This is the first post in a series about lactation support.
Let me begin by saying: I am not a certified lactation consultant or lactation counselor. I am a mother of 4 who has been breastfeeding for the better part of 9 years, a trained La Leche League leader, and a voracious reader who geeks out on all things birth and breastfeeding related. I do not receive money for assisting mothers with breastfeeding. I provide breastfeeding information and support, not advice, much like in my role as a birth doula. This post is NOT intended as medical advice or as a contradiction of medical advice.
It’s no secret that there are various models for looking at birth. We may hear or use terms such as “technocratic model”, “medical model”, “holistic model”, or “midwifery model” when referring to ways of caring for mothers and babies throughout pregnancy, labor, birth, and the immediate postpartum period. It is only recently that I’ve begun to realize there are vastly differing philosophies and methods for veiwing lactation support as well. This concept has come up often over the last few months in my conversations with mothers about the sort of breastfeeding advice, help, and encouragement they’ve received. It’s something I want to explore more because I believe each mother and baby deserves the best possible support and, just like each mother/baby is unique, there is no one-size-fits-all method to dealing with breastfeeding issues. Different mothers and different situations call for differing methods of care.
One model/philosophy says birth and breastfeeding are rife with opportunity for “failure” on both the part of mother and baby and thus require management, intervention, and contraptions to work at all.
On the flip side, the other model/philosophy assumes that mother and baby possess the inherent skills and wisdom to succeed at birth and breastfeeding and that these processes work best without interruption or intervention, and with gentle and empowering support.
While there are times when intensive treatments, techniques, and interventions are necessary, there are other times when these things are totally out of place and actually harmful. As the adage goes, “if it ain’t broke…” Telling women their breasts, milk supply, babies, or intuition are faulty from the start and need to be “fixed” even when all is well can be damaging to the breastfeeding relationship and the mother’s psyche.
Both modes of viewing birth and breastfeeding can become self fulfilling prophecies by locking mother and baby in a cycle. Breaking down a woman’s confidence in her body’s ability to produce milk for her baby, adding steps to her breastfeeding routine, or putting machines or devices between her and baby as a matter of course (as opposed to as a therapeutic means or treatment of an actual problem) can interrupt the very thing which is best for milk production and mother/baby satisfaction: skin to skin breastfeeding. Conversely, building mother’s confidence in herself and instilling positive feelings about breastfeeding can help her persevere even in the face of challenges and avoid unnecessary anxiety which can disrupt the natural process.
Why does this matter to me? Because I have witnessed how a certain kind of advice can be dangerous to the breastfeeding relationship, and, perhaps more importantly, to a woman’s ability to trust her intuition, her body and her baby.
The effects of this breakdown can be far-reaching, showing up in other areas of mothering and life. So often, when mothers come to me with breastfeeding questions, I find with a little further listening that there is something else beneath their concerns. They are looking for someone to reassure them and give them permission to trust themselves. They are looking for someone to say, “You aren’t broken and you never were. You are doing a wonderful job mothering your baby.” This is also true of mothers who have lost the breastfeeding portion of the mothering relationship either due to physical reasons or because of lack of accurate information and support. “You aren’t broken and you never were. You are doing a wonderful job mothering your baby.”
What I wish more than anything in this line of work is for happiness for mothers and babies. High confidence, relaxed and loving time together, and sufficient milk supply can all contribute to happier pairs. All mother/babies deserve proper information, support, and encouragement for their lactation success (however they define it).
I want to hear from you (even if it’s to disagree with me!)
What kind of lactation support has been helpful or harmful to you?
In my next post, I will discuss how to choose a lactation support person, and how to know if the lactation counseling you recieve is a good fit for your needs. In the third post of this series, I’ll be talking about the different “players” in the lactation support “game”, their different roles, and how they can help you. Check back or sign up to receive updates via email.