips and tricks on feeding or booking an appointment to address everything at once. As parents, we caution our children about crying wolf, but as worrying parents, we can be guilty of this ourselves, and parents who are constantly calling their doctors may not be heard as loudly as those who are smart about when to pick up the phone for their doc and when to call a friend instead.
Once again, most doctors aren’t experts in lactation, so they may not be the best resource for breastfeeding related questions, tips, or concerns.
Your doctors and nurses studied long and hard to earn their degrees so, when you spend all of your time trying to prove them wrong, you’re going to get a reputation as a difficult patient, even if you do have your baby’s best interest in mind. Allen Roberts, an emergency room doctor cautions patients, "Your complaints about your prior doctor will not endear you to us. The more you say, the less we want to deal with you." Another thing that many patients don’t realize is what a wonderful, informed resource nurses can be.
In my experience, some of the best parenting and feeding tips I received for my infants came from nurses. One doctor suggests that new moms with a lot of questions run their list by the nurse to help them prioritize and get the most out of their appointment. A surgeon says, “If you have three pages full of questions, show them to the nurse. Say ‘How many of these should I wait to ask the doctor about? How many can you help me with?” Just the same, avoid giving a backhanded compliment to a nurse who has tried to help. A long time Texas nurse says, "The No. 1 thing you should never say to me: 'You're too smart to be a nurse.' I went to nursing school because I wanted to be a nurse, not because I wanted to be a doctor and didn't make it."
Many moms expect breastfeeding to be this majestic bonding moment, but the truth is, it can hurt, a lot, particularly in the first few weeks when your milk is coming in. Keep in mind that both you and baby are new to this feeding arrangement together, even if you have breastfed other kids in the past. One mom says, “I was told to feed through the pain. I was told the blood wouldn’t hurt her. I was told to express and feed from a cup the size of a thimble because using a bottle — even once — would derail her feeding and then, well, no doubt the end of the world would ensue as I would be forced into the formula aisles under the cover of darkness.” Because the pressure to breast feed their babies is so intense, some moms fear telling their doctors or midwives about their decisions, when at the end of the day it’s not your doctor or midwife in constant pain or who is up five times a night with a ravenous baby. If you’re afraid to talk to your doctor about something as important as your decision to stop breastfeeding, than perhaps it’s time to switch doctors.
No one is born a parenting expert, no matter how many prenatal and breastfeeding books they read before baby arrives. As much as we love to read up on parenting, there is going to be a learning curve where you and your baby will need to get to know each other and figure out what works best for you, and that includes feeding habits. There is a reason why the Fed is Best has really resonated with so many parents. Fed is Best is a not-for-profit organization that supports mothers in their choice to decide safe feeding options for their babies.
Not only do they provide resources to new parents, but they advocate for moms, many of whom are vulnerable in the early days of motherhood.
Feeding complications for your child can lead to jaundice, hypoglycemia, and dehydration, and all of these conditions can negatively affect the development of a newborn baby’s brain. Doctors are there to support you and your family in making healthy decisions. When baby is failing to thrive it’s their job to do what they can to ensure their future health. Make sure you listen to what they’re really saying, even when it’s hard to hear, or even if it doesn’t fit in with how you envisioned your early days of parenting.