Breastfeeding Back to Work; a #MyStoryMatters Leaky Share

by Annie Laird, a Leaky

guest post, #MyStoryMatters, leaky to leaky, Annie Laird

I was attending the Naval Postgraduate School when I had my first daughter. Luckily, I had her at the end of a quarter, and got to take an entire 3 months off school before going back. The Department Lead of my curriculum has also breastfed all her children and was very supportive. She allowed me to use the office of an adjunct professor that was on a leave of absence to pump my milk for the fist year of my daughter’s life. I had an abundant supply and exclusively breastfed her for 7 months prior to introducing any other food. I built up a freezer stash that was sufficient to cover my overnight absences from her starting at 7 months when I got underway for a week at a time on research cruises off the California coast (I was working toward my Masters degree in Physical Oceanography). There was no way to store my breastmilk on the tiny vessel, so I diligently pumped every 3 hours and poured it all down the drain. Just before she turned 1, I stopped pumping during the day, and we continued nursing until just after her 2nd birthday, when I had to deploy overseas as the Weapons Control Officer on a Guided Missile Destroyer. 

I breastfed my 2nd daughter fairly easily, albeit, without ever being able to build up the huge freezer stash I was able to with my first. It probably was because I only got 6 weeks of maternity leave before I had to be back at work. When she was 3 months old, I flew with her and my oldest daughter to Bahrain to visit my husband, who was deployed there. The fact that she was breastfed made the trip so simple. She slept most of the 14 hour flight from Washington D.C. to Kuwait! No bottles to mix, no formula to drag along. Shortly after that trip, I left Active Duty Naval service, and started my first civilian job. I let my supervisor know that I would need a place to express my breastmilk throughout the day, and it had better not be a bathroom, thank you very much! A retired Master Chief himself, he ran all over base, finding an adequate space for me.

My supply tanked when my 2nd daughter was about 7-8 months, and I couldn’t figure out why. Then, oh! I’m pregnant! Surprise!! I cried every time my daughter would latch on; cracked, bleeding nipples were the order of the day. The scabs would dry onto my bra and as I would open my bra up to nurse, the scabs would rip off, starting the bleeding all over again. I finally called up a local IBCLC, Robin Kaplan, and cried over the phone about how miserable I was. She replied, “Annie, first rule: Feed the Baby. If you aren’t happy with the situation, transition to formula and quit breastfeeding.” So I did! I hung up my pump when my 2nd daughter was 9 months of age, and she weaned directly to an open cup (thank you Navy day care ladies for teaching her that!).

I gave birth to my 3rd daughter at home, and she took to breastfeeding like a champ. I took 8 weeks off of work, and then me and my pump started making the trek every 2-3 hours back to the pumping room at my place of employment. I keep my supply up by cosleeping with her and nursing throughout the night.

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Annie Laird is the podcast host of Preggie Pals (a sister show of The Boob Group podcast), a Certified Labor Doula, Lactation Educator, Navy Veteran, Navy Wife, Mom to 3 little girls, and a Government Contractor. She has breastfed all her kids while holding down a job (at times, multiple jobs) outside the home and is currently breastfeeding her almost 6 month old exclusively.
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Postpartum Depression and Anxiety: When No One Knows

by Kileah McIlvain

TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains experiences of depression and anxiety and loss and may be triggering to certain individuals. Please read with care.

postpartum depression postpartum anxiety, monster within.

photo: urban bay photography

I sat there. On the park bench in the middle of Laurelhurst a year ago today. He sat on the other end. I felt like a NOTHING. A Void. A Black hole from which and out of which nothing good could come. I wanted to hurl myself into the quiet duckpond while the local shakespeare players were acting out a scene from Macbeth on the other side of the trees. The feelings of exploding, of darkness, of drowning, of feeling like nothing but a walking corpse never felt more present. What was the point? Why the hell was I put on this earth if God was going to play russian roulette with my life? What the hell was I supposed to do with this gnawing grief of  a past miscarriage and the overwhelming demands of  trying to meet my family’s needs? Why couldn’t I just be kind? Why couldn’t I be strong and be good and just BE who my kids and my husband needed me to be? The questions that had taken root in the dark and walled-up places of my heart began to erupt. The rotten rags that I’d used to stuff up all of the leaks and holes riddling my soul began to surface from these murky depths. I was thrashing around in the gaping maw of my own personal monster. I couldn’t move anymore. I was going to sink. I wanted to sink…and be nothing. It was terrifying.

I. Wanted. To. Die. 

The strange thing is. No one tells you. Either because they don’t know what to say or they don’t even KNOW. It’s easy to smile and nod, and pretend you’ve got it together. Because that’s what you do. It’s invisible, this monster. It chews at your mind and sucks your soul until you feel hulled out…like a painted eggshell that looks great to everyone around you…but you’re hollow and fragile. And no one has a clue. They don’t know that you want to run away. They don’t know that it terrifies you to say anything because you’re sure that if you do, someone will call CPS or SPCC and take your children away. You’re convinced you’re a bad mom. That you aren’t capable of caring for these little humans you gave birth to. The yelling, the blackouts where 15 minutes later you don’t know what was done or what was said. The deeply-ridden shame and anxiety and the panic attacks triggered by the hot water in the shower. I remember the earliest days of my darkness when I laid my son down two weeks after becoming a new mother and cringing because the thought of touching him repulsed me. Because I didn’t want him to touch me. His crying and my exhaustion and me feeling like I couldn’t do anything right (including breastfeeding challenges)…it was overwhelming. And it didn’t stop. With each new life I birthed into this world, my darkness found new depths and more desolate places to dwell. This happened to me. This silent inner monster had blackened everything…and it didn’t go away.

I reached that breaking point a year ago today. I realized that I was unwell. That it wasn’t normal to want to die. That it wasn’t normal to be experiencing panic attacks and blackouts and physical pain because you didn’t want to move or deal or face anyone or anything. That running away from bonding emotionally through touch wasn’t normal.

I’ll tell you what didn’t help.

  • The very cautious ventures into the world of mental health and community before my breaking point had so far amounted to bible verses being shoved down my raw throat (If you just do ABC, God will make it all better!) and people frustrated with my questions because “How could you think this about God? It just isn’t true, and you have to figure that out!”
  • I was told “You’re breastfeeding! There should be tons of lovey warm hormones flowing through you. That isn’t possible!”
  • I was told “Well I got over it, I just had to make up my mind to pull myself up out of this funk.” To which I said “Really? Because I’ve been trying for 5 years and 3 more kids now…and it isn’t working.”
  • I was told “It’s just the baby blues. You just need  YOU-time.” And while that may be the healing ticket someone needs to start getting better…it wasn’t mine. It was only a small number in the equation that was my situation.

What did I do? Well, nothing huge to start with. But talking to someone about it helped. (for me, that was my partner.) No, he wasn’t perfect, but he sat there. And listened. I told him that I was terrified. All the time. I was angry. Angry that God allowed my life to experience what I have. That it wasn’t necessary. That everyone’s life would be better off without me in it. That I wasn’t what anyone needed and I wasn’t healthy for anyone to deal with. I was scared of repeating the harm and emotional and relational damage that was done to me in my own childhood. That started my own journey to health. Reaching out, finding resources, wanting better.

I found a few resources online to point me in the right direction. I was currently breastfeeding my 4th little one and didn’t even know if there were medication options available for me. I didn’t know WHAT I needed, exactly. I just knew that up to that point? Nothing was working. And it needed to change. This had been going on for 5 years. FIVE. YEARS. I didn’t even know what normal meant for me anymore…I only knew THIS. I found a therapist through my state’s mental health resources. I was connected with people that didn’t look down on me like I was some unfit mother…but as a valuable human being who had a condition and in need of help navigating through my depression and anxiety so that I could be healthy again.

Postpartum depression and anxiety isn’t just in your head. It isn’t imagined or something you can just will away or pretend it doesn’t exist.

Postpartum depression and anxiety IS real.

Postpartum depression and anxiety IS a monster.

But it’s a monster you DON’T have to try slaying on your own.

photo: urban bay photography

photo: urban bay photography

Am I there yet? No. But some days I am better.

