Back to articles Building a Successful Breastfeeding Relationship by Kelly P. Matijcio

Categories: Parenting

Durham lactation and early infancy parenting specialist, Kelly P. Matijcio, provides some expert advice on how to develop a successful breastfeeding relationship with your baby.

Breastfeeding is undoubtedly the best nourishment for human babies.  Yet, you only need to look around to see that it certainly is not the norm.  This is especially true when one examines the quality of the breastfeeding relationship between a mother and infant in terms of the dose of breastmilk received by the infant, and the duration of the breastfeeding relationship.  Leading experts and advocates for breastfeeding including the World Health Organization (WHO), recommend that all healthy term infants breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of life with no supplementation or complimentary feeding.  After approximately six months of age, depending on infant development and readiness, whole and natural nutritionally dense foods can be added to the infant’s diet whilst breastfeeding continues optimally to two years and beyond.  Breastfeeding remains an immense priority for the growing child for all aspects of psychological and physiological development to each child’s greatest advantage.


Breastfeeding is however not always easy in today’s world.  Many women experience difficulties; often they are preventable.  Many of the difficulties that women experience are beyond their control, knowledge and understanding.  These factors can make it hard for women to prevent breastfeeding problems.  Most women are poorly prepared to breastfeed their infant after birth.  When surveyed women have clearly expressed a lack of preparation for understanding what is really involved in breastfeeding successfully and parenting their breastfed baby.  Furthermore that the prenatal preparation they received was very limited in regards to breastfeeding and the help provided was poor, incomplete, or transient.  Breastfeeding is a learned behavior, but most women have had no one to learn from.  Generally all people engaged in modern western societies lack the opportunity to share in the upbringing of a baby from birth to toddlerhood for whom breastfeeding is priority to mother and child for years as opposed to months, exclusively as opposed to occasionally or partially.


Even in the most optimal of circumstnces when a newborn has not been supplemented, or exposed to formula or false nipples, (which is often advised unnecessarily or inappropriately) a mother must overcome many issues that have more to do with our culture and society than the functionality of breastfeeding.   These can be the greatest challenges of all and they can ultimately make or break a breastfeeding relationship.  How can you make breastfeeding work for you in your own life? Clearly there are many, many demands on women who are mothers.  Most will continue to work outside the home and must manage home, work, family, ongoing personal development, community commitments and much more.  How can you do all this with a baby at your breast for two years or more? - It can be done, and it may not be as hard as you think it is.

Increasing your success breastfeeding begins with a few main principles:

You need to find knowledgeable and supportive help before your baby is born.  The best breastfeeding helpers are often those who have breastfed their own offspring long-term, and whom have a demonstrated understanding of the importance of this fragile relationship between every mother and her child. 


You need to prepare to breastfeed.  If we lived in a society where breastfeeding was normal and everyone was breastfeeding you would already have a solid understanding of what was involved in building this relationship.  (Just as you know about bottle feeding, the current norm.  Bottle-feeding and breastfeeding are as different as night and day.)  Currently early infancy parenting of the breastfed baby is for many like jumping into deep water without knowing how to swim.  In fact it is worse because someone else, your baby, is solely dependent on your swimming ability and they can’t be put aside while you get up to speed on what is required.  Childbirth is a one-time occurrence that is of great importance. However how a child is nourished is of equal and perhaps greater importance.  This is very apparent when one examines the cost of not breastfeeding to infant, mother, family, and all of society.


You need to find others like yourself. Breastfeeding is not demeaning and disempowering.   Quite the contrary, it is for many women especially those who truly understand the enormity of this commitment and the benefits it bears between a mother and child, an extremely empowering experience.  Many women, having been successful will say with the most absolute conviction that nourishing a child at their breast whilst it reveals to them a unique and special experience each child shares with it’s mother in this special time, is a crowning accomplishment in life.   Finding other women who are breastfeeding will help you to see what the future has in store for you and your infant and how breastfeeding can become an easy, enjoyable and natural part of your life.  Historically this is the way that breastfeeding was shared from woman to woman and mother-to-mother.


Minimize the competition.  Get off to the best start and make sure you stay on track.  Many modern medical interventions (EFM, epidural, induced labor, c-section, Demerol etc.) used in birth are unnecessary and not soundly based in research and evidence based practice.  Many have negative effects on an infant’s ability to breastfeed and/or mother’s milk supply postpartum.   Bottles, artificial nipples, formula, and soothers are all research proven impediments to your success.  The first six months of a baby’s life is not very long in a lifetime.  It is an important time in your baby’s life when he or she will be at the breast exclusively for all nourishment.  Your breastmilk is the only nourishment and nurturing that will continue the development of your baby from the inside out after birth, building the brain, immune and other body systems.  Breastfeeding is the fourth trimester of infant development.  This final forth trimester will give your baby the very best start in life.  The benefits of breastfeeding your child will last for their entire lifetime.                                                                                   


Recognize that there are no barriers except the ones in your head.  You can define your own breastfeeding relationship.  As your baby grows and changes, the breastfeeding relationship will also grow and change.  Over time it becomes easier and you will learn and be able to resume more of your previous responsibilities, all while breastfeeding is a part of your life.  It is best to remain close to your baby for the first year, or as close to a year as possible before returning to full-time employment.  A breastfed baby never needs to use a bottle or formula eventually going right from breast to cup with simply water in it.  Breastfeeding remains an immensely important, primary part of the diet that at about six months is complimented by many other wholesome foods. Research has shown that an older baby will compensate for missed daytime feedings at night, another great reason to sleep with your baby.  The best weaning is natural baby lead weaning.  Returning to work does not require you to end your breastfeeding relationship, as much as it requires a restructuring of the relationship.  Think beyond the box.   Look for help to make it work, or for options you may not be aware of.  There is no informed choice without information.


When breastfeeding challenges occur remember that this too shall pass.  Even the most complex challenges can often be resolved with adequate knowledgeable, support, and dedication on your part.  It takes time, and success is incremental.  Patience and perseverance win the game when it comes to solving breastfeeding challenges.  It is worth the effort to see the difficult times through.  Just ask someone who has.  The decision to cease breastfeeding is final and often very difficult to reverse.    It is also often accompanied by guilt and regret.  Remember how important this time is to your baby and you. The benefits of breastfeeding run in two directions.  The actual percentage of women who are truly unable to breastfeed is extremely small, contrary to the opposite that formula companies prefer to promote.  Common sense dictates that if the amount of women who “can’t” breastfeed were in actuality unable to breastfeed, we would not be here today to discuss it.  Breastfeeding is fundamental to human survival and has been for all of the tens of thousands of years that human beings and our ancestors have been in existence.


For most people, their greatest contribution to humanity is that of a child who can take their place in society as a productive, and mentally and physically healthy adult.  A child is in many ways a reflection of his/her parents.  The time you spend with your child is time spent teaching and learning even when this is not the intention.  A child’s first relationship of trust is with his/her mother and the often second with his/her father.  These early attachments have been clearly shown to impact a child’s long-term health and well being. Humans are a carrying species physiologically designed to carry infants in arms and feed them frequently.  Breastfeeding is rich with opportunity for an infant to learn about his/her surroundings whilst maintaining the infant’s natural protective and nurturing habitat.





 Kelly P. Matijcio RN, IBCLC, RLC, LLLL is a specialist in Human Lactation and Early Infancy Parenting.