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Breastfeeding isn't always intuitive – how to make it easier

Breastfeeding isn't always intuitive – how to make it easier

As a pediatrician, I was taught that “breast is best” and that to secure a good future for my child (literally, since measures of health and higher IQ have been linked to breastfeeding), I had to exclusively breastfeed. Naturally, I absorbed those messages and vowed to do everything in my power to exclusively breastfeed.

I didn’t realize till later, when my first was born, that although I had been given the messages of how important it was to breastfeed, I hadn’t actually been taught how. Sure, we had a couple afternoons shadowing lactation consultants and I had chatted with moms in the postpartum wards about how their breastfeeding was going. But my knowledge of the actual mechanics of breastfeeding was fuzzy at best.

In my belief that I was adequately prepared from those experiences to breastfeed, I didn’t take a breastfeeding class while pregnant. Imagine my rude shock, when my baby arrived, that I had no clue what I was doing. Because I’d had a C-section, I was sleepy in the immediate aftermath from the effects of anesthesia. There were no practices of skin-to-skin in the hospital at the time, nor was I aware of the golden hour. (The golden hour refers to nursing your newborn in the first hour of birth, which has been linked to long-term breastfeeding success.) I sleepily looked at my baby while in recovery and told myself we’d latch once we were transferred to a regular room. It took probably 4 hours before I finally tried nursing her.

The details are blurry, but I remember having trouble latching her and having significant pain while doing so. A lactation consultant stopped by once or twice, but I remember the visits being brief and cursory. Looking back, knowing what I know about hospital staffing, I figure she probably had a bunch of patients to see and may not have been able to spend extensive time with me.

Fast forward a couple days — I was spending a significant amount of time feeding her and worrying about feeding her. She lost a significant amount of weight within the first day, which added to my anxiety. I was sure that we were somehow failing at breastfeeding and the pressure to succeed (see the first paragraph!) was getting to me.

We ended up having to supplement her with formula, which in my mind, was more damning evidence of my “failure”. I was also told to pump, since I didn’t appear to be producing enough colostrum to prevent her excessive weight loss. Here’s the kicker — I was expected to know how to use the pump — I didn’t! I remember the nurse dropping off the pump parts and I just stared at them, wondering how to use them. I eventually asked for help and figured it out, but it highlighted how underprepared I had been, even as a pediatrician!

Finally, we made it home. The feeding struggles continued. When my baby’s weight loss exceeded the normal rate despite my best efforts, I desperately sought the help of a lactation consultant, who came to my home. She made all the difference, taking the time to explain everything carefully to me. She patiently guided me through the latching process and gave me the basic breastfeeding education I was lacking. I credit her for getting me over that initial hump, so that I could go on to successfully breastfeed. It is no overstatement that without her, I would not have made it past that point.

Lessons I learned:

1. Breastfeeding is not always intuitive, especially in the beginning.  

Try to take a breastfeeding class before birth, ideally with a lactation consultant. Most private consultants can do a pre-natal consult, which will go over any risk factors you may have for breastfeeding difficulties and give you tips on mitigating those risks. They can also troubleshoot what you could do with subsequent babies if you’d had issues with your previous children. A book that I recommend to moms at their pre-natal meet-and-greet visits is The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, by the La Leche League. I read it postpartum and wished I’d read it beforehand! The birth through 6 weeks chapter is golden and is great preparation for those tough weeks.

2. Seek help early.

If you’re finding breastfeeding to be less smooth than expected, ask for help in the hospital, as often as needed. When home, you can hire a lactation consultant for virtual or in-home visits. Under the Affordable Care Act, most insurance plans are covering lactation care at 100%, without co-pays or deductibles. Check with your particular plan to be certain, if payment is a concern. In Houston, the Lactation Foundation is a free resource due to grant funding. They provide excellent care to moms and babies!

3. Go easy on yourself.

As moms, whether new or experienced, we tend to internalize external pressure to be perfect. Sometimes the pressure is self-made, borne of our natural protective instincts to make sure our babies are safe and healthy. This is normal and expected! However, just be mindful of taking care of yourself during this stressful time. Temper the tendency for self-blame when things don’t go as expected. Consider that things may turn out imperfectly and still be ok. It’s ok to adjust your expectations; that is not failure. Formula use, whether temporary or permanent, is a perfectly reasonable choice. No justification needed!

Once my interest was sparked by my relative ignorance about breastfeeding, I read voraciously during those long nights nursing both babies. I traversed many mom forums and became a consumer of articles. I started advising new moms in my practice with my newfound knowledge.

After my second was born, I discovered Dr. Milk, a Facebook group for doctor moms interested in breastfeeding. There I uncovered a treasure trove of information that I added to my repertoire. I even discovered the pathway to board certification as a lactation consultant and eagerly pursued it. I became an IBCLC in 2017.

After that, I set my sights on learning the proper technique for tongue-tie release. I first found out about Dr. Ghaheri, an ENT doctor who specializes in tongue-tie, through his blog posts. What he wrote resonated strongly with my experience as a mom of two tongue-tied babies. When I heard he was lecturing near a breastfeeding conference I was attending, I jumped at the chance. His lecture was insightful and informative. I immediately reached out to him afterward and asked if I could learn his technique. He invited me to fly out to his Portland, Oregon clinic. The rest is history — I’ll share that in another blog post!

Due to my personal postpartum experiences, I am passionate about helping other moms through this delicate transition period. I seek to be the experienced guide that I sorely needed when I had my first. With my qualifications as a pediatrician, lactation consultant, and tongue-tie specialist, I am uniquely positioned to be of service towards your goals. Whether a first-time mom or not, everyone could use expert, compassionate, and empathetic postpartum support. I am a firm advocate for taking great care of moms during this period.

Book Blossom’s 4th trimester package for your comprehensive postpartum, newborn, and lactation care experience.


Dr. Chan is a pediatrician in Houston, TX. She provides in-depth pediatric care, in-home postpartum and newborn care, extensive lactation support, and expert tongue-tie treatment.

* Any information contained in this blog post is for educational and informative purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Individual results and experiences may vary; no guarantee of specific clinical outcomes is implied by any statements made on this blog.

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