Sometimes I can look up now and notice that the way the wind moves through the trees is beautiful. I can catch glimpses of hope in my eyes when I look in the mirror. Some days are dark. Really dark. But they are not ALL dark, now. I am not alone. I know now that it’s ok to reach out to the people in my life who are helping me through this. My husband. My therapist. My councilor.  My mind…is better. Medication,therapy, counseling, therapeutic touch, acupuncture, babywearing, herbal supplements, meals…those are a few things that are helping me.  The biggest catalyst for me? Speaking up. Spreading awareness of just what postpartum depression and anxiety feels like and what it can do and resources that are out there to help mothers struggling. Because I am there. WE are there. And things CAN get better. WE are not alone.

Photo: Urban Bay Photography

Photo: Urban Bay Photography

Speak. Don’t stay silent.

Your voice may shake. Your knees may buckle. The monster inside may scream at you. But know you are enough. There IS help. The world IS more beautiful because you are in it. Courage, dear heart. You are enough. And this heart of yours is being forged into a masterpiece. You. Are. LOVED.

Some resources that helped me understand my postpartum depression and anxiety:

Artistic infographics on what it feels like to live with depression and anxiety. Good for people who want to help but don’t know what to do.

A helpful collection of comic strips because a different perspective and sense of humor can help.

A great checklist and resource page that helped me in recognizing PPD and PPA.

 

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9 Reasons you may be uncomfortable with seeing breastfeeding

by Jessica Martin-Weber

 

*Please note this article utilizes satire and sarcasm with humor.

Photo from Instagram user Jeniholland.

Photo from Instagram user Jeniholland.

We’re well into the 21st century yet breastfeeding appears to still make many people uncomfortable.  I keep hoping those individuals that get upset about the biologically normal way to feed a baby are really a rarity but, unfortunately, it still seems to be a hot button issue.  Regardless of how a woman is most comfortable feeding her baby, be it uncovered at the breast, covered at the breast, a bottle of expressed breastmilk, or a bottle of formula, plenty of people are uncomfortable witnessing a woman feeding her child and any form of breastfeeding seems to especially elicit vocal expressions of discomfort from others.  I identified 9 reasons people may be uncomfortable seeing breastfeeding be it on social media or in person settings and tried to offer some solutions in overcoming what is essentially a discomfort about babies being fed.  And that brings us to our first point:

  1. Agism.  Breasts aren’t the issue for you, nope.  You just don’t think babies and small children have the right to eat in public.  Or you think that every. single. time they do eat the experience should be charged with connection and intimacy between that child and their care-giver, staring deeply into each others’ eyes approximately 8-24 times a day and not witnessed by anyone else.  Those babies, they need to keep that stuff happening in private!  And yes, a baby or the needs of a small child should actually come second to your own personal comfort about what you witness.  Older people, that’s a totally different story, they can eat when they need to eat and for the most part, where they need to eat and how they need to eat it without harassment, expectation of high level bonding, or a blanket.  On the go, sitting at a table in public, while reading a book or talking with friends, it’s fine for those over the age of 2 to eat in public and even for them to post pictures of their meals on social media.  But those babies better at least keep it under wraps!  Spending some time watching just exactly how adults eat or watching this video could be key in getting you over your prejudices.  No?  You don’t discriminate against babies eating in public?  Ok, have you considered that you could have…
  2. Boob-phobia.  It’s a real thing, check it out.  Perhaps you’re uncomfortable by the sight of breastfeeding because you have Mastrophobia, a phobia of breasts (or cousins gynophobia, a fear of female parts, or papillaphobia, a fear of nipples) and seeing breastfeeding makes you want to run away.  Which maybe that’s what you should do, complete with screaming and waving your arms hysterically.  Or do what I do when watching a scary movie, hide behind a pillow only risking a peek here and there.  Actually though, if you do really have boob-phobia, you should seek professional help.  If that’s not it though, maybe it’s…
  3. Brainwashing.  Which is totally understandable and you can’t help the cultural conditioning that has brainwashed you into thinking breasts are truly only for sexual pleasure.  You’re a victim of marketing and fear.  Boobs aren’t for babies, boobs are for men/selling cars/selling beer/selling clothes/selling sex/selling music/selling movies/selling… selling, or at least that’s what the prevailing messages in much of society seems to be selling.  If this is an issue, walking around with a blanket over your head to cut out these messages could be the solution.  But maybe you are completely immune to marketing and the societal messages thrown at us from every which way, in which case it could be…
  4. Judgment.  You believe, and the reasons why are unimportant (certainly not fear or brainwashing), that breasts that aren’t properly shielded and covered belong to an immoral, immodest individual of low character.  Women that don’t keep those things contained and pull them out and stick them in the mouth of their hungry child must not have a shred of decency and you judge them for that.  Even if they define modesty or decency differently than you do.  Such as “it would be indecent of me not to feed my child when they are hungry…”  Heading to the bathroom to have your dinner may be exactly what you need to get you over this unfortunate character flaw.  Not a judgmental person?  Don’t care what other people do?  Then maybe you’re uncomfortable with seeing breastfeeding because…
  5. Insecurity.  It could be anything.  Insecurity about your own breasts (male or female), insecurity about your friend/father/husband/brother/son seeing someone’s breasts (which of course means you make sure they avoid all malls, sports shows, magazines, and movies), insecurity in seeing someone breastfeed their child when you didn’t/don’t breastfeed yours, insecurity that breastfeeding or not breastfeeding is some kind of mark of “good parenting”, insecurity that others may be uncomfortable with someone else breastfeeding and you feel the need to make sure everyone (but the breastfeeding pair) is comfortable, or maybe just insecurity that humans are all mammals.  Whatever it is, and it could be anything, you personally battle insecurity and rather than face it in yourself you project your issues on to others.  Sitting next to a breastfeeding mother while she feeds her child and having a conversation with her may do the trick.  Not insecure?  If you’re confident enough to not be threatened by a woman feeding her child, could it be…
  6. Confusion.  You get grossed out by the sight of breastfeeding because of two words: body fluids.  It freaks you out that body fluids are free-flowing from a woman right into her baby!  Who needs to see that, right?  It doesn’t matter that it’s only natural because, hello, pooping, peeing, and sex are natural too and you don’t want to see any of THAT in public either, right?  It’s certainly only a matter of time before they’re bottling those body fluids up and feeding them to children too, I’m sure.  Fake urine will be flooding the shelves in no time, specially formulated to be just like the real thing.  Aside from the obvious fact that you really can’t see it happening during the act of breastfeeding, basic biology helps clear this up a bit: breastmilk = nutrition, urine/feces = waste, genital secretions = not food.  Some time studying basic nutrition and biology and understanding the basic differences should fix that right up.  Get the difference and not confused?  Moving on then, maybe it’s…
  7. Misogyny.  This goes along with the brainwashing point but it’s a little deeper.  If you’re uncomfortable seeing breastfeeding because of misogyny, you actually hate women and consider them less than men.  As such, their bodies are purely for men and a woman that would dare exercise her autonomy in using her body as she should choose, well she’s just asking for it, isn’t she?  A breastfeeding woman is just rubbing it in your face, isn’t she?  How dare she act as though she independently has worth and power over her own body.  Besides, seeing breasts in use in such an a-sexual way is a bit unsettling.  You haven’t sanctioned this and it’s uncomfortable to think that you have something in common with human babies. The way through this could be quite painful: start listening to women and catch a production of the Vagina Monologues.  But you’re not a misogynist?  Totally down with women as equals?  Great!  So what about…
  8. Denial.  There are people that spend time researching the emotion of disgust and have a disgust scale.  What is it, why do we experience it, etc.  Some triggers of disgust are understandable, like food contamination disgust.  We don’t want to get sick.  Obviously.  So why are you disgusted by breastfeeding, AKA, feeding babies?  It’s possible, these researchers theorize, that you just don’t like to be reminded of your animality.  Humanity is good in your mind but anything that connects you to the animal side of humans grosses you out.  That humans are mammals (creatures with mammary glands that use their mammaries to feed their young) is a fact you would rather forget.  Watch some Discovery channel, you’ll have to eventually confront that breastfeeding our young isn’t the only animal-like behavior we homo sapiens have.  Not that?  Then…
  9. Unfamiliarity.  When we’re not used to seeing something it can be startling when we come across it.  This isn’t your fault, you’re just not familiar with this as normal and actually expect the alternative to the biological norm instead.  You just haven’t seen breastfeeding enough to be totally down with it.  The fix to this one is pretty easy, see more breastfeeding.  You’ll get over your discomfort the more you see it and soon it will become just as normal as it actually is.  Don’t worry, more and more women are doing their part in feeding their babies in public, with and without covers, and you’ll get more comfortable with it the more you see them out and about or posting their photos on social media so hang in there, there’s hope for you yet!

