Why I breastfed my baby on TV

 

 

guest post by Jennifer Borget, news reporter for Austin, YNN and blogger at The Baby Making Machine.

 

babymaking mama austin newscast breastfeeding

It’s amazing how something as natural and innate as breastfeeding can be so misunderstood.

I didn’t see breastfeeding growing up. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I began to learn the benefits. I believe there’s a serious gap in awareness and knowledge about breastfeeding, and so many mothers—Especially in the minority community–don’t know what they’re missing.

I work as a news reporter and have a chance to help make an impact. In an effort to bring awareness to breastfeeding, and continue this important discussion, I sat down with two other mothers and conducted an interview with our babies latched-on, on-air.  (See the original segment here.)

It was bold, and something that required quite a bit of discussion and approval from people way above my pay grade, but in the end, it aired, and I was happy with the result.

Providing breast milk to my babies—What I consider to be the best nourishment for my children, hasn’t been a walk in the park.

First, I had to do my own research on the benefits and process. My mother tried to breastfeed me, but said it didn’t work out. I remember helping with my younger sisters formula bottles as I grew up.

All I knew was formula, and we were fine. I didn’t think it would be a big deal if breastfeeding “just didn’t work” for me either.

I took many of my questions to Twitter, and often found myself getting annoyed by self-proclaimed “lactavists” who told me to throw away my emergency can of formula, and seemed to have an answer for every excuse I had for why breastfeeding may not work for me.

At the time I felt like these tweeple were acting like “know it alls” who perceived formula as poison. To this day I’m still a little intimidated by overzealous lactavists, but then again, I wonder if I’ve become one myself.

I started with a goal to breastfeed through maternity leave. I pumped almost every day, multiple times a day. I stored more than 200 ounces of frozen milk to use as an emergency stash after I went back to work. I pumped every day at work, but some days I came up short, and the stash came in handy.

My husband was very supportive, making sure not to feed our daughter right before I left to come home. It was liquid gold we were rationing.

Three months went by, and I set a new goal to breastfeed until my daughter hit six months. That’s a lot of formula money saved—One of my big motivations at the time. Then I set another goal to continue nursing until her first birthday. By the time my daughter turned one, we had survived our own personal hiccups, and made it further breastfeeding than I had ever imagined. I continued to nurse my daughter until she was about 17 months. By then I had learned an immense amount of information about breastfeeding, and found myself on the giving end of breastfeeding support.

The Baby Making Machine

Jennifer and her children on set at her job.

Now, my daughter is three and I have a three-month-old nursing baby boy. I’m excited to talk about breastfeeding with anyone who will listen. I hope I don’t come across pushy. I’m really just excited to share a secret, the secret benefits, convenience, and enjoyment breastfeeding brings, that I didn’t know about when I was about to have my baby. Though they’re not really secrets, I just didn’t know about it at first.  This excitement is what drove me to do a news segment on breastfeeding, and with it being World Breastfeeding Week, there was no better time.

Here in Austin and in other locations around the world, nursing mothers are coming together for latch-on events, and nursing in unison. These events are made to start conversations about breastfeeding and nursing in public. One idea is the more we see women breastfeeding, the more normal it becomes, and the more people can learn about the benefits of breastfeeding. If I had seen women around me breastfeeding while I grew up, maybe I wouldn’t have been so hostile towards women who tried to inform me about it. Maybe then breastfeeding would have never been a question, but an automatic decision.

If I had seen women around me breastfeeding as I grew up...

 

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Have you found yourself becoming more of an advocate for breastfeeding?  How so?  Where you ever hostile towards those that tried to inform and encourage you to breastfeed?  If you’ve changed, what inspired that change?

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Fear and Breastfeeding in Las Vegas

Breastfeeding is not porn, nudity, or obscene The Leaky Boob

Since starting The Leaky Boob 2.5 years ago I have said and photographed things I would never have imagined doing before.  I’ve said things such as “breastfeeding is not about sex, it’s about feeding a baby.”  Nothing like stating the obvious.  Most recently was texting my husband “do you know where that nudie card is I brought back from Vegas?  I need it.”  Yep, I brought a nudie card home from Vegas.

