How to Not Support a Breastfeeding Mother
And what you should do instead
New mothers need lots of emotional support
When I say “support,” I‘m not really talking about money, although I’m sure most new moms could use that, too. I’m talking about moral support here. As a mother who tried to breastfeed two babies, I know how important it is to be surrounded by supportive people.
We all know breast milk is very good for babies. I won’t say “breast is best” quite as readily as I used to when I was trying to do it. A decade of life experience, eight years of separation from the breastfeeding experience, and one really horrific Facebook post have taught me that “fed is best.”
However, there’s no denying that breast milk benefits the infant’s immune system, brain development, and even digestion. Breast milk never constipated my babies like formula did.
But how many of us (who are so quick to offer advice and suggestions) really understand just how hard it is to breastfeed an infant until we try it?
The postpartum period is marked by numerous emotional ups and downs due to fluctuating hormones and extreme sleep deprivation. Add to that all the problems that can occur with lactation, and you could be dealing with one really stressed-out mommy.
She needs love, understanding, and compassion.
Problems breastfeeding? What problems?
During my first pregnancy, I was set on breastfeeding. I attended all the classes, read all the books, and watched all the videos, as I tried to learn all I could about breastfeeding. Before I started breastfeeding, I didn’t really know anything about it. I knew I had breasts, and I thought I would be capable of feeding my daughters with them just because they were there. I was just completely ignorant of all the little nuances, tips and tricks, and issues that can arise when you’re breastfeeding.
Issues? What issues? It’s natural, right?
Anybody should be able to do it.
Well, yes and no. After the birth of my first daughter — and even after all that information I gained — I still had problems. My milk was slow to come in. My daughter was born through an emergency c-section about 2 weeks before her actual due date. It’s not uncommon for mothers of c-section babies to experience a delay in milk production.
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Add to that the pain of engorgement when the milk did start to come in and the pain of a failed latch, and it’s enough to make any new mother want to throw in the towel.
My pediatrician — my added stress
My pediatrician’s office was very supportive of breastfeeding mothers. Normally, I think this would be an awesome thing. In my case, though, I think they might have been a little too pushy.
My milk wasn’t coming in well, and my daughter was really hungry. She lost 9 ounces of her 6 pounds 10 ounces while we were in the hospital, even though she was on my breast every 1–2 hours. She just wasn’t getting enough out of me.
The nurses saw this and asked if they could give her a little formula. I agreed (even then, I think I understood that “fed is best”), but my pediatrician screamed at them (and me) to NEVER do that because the baby would get confused and start refusing the breast in favor of the bottle.
Just a note: my daughter NEVER did that.
She would always take the breast when I offered it to her.
Mother nature = more stress
The day after I came home from the hospital with my beautiful brand new baby girl, we lost all the power in our home due to one of the worst ice storms in the history of our city. Now, not only was I worried about my milk supply being too low for my baby, I was terrified that she would die of hypothermia.
My mother called to tell me that my grandmother had power at her house, so we all got in the car and carefully made our way out there.
My mother and grandmother — not breastfeeding experts
I love my mother and grandmother dearly, but they were not the most supportive people in the world, especially regarding the breastfeeding. You see, it was just something they didn’t do.
My mother was born in 1950. Soon after she was born, my grandmother divorced my biological grandfather. As a single mom supporting a baby, she knew she would have to work, so she did. This was also about the same time infant formula gained in popularity as supposedly being even healthier than breast milk. So, my grandmother did what most women at that time were doing. She bottle-fed her baby.
Twenty-seven years later, my mother gave birth to me. Because she was practically a lifelong diabetic (she’s had type 1 diabetes since she was 11), her doctor told her that her breast milk would be unsafe for me (fast forward 30+ years, and I found out this was not true at all). So, my mother bottle-fed me, giving no further thought to the matter.
I was a new mom who was still suffering the pain of abdominal surgery, and I had a days-old infant in the backseat of a car traveling over inches of ice just to find some heat. Needless to say, I was not in the strongest mental state by the time we got to my grandmother’s house.
So, when my mom came out there with a big container of formula and some bottles she’d picked up and told me, “That baby’s not getting enough from your breast milk. You need to give her some formula,” I caved. I was so afraid I was going to starve my new baby, I gave in and started supplementing my lack of milk supply with formula.
I don’t think my milk ever came in quite right. Even with all the stress, though, I continued to try to breastfeed. I did everything I could think of to do.
I rented a pump from my doctor’s office (which was not cheap). I tried fenugreek, which was supposed to be a miracle herb. When that didn’t work, I even tried taking some prescription Reglan. I stopped taking that soon after, though, because it didn’t really seem to be helping my milk supply at all, and I thought it was making me dizzy.
After experiencing breastfeeding a second time, I began to believe the dizziness was actually caused by low blood sugar — or maybe dehydration (either of which can easily happen to a lactating mom if she’s not eating enough or drinking enough water).
After two months, I went back to work, and my breastfeeding days were over. I just quit trying. And a major reason why I quit trying?
Lack of support.
Oh, my husband was supportive (bless him!), and my doctors were supportive, but no one else really was.
And the negativity from my older, “more experienced,” female family members played right in to my fears, anxieties, and doubts about my ability to be a good mother.
I began to think that, in some way, I was failing my daughter by trying to do something good for her.
As a result, the bottle won out over the breast.
New baby; new experience
Two years later, I had another baby, and I tried to breastfeed again. I was not so set on only giving her breast milk, though. I knew it was okay to supplement with formula if I needed to (although my breasts did seem to produce more milk the second time around).
My first daughter turned out fine. She’s 10 years old now and reasonably healthy. She got a lot of ear infections in the first couple years of her life. Studies have shown that breastfeeding for the first 4 to 6 months of a baby’s life can reduce the number of ear infections that baby gets during its first year, so I might have stopped a few months too soon!).
However, she hasn’t had a single ear infection since she turned two, and I’m starting to realize I’m not a terrible mommy for bottle-feeding my baby every once in a while.
If you’re a breastfeeding mom and are struggling, know that it’s okay to have doubts. Just don’t let your doubts consume you (physical and emotional stress can actually diminish your milk supply even more, not to mention all the negative effects it can have on your baby because they pick up on those emotions).
Scream and cry out the frustration and pain if you need to. Find someone you can talk to — even if you have to go online to do it. You can start here in the comments to this story, if you want.
Just don’t give up!
And if you’re someone who knows a breastfeeding mom, do whatever you can to make the process a little easier for her. Cook dinner, buy some nipple cream, or just be there to lend an ear when she needs to vent.
And, for heaven’s sake, don’t stare at her if she’s trying to breastfeed in public. It’s just a breast, and the mother is trying to feed her child.
Let her do it in peace!