 

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 What would you add to our list?  Why do you think people may have issues with witnessing breastfeeding or encountering breastfeeding images?  If you’re uncomfortable seeing breastfeeding, why do you think that is?   Did you used to be uncomfortable seeing breastfeeding but are ok with it now?

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The surprising barrier women encounter to getting breastfeeding help- breastfeeding advocates

by Jessica Martin-Weber
Support that makes a difference involves respect and thrives in relationship.  Meeting Leakies at MommyCon last year was all about mutual respect and relationships.

Support that makes a difference involves respect and thrives in relationship. Meeting Leakies at MommyCon last year was all about mutual respect and relationships.

Sometimes I hear stories of women who struggled with breastfeeding and never got help.  They didn’t know who to call or where to go or were too embarrassed to ask for help.  Or they didn’t have the money or insurance coverage for an IBCLC or there wasn’t even one in their area.  They may have tried a breastfeeding support group but felt intimidated and didn’t speak up.  Whatever the case may be, it isn’t as uncommon as you might think that we receive messages at TLB from women stating they have nobody to turn to or nobody they feel comfortable asking.  Only with the anonymous intimacy of the internet are these women comfortable even talking about their breastfeeding journey.  How, I wonder, could we have gotten to this place where asking for help for a normal body function that isn’t functioning normally is so hard?  We’re not even talking about waste or something sexual, we’re talking about feeding children.  How can we be so disconnected?

A cursory glance at infant feeding history will reveal that the introduction of formula marketing probably contributed to this break down as well as the cultural expectations developed in the early 1900s that only specific health professionals hold all the answers for our bodies.  As science became more elevated, anything that could be measured and formulated was seen as good.  Anything else, particularly of our bodies, was suspect as inadequate and less.

But still, why, with all the information about breastmilk now, why would women struggle to even ask for help?  Is it really just the effects of marketing and a left over fear from an era that held the doctor as god?

Digging deeper it’s not difficult to see that the over emphasis on the sexual nature of the female breast has contributed to the barriers some women face when they think of their breasts feeding their children.  Regular objectification can make it hard for women to connect with their own bodies on a good day let alone if things are proving to be difficult.  As society sends mixed signals celebrating female breasts to a point of idolatry yet reacting with disgust far too often when a woman uses her breasts to feed her baby, that disconnect isn’t far from turning into their own repulsion.

Again though, surely information and education can overcome these messages and women can see through the societal objectification of women to reach out for help in feeding their babies, right?  Sure, it’s a mountain of baggage to overcome but if we just get the information out there these women will climb that mountain to succeed in making informed choices of which we approve with our support.  Why is this so hard?

Maybe it’s because generations of women now haven’t been exposed to breastfeeding or if they have it has been either nominal or little more than entertainment.  Breasts are thrust in everyone’s face in TV ads, online images, magazine and newspaper pages, and blown up in store windows but many women have never seen breastfeeding aside from when it is used for comedic relief or perfectly staged and lit for a parenting magazine.

Those trends are turning though, more and more breastfeeding is visible in social media outlets and with increasing frequency in real life.  Celebrities and other influencers have taken to not only breastfeeding their own children but doing so openly and in the media’s eye.  We’re a long way from breastfeeding really being normal again in society but there is increasingly a precedent of support for breastfeeding moms.

So why are there still so many women asking for anonymous help with their breastfeeding issues?  Why is it that there are countless women who don’t feel able to ask for help when they encounter breastfeeding challenges?  How are we not closing these gaps with information and public breastfeeding support such that there are still women who feel that seeking out breastfeeding help is too much vulnerability for them to risk?  Where is the connection of women that should provide a safe space for infant feeding support?

I believe that one of the reasons our culture struggles so much with vulnerability and honesty is that when people dare to take the risk they are met with responses such as ‘you should be more like me, I don’t have those issues;’ ‘here let me tell you what you should do to fix your very broken self.’  When images and memes circulate demeaning women who don’t breastfeed or didn’t breastfeed long as not having tried hard enough, being lazy, giving their child poison, being unfit mothers, and deserving of guilt for falling short of the “best is breast” mandate or “biological norm” jargon, the connections we should have are torn down, not fortified.

A few months ago at a speaking engagement at an event with a “natural” parenting bent, a woman came up to talk to me.  Her voice and posture were defensive from the beginning and she led with “I’ve heard of you but I’ve never been to your site or online community because I knew what I would hear there.  I heard you today and I was surprised, I expected you to try to make me feel bad because I use formula.  What would you say to me if I told you I used formula?  Because I know that makes me the odd one out here and everyone thinks I’m lazy and give my baby poison.”  I told her that I would say I was glad she was feeding her baby and I was certain she was doing what was right for her family according to her specific set of circumstances.  I told her that I respected her and I understood what it was like being the odd one out in a setting.  By the end of our conversation we hugged and took a selfie together.  She had opened up about the breastfeeding challenges she was having and I shared some ideas and resources that could help her with those challenges should she so choose.  It didn’t matter if she was going to increase her breastfeeding and cut back on the formula, what mattered was that she was heard, she wasn’t alone, and she felt respected and supported.  My place was not to judge, pressure, or shame, my place was to respectfully care.

In a time when access to global community is better than ever, when information and support are freely available, when there are a multitude of voices offering support, women are still encountering pressuring messages of shame about their bodies and their choices.  Isolating messages.  Instead of finding help, many are afraid of facing belittlement.  They encounter mocking and dismissive responses to questions or vents about low supply: ‘didn’t you know, only 2% of women can’t physically make enough milk, you couldn’t possibly be in that 2% so you’re just not trying hard enough AKA you’re lazy.  If doing the best for your child is important enough to you, you’ll push through any difficulties’.  They encounter similar messages about pain: ‘it shouldn’t hurt, if it hurts you’re doing something wrong’.  They encounter callous responses to their challenges with societal pressures: ‘just stand up for your rights and stick it to the man or better yet, quit your job and stay home and don’t let someone else raise your child’.  And, they encounter unhelpful responses to their challenges with breastfeeding in public: ‘if other people don’t like it they can throw a blanket over their heads, don’t be ashamed to feed your baby’.   And these are just the messages that are intended to be helpful.

It can be down right dangerous to suggest that you are considering or *gasp* even have actually supplemented with formula.  If you do your very mothering ability could be called into question with accusations of feeding your child poison and comparisons of formula to human waste: ‘formula has CORN SYRUP, how could you want to give your baby poison?  Stick to breastmilk, at least it is never recalled and sure formula is better than starvation but so is eating your own shit’.   Seeking help with these messages of shame swirling around, knowing the people you would ask have at least seen these messages and may even agree with them and could very well have made or propagated them, can require heaps of bravery at a time when a woman is feeling very vulnerable and possibly already struggling with feelings of inadequacy.  Must a woman be brave to ask for help?

What if the very people claiming to advocate for breastfeeding and support families in their infant feeding experiences are the ones driving women away from seeking help when they are struggling?  Can it be that the messages coming at women meant to inspire, motivate, and inform actually undermine them?  Do we have a responsibility to maybe sit down, shut up and just be available?  Instead of telling women what they should do and are doing wrong without really listening to them, what would happen if we provided a safe space to just be, offering support without arrogantly assuming we know exactly what choices each woman should make in her individual circumstances with her available financial, emotional, and relational resources?

Imagine how connected we could be if we would just listen and empathize as our first response rather than isolate, shame, and suggest DIY fixes.  Meeting women where they are instead of where we think they should be.  Imagine the change this could bring if just a few of us decided that we will stand against bullying, unintentional and intentional, as part of breastfeeding support and simply be the safe community that respects each woman without condition of conforming to our own breastfeeding agendas and principles.