Say “Las Vegas” and most of us conjure up images of slot machines, black jack tables, show girls, stripers, booze, and buffets with obscene quantities of food.  Sex and money seem to flow freely.  Clothing requirements are little more than sequins, triangles, stars, and stilettos for women, the range is a little more diverse for men.

Say “mommy conference” and you probably picture babies in strollers or carriers, baby toys, tennis shoes, snack cups, and a chatty group of women.  Breastmilk and cheerios seem to flow freely.  Clothing requirements range from diapers and onesies or soft outfits in bright colors for the smaller ones in the crowd and something comfortable covered in spit up for the adults.

Say “mommy conference in Las Vegas” and you might get a little confused.

However, as much as it may seem like a collision of 2 very different worlds, the MommyCon conference in Las Vegas hosted at the Flamingo Hotel and Casino was anything but confused.  It was fun, vibrant, and sometimes a little comical (I doubt Vegas has ever seen so many babies in carriers going through their casinos).  The Flamingo Hotel did a great job securing extra cribs for the influx of young guests and the conference area hosted workshops like dancing with your baby and it didn’t even involve a pole.  While there was room for improvement, the host hotel handled the influx of moms and dads with babies and young children well and the juxtaposition wasn’t as weird as I anticipated.  I was thrilled to be there as a speaker and enjoyed my first ever trip to Las Vegas.  It seemed appropriate that I was in Vegas speaking about Sex, Lies, Parenting, and the Rest.  I had a great time with my fellow speakers and meeting the attendees of the event.

I have breastfed 6 children now, in all different settings, sometimes covered and sometimes not.  Over time, however, I stopped covering completely thanks to babies that fought the cover, me realizing that I don’t show much when I feed my baby, and eventually a belief that covering was actually hindering breastfeeding for some women either because they didn’t see others doing it or because they couldn’t navigate breastfeeding in public with a cover.  In all my breastfeeding in public experience, I have never, not once, been asked to cover or leave.  There have been times I thought I received disapproving looks or was shunned for feeding but I’ve never experienced any kind of real negativity about my feeding my baby.  Actually, I’ve experienced several positive and affirming exchanges as I fed my babies in public, more people expressing support than disapproval.  Today I’m experienced and confident when I feed my babies, well practiced and well informed about my baby’s right to eat.  Even now though, when I need to feed my baby in a public setting I will have a moment of anticipatory nervousness as though I expect something to happen.

Flamingo hotel

Feeding Sugarbaby at the Tropical Breezes cafe at the Flamingo in Las Vegas

Except in Vegas at a mommy conference that highlighted breastfeeding and where I was speaking because I created “The Leaky Boob.”  It didn’t even occur to me that someone could have a problem with me breastfeeding there, of all places.

Following my first talk in the morning of Friday, January 4, 2013, I met up with my friend, Sue, who was helping take care of my 8 month old daughter, who I call Sugarbaby, while I spoke.  We decided to have lunch in the Flamingo’s Tropical Breeze Cafe so I could feed my baby and myself before speaking at another session after the break.  Wearing a simple button up shirt and a Rumina Nursingwear tank with Bamboobies breastpads (I may be The Leaky Boob but I didn’t want to leak during my talks), I fed my hungry baby shortly after we were seated while we skimmed the menu.  She was hungry and had missed me so she got down to business pretty quickly and stayed focused.  Our server brought us our drinks and a random cup of coffee neither of us ordered and took our food order.  As we sat joking about the random cup of coffee and waiting for our food (I think he thought I looked like I could use some caffeine), a lovely woman in a suit approached us.  She smiled and asked us how we were then very politely requested that I use a cover, nodding in the general direction of my baby at my breast.

People, I laughed.  I couldn’t help it.  I laughed and asked her to repeat herself.

After confirming that she was indeed asking me to cover while I fed my baby I returned her smile, barely suppressed my laughter, and informed her of my legal right to breastfeed my baby anywhere my baby and I have the right to be, covered or not.  (Do you know the laws where you are?  This helpful resource compiled by You Can Breastfeed Here is a great place to start to find out.)  Her smile waining ever so slightly and her eyes widening ever so noticeably, she gently, though firmly, informed me that I could do whatever I wanted to do but that if I covered I would be making others feel more comfortable as there had been four tables that complained about what I was doing.

