Why does the feeding journey suck for so many new moms, and how can we change that?
It feels a bit crude to say, but it’s the reality we see among our community of moms, and that’s the question we asked in our last article, where we reflected on the pervasiveness of feeding challenges and argued that we need to change the narrative around newborn feeding to create more realistic expectations for moms. We recommended concrete steps that those of us who are supporting new moms can take to help set realistic expectations and better support them as they navigate the often-fraught feeding journey.
But what about the moms who are often the people at the center of this emotional and physical journey?
Quite simply, moms need to be #1 priority along with their babies. So often we see the physical and mental health of the mom coming in second, while the needs of the baby are paramount. Please don’t misunderstand what we’re saying – it is critically important for a new baby to get the nutrition it needs, and that’s non-negotiable, but what we are arguing for is a joint mom/baby priority. We want a healthy baby and a healthy mother, and therefore a mother’s physical and mental health must be prioritized so she can nourish and care for her baby optimally.
So how can new moms approach the feeding journey in a way that prioritizes their needs and sets them up for the best possible experience?
Create a feeding preference for those first few days, but remain flexible. You will likely feel pressured in the hospital to get baby fed, which may undermine your confidence as you navigate breastfeeding and/or pumping for the first time. There is often pressure to give newborns supplementary formula to ensure they are getting nutrition in those first few days while you acclimate to breastfeeding. This suggestion can feel alarming, disheartening, and confusing. Consider making a plan ahead of time, much like a birth plan, for what you’re comfortable with and the conditions in which you might be willing to try feeding interventions. This pre-planning can be useful when you’re in the thick of the post-birth emotions.
Understand that the feeding journey can be extremely challenging. Like many parts of pregnancy, birth, and parenting, things often go unexpectedly, and the best thing we can do is to expect twists and turns and stay open during the process. Please know that the majority of moms encounter some sort of challenge during the feeding journey, whether it’s physical or emotional, so if/when you encounter challenges, please know you are very normal!
If you are breastfeeding and/or pumping, seek help from lactation professionals. Find a lactation consultant whose approach suits you. Do not work with anyone who makes you feel bad about your decisions or insists you go in a direction that makes you uncomfortable. Find a lactation support group for regular meetings with moms who are navigating the same feeding challenges as you. Many moms have made lasting friendships over the bonds built in these groups.
Remember a fed baby is best and often leads to a happier, healthier mom. We can’t emphasize this enough - it’s not just about the baby. You ultimately must find a feeding arrangement that works for you as well and enables you to show up as your best self for your baby. If you’re breastfeeding, don’t be afraid to use tools like formula along the way. We’ve never heard a mom who used formula as a tool say that her baby refused a breast or breastmilk after having formula. Use all the tools at your disposal with ZERO guilt.
Rely on your partner, spouse, family, and friends. Feeding a baby is a big job no matter how you do it, so allow others to step up in other areas, whether that be other baby care, household management, or emotional support.
New moms – please know that you will likely encounter bumps along your feeding journey, but we hope these tips can help make that journey a more positive experience. And remember above all, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to feed your baby. You are doing great and you already are everything your baby needs to thrive. You’ve got this!