Margaret Mead quote

I have been called a bully for calling out breastfeeding activists that have used such tactics and recently, when I encouraged my readers to be careful with whom they align themselves with through their social media outlets, I was told I was shaming another breastfeeding advocate and people I should support even if I disagree with how they are behaving.  I have been asked how I could partner with someone like the Suzanne Barston from the Fearless Formula Feeder who supposedly should be my “sworn enemy” in spreading a message of support for all.  I have been approached by concerned breastfeeding advocates that perhaps I should put my efforts into creating a unified front for breastfeeding education and support instead of denouncing those in our camp that refuse to reconsider their strong-arm messaging of shame.  Though I’ve been vocal against such methods of supposed “support” in the past, I haven’t had the energy or the time to juggle everything let alone to add making those whose “camp” I should be in angry so TLB just quietly carried on with our core values in place doing the best we could to support.  But I’ve had enough and I can’t continue even appearing as though I’m part of a movement that often (yes, OFTEN) utilizes tools of shame cloaked as “inspiration.”

If standing against bullying and shame based motivators requires me to hand in my “lactivist” or breastfeeding advocate card, so be it.  You can have it.  The Leaky Boob is about people first and I will not throw that principle and my compassion under the bus of arrogant activism.  I have no doubt sometimes my own efforts of support are missteps and unintentionally hurt people and I know sometimes there are voices within TLB’s community that can be harsh.  This isn’t a step away from the belief that there are risks to formula feeding that parents need information about, it isn’t a divorce from the science that supports breastfeeding as the healthy normal food for a human infant, this isn’t a watering down of our commitment to help moms reach their breastfeeding goals, and it certainly isn’t a sugarcoating of the issues surrounding infant feeding and society.  Those issues remain and will continue to be something we respectfully discuss.  This is simply a more clear step toward expressing the underlying belief that pressuring moms and telling them what to do and how to do it is not actual support.  Whatever label or camp TLB falls under, I hope it is one that is hallmarked with compassion.  In agreement with those the asked me what about being unified, I call all breastfeeding advocates, all infant nutrition experts, all WHO Code champions, all individuals with an invested interest in infant and early childhood feeding to ask how we can all unite with respect as mothers and fathers first, remembering our humanity as more important than our individual lifestyles and choices.  As Amy West said:

Maybe the breastfeeding advocacy chapter is coming to a close; maybe fostering respect among mothers is the real cause worth championing.

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Tough Love Breastfeeding Support, AKA bullying, and the case of the stolen photo

by Jessica Martin-Weber

Sometimes tough love is necessary, sometimes people getting in your face, calling you names, and yelling at you totally works as motivation.  Usually motivation to punch them in the throat but hey it’s motivation.  Entire “reality” TV shows have been built on this premise: you can scream troubled teens onto the right path, personal trainers can belittle overweight individuals into exercise and healthy eating, and business moguels can rant apprentices into savvy executives.  In spite of all the studies that show that shaming doesn’t actually provide any kind of lasting intrinsic motivation, countless parents, self-help gurus, educators, and others in positions of influence and authority resort to shaming in a desperate attempt to inspire positive change.  Sometimes tough love really isn’t tough love, it’s a power trip down false-sense-of-superiority lane.

Even those purporting to support families.  Birth, breastfeeding, and, ironically, gentle parenting advocates, far too often resort to shaming other parents.  Because that makes sense, something negative is going to have a lasting, positive impact.  Undermining parents’ confidence surely is going to result in change for the better, right?

Wrong.

It may get your website page views, it may increase your “talking about” numbers on Facebook, it may even get people pinning your content on Pinterest.  But helping people?  Not likely.  Inspiring them to do something different?  Maybe but that may just be to ignore any information or support because it all starts to feel like an attack.  I’m not talking about guilt here (though wishing guilt on people is just nasty) but rather intentionally belittling, mocking, and dismissing others in order to induce shame and build a false sense of superiority.  Guilt is one’s own feeling and sense of grief over perceived wrongdoing (sometimes legit, other times not) so believing that what they did was wrong, shame is one’s own feeling and sense of grief over their personal ability of perceived wrongdoing (sometimes legit, other times not) so believing that who they are is wrong. Shaming is intentionally trying to make someone not only feel guilt but to internalize it as believing that somehow they are bad/lazy/stupid/unloving/pathetic/unloveable/worthless as a result.  Ultimately, shaming comes from a desire to see someone feel bad about themselves.

It’s disgusting.  And it doesn’t work to motivate people to change their actions.  It isn’t education, it isn’t support, it is really nothing more than abuse.

I’ve shared before that I’m not really passionate about breastfeeding.  I mean, I am, but I’m not actually passionate about breastfeeding.  What I am passionate about is people and personally, I don’t see how you can actually be passionate about breastfeeding but not be passionate about people.  To do so would mean that you care less about people than you do about being heard as right.  Do you know what happens with that kind of passion?  It hurts people and detracts from the message you are trying to promote.  That kind of passion becomes easy to dismiss at best, damaging at worst.

The Leaky Boob isn’t about that kind of passion.  The information, images, stories, and interactions we share are meant to inspire and encourage people. While we can’t control nor are we responsible for the emotions of others, we don’t intentionally try to manipulate others’ feelings.  Underlying everything at TLB is respect and the belief that with genuine support and information, women are perfectly capable as mothers to make the best decisions for their families based on the information and resources available to them in their individual circumstances.  We don’t assume to know what that looks like for anyone.

So it was with horror that we discovered an image of one of our own volunteer admins originally shared on The Leaky Boob Facebook page and then on theleakyboob.com had been turned into a vehicle intended to shame, belittle, and attack certain mothers.  An image that was shared to inspire and encourage, to give someone the platform to share their own personal story and breastfeeding journey, had been used as a vile expression of superiority intended to hurt others.  Words were applied to this image communicating the very opposite of what TLB and Serena, the woman pictured, stand for as a community.  Without permission, Serena’s image was used to spread a message she in no way condones aligning her with those that would bully others.

This message is not approved TAP serena

I’m not going to lie, I am incensed.  For my friend, for my community, and for those hurt by this image, I am outraged. Disgusted.

Mean people suck.  My friend Suzie at the Fearless Formula Feeder breaks it down beautifully.

The person that perverted this image stole Serena’s photo and manipulated it in order to send a shaming message to formula feeders.  In a statement to me Serena expressed that she felt violated and used.  Not only that, but as a woman that has both breastfed and formula fed, Serena’s own image was used to attack a group of women to which she belongs as well.

When I opened FB this morning to a message from a concerned friend with a link to this meme I was shocked. Shocked that MY photo, a photo of a tender moment, could be used in such a hateful, disparaging way. To see that it was posted 28 weeks ago only makes it worse. All this time MY photo has been circulating with such a hurtful message, a message that I would NEVER propagate. Belittling or negating someone else’s breastfeeding issues or choices is not beneficial for anyone. As mothers we all do what we believe is best for our children. Even though our opinions may differ due to choice or circumstance. I am not a breastfeeding martyr, I have used formula in conjunction with breastfeeding when needed. What was important was that I was able to mother my son in the way I wanted to, due to the SUPPORT I received. Support is something that was lacking in the making of this meme. I do not condone the use of my photo in this way.  ~Serena Tremblay

 

As far as we can tell, the image was originally posted to The Alpha Parent’s Pinterest board “Dear Formula Feeder,” don’t go check it out, it is a virtual collection of putrid hate filled shaming refuse.  Nobody needs to see that.  There has been no response to our two email attempts requesting the image be removed and destroyed (and never shared again) and so Serena has followed Pinterest guidelines to have the graphic removed.  We have tried to utilize respectful means and the proper channels to have this image removed and do believe that Pinterest will not allow the copyright violation to remain.  Still, simply having that image erased from Pinterest won’t be enough.  It has been seen and discussed in some circles, it’s message cutting and hurting and not helping anyone.  The Leaky Boob stands behind Serena that this graphic is not a message we condone.   The Leaky Boob, including Serena and all the volunteer admins hold to a very different set of values:

TLB creed

It is rare that I single anybody out for how they run their own website and social media presence.  I respect that there are different styles and a variety of people are attracted to those style distinctives.  I don’t have to get it or agree.  But this has gone too far.  Stealing an image and putting words to it that are directly opposed to the intent of the owner of the photo.  Standing against the oppression of others is part of my passion for people, so I have raised my voice to express concern and even outrage when I have seen supposed breastfeeding advocates resort to shaming in general and specifically with this same offender.  It is not the first time I have vocally opposed messages coming from The Alpha Parent and I agree with Amy West’s assessment of TAP’s “brand” of support.  This time though a line has been crossed and while I have long not tolerated any abusive messages in the name of “supporting breastfeeding” within The Leaky Boob community, now I am taking stand against any and all expressions of shaming in the name of breastfeeding advocacy outside of my own little space.

