Breastfeeding, Bottle Feeding and…. Somewhere In-between…. Why the Guilt?
There has been so much discussion circulating in the blogosphere right now about breastfeeding. I thought I’d add my 2 cents because….I have an opinion and….. I have just a little experience in this field both in study (2 year Lactation course, IBCLC for 10 years, current CLC) and in practice (35 years).
I thought I knew so much in 1988 after nursing 3 babies and assisting others for nearly 15 years. I actually thought I could just take the IBLCE exam based on my experience!
I was so ignorant and naïve!
I started to talk to some IBCLC’s and my eyes were opened wide to the real world. Up to that point, at that time, (I sadly and guiltily admit) I had no idea about the volume of study and research in the field of lactation. I had NO idea just how wrong we were doing things at my hospital.
I launched into a lactation course, soaking up all I could, 3 years of study preparing for certification. I set out to change the world… at least my world. I wrote big proposals for the hospital. I applied for grants to fund a lactation program. I developed education competencies for the staff. I started breastfeeding classes. I thought everybody shared my passion, that they too would want to learn …. because I was right!!
Instead I was the target of all the boob jokes you could think of and I had almost no support. My ideas were rejected left and right.
Long story short…it took me a long time to come to terms with accepting small changes, taking baby steps…..continuing to do the best job I could with each mother-baby couple and to keep a positive outlook. I needed to remain realistic about how much I could actually accomplish one step at a time. Slowly I began to have people under my wing trying to learn. Yeah!
I learned a lot about how to approach physicians, co-workers, managers and most of all …. mothers.
I am not an expert in journalism or critical analysis so this is my opinion of what is going on right now.
There have been some irresponsible journalists, those who have a bigger platform than most of us, writing negatively about something they have not studied or truly researched. They are expressing their opinion and including an emotional component which has, in my opinion, gotten the reaction they hoped for from breastfeeding advocates as well as those who concur with the authors. More hits, more readers. I feel they have twisted the facts to benefit or support a point they want to make. I read some of them.. other’s I really just scanned then brushed off so I don’t know everything that’s been said. On the positive side, these articles possibly give us a larger platform to provide correct information to a larger public in reply.
I read a lot of blogs and I really respect and admire all the research that many breastfeeding advocates put into their fabulous posts. These are educated women who are trying to provide current accurate information! (@phdinparenting, @bfmom, @MommyNews , @JakeAryehMarcus, @blacktating ,@AmberStrocel, and so many more). I applaud their passion and breastfeeding advocacy. They are doing a very important job. Breastfeeding IS very important and deserves advocacy, protection and support! There are still large scores of women out there making choices with only tiny bits of information, who really do not know the important benefits of breastfeeding. It is because of this, and because we still haven’t met the US Dept HHS Healthy People Goals for 2010, that breastfeeding advocacy needs to continue. I have been there, advocating in a time where I faced great adversity and a lot of negativity. I am bothered that it still exists…and exists now in so many new ways.
I am more disturbed that some mother’s out there are upset. I always try to understand just WHY a mom feels guilty if she chooses to formula feed or do some combination of formula and breastfeeding. I always hope she’s made her choice with good information and that it is her own true choice. Then good for her! I am not to judge. She needs to be comfortable and confident with her decision. Perhaps her guilt comes from how one single little word or sentence was said, even if what was said is accurate and true. Perhaps her guilt is coming from her own internal struggles. I don’t know. She needs to come to terms with that herself, and not punish herself and or publicly criticize the advocates saying they are causing the guilt. Although there are some very zealous advocates out there, I feel in my heart they are not trying to make any individual mother feel guilty. I read a comment from a mom somewhere that said something like… “perhaps if moms knew it wasn’t all or nothing, maybe more would try breastfeeding.” My first thought was..why do they even think that..are there really mom’s who feel it has to be all or nothing? Is this causing the guilt because they don’t think they can breastfeed exclusively for the first 6 months as the experts recommend??
Over the years, I have learned this:
- It is inappropriate for a health care professional to indicate to a mother directly or indirectly that formula feeding and breastfeeding are equal. Human breast milk is the superior food for human infants. Properly prepared infant formula is an acceptable substitute for those who cannot or choose not to breastfeed.
- The first approach is probably the number one factor in gaining a mother’s interest in what you have to say.
- The education process to a mother needs to be in small doses, sensitive to her unique learning abilities, her cultural beliefs and practices and most importantly, her choices and individual breastfeeding goals.
- With that in mind, try to provide her with the information she needs to make her decision.
- Never overestimate a mother’s desire to breastfeed her infant.
- Never underestimate a mother’s desire to breastfeed her infant.
