by Corey Whelan
August 1-7 marks the celebration of World Breastfeeding Week. For many infertile women, being able to nurse may feel like a distant dream. I know it did to me when I was in the throes of TTC. When I was trying to get pregnant, anything that touched upon pregnancy or parenting was scary for me to contemplate because I was so afraid I wouldn't make it there. I did get pregnant but gave birth early and consequently, alot of what I wish I had known when the time came I simply hadn't read up on yet. That's why I am sharing this piece with you. I get it that you're not pregnant yet and this blog post feels like an extra digit on your hand, but I truly do hope that you need this information someday. When you do, it will be here waiting for you to read.
Women who undergo infertility treatment often report that their self confidence continues to be shaken, even if pregnancy results. An inability to conceive naturally may leave women feeling betrayed by their own bodies, and it can take years of proactive work as well as outside support to combat those feelings.
A large Australian study about mothering after assisted conception found that women who conceive through assisted reproductive technology often have less confidence in their own ability to care for their newborns and experience higher levels of anxiety than women who conceive naturally. This lack of self confidence can extend to breastfeeding as well; and women who have undergone infertility treatment are less likely to either try or continue to breastfeed their babies. According to lead researcher Dr. Karin Hammarberg, "Women who take longer to conceive, go through more treatment cycles and have miscarriages, have lower levels of confidence when they go home with their new babies".
This is very unfortunate. The benefits of breastfeeding are widely acknowledged; according to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, breast milk has disease-fighting cells (antibodies) that help protect infants from germs, illness, and even Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
In addition, the experience of breastfeeding can serve to empower the new mom, and supply a sense of control over her own body that will help her to regain a sense of self as well as confidence in her ability to parent her baby successfully.
While not for everyone, if you do decide that you want to breastfeed your baby, establish a support system early on in your pregnancy and educate yourself prior to delivery.
Most women who have undergone infertility treatment are physically capable of breastfeeding, but that doesn't mean that the process will automatically be easy. Find out if your hospital has a lactation support person on staff who can meet with you right after delivery, and look for a local chapter of the La Leche League near your home.
It is common when undergoing infertility treatment to conceive and deliver multiples. Many women breastfeed their twins simultaneously, utilizing a football hold on both babies. Others choose to nurse each baby individually. Some women will benefit from the use of a nipple shield at first, while the baby is learning how to latch on. This is often the case with premature babies. Again, support from experts as well as the people in your life can be key if you are finding this to be challenging.
Trust yourself and your instincts, after all, you are your baby's only mommy. There is no one more uniquely qualified to care for your baby, or babies, than you are. If you have always dreamed of breastfeeding your baby you will most likely be able to do so. However, if you find that you are unable to breastfeed it may feel as if your body is giving up on you once again. It is very important for you to remember that you have not failed, and that this is not your fault. It happens. Find and maintain a support system that can get you through the experience and hold onto the knowledge that, just like you did when you worked so hard to conceive, you are doing everything you possibly can to ensure that your baby's life, and future, are happy ones.