Why am I sharing this with you?  What can you do about it?  If you’re reading this and have made it this far you probably care at least a little about how babies are fed, the information moms receive, have an interest in parenting support, or at the very least watch online interactions with a passing interest.  To those ends then, consider how you are promoting shaming messages targeting others.  Here are some simple steps you can take to not contribute to the type of interactions that do nothing to make our world a better place.

  1. Don’t share or spread memes that mock, belittle, or promote the shaming of anyone.  This isn’t just a breastfeeding/formula feeding issue.  This is a human issue.
  2. Before you use an image, be sure you have permission and don’t create memes and graphics that mock, belittle, or promote the shaming of anyone.
  3. Question every image you see and the message attached with it, particularly online.  Everything may not be what it seems.
  4. If you “like” or follow any personality that regularly engages in such messaging, unlike and unfollow them.  Take away their audience and don’t align yourself with the hate they are communicating.
  5. NEVER share materials, even if they seem supportive, from a source that you can not verify as free of mocking, belittling, or the promotion of shaming.  Many of the breastfeeding support and education sources I follow share materials from The Alpha Parent because some of her content, particularly her older stuff, is pretty decent.  Every time I see one of these resources share content from her I cringe, it’s like leading lambs to the slaughter.  I loved her “anatomy of the toddler brain” post from a while back but there is no way I’ll share that with my audience, it would be irresponsible of me to do so.  Share responsibly.
  6. Ignore them.  It is tempting to take a stand and engage in heated arguments with those that thrive on putting down others, particularly online, but truth be told, ignoring them is far more effective in shutting them up.  Don’t engage.
  7. Consistently share and interact with messages that promote true support and eventually the attraction of the fight will fade.  Offer supportive support and if you find you are tempted to go on the attack, ask yourself why and what insecurities could be motivating you to do so.

I won’t be linking to The Alpha Parent here but I do encourage you to look through your social media channels and remove The Alpha Parent from your playlist if she is there.  My intent is not to shame The Alpha Parent or cause her any harm and I hope that she finds her own happiness that doesn’t depend on a false sense of superiority.  I hope we all can.

 

 

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Why I am not passionate about breastfeeding

by Jessica Martin-Weber
TLB creed

“How did you become so passionate about breastfeeding?”

This question comes up often.  For a while I would hem and haw an answer, stringing together some words that were an attempt at sounding intelligent and reasonable as to why I would have created and continue to run The Leaky Boob.  Awkward and fumbling, I hoped it covered the truth.

I’m not passionate about breastfeeding.

My second daughter received formula starting at 4.5 months and by 5 months was completely formula fed.  The reasons are hardly the point of me sharing this fact.  It was, we believed, the right thing for our family at the time and, like these things are want to be, complicated.

I never felt guilty about it, never even thought about feeling guilty about it.  It just was.  I’d like to say she was perfectly healthy and no issues what so ever but that wasn’t our experience.  Between reflux that took months to resolve, constipation issues that took just as long and several expensive experiments, and then RSV, pneumonia, strep throat, multiple ear infections, and more than I care to recount, her first year was more difficult than I had ever anticipated.  Formula didn’t make it better, much it was exasperated by formula.  Still, through all that, guilt about stopping breastfeeding never occurred to me.  Nor did anger, bitterness, or even hurt.  I was sad, disappointed that it didn’t work for us but that didn’t last long and there wasn’t really anything I could do about it.  Fighting like hell to be able to breastfeed had taken a toll and I was confident that giving it up was actually better for my daughter and I by that point.

I was right.

Later, when I shared my story with someone they comforted me, telling me dealing with that guilt must have been hard.  Strange, I thought, why would I feel guilty?  In that moment and many moments later as I reflected on the guilt I didn’t have, my confidence in my parenting and decision making began to erode a bit.  Already struggling with postpartum depression, this little chink in the foundation of my parenting led to me believing that I was not fit to be a mother.  It wasn’t this person’s fault but I entered a place of shadows and shame, afraid that I couldn’t trust myself to make decisions for my children.

Time, therapy, medication, and some really good friends supporting me by encouraging me to see that I was not, in fact, a horrible mother, helped me turn things around.  Through that though, I began to understand something far more important than breastmilk or formula: confidence isn’t being right, confidence is more than believing in yourself to do the right thing, confidence is having peace with who you are even when you make mistakes.  With my confidence growing again, I moved forward with my husband, embracing that doing the right thing for our family wouldn’t always be an issue of black and white, A and B, or left and right, but rather a sensitivity for all parties involved doing the best we could with whatever circumstances we would face with whatever resources, information, and understanding we had available at the time.

My next baby was breastfed, up until 18 months we had an easy, simple breastfeeding relationship that working full time and caring for 2 other children only complimented, never hindered.  Weaning with her came unexpectedly when the single most difficult and devastating parenting experience we have encountered to date hit us: the sexual abuse of our two eldest by a very dear friend.

It was tempting to unravel in that time and in many ways I did.  But our daughters needed me.  Faking it often, I attempted confidence even as I asked how could I let this happen, how could I not see the signs, how could I… have failed so badly?

More time, therapy, and really incredible friends supporting us, we got through the investigation, trial, and agonizing fragmentation of our family.  Each step was in uncharted and sometimes lonely waters with swells of failure sweeping over me.  There was grief, pain, hurt, bitterness, doubt, and anger, so much anger.  My confidence wavered and so did my husband’s.  We considered a cabin in Montana and cutting off the outside world.

Our daughters didn’t need Montana though, they didn’t need to go off the grid and be isolated.  What our daughters needed most was someone, something to be a safe landing place for them.  That was us.  There was never a moment that I was sure we were doing everything right as we walked the path in search of justice and healing and there were plenty of people telling us how we should be doing it or how we were doing it wrong.  In the midst of the pain, grief, and anger, the truth we had learned before became an anchor along with our faith and love: confidence is having peace with who you are even when you make mistakes.  Our daughters needed us to have confidence to help them land softly.  There was space for us to be honest about our insecurities and fear but the greatest gift we could give our children along with our love was to have peace in our ability to love them well even through this.

Today, 9 years later, I know my husband and I are not perfect parents, we’ve made choices that we would change if we were to have the chance to make them again.  Maybe I would fight harder to be able to breastfeed my second baby longer.  Maybe I would have feed us all with better food.  Maybe I would have done things differently in our relationship with our daughters’ attacker.  Maybe I would handle the abuse another way.  Maybe.  I don’t really know.  But I do know that having peace in who we are, holding on to peace even as it shreds in my hands pounded by guilt, bitterness, and anger, helped our daughters find peace in who they are.  Together, we found healing.

Any more when I am asked why I’m so passionate about breastfeeding I tell the asker the truth: it’s not breastfeeding I’m passionate about.  I support moms in breastfeeding because of the gift of confidence breastfeeding can be.  Maybe it won’t be for everyone but for many it is, it was for me and so this is one way I can offer support.  The science and relationship bonding are compelling on their own but they aren’t why I talk about breastfeeding so much.  By not apologizing for our bodies, not suppressing our bodies, and having peace in who we are and how we are can help mothers find the confidence they are going to need for the really tough parts of parenting.  Feeding their children, be it breastmilk or formula, is one of the very first steps all parents must take, undermining their confidence there is insidious and damaging.  People that are confident are more free to love, learn, and live with joy.  Babies with confident parents have a place to land softly no matter what life throws at them.  I’m not passionate about breastfeeding, I never have been.  People are my passion.  People start out as babies.  Babies are cared for by parents.  Parents are people.

This may not make me popular in some circles, I don’t mind.  But I believe that having a hurt, angry, bitter mother struggling with their own confidence and ability to parent is far, far worse than feeding a baby formula could ever be.  I think breastmilk is great but I think caring for people is even greater.  The benefits of confident parenting far outweigh the risks.