- Listen to the mother; help her define her true desires and goals.
- Many times, the first question she asks may not be what she really wants to ask.
- The mother’s individual breastfeeding goals, how she defines them, how important they are to her and how she relates them to her actual breastfeeding experience all help define how she measures success.
- Support the mother, support the mother, and support the mother.
Here are the top 3 responses to the feeding choice question pertaining to breastfeeding at my facility on admission:
- “Breast and Bottle”
- “I’m going to do both”
- “I’m going to ‘try’ to breastfeed”
To each of these I respond very positively with something like… “Great! Tell me what you’ve learned about breastfeeding.” I will then ask the mom a few questions to somehow find out her true wishes.
Then I say “We will support and honor however you wish to feed your baby. I’d like to give you some information so you can really understand and then tell us what you’d like to do.”
I explain some things, i.e.: how the milk production works, the importance of early feeds etc.. and how formula introduced at that time could interfere with the process of production, the baby’s ability to latch properly and so on… I usually end with..”We usually recommend to focus on breastfeeding for now and then offer bottles later after milk supply is established if that is how you’d still like to manage feeding”. ETC…ETC…. Here’s what I then see:
- There have been so many mom’s who — after a little bit of information decide they would like to focus on breastfeeding. There have been many who totally fell in love with it.
- There have also been many who really didn’t want to breastfeed after one single feeding.
- There are many many still that like to breastfeed and bottle feed in combination right from the start. If they have the right info and understand how things may progress… I still say “Good for you!”
- I have seen many continue that way for months and they are very happy with that.
- I’ve seen many mom’s “partially” ( I don’t like to say it that way) breastfeed and feel very proud. I say “good for you!” They don’t think of it in terms of “exclusive” or “partial”… It’s more like any breast at all…. is breastfeeding vs. no breastfeeding at all.
- There have been many who also never wanted to try until all of a sudden they see milk leaking!
- I’ve worked with mom’s where I can see tremendous improvement in her situation, I think she’s going to keep going…but she decides to totally quit. I simply praise her for all her efforts and help her feel proud of herself.
- I’ve worked with mom’s who have hardly put forth any effort to overcome small obstacles, I think they will probably quit outright… Then..I find out they are the ones exclusively breastfeeding down the road.
I got a comment from a breastfeeding mom @TheFeministBreeder that I absolutely have to share. She describes her own experience in the full comment and on her new blog post. She comments:
”Yes, I think that’s the most important part – informing a mother of any and ALL benefits/risks to supplementing, and helping them work through the option they choose. But to tell a mother to supplement without explaining that it could undermine her efforts is just plain mean. And too many medpros are doing it. I’m glad there are more nurses like you who will give out the real information to empower a woman to make her own choice. My smart friend always says ‘It’s not really a choice if you don’t have all the information.’ “
For those mom’s really trying to breastfeed and struggling, there’s more than I can say right here to cover that. I’m sorry for your struggles and hope it gets easier for you. It is important to have a skilled competent support person assisting you who listens thoughtfully and helps you get to the root of your problem… and helps you define and realize your goals. If you are experiencing guilt from your struggles or from not being able to fulfill your goals, desires to breastfeed….I think that kind of guilt is different from what I’m trying to discuss here. I am not a an expert on that. It is valuable to get the best help out there that you can as soon as possible.
I’m adding this after reading some comments on other blogs.. When approaching a mom to observe or assist with the latch process…. Permission is a must! I ALWAYS ask the mother if she would like any assistance with the latch or if I may observe how well her baby is latching….. If that answer is yes… The next question is ALWAYS.. May I touch your breast? (if that needs to part of the process). I prefer to help moms by having the mom and BABY do the latch. I try to keep my hands out of it. All nurses and LC’s should practice this. I am sorry for the mom’s who aren’t asked permission to be helped or touched. :(
One of my favorite things I like to say to any breastfeeding mom is:
“Try not to make any final decision when it’s dark outside”.
On another note, regarding some reader comments on various blogs about public breastfeeding, a skimpy bikini or the bathing-suit issue of a favorite sports magazine show more skin in a provocative, sexy way than any mom breastfeeding. Even the movie stars in their gowns with plunging necklines are showing almost the entire breast! Somehow, that is OK. There are volumes of video footage and photos all over the place… even on billboards. It is sad that the public opinion of a baby breastfeeding (the most natural way for him to eat) is something that should be done in private … yet young girls are encouraged by media to bare more and more skin. Of course being discreet while feeding is important, but I can assure you, most girls in a tiny bikini are thinking more about “tacky exhibitionist behavior” than a mother breastfeeding her baby. Why aren’t law-makers focusing on any of that?