I’m what you’d call a breastfeeding advocate.
I’m not a lactation professional. I am a birth doula, but I have no specific expertise in the science or medicine of lactation and infant feeding. I am a supporter of breastfeeding mothers, but I have not been trained to support them. I’m simply an advocate. A relatively well-informed and (I hope) compassionate advocate, but a lay-advocate nonetheless.
This particular advocacy is based on both my personal and professional experiences. As a mother, I’ve breastfed all three of my children. In fact, I’m still breastfeeding my two-year-old. (“Yikes!” you might say. Yeah, toddler-nursing totally freaked me out once upon a time too.)
As a doula, I’ve helped women and babies get that first good latch, and I’ve celebrated with them as they marveled over what their bodies could do. (There’s nothing freaky about that. It’s 100% awesome when it happens.)
You could say that I love most everything about breastfeeding. Yes ! Most everything.
Because you know what? I’ve winced through the agony of cracked nipples. I’ve groaned about a needy, teething toddler wanting to nurse for the fourth time in one night. (We can all agree that this is a “yikes!” moment.) I’ve even fed one of my babies formula, and gratefully so, when I couldn’t pump enough breast milk before an emergency surgery.
I’ve also held the hands of doula clients and friends as they’ve grieved an early end to their breastfeeding goals. I’ve referred them to lactation consultants and pediatricians and support groups. I’ve listened to them as they’ve cried and asked, “But isn’t breast supposed to be best? Why I am failing my child? Aren’t they now destined to suffer from more diseases than breastfed kids?”
I’ll be the first to admit that maternity and lactation support systems might have failed some of these friends and doula clients. But I’ll also be the first to admit that sometimes the messaging of breastfeeding advocacy has failed them too. I’m not talking about all breastfeeding advocacy messages: some campaigns are downright brilliant and empowering and everything you’d want when it comes to the myriad choices that we parents must make when it comes to our children. No, I’m talking about the messaging–the internet memes and careless slogans and overzealous words of “wisdom”–that focuses on optimization and successes and failures and dire warnings that seem to foster either smugness or despair instead of empowerment or support. It’s the sort of messaging that has made scores of parents feel inadequate, ashamed, or even guilty about their inability and/or choice to discontinue breastfeeding. And thus I’ve told them–my friends and clients who have sought my advice after seeking every type of professional support that they were willing to try–that breast isn’t always best: doing what works for themselves and their families and their own personal situations is what’s best.
These words are not the canned response I give to friends and clients who have questions and concerns about infant feeding. They are words that I mean, words that I believe with every ounce of my breastfeeding-advocate being. They are indicative of the breastfeeding advocacy messaging that I have arrived at after years of learning and listening and eating a fair share of humble pie.
I don’t think that breastfeeding advocates always capture the ambiguities of all families’ breastfeeding realities. Not everyone—organizations and individuals alike—makes nuance and compassion a central part of their advocacy. Accordingly, I have a breastfeeding advocacy wish list: one that encourages all of us—you, me, groups and individuals, huge hulking systems and random people spouting off on message boards—to breathe in nuance and breathe out compassion.
Because regardless of how we feed our babies, nuance and compassion are best for all families.
My 3 steps toward a more compassionate breastfeeding advocacy
1. Women and families belong at the center of the message.
“What else could possibly be at the center of the message?” you might ask. Well, breastfeeding.
And that sort of makes sense: encouraging the act of breastfeeding is the point of breastfeeding advocacy, after all. But when the message focuses too much on the act itself, it leaves out the person behind the breasts. And really: does any person like getting reduced to their body parts or bodily functions?
So the next time you want to talk about the benefits of breastfeeding—for instance, that 2010 study in Pediatrics concluding that increased breastfeeding rates could save the United States $13 billion in health care costs annually—remember that it takes lots of individual families to increase those rates. Each of those families is going to have radically unique social circumstances and radically unique health needs and radically unique histories and experiences.
And in the midst of all of that radical uniqueness are individual mothers who are, you know, radically unique persons. They are all agents who can think, feel, decide, and, when it works for them and their babies, breastfeed.
2. Breastfeeding ain’t always easy.
For some women and babies, one might accurately describe breastfeeding as: Beautiful. Normal. Simple. Blissful.For other women and babies, one might accurately describe breastfeeding as: Excruciating. Demoralizing. Difficult. Traumatic. And you know what? Some people might pull descriptors from both categories to describe their breastfeeding experience.
Moreover, even with the breastfeeding and pumping provisions in the Affordable Care Act, navigating the ins and outs of nursing and pumping and taking advantage of all the rights that breastfeeding parents have can still be challenging for many mothers.
So I say this: let’s keep creating programs and systems and organizations that support breastfeeding and breastfeeding parents. But let’s also acknowledge that even with all the support in the world, breastfeeding isn’t always going to be easy for everyone.
3. Decision-making involves than weighing the pros and cons of our options.
Presenting the pros and cons of breast- and formula-feeding isn’t always enough to convince a person to make one choice over another. Our emotions and the specific contexts of our lives also have a profound effect on our decision-making. In other words, the decision is rarely just about which feeding option has more benefits. It might also be about a difficult birth. Or past sexual abuse. Or unique health histories. Or a postpartum mood disorder. Or a lack of family support.
More importantly (and practically), it might just be about what works for each individual person and family. To read more about additional tips for breastfeeding advocacy, check the source below :
Source : Check here
Image Source : Neil