Should I just give up? What to do when breastfeeding is really hard…

It’s the most heartbreaking and most difficult question for me to answer, “Should I just give up? How long should I keep doing this…waiting for breastfeeding to just happen easily? Will it ever work? What can I do when breastfeeding is really hard?”

There are many different situations where a woman might ask herself these questions. Those who are struggling with low-supply, a baby with reflux, painful breastfeeding, recurrent mastitis, babies with a weak suck or tongue tie, women who are exclusively pumping but would like to breastfeed…and so many others! What is the length of time it takes for women to overcome these challenges? Each woman will have her own journey and will find that working through them will take different amounts of time and energy.

There are however things that I have identified as some of the main points to consider when asking yourself, “Should I just give up?” Work through these with yourself, your partner and/or a breastfeeding support person to help you answer these questions about how long (and if) you should keep going…

breastfeeding, breastfeeding challenges1. Find someone who listens to you and will form an individualized plan to help you reach your goals.

If you go to see someone for help and you are left without a long-term plan, find someone else who can support you through the entire journey.  Telling someone to “supplement” or “take this medication” without having any sort of follow up or plan, can leave women feeling lost, unsupported and confused as to where to go from there. Sometimes your plan will have to be adjusted and other measures put into place. Make sure that the person supporting you trusts your own motherly instincts, listens to your perspective and then takes that into account when working through the challenge with you.  If you have a clear plan and someone you know is there with you through the entire journey, it can be much easier to keep going.  This might mean finding a support group online or in person with other mothers who have gone through the same challenges.

2. Take a moment to really be honest with yourself.

Do you want to breastfeed? Are you feeling over it but afraid to say the words out loud? It’s really important to be completely honest with yourself and what you feel is going to work best for you and your family.  You do not need anyone’s permission to continue or stop breastfeeding your child. You are the only one who needs to give yourself permission and being honest about this will help you and the people who are supporting you during the challenging times. Be kind to yourself. Follow your instincts and trust yourself to make the best decision. If you want to continue breastfeeding then seek support from an IBCLC or mother to mother support group. The ABA in Australia or LLL elsewhere in the world. You are going to feel guilty no matter what as a mother! All we can do is make the best decision with the resources and information we have at that time. Get some good information and evidence based research to help you make a decision that you feel comfortable with.

3.  EVERY breastfeeding challenge has possible solutions for you to investigate.

There are many different examples of incredible stories on my blog from mothers who have overcome very intense breastfeeding challenges. This has been through a great amount of support, education and motivation. Click on the links to read about their incredible journeys and how they found solutions to their breastfeeding challenges. Sometimes reading other women’s experiences can help to get you motivated again or give you some ideas and tips…

Liz and Jemima and their stories about re-lactation and low supply

Breastfeeding triplets!

Brogey and her journey with low supply and using a Supplemental Nursing System (SNS)

Tori’s story about building her supply and weaning her baby off of supplements and bottles

Joelle’s story of breastfeeding her child with Down syndrome

4. It’s a journey, even if things are going smoothly most of the time.

Even when breastfeeding is going well, you will have moments where you really don’t like it!  This is completely normal. Let go of the guilt if you are feeling “touched out” or feeling guilty for things going well but still needing a break or questioning how long you want to continue for. One of the most common times that women feel this way is when they are exhausted. If you are sleep deprived and have a child who is driving you to the brink of insanity due to frequent night waking, there are things you can do. Please head here to read more about getting through sleep challenges. I have also written a book on this subject.

5. There is no “right” age you need to breastfeed your child to.

The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond. However this does not mean that breastfeeding to at least two years old will work for everyone. These are guidelines and while the awesomeness of breastmilk continues the entire time you breastfeed for (there is no expiration date when your milk stops being important for your child) that does not mean that this will work for every woman in every situation.  There are many reasons women wean before this two year mark, some are for child-led reasons and others will wean before their child is ready.  What is important to focus on when answering this question of, “should I stop breastfeeding” is what is right for you, your child and your family as a whole. Breastfeeding is not just about the child, it involves you as well. It’s a relationship and requires energy from you too.

breastfeeding challenges6. It gets easier.

Do you want to punch me after reading this one?! It’s OK if you do. If you currently have cracked, bleeding nipples, have been pumping 24/7 and have mastitis then hearing someone say, “It get’s easier” can make you incredibly frustrated and angry. You might be thinking, “I don’t care! It is SHIT right now and I don’t care!” I get it. I totally get it. When my middle boy was born one month early, he would latch on for about one minute and fall asleep. I had mastitis creeping up, was exhausted, had milk overflowing from my boobs and a sleeping baby who couldn’t handle more than a quick little breastfeed. It was so hard. My boobs had lumps all over them. I had such a huge over supply and my breasts were not being drained as they needed to be. But it did get easier. In almost every case it does get easier as time goes on (especially if you seek support). It’s OK if you want to punch me for saying it. But I’m saying it anyway in hopes that it might give you a little glimmer of hope to help keep you going.

Trust your instincts and be honest with yourself and where you stand. How much energy do you have? How much support? What do you need to put into place for your breastfeeding journey to continue? It may mean seeking a second opinion and finding someone who you connect with and who listens to you.  You know your child best and you know what will work for you and your family. Give yourself permission to feel whatever it is that you feel so you can take the next best step that works for you.  ♥

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