This is my second post in a series about lactation support. Check out my previous post “Differing models of lactation advice: Go with the flow.” to read about different approaches to understanding breastfeeding.
In many cities these days, mothers are blessed with lots of options for where to turn when breastfeeding doesn’t go smoothly. Most hospitals have lactation consultants on staff. Many nurses working in labor and delivery or postpartum care positions receive some lactation training. Obstetric and pediatric practices often have lactation consultants in office. More and more private practice IBCLCs are finding a niche in the community. There are breastfeeding peer counselors available through La Leche League and WIC. If you’re lucky, you live in a place with all of these options and more . So, how do you know where to start? And, once you’ve visited with one or more of these resources, how do you know if you’re getting the best help for YOU?
Each mother and baby is special and many variables exist within the nursing relationship. Breastfeeding is an art, not just a science, and while the mechanics are very important, so is the emotion. There aren’t always going to be easy answers or quick fixes to breastfeeding problems (in fact, I’m always wary of any solution which promises to be quick or easy). In many cases, mothers are able to learn that the things they thought were indications of a problem are just examples of normal newborn nursing behavior. But, in those cases when a very real challenge or problem appears, getting the proper help is vital.
You SHOULD feel one of more of the following after a visit with a breastfeeding support person if that person is a good fit for you and your situation:
* Relief –Whether it is physical relief from painful latch or emotional relief, some sort of lightening should occur. You may say, “Ah, it feels much better now when she latches.” or “Thank goodness. I’m glad to know this is normal.” or “My burning question has been answered.” If you do not feel actual immediate relief, you should at least feel…
* Hope – Because it takes time to break old habits and train new, and because healing isn’t instantaneous, you may need to continue practicing techniques and tips you learn in your visit to acheive noticeable results. But you should at least feel that some progress is being made and you are on the right track to improvement. At the very least, you should feel that your support person is committed to helping you figure out what WILL work if this path does not. So, you may be thinking, “We are working on this and it will get better.” or “We are going to figure this out.”
*Increased Confidence – Notice I say “increased” and not just “confidence”. For many mothers, confidence is something we must develop over time as we learn about our babies and how to trust our intuition and reason. Breastfeeding can be a huge part of gaining confidence IF a mother receives positive messages of support. Your lactation pro should encourage this feeling in you by helping you to see all the things you are doing right and by recognizing that your baby is a perfect individual. Some confident things you may say to yourself include, “I am a good mother. I am seeking answers for my baby and my self.” or “My baby and my body work beautifully.” or “I can make enough milk to feed my baby.” or “We are learning together.”
Your lactation consultant or counselor SHOULD:
-Be respectful of your personal space. Of course she is on your team to talk to you about your breasts, but she should explain what she is doing and/or gain permission from you before touching you or your baby.
-Be respectful of your concerns and feelings. She should listen to what you believe to be the problem, ask questions to gain more information, and understand that fear, love, anxiety, exhaustion, and many other feelings can come in to play surrounding breastfeeding.
-Address the specific problem which concerns you. She may understand other issues which are linked to your concern as well and it may be necessary to solve one problem before a related one can be fixed. But, it is not up to her to decide for you that you should fix something which you don’t define as a problem.
-Provide a follow-up plan. You should understand such specifics as “How long should I try this before deciding it isn’t working?” and “What is the next step if this doesn’t solve the problem?” She should also provide a clear understanding of what sort of follow-up care is provided within her fee if applicable (further visits, phone help, etc).
A lactation support person SHOULD NOT:
-Dismiss your concerns. This includes problems with pain during nursing. If her answer is “Everything looks fine. It shouldn’t hurt,” move on to someone who will help you figure out the source of the pain and solve the problem.
-Make you feel worse. No guilt. No fear mongering. No shaming of your choices or your body. Negativity is not going to bring about a postive result.
No lactation support person has all the answers to every question. All professionals have limits and make mistakes. And that’s fine! If the person helping you doesn’t have the answer to your question or problem, she should either be willing to search for it to your satisfaction or direct you to someone else who can. If you don’t feel you’ve gotten the help, support, or answers you need, DON’T GIVE UP! Ask someone else! Keep asking until you feel satisfied. You and your baby deserve good support.
And, most of all, remember that YOU are the expert on YOUR body and YOUR baby. While medical professionals and breastfeeding support people are experts in certain fields and have seen lots of babies and mothers, no one is smarter than you about what is right regarding you and your baby. If an expert answer just doesn’t ring true with your gut, you have the right to get another opinion.
Stay tuned or sign up for email updates to read my next post in this series, in which I’ll delve more into the who, what, where, why, and how of the different lactation support people who may be available in your community.