I would never tell a woman, or anyone, what to do with their body nor what to do with their child.  Respecting their ability and responsibility in making the right decision for themselves and their family based on the circumstances they face with the information and resources available to them at that time means I don’t know what they should do.  All I can do is offer support, information, and encourage them to embrace their confidence and move forward with peace.

This is why at The Leaky Boob we believe:

Feed the baby, care for the mother, support the family.

But if you need some help or support to feed your baby how you want: we are here.

If you need help with how to correctly mix and prepare a formula bottle: we are here.

If you need help with breastfeeding: we are here.

If you need help going back to work and continuing to breastfeed: we are here.

If you need help weaning (at any age): we are here.

If you need help starting solids: we are here.

If you just want to talk: we are here.

 

Walk in confidence, live with peace, land softly.

 

Community.  Support.  TLB.

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No Right Way- Sonnets of the tired mom

by the admins of The Leaky [email protected]@b.  There are 7 of us admins here and none of us have made the exact same decisions in all aspects of our parenting and that is okay. Each parent is going to make decisions with the knowledge that they has at the time that works best for their family.  This sonnet is dedicated to those who have judged, from all of us who have felt judged.
This post made possible in part by the generous sponsorship of Boba, makers of the Boba baby carrier.

judging moms

How could you judge me?  Let me count the ways.

You could judge me to the playground, the grocery store and dance studio too

You could judge me for not being as put together as you

For how I feed my children: organic or not, frozen, fresh or fried

Homemade or store-bought, you can judge how I tried

How my breasts do or don’t leak, weaning, and where my child sleeps

How I catch their poop and if my child ever weeps

The birthing room, soccer field, and selected books

For screen time you can give me funny looks

Judge me for the guilt I feel and that which I don’t

Lay it on because my heart won’t give up hope

For the times I lost my cool

And the way my child drools

Don’t forget to judge for school

I doubt you can judge me more harsh than I

Go ahead, let your criticisms fly

How I long to be parent enough

Not alone and no need to bluff

Hitting walls and ceilings and poop to fans

Getting in and missing out on all the right brands

The car seat, yoga pants, if my child wants to hold my hand

All I forgot; registration, shoes, toilet paper, and hairnets

Being late and probably too much internets

The number of kids, the mess that is my house

You can judge the spit up smeared on my blouse

From your glass house the ways to judge are many

It will not change my loving any

Working out, working at all

Or staying home, you can clap when I fall

If judging me helps you feel strong

Feel free to do it all day long.

Your words and thoughts will not damage my will

Flawed though I am, my children know I love them still.

Growing always, I will be

Along this path of parenting.

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A Translation Guide for Navigating the Terrain Between Breastfeeders and Formula-Feeders

Talking about breastmilk or formula can be difficult to navigate with a loose, slippery, and uneven terrain.  One second you think you have sure-footing and the next you’re on your butt.

I’m not going to deny that hurtful phrases come from breastfeeding supporters, occasionally in the form of personal attacks, and if you’ve personally experienced that, I’m truly sorry.  Please know that most of us just want to get information out there, encourage others and want to see babies fed.  Including me.

More often I see what are truly meant as innocuous statements of information and education that are simply misunderstood.  All of us experience life through a variety of personal filters and we often have sensitive areas that automatically put us on our guard and we may take things as a personal attack when that’s hardly the intent.  When it comes to feeding babies all those devoted moms doing their best have some serious passion.

An article is released sharing the findings of a new study that revealing some new findings about breastmilk or there may be some issues with formula and hundreds of comments pour in with things like “formula is the same thing, really and all the breastfed kids I know are sick all the time but my formula fed kids have genius IQs and are never sick” or “you know, not everyone can breastfeed so I guess I’m a bad mom because my breasts just didn’t work.”  To add fuel to the fire there are the comments that say things like “See, this is why I’m so glad I gave my babies the best and breastfed.”  And really, what does saying something like that do for anyone?  Heaven forbid it be an article on a formula recall and the “so glad I breastfeed, breastmilk is never recalled” comments start flooding Facebook newsfeeds and loading the comments section on blogs and articles.  Nothing like rubbing someone’s face in their scary circumstances and flaunting “sucks to be you!”  If we’re not careful we cross the line from passionate advocacy into plain ol’ bullying.

Then there’s the mom celebrating her success in breastfeeding, sharing “So excited we’ve made it to 6 months without even one drop of formula!  GO BOOBIE MILK!  WOOT!”  In that moment that mom is inviting everyone to a party at her house because she’s truly excited about her accomplishment.  But just as sure as she’s about to pop the cork on that sparkling grape juice to pour a round for everyone someone says something like “I don’t know why everyone has to be so down on formula, it makes moms that use it feel bad.”

They probably don’t mean to be a Debbie Downer and they don’t intend to dismiss the celebration of that mom (or maybe they do, I can’t really say) but stirring in their internal narrative of parenting confidence are insecurities on this issue, perhaps closer to the surface than they realized.  Instead of being able to celebrate with that mom, they are having to deal with their own less than happy feelings and defend, at least to themselves, their reality.

Thankfully, most of the time people can just say some encouraging and supportive words.  Once in a while, far more often than I’d like, the communication deteriorates.  Quickly.  As though we’re trying to have an important conversation but lack the skills.  Like we’re speaking different languages.

Maybe we need an interpreter?  What follows is my light-hearted attempt at some translations to help us navigate these slippery slopes.

 

It’s not a put down on formula feeding mothers when breastfeeding advocates say:

 

“Breastfeeding is the normal way to feed a baby.”

What we don’t mean:  “Formula feeding moms are less of a mother and less than normal.”  We know that’s not true.  We also know that breastfeeding isn’t (yet) accepted as normal in society.  We certainly don’t mean that it is always easy or even possible for every mom.  Or that formula feeding moms don’t deserve to be treated as normal, loving, caring mothers because we know they are normal, loving, caring mothers.  Nope, none of those things are what we mean.

What we do mean:  Breastfeeding is the biologically normal way to feed a baby.  A mother’s body is programmed to breastfeed and a newborn baby is programmed TO breastfeed.  Meaning that, barring any physical difficulties, babies are born ready to breastfeed; the delivery of the placenta signals the mother’s breasts to produce milk to feed, the mother’s body biologically responds to birth by producing milk, and human milk is (usually) the perfectly formulated food biologically for a human baby.

 

“I’m proud to breastfeed.”

We don’t mean:  “I’m better than a formula feeding mom.”  Just like being proud to be a mother isn’t a put down to those aren’t mothers, so being proud of breastfeeding isn’t a put down to those that don’t breastfeed.

We do mean:  Breastfeeding is important to us and sometimes it’s hard and comes with recognized challenges.  We’re celebrating our accomplishment of something we value as important for ourselves.  We’re also recognizing that there is a lot in our society that sabotages moms that want to breastfeed and combating that can be challenging.

 

“I love the bond I have with my baby with breastfeeding.”

We don’t mean:  “Moms that don’t breastfeed aren’t as connected to their babies.”  Feeding a baby is a deep connection no matter how it’s done and is just one way parents bond with their babies.  Most of us know moms that formula-fed and are incredibly bonded to their children and don’t doubt for a second that formula-feeding moms deeply love their children.

We do mean:  This is something we consider special and helps us feel connected to our child.  That, to us, breastfeeding has a deep feeling of interconnection that goes beyond something we can explain but we try even thought words fail us.  Feeding our babies with our milk and at our breasts is one way we feel deeply bonded to our babies.

 

“I’m so glad I’ve never had to give my baby formula” or “I’m so glad she’s not had 1 drop of formula.”

We don’t mean:  “Formula feeding moms are lazy or giving their babies poison.”  Nope, it’s not a commentary on what someone else does.  We’re not saying that somehow formula feeding moms should be ashamed of giving their babies formula or that never giving a baby formula is some dividing line between the good moms and the bad moms.

We do mean:  Like being proud of breastfeeding, not giving their baby formula just feels like a personal accomplishment.  It is in no way a reflection of our opinion of anyone else’s choice or situation, merely an acknowledgment of a personal goal.

 

“Breastfeeding is beautiful!”

We don’t mean:  “It’s perfectly beautiful all the time.”  Finding something beautiful doesn’t mean it’s easy or right for everyone and it doesn’t even mean we always enjoy the experience.

