You are having a baby. The mixture of joy, fear and anticipation is like no other. When this is your first baby, the volume of research you conduct will make your degrees blush in shame. You will choose healthcare providers for yourself and your baby. You will lay out a birth plan. You will attend classes for said birth plan. You will think about toys and clothes and sleeping arrangements and names. But nothing will compare to the deeply emotional decision you will make about what to feed your baby.
For me, it was a simple choice. Of course, breast was best. I knew that. It was natural, it was healthy, and I had everything I needed to provide this source of nutrition to my child. I listened eagerly to the instructions I was given in my childbirth classes. It was all I had. Verbal instruction. But I took my notes and made contingency plans and felt that I was well-prepared.
My son entered the world like most babies do—by not following my plan. I took my punches and rolled with it. But I did get the chance to breastfeed him. It did not go well at all. He had a terrible time trying to latch on. I had no idea how to get him to latch on either. I had never done this before. Neither had he.
So we struggled together. The nurses and lactation consultants in the hospital continued to try to help me. We did the best we could. But then I went home. And it didn’t get any better. In fact, it got worse. Within a day, he was screaming every time I tried to nurse him. He started to hate the very idea of nursing. I was crying, too. I was resorting to letting him latch improperly just to get something in him. It was beginning to hurt. It was beginning to be a nightmare.
I started calling everyone in the phone book. Yes, this was 15 years ago when people still used phone books. Lactation consultants were really expensive and couldn’t come until the next day. I was talking to them through tears. I felt like such a failure! What kind of mother can’t even feed her own baby? I thought this was natural?
Then, I got lucky. I talked to a La Leche leader* who said she would come to my house within a few hours. Thank god for that sweet woman. She showed up with her two babies, one in a sling. She told me I had “flat nipples” which no one else had ever mentioned before. She told me what to do to correct this anatomical issue. She advised purchasing a pump. She showed me techniques to accomplish a proper latch and instructed me to never let my baby nurse without one. Before she left a few hours later, my son was nursing happily for the first time since he was born.
That wasn’t the end of the story. It took a solid six weeks for the two of us to get into a rhythm that felt comfortable. Nursing was awkward. We struggled with positions. We made multiple attempts at latching on every time. I had to deal with my “flat nipples” until my son could learn to get ahold of them himself. It wasn’t easy by any means. In fact, the whole process felt incredibly unnatural.
I went to La Leche meetings for support. I had no family to help me. They all lived several thousand miles away. So, these other moms became my source of comfort and guidance. Thank god for them. I don’t know what I would have done without them.
Breastfeeding is not a natural act. Breastfeeding is a learned skill. Think about the mother in ancient times. She gave birth surrounded by her grandmother, mother, aunts and sisters. These women were there to teach her and help her. In modern families, with new mothers living away from their sisters, mothers and grandmothers, who is there to teach them? Who is there to stand next to them for the first six weeks, guiding them, correcting them and supporting them? Unlike other acts we may do with our bodies, breastfeeding is not one we can typically just stumble through and make it out okay. It is much more likely we will need a coach to teach us the in’s and out’s.
To me, breastfeeding is like baseball. While running, catching and swinging a bat may all be natural ways to use your body, you would never ask an athlete to learn a sport without a coach. Sure, it’s natural to use your body in these ways, but to do so effectively, the athlete needs someone who has mastered these skills to pass on the tricks of the trade.
We need to offer more support to new mothers who wish to breastfeed. No baby is born knowing how to latch on without causing the mother pain. Breastfeeding is NOT supposed to hurt. Babies know how to suck. They do not know how to properly latch. Mothers do not know this either. This is taught to them both.
Attempting to teach a mother how to breastfeed by writing tutorials or books is insufficient as well. Again, that’s like reading a book about soccer and then expecting to know how to play. Breastfeeding is a hands-on sport. We need hands-on coaches to pass the skill on. If a mother is left to herself to try to learn this new skill, then we have only ourselves to blame when she flounders.
While breast milk is natural, breastfeeding is not. It is learned. Instead of bombarding our new mothers with information, let’s offer them real help. How much would this world change if every new mother had instant and affordable access to breastfeeding coaches for the first two months of her infant’s life? I’d love to see the outcome of that campaign.
“Breast is best. Breastfeeding consultants available free to you in your home are even better. Call today for more information.”**
*I am not affiliated with La Leche League International in any way. My experience with their organization is my personal story and may not be typical, expected or standard practice.
**As of this writing and to the best of my knowledge, this is not a real campaign. This is a fictional statement I constructed for illustrative purposes.
- How is a lactation consultant like a nursing bra? They should both make you feel comfortable and supported! (dandelionbirthblog.wordpress.com)
- A powerful story of a mother determined… (latchthebabes.com)
- Biological Nurturing – It’s what your baby wants to do (notanothermom.wordpress.com)
- breastfeeding: trials & triumphs (chelsealetourneau.wordpress.com)
- Report: More New Moms Are Breastfeeding (parenting.com/blogs/kim-hays)