I laughed again.  Harder.  “They do know they are in Vegas, right?” I asked her through my laughter.  Because this is what is on the sidewalks and shoved into the hands of those walking on the strip:

Vegas Nudie card

She looked around and I kept looking at her, still chuckling at the irony of this situation.  She knows that just before walking into her cafe I walked past a platform where that very evening, like every night, a woman exposing far more than I was while feeding my baby, dances with moves intending to sexually entice.  She knows that the sidewalks in front of the hotel are littered with photo cards of naked women with tiny stars on their nipples.  She knows that this very hotel advertises a burlesque show featuring breasts (bare), butts, and spread eagle moves on a video that loops endlessly in each guest elevator.  She knows that the very people that complained have seen all that and probably more in the 10 minutes before they sat at their table.  I know she was just trying to do her job.  I know she had no idea that there was actually a law stating I had the right to breastfeed anywhere my baby and I were legally permitted to be.  I know that in her line of work making the customer happy is a delicate balance when one customer may be making another uncomfortable.  I know that in that moment she was wishing I had never walked into her cafe.  I wondered if news coverage of irate breastfeeding moms flashed through her mind.

When she looked back at me I felt sorry for her.  She was probably a mom, I don’t know, but she wasn’t trying to make my life hard, nor was I trying to complicate her job.  In her mind it was simple, I could cover.  In my mind it was simple as well, putting the comfort of others over my child’s right to eat without a blanket on her head just wasn’t ok.  Her smile gone but her face still pleasant she stated again that I could do what I want but it would really help if I covered.  I thanked her and kindly told her that I would continue feeding my baby as I was.

Note that she didn’t yell at me, she never touched my baby or me, she did not call me names, she did not go over to the tables that complained and loudly inform them that I wouldn’t comply, she didn’t ask me to leave, and she didn’t threaten me in any way.

My friend and I laughed once she walked away, we could hardly talk as we shook with laughter.  Jamie Greyson, TheBabyGuyNYC,  joined us for lunch and we all talked about what had just happened.  This was a big deal but I didn’t want to do much about it before giving the hotel and casino the opportunity to make things right.  As I had another session coming up there wasn’t much I could do in the moment but finish feeding my daughter, eat my lunch, and tweet about the irony of the situation.  Jamie and I both shared the story on Twitter, tagged Flamingo, ordered our food, and discussed the entire situation over our meal before heading to my next session.  We all agreed that how I was feeding Sugarbaby at the moment showed far less than the poster outside the cafe and the cards handed out on the Vegas streets.

Vegas showgirl and breastfeeding mom

Poster outside cafe, me feeding Sugarbaby inside cafe.

Here’s where it gets most interesting.  In the 2.5 years I’ve been running The Leaky Boob I have watched how companies handle such fumbles when they receive public scrutiny for harassing a breastfeeding mothers and precious few navigate the rocky terrain well.  That very weekend Hollister Co was facing a national nurse-in protesting their handling of one of their store managers humiliating a Houston woman for breastfeeding in their Galleria store.  Over a week later and the company still hasn’t responded adequately.  I wasn’t sure what to expect from a Las Vegas hotel and casino but was pleasantly surprised to discover tweets from them responding not only to mine and Jamie’s tweets regarding the situation but individual responses to each of our followers that tweeted Flamingo about the situation as well.  It wasn’t long before I had a direct exchange with Flamingo on Twitter, in direct message, over emails, and then a phone call.  The representatives of the Flamingo asked if they could meet with me before I left and they publicly informed Twitter that they would be working with me to make it right.