We do mean:  Not only do we NOT find it gross, we also think it is special, something wonderful, and to be celebrated.  It is more than nutrition to us and is a beautiful experience we treasure even though it has plenty of challenges along the way.  We also know that not everyone agrees with us, that’s part of why we say it though so we can hope to change negative cultural attitudes toward breastfeeding.

 

“Breast is best!”

We don’t mean:  “The moms that breastfeed are the best moms and the moms that don’t are just ok or bad.”  That’s not it at all.  In fact, this slogan came first from formula companies when they were forced to acknowledge that breastmilk was a superior product to formula.  They had to acknowledge that but had to find a way that could make formula sound normal and breastfeeding to sound like it was a parenting “extra,” an optional choice.

We do mean:  Breast milk is the best food choice available for a baby and young child.  Personally, I don’t care for this statement myself (you can find more on that here) but I know when people say it they aren’t intending anything other than their enthusiasm for breastfeeding and stating a simple fact: breast milk is good for babies.  It’s not a put down towards anyone.

 

“I feel sorry for babies that aren’t breastfed.”

We don’t mean:  “Those kids are just so screwed.”  This comment makes me uncomfortable, I don’t like it.  But I understand where it’s coming from and why it’s said.  Those of us that breastfeed see the joy and delight our own children have in the experience, how they love breastfeeding.  We are completely convinced it is special for both them and ourselves in a purely innocent, sweet way.  While it can be very close to a put down, I don’t believe it usually is intended as such and we don’t actually full on pity children that didn’t get to breastfeed but rather mourn the loss of an experience we consider special.

We do mean:  This is an awkward but genuine expression of sadness for those missing out on something we feel is so special.  Should it be said?  I don’t think so.  But if it is I hope formula-feeding moms can understand it is most likely only because the speaker/writer truly believes every child should get to have the marvelous experience her own enjoyed so much.

 

“There need to be strict regulations regarding the manufacturing and marketing of formula.”

We don’t mean:  “Formula-feeding parents are gullible and fall for the marketing of poisonous formula.”  Voicing the view point that there need to be standards in how formula is marketed and that there should be strict regulations for formula as a product isn’t a reflection on the parents at all.  It may reflect a cynical distrust that formula manufactures have anything other than a bottom line on their mind (Unsupportive Support- For a Profit).  Ultimately though, those of us that believe that the manufacturing and marketing of artificial breastmilk substitutes in infant and toddler nutrition believe so for the good of the children’ receiving the product.

We do mean:  Even if our children don’t receive formula, the children that do are worth higher standards of excellence.  We demand transparency and better regulations for artificial breastmilk substitutes manufacturing for the babies that need it. Formula is necessary, the health of many children depend on it being manufactured with integrity.

 

Before you find yourself careening down a conversation on your butt, try to remember that most people aren’t trying to start something and those that are probably aren’t worth your time.  As a breastfeeding mother, I promise, I’m not trying to push formula feeding parents down.  We’re all just carefully trying to pick our way over the rocks, slippery spots, and potential jabs to enjoy the view life has to offer and with a little bit of sensitivity and understanding going both ways, we can all offer a hand to each other in spite of our differences.

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Breastfeeding and biting- mistakes, surviving, and what I’ve learned

After working out how this whole breastfeeding thing works, most breastfeeding dyads settle into a sweet, easy breastfeeding relationship.  Mutually satisfying and safe, mom and baby usually find comfort in the breastfeeding journey they share.  And then one day, SNAP!  Or maybe CLAAAAAAAAAAAAAMP!  Instead of the wood nymph, rainbow farting unicorns breastfeeding experience, you’ve got a surprisingly powerful yet small jaw with or without teeth gripping your nipple, a sick feeling in your stomach, and a barely stifled screech of pain.

A regular concern and related questions we see on The Leaky Boob Facebook page is dealing with biting.  It’s scary, putting your breast into another person’s mouth and hoping they don’t decide to chomp down.  Particularly when that person doesn’t understand why that would be a bad thing or even that it would cause you pain. In my own breastfeeding journey I have had plenty of biting babies.  I’ve examined my breast with deep teeth marks, red and throbbing from clamped jaws, and had tears sting my eyes as I gasped for breath when my nursling has decided to go at my boob as if it was a steak.  I’ve even had blood drawn and the skin broken.  Yep, I’ve been bitten and yep, it hurts, and yep, I’ve lived to tell about it.

The truth is, bite happen.  Er, make that bites happen.

With my very first nursling, 13 years ago, I acted on the advice to flick my baby on the cheek when she bit me. At first I couldn’t do it and just yelped and told Earth Baby no bite. That didn’t work. She bit me only a few more times but the last time I was frustrated and fed-up and went with what I had been told to do: flick her on the cheek and tell her no. Her face immediately reflected the confusion and betrayal she felt, up to that point I had never intentionally hurt her and she had no idea what she did to deserve such treatment. Neither did I.  As she wailed and refused to nurse I knew that I should have trusted my instincts to not hurt my baby. She never nursed again, that traumatic experience led to a nursing strike that led to weaning at 10 months. My sensitive little girl just couldn’t trust me.  I pumped for another two months in order to reach my goal of a year but Earth Baby never accepted my breast again.

So what’s a mom to do?  Fearing a nursing relationship with a potential piranha could be enough to discourage anyone from breastfeeding.  It’s no wonder that many women decide they are going to breastfeed only until the first time baby bites or teeth come in and then that’s it.  All or nothing.  Stop or be bit or worse, injure your own child to stop them from biting. It doesn’t have to be that way though.  For starters, why borrow trouble?  Not all babies bite and some that do don’t do so roughly so it’s possible that you’ll never even experience a piranha on the boob.  Secondly, there are ways to handle biting should you have a nursling that wants to sink their teeth into something, namely, you.  It doesn’t have to be the end, in fact, it can actually be the beginning of the give and take that all relationships eventually need to develop.  Working through biting can strengthen your bond, give you confidence as a mother, and give you and your nursling a new dimension to your relationship.  Like all hard times, it’s worth working through.

But how?  How do you work through it?  What do you do if you fear feeding your little one because of the possible nip or down right full on chomp?  There may not be one simple strategy for everyone but asking other moms that have been there what worked for them is a great place to start.  Seeking the advice of a professional lactation consultant is another.  I did both and have compiled the suggestions and experiences here, browse through and see what you think might work for you.

It also helps to understand why a baby or toddler might bite in the first place.  It is important to understand they are not biting to be mean or malicious, they don’t even understand that concept.  In fact, they don’t understand that biting even hurts until we teach them.  Unfortunately for mom, our natural response to hollar ouch may not teach baby that it hurts but rather that biting gets a funny reaction from mom.  Others may be frightened by moms initial reaction and require comforting or even refuse the breast entirely for a time being afraid of another outburst.  Controlling our response, admittedly difficult to do, and utilizing other strategies may be more effective and less traumatizing for both mom and baby.  Remember, babies and toddlers don’t bite to be mean and if you can, identifying the reason they are biting can help you figure out how to respond.

Reasons a baby or toddler may bite while breastfeeding and tools to stop it

Teeth are beginning to move and cut through the gum.  This hurts, the most painful time being before the teeth actually erupt.  Babies figure out pretty quickly that counter pressure helps relieve some of that discomfort and so they chew fingers, teething rings, corners of a blanket, anything they can find.  Including your boob.  Offer teething options, try comfort measures before putting them to the breast, be sure it’s feeding they want and not chewing time they are looking for, and pay close attention to their behavior at the breast.  Often, biting can be headed off before it even happens.

Bored and all done feeding.  This happens at the end of the feeding.  Being all done but not necessarily ready to move on, your baby or toddler may bite out of distraction and boredom.  Since they aren’t requiring milk any more, a lazy latch replaces an effective and safe no-biting latch and bam, you get bit.  Pay attention to changes of their jaw and tongue to stop the session before they bite.  Most babies will have a change in their sucking patterns once they’re really done feeding.  Slowing down, head shaking, jaw tension, looking around, falling asleep, etc. can all be signs that they’re actually done.  Break latch and move on to cuddles and hopefully you’ll avoid being bitten.

