While the difficulties of childbirth are universally acknowledged, many people assume that breastfeeding is natural and easy, automatically bonding mother and child once the baby is born.
But Laura Zeidenstein, director of the Nurse Midwifery Nurse Practitioner Program at Columbia University School of Nursing, says breastfeeding is not necessarily simple or easy, especially for a first-time mother who is isolated or receiving negative feedback on how she is feeding her child.
“It’s usually extremely difficult for first-time moms to get started with breastfeeding,” Zeidenstein says. “People don’t realize that it requires an enormous amount of enthusiastic, hands-on support.”
Only a small minority of mothers, however, cannot breastfeed at all because of illness or other limitations, said Zeidenstein. For most women, she recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, in accordance with the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations.
Normal challenges in the first few weeks may include sore nipples or difficulty with latch and positioning, but Zeidenstein says the majority of women can feed their baby comfortably. She emphasizes the importance of the social context of breastfeeding—lactation groups, as well as supportive family members and friends can provide the human interaction a mother needs to succeed in what should not be a solitary endeavor.
“I would encourage women who are interested in breastfeeding to identify individuals to support them through the process,” Zeidenstein says. “Internet searching can create a lot of anxiety. There are so many different opinions out there, and our confidence is vulnerable when we’re a new mother and apt to self-criticize. New mothers need human interaction. Breastfeeding support groups are so helpful because they offer the encouragement new mothers need.”
Breastfeeding Resources at Columbia University Medical Center
For more information on Columbia’s breastfeeding resources, contact the Office of Work/Life at 212-854-8019.