My day was full of events and meetings so I was unavailable until Saturday, just before I had to leave.  It would have been easy to brush me off on a Saturday but instead Scott Farber Director of Food Operations, met with me personally Saturday morning to apologize, let me know that he had a meeting with his staff on Friday and informed them of Nevada state law permitting a woman to breastfeed her child where ever she has the legal right to be, and instructing his staff that should customers complain about a woman breastfeeding again they would not address the mother but would work with the customers that complained.  Kind and genuine, Scott laughed with me at the irony of being in Vegas and asked to cover.  Scott offered to make it up to me with a free meal and more and was genuinely concerned about how I was after the experience.  He shared that Estella, the manager, was horrified that she had misstepped in saying anything to me and he extended her apology as well as I didn’t have time to meet with her.  We discussed how the Flamingo could better welcome families and some changes that could be made to do so well.  The possibility of me returning to train their staff and sister hotels to consult with them on how to be set apart in Las Vegas as a family friendly destination came up.  These weren’t the actions of a company that wanted to embarrass their customer families, these were the actions of a company that cared to stand apart and understands the value of doing things right.

Yes, the cafe manager should have been aware of the law prior to asking me to cover but it isn’t a well-known law and probably not something they would have even anticipated needing to know.  Now that they are aware, however, they are responding and preparing to not make the same mistake again.  Instead of ignoring or responding heatedly to the situation, the Flamingo has become a model for other companies that find themselves in what could be a PR disaster.  A company that will receive my repeat business because of how well they handled their mistake.

The problem is a simple fix for the historic Las Vegas hotel and casino and they are well on their way to making it right.  The experience reflects more on society as a whole though.  That the most scandalous sight for some Las Vegas visitors was a baby eating is a little mind boggling.  Thankfully, I’m not easily intimidated, am informed on the law, am more than happy to help educate, and in the end I’m glad this experience happened to me because I believe through it The Leaky Boob and the Flamingo hotel and casino can work together to better support breastfeeding moms be they in Las Vegas or on the other side of the world.  If it happened to someone else it could have greatly damaged their breastfeeding relationship or intimidated them to not risk leaving their home setting them up for postpartum depression and extreme isolation.  Hopefully, by raising awareness others can become informed of the laws and their right to feed their baby and more companies will work to educate their employees on how to better support breastfeeding mothers and more and more mothers won’t have to be afraid to breastfeed their babies in Vegas or anywhere else.

Vegas call card compared to breastfeeding

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 The Flamingo Hotel and Casino has asked me for tips and suggestions as to how their staff could handle breastfeeding situations in the future in a way that would be supportive and informed.  

What would be your suggestions?  

What tips would you give the employees that may encounter a breastfeeding pair and possible complaints from other guests?

_______________________________

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12 Weaning Ceremonies


Breastfeeding can be such a sacred time in our lives. While we cherish the breastfeeding journey, it is rare in our culture to commemorate the end of breastfeeding with little more than a note in the baby book. If breastfeeding was important to you, consider celebrating your experiences and remembering this special transition with a weaning ceremony.

Your weaning ceremony can serve multiple purposes. If you choose to involve your child, it can be an event to mark the end of nursing – something that mother and child gently discuss and plan in anticipation of weaning. For mothers and their partners, a weaning ceremony is a way to honor the transition from breastfeeding to nursing beyond the breast, and all of the emotions that accompany that change.

Some children may not benefit from a definite, marked end to the nursing relationship. If a slow, natural end to breastfeeding is more comfortable for your child, you can still hold a quiet ceremony by yourself, with your spouse, or with other mothers who can understand and support you through this transition. Don’t be afraid to mourn the end of breastfeeding – it is a normal and healthy response to this change. But after you’ve given yourself time to mourn, consciously meditate on the joys of mothering a child who has weaned. A weaning ceremony can help you mindfully navigate this change.

Below are 12 weaning ceremony ideas that you can adapt to meet your own needs and those of your nursling. If you have other ceremony ideas, please share them in the comments so I can add them to the list.