Not opening wide enough or needing to adjust latch.  In this case they are hungry, they want to nurse but as time progresses and changes, such as teeth, happen the latch needs to progress and change.  If the latch isn’t wide enough a baby or toddler is likely to bite.  This usually happens near the beginning of the feeding.  Unlatching and readjusting their latch, showing them what you want them to do by modeling a wide open mouth with tongue forward, and reminding them gently before each feeding session can help with this.  A different position that causes them to have to open wide to take in the nipple can also make this easier.

Physical limitations can cause biting.  Tongue tie is one example on the baby’s part, over active milk ejection reflex is another on mom’s part.  This is particularly true for younger babies biting or clenching with their jaw.  Seeing an IBCLC is the most effective measure for helping solve these type of biting issues.

Along with boredom, distractions can lead to biting.  Whether they are startled or just curious about what’s going on around them, biting can occur with distractions.  In this case, helping them focus can go a long way in reducing biting, try a teething necklace or something else for them to hold and play with while at the breast.

Saying “hey, look at me!”  Maybe you’re multitasking and they want your attention solely on them.  Biting can be a way of getting your attention on them.  This is probably just a phase, meeting their need for connection with you, make it a priority to look into their eyes, talk with them, caress their head, etc.  Remember, they don’t do this to be mean or demanding, they do it because they legitimately need this time with you, you’re their world!

 

What I do now

I honestly can’t remember if Lolie, my 3rd baby bit me ever but I know The Storyteller (#2), Squiggle Bug (#4), and Smunchie (#5) all did.  Never again did I flick my baby to teach them not to bite, I utilized other strategies using a combination of tools.  Kathleen Huggins’ book The Nursing Mother’s Companion gave me some great tips on dealing with biting and when I find I need reminders I still reach for my trusty breastfeeding resource, I love and use Kathleen’s suggestions.  Heading off biting when possible has been by far the most effective.  If they did bite on the breast I try to break their latch by sliding my pinky into the corner of their mouth along side my nipple.  If, for some reason, that doesn’t work or their grip is too strong for it to work, I pull my baby into my breast which will cause them to let go.  I don’t care for that move personally, it just makes me a little uncomfortable to block their airways if even for just a second which is why I don’t try it first.  However, it is effective and safe and my babies have never seemed to be frightened because of it.  With my younger babies I just make eye contact and say “ouch, no bite please” and offer the breast again, keeping a careful eye out that they’re are indeed interested in continuing the feeding of if the bite because they were done anyway.  Knowing that they have to change their latch to be able to bite and pull their tongue back, I pay attention for any subtle changes and break their latch before they have a chance to bite again.  If they don’t seem to really be interested in continuing the session, we move on to other activities and wait for cues that they are ready to eat again later.  For older babies I sit them up an say “ouch, no bite please” and place them on the floor near by, offering a toy for them to play with.  If they still desire to breastfeed they will let me know and I’m willing to try again, reminding them to open wide (which I demonstrate) and saying “remember, no bite.”  Again, paying close attention for any subtle shifts in their latch, I aim to remove them from the breast before they have a chance to bite.  If there is a second attempt, I repeat telling them no bite and then tell them “all done nursing right now” and move on to our next activity.  Depending on each child’s personality, I may have to repeat this 1-6 times but it rarely is a stage that lasts long.  For me, resorting to tactics such as hair pulling, flicking, or biting back are simply not an option, I can’t intentionally inflict pain on my child, particularly when I know there are other effective options at my disposal.  I never want my child to associate fear being hurt by me, particularly at the breast.  I’m so grateful I found other methods and have been able to successfully end biting without the devastating results Earth Baby and I experienced.

All images used with permission and generously shared by the Leakies on The Leaky [email protected]@b Facebook page.

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What have your experience, positive or painful, been with biting and breastfeeding?  

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Unsupportive Support- other breastfeeders

It’s easy to assume that all other breastfeeding mothers (past and present) and advocates will offer the same, understanding support but sometimes the way they support is actually loading on guilt.  They don’t mean to, perhaps, but in the midst of offering encouragement it can be easy to develop some air of superiority and a “there’s one right way” attitude.  I have seen and heard incredibly educated women that advocate breastfeeding be astonishingly insensitive and judgmental.  That kind of “support” only serves to drive a wedge between those that need help and those that actually have the information and experience to give it.

 

How not to support and how to avoid being unintentionally unsupportive- part 5.

Unsupportive support is…

If she’s having difficulty, saying “It was easy for me, you must be doing something wrong.”

I had someone that was super supportive of me breastfeeding say this to me.  It stuck with me for 6 years, 3 babies.  Any time breastfeeding got challenging I would think I was a failure, what was wrong with me that I couldn’t breastfeed easily?  After all, SHE could and breastfeeding is supposed to be natural.  Eventually I learned that everyone is working with slightly different equipment: different breasts, different nipples, different education and information, different circumstances, different babies with different mouths, different tongues, and different personalities.  Which all ads up to equally valid different experiences.  It doesn’t mean there is something wrong with the mom.  If anything, if you see a mom having a difficult time and breastfeeding was so easy for you, encourage her to seek out real help with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and be her support to keep seeking help until the difficulty is resolved.  You didn’t have a hard time, that’s great, but she is and hearing about how easy it was for you and how you can’t understand why it’s so difficult for her only implies that somehow she’s failing.  It can very well lead to her feeling that maybe she should just accept that failure and give up when really all she may have needed was some real help.  To help keep you from comparing her to you get comfortable with this thought: “Is my story helpful?  If not, shut up.”

Telling her “If you just decide that it’s going to work, it will- make up your mind.”

There is something to approaching a goal with resolve, I’ll give you that.  I hope moms go into breastfeeding feeling confident in their bodies and ready to fight for it if need be.  Statements like this don’t actually help build someone’s confidence though, instead they open the door to self doubt if they encounter problems that they just didn’t try hard enough.  Or they’re a bad mom if they feel like giving up.  And pointing out that someone must not have tried hard enough and couldn’t possibly be a part of the 2% that’s physically not able to breastfeed (someone is though!) is like telling them their challenges were all in their head or they were making up excuses.  If you truly want to build up her confidence, tell her you believe she can do it and you’re there if she ever needs anything, even if it’s just to talk at 2am.  Just please avoid loading a catapult with guilt for her, she can probably do that just fine on her own.  Tell yourself “If you decide to support someone, be nice about it- make up your mind.”

When a breastfeeding mom asks for help and receives responses like “why would you do that?  You shouldn’t do that you should do…”

Whether she’s wanting to wean her 6 week old baby off the breast or introduce solids at 4 months, answer her question, even if you don’t agree with what she’s wanting to do.  THEN provide the information that you find helpful in understanding why maybe making a different decision would be wise.  Words like poison, disgusting, gross when discussing supplementing with formula; or phrases that could dismiss the trouble she’s having like “if you’re doing it right it shouldn’t hurt,” can sound like voices screaming “FAILURE!”  Launching immediately into a lecture as to how she’s making the wrong choice and implying that she’s uneducated isn’t going to make her want to listen.  It will probably make her defensive and look for help elsewhere.  Like from a formula hotline.  It doesn’t matter if you agree with what she wants to do, answer the best that you can and respect her right to make the decisions for her family.  Never say “I would never do that” or “why would you do that?”  Chances are strong that once you do answer her question and then politely share why you made a different choice you’ll find a conversation unfolding that is open to new ideas.  Instead of coming off as a know-it-all going out for the mom of the year award, you’ll be a friend sharing your experience.  Repeat after me: “Just answer the question then share information.”

 

A popular sentiment in “lactivist” circles is “nobody can make you feel guilt, if you feel guilt it’s on your own and you must have a reason to.”  I hate that attitude because as much as I’d like to believe people’s judgment of me can just roll of my back, the truth is it does hurt.  I don’t let it get to me any more but that has taken time and experience and I know that when I’m my most vulnerable it’s easier said than done.  Often I feel activists use the “nobody can make you feel guilt” argument as an excuse to say whatever they want to say and permission to be jerks.  And I think they must not have ever met my mother.

How we share information matters.  Yes, sometimes people will feel guilt over what is really just information.  That guilt comes from their own filters and baggage.  But those sharing the information have a responsibility to watch their tone.  If they communicate judgment and superiority in the process then they are a part of the unsupportive support problem and contribute to the societal sabotage of breastfeeding women.

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