For some women, the first days of breastfeeding are easy and effortless. For others, it's a time of learning, practice, patience, communication, and experimentation. Every woman, every breast, and every baby is different. One thing, however, remains constant; creating a healthy feeding relationship promotes physical and emotional well-being for you and your little one.
Your babe has a physical need for milk, of course, and breast-milk contributes to the health of almost every physical system that your little one has. On an emotional level, creating a healthy feeding relationship will help you meet your baby's needs of love, safety, and nurturing. Whether or not these emotional needs are met will have a huge impact on your little one's emotional well-being throughout his or her life.
By consciously creating a healthy and loving feeding relationship, you are providing your baby with their first experience of a healthy intimate relationship. This gives your little angel the feelings of safety, security, and nurturance that will impact all of their future relationships.
Breastfeeding allows you to read you baby's cues and to develop trust in your mothering instincts. This one act is responsible for a plethora of physical processes that help your post-baby body recover. In addition, breastfeeding also releases the hormone oxytocin (a.k.a. the love hormone), which is responsible for feelings of contentment, pleasure, and love. All of these wonderful feelings will contribute to your well-being and postpartum recovery.
Breastfeeding, and feeding in general, plays an important role in bonding. Bonding is the intense attachment that develops between a mom and her little one. It's what makes her want to shower her baby with love and affection, and it's what drives her to protect and nourish her little one. We psychologists are still learning a lot about the bonding process, but one thing is certain: breastfeeding (and feeding in general) is an important component in the bonding process.
If you're unable to breastfeed, not to worry, you will still be able to bond with your little one and create a loving and healthy feeding relationship. Here are some tips that can help you create a great feeding relationship with your baby no matter what the experience is like for you.
If you're anything like I was as a new mother, you probably have an expectation about what successful breastfeeding should be like. From my experience, "shouldering" on yourself is never a good thing. Being flexible in your expectations about what breastfeeding will be like for you is critical when it comes to creating a great feeding relationship. Various unexpected circumstances often present themselves in breastfeeding (and in life). How we handle these circumstances can mean the difference between a great feeding relationship and a difficult one. If we're not flexible when unexpected things happen, we can end up feeling regret, blame, grief, and guilt. We can be hard on ourselves, and that negative self-talk can destroy our self-esteem and potentially harm our relationship with our infants.
Release the To-Do List
When feeding, put your to-do list on hold. I know it can be really difficult to sit down and relax when you have a hundred things that need to be done. Our overscheduled busy lives often create unhealthy amounts of stress, thus causing us to feel anxiety, tension, and irritation. Babies have the ability to sense these emotions, which can interfere with the feeding and bonding process. As a new mom, it is imperative for the well-being of you and your baby that you take this time to relax. In addition, when you release the to-do list, it's much easier to feed without schedules or restrictions. When your little one is permitted to feed without a schedule, it provides her with an opportunity to absorb all of the nourishment and love that she needs.
Get Naked (well, sort of)
Providing your little one with as much skin-to-skin contact as possible has huge emotional and physical benefits. Skin-to-skin contact helps to regulate a baby's breathing and heart rate, increases oxygen levels in the blood, stabilizes body temperature, keeps blood sugars higher, improves sleep, and improves brain development. Skin-to-skin contact also contributes to improved postpartum recovery for you, so it's a win-win situation. Find a favorite warm fuzzy blanket, strip down your little guy, and let him snuggle in close while you wrap the two of you in a cocoon of warmth.
When you settle in for feeding time, make sure that you are comfortable and supported. It's helpful to learn about different nursing positions so that you can find the one that makes you and your baby feel most comfortable. Also, take the time to make yourself a Zen-like space that promotes feelings of relaxation, calmness, and peace. Make sure everything you need is at your fingertips. I personally liked having a glass of water and lip chap nearby with a nursing pillow supporting my little guy and a blanket on my feet.
Ask For Help
Getting support from family, friends, older children, and professionals is the key to creating a great feeding relationship with your baby. Help the people around you to understand that you and your little one need a calm and quiet environment while breastfeeding. If you have older children, you may ask for their help (e.g., "can you please bring me a glass of water?"). This is an excellent way to help them feel needed and involved. If you feel like something isn't quite right, then seek assistance from a professional. For example, if you feel emotional distress, talk to your physician or psychologist. If you're feeling pain or are having a hard time getting comfortable, La Leche League is a great resource for breastfeeding support and education.
Once you've released your to-do list, you'll find it much easier to be present with your little one. Focus on making eye contact, humming, singing, talking softly, or rocking your babe gently. Your voice is soothing to your little munchkin, and your loving attention provides her with feelings of love, safety, and nurturing. In the long run, this will have a positive impact on her self-esteem and confidence.
One final thought. When approaching these strategies, focus on one at a time in the order presented. Once you feel like you've mastered one, move on to the next one. Trying to do everything all at once is a trap that many women fall into, causing stress, anxiety, and feelings of not being good enough. Here's a bonus strategy for you.
Be gentle with yourself, and approach feeding with an open heart. Set your intention to do the best that you can, be flexible as unexpected circumstances arise, love yourself and your body, and all will turn out just fine. This approach will benefit you and your little one more than any other strategy.