Many expectant moms anticipate nursing their new baby for the very first time. For months, these first-time moms have carefully decorated the nursery, picked out the perfect rocking chair and assumed, in many cases, that breastfeeding should come naturally. After all, every mommy blog they have read over the last nine months has reaffirmed just how vital and “natural” breastfeeding is for the overall health of their child.

Then … reality. Mothers realize that breastfeeding is hard, and babies have a mind of their own. And breastfeeding can present myriad challenges, like an inability to latch on, sore nipples, low milk supply, plugged ducts, breast infections and depression.

Mary Showalter, lactation consultant at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center, has helped new moms for nearly 30 years overcome the challenges of breastfeeding. She recently shared some advice for new moms that might be struggling.

Going home

In the delivery room, there is no better sound than hearing your baby cry out for the very first time. But it doesn’t take long to realize that the crying also means that baby is hungry, and babies cry a lot.

At Forsyth Medical Center, board-certified lactation consultants work round the clock to help new moms learn how to breastfeed. Parents can literally push the call button at 2 a.m. and a pink-scrub wearing angel, like Showalter, will descend upon the room to provide assistance while dad, still shell-shocked, watches helplessly from across the room. If it sounds like I’m speaking from experience, I am.

“There is nothing that prepares you for the birth of your first child,” Showalter said. “And while breastfeeding is natural in that it comes from mom’s body and it is the way our bodies were designed to work, it is actually a skill that both mom and baby have to learn.”

Most patients are discharged within 48 hours after a traditional vaginal delivery. Sleep-deprived parents usually can’t wait to get home. But more reality awaits. There is no longer a call button to push for help.

“That’s why we call all first-time moms within 48 hours of discharge,” Showalter said. “We also call mothers if they have a history of breastfeeding difficulty and we encourage new moms to call us if they are struggling.”

Getting help

Mothers can also benefit from free community resources like Novant Health Nursing Mother’s Place and the Novant Health Baby Café.

At Nursing Mother’s Place, lactation consultants are available seven days a week to provide new moms with the tools and tips they need. Nursing Mother’s Place also provides prenatal breastfeeding classes, back-to-work appointments, certified bra-fitters and a large selection of breastfeeding supplies.

The first Baby Café opened at Novant Health Thomasville Medical Center in 2018. Baby Café USA is a national organization that offers free breastfeeding support and other resources to pregnant and breastfeeding mothers.

Baby Cafés allow moms to make connections with other moms.

“It’s all about mother-to-mother support,” Showalter said. “We are there as lactation consultants to answer questions and to weigh babies and to make referrals as needed, but the mothers get a lot of support from one another.”

Novant Health now offers Baby Cafés in Charlotte, High Point, Thomasville, Winston-Salem and Novant Health UVA Health System offers them in Virginia.

Back to work

Eventually, most parents need to go back to work. This can be especially tough on new moms as they wrestle with guilt, day care enrollment and a whole new concern, breast pumping at the office.

“Every place should be a safe place for mom to breastfeed,” Showalter said. “There are laws actually that protect moms right to breastfeed in public places and she should also be provided with a safe clean place to pump when she is at work.”

Showalter says that there is nothing wrong with pumping and bottle feeding. Or supplementing with formula when necessary.

“A lot of moms need to pump in order to go back to work,” Showalter said. “It is all about what works best for that particular family.”

Most insurance companies will provide a free breast pump for new moms. The special supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children (WIC) also provides breast pumps to help moms, who may not have private insurance, get a pump when they return to work or school.

Advice for dads

Family growing pains can be difficult on everyone, including new dads.

“I think we underestimate how hard it is to take care of a new baby,” Showalter said. “It is important to give yourselves some grace as new parents, and to ask for help when you need it.”

Showalter recommends that dads should try to proactively help out with household chores and to simply reinforce that mom is doing a good job taking care of the baby.

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