This article is a guest post written by Cassie Brewer. She is a freelance journalist and writer.
Breastfeeding is one of the greatest challenges many women will face after having a baby. While breastfeeding comes easily and naturally for some mothers and their infants, the struggle for the perfect (and painless) latch frustrates many mothers…sometimes to the point of tears.
According to the 2011 Breastfeeding Report Card issued by the Centers for Disease Control, 79 percent of mothers initially breastfeed their newborns but only 49 percent continued breastfeeding their infants after six months. Only 27 percent of infants were breastfed for one year.
The need to go back to work often interferes with breastfeeding, especially since not all office environments provide the privacy or time needed for pumping. Some new mothers also receive inadequate support when breastfeeding issues arise. In fact, the CDC’s data tables reveal that several states struggle to provide enough certified lactation consultants to assist mothers. But when an infant is failing to latch properly, and an exhausted sleep-deprived mother is just trying to feed her child, sometimes the biggest obstacle in breastfeeding is stress.
Telling a new mother to ‘just relax’ can be almost an insult in the midst of breastfeeding woes. Poor latching leads to cracked and bleeding nipples and pain. The result is exhaustion, frustration and painful torture. Breastfeeding—when the latch is correct—should be painless. And stress can add to problems by impairing the let down reflex, which of course makes a hungry infant even more frustrated.
While the latch is something only a mother and a lactation consultant can fix, stress—and how a mother deals with stress—is something that can be controlled. Decreasing stress and soothing the nerves helps make breastfeeding a bit easier.
When a mother’s mind is blurred by sleep deprivation and the stress of nursing is taking a toll, finding a comforting solace helps make the moment a bit more freeing.
Try these relaxation techniques when stress is adding to the trials of breastfeeding by impairing the let down.
Breathe. Just breathe! Most mothers took a Lamaze class during pregnancy, and this is the ideal time to implore those breathing techniques. Take deep cleansing breaths through the nose, and exhale through the mouth. Focus on each breath. Cradle the baby, and just breathe.
Soothing music. Play music that calms the body. Mozart, Beethoven, Nirvana. Whatever works to get the mind away from worrying about latch, let down and lactation, play it…just not too loud. Focus on the music and let the body relax.
Fidget stones. Worry stones and crystals or fidget stones are great to use during stressful moments, and even during breastfeeding. While many can be worn on a necklace, baby may want to put the rock in his/her mouth. Instead keep the fidget stone on a nightstand or in the pocket to grab and rub when needed. Fidget stones and crystals are more about the sensory experience. The mind focuses on the stone instead of the worry.
Meditation. Use meditation between nursing sessions. Find a quiet time—preferably when baby is asleep—and sit or lie down. There is no right or wrong way to meditate. Focus on one thought, a prayer, an image or a word. Breathe in through the nose, and out through the mouth to help calm the body during meditative practices.
Read. Yes, reading can be relaxing. Veg out with a good book…it doesn’t have to be something intellectual. Read something fun, something silly or something juicy. Say hello to Christian Grey or fall in love with Mr. Darcy. Reading helps take the mind somewhere new and exciting.
Stress makes breastfeeding struggles even more challenging. Find a way to calm the mind and ease the worries. For new moms, taking just a moment to relax can make all the difference during breastfeeding. When the body is relaxed, let-down and nursing becomes less of a struggle. And both baby and mommy benefit.