    1. Write your nursling a letter. Include anything you’d like to share about your nursing relationship, what this change means to you, your hopes and dreams for them, etc. I found two examples of weaning letters: one at Mothering.com, the other from a Jewish mother at ritualwell.
    2. Anoint yourself with herbs for weaning. Herbs can help with physical discomfort and emotional healing. Kellymom lists several herbs to help decrease milk supply, including sage and peppermint. Earth Mama Angel Baby makes a No More Milk tea that includes some of these herbs. And because you will experience a drop in prolactin levels during weaning, it may also help to prepare yourself with herbal remedies for depression.(1) Herbs to help alleviate depression that are safe to use while breastfeeding include St. Johnís wort, Evening primrose oil, Motherwort, and Blessed thistle.(2)
    3. Write your breastfeeding story. Start with those milky newborn memories – the pursed lips nursing even after they’ve unlatched, sleepy rooting at all hours of the day and night, the newness of life and the awe of continuing to grow your baby with your own body. Continue on through infancy – those milky smiles, dive bombing for your breast, the day your little one first starts babbling or signing in a recognizable way for milk. Write about the joys of breastfeeding past infancy – nursing gymnastics, manners, nursing away every hurt, the special words and phrases you and your nursling share.(3) Share the highs and lows of your nursing experience and the emotions you’ve gone through along the way. Here are two stories to get you started: one at Kellymom, another at La Leche League International.
    4. Throw a weaning party. For little ones who need a celebration to mark the occasion of weaning, consider having an intimate party – just you and your nursling and partner. Make special foods, bake a cake, whatever makes it special for your family. Here is an example of a weaning party.
    5. Write a book. Create a personal book for your child about their breastfeeding journey, their babyhood, and their transition into a “big kid.”
    6. Hold a special ceremony for your nursling.Sometimes breastfeeding pairs need to wean when neither mama nor child is ready. In these situations, a special ceremony may help mark the day of weaning, helping the child clearly see the end of nursing while beginning the grieving process for both in a bittersweet way.Jessica of The Leaky B@@b was pregnant, gaining very little weight, and felt pressured by her care providers to wean. To help give closure to her 21 month old nursling, Jessica, her husband, and the big sisters all wrote a special note for the nursling. After eating a special meal together, the family gathered around a candle. Jessica invited her nursling to climb into her lap for one last nursing session. As her nursling snuggled in, the family read their letters to the child. They also gave her several sweet gifts. When she was finished nursing, she blew out the candle.

      While your weaning ceremony will be memorable and sweet, be prepared for nurslings to continue to ask to nurse. They simply do not understand what it means to wean forever, and you will very likely have to soothe many tears in the weeks to come (as Jessica did).

    7. Give yourself (and/or your child) a gift. Find something special that represents this transition. I highly recommend Hollyday Designs breastmilk jewelry – it is beautiful.
    8. Create a breastfeeding scrapbook. Gather pictures and/or video of you and your little one snuggling and nursing and compile them into a keepsake scrapbook (a virtual one or one that you can hold).
    9. Go on a date. Take your nursling somewhere special. Make it an event that represents how “grown up” they are.
    10. Tell your child their nursing story. Regardless of whether you write it down, tell your little one about your nursing journey as you’ve lived it. Telling them this story over the years will help normalize breastfeeding for them, and it will help you both retain sweet memories from their nursing years.
    11. Choose a special time to be together. If you or your little one are missing a regular nursing time, find something special you can do together every day at that time instead. Think about snuggling, reading, yoga, meditation, art, or some other activity you will both enjoy. For as long as you need to throughout and after the weaning process, take a few moments at the beginning of your special time to check in with yourself and truly be present with your child.
    12. Design your own ritual.Several cultures and religions have weaning ceremonies. Research them and design a ceremony that will be meaningful to your family. Here are a few resources to get you started:

Did you do something to mark the end of your breastfeeding relationship? Please share in the comments.

Footnotes:
(1) From Kellymom: “Prolactin, the hormone that stimulates milk production, also brings with it a feeling of well-being, calmness and relaxation. The faster the weaning process the more abrupt the shift in hormone levels, and the more likely that you will experience adverse effects.”
(2) Safe herb list found here. It also says that St. Johnís wort should not be taken in conjunction with any other depression medication.
(3) And if you’d like to share your nursing past infancy story, consider submitting it to my series. See my Contributor Guidelines page for more details.

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Dionna is a lawyer turned work at home mama of two amazing kids, Kieran and Ailia. You can normally find Dionna over at Code Name: Mama where she shares information, resources, and her thoughts on natural parenting and life with little ones. Dionna is also cofounder of Natural Parents Network and NursingFreedom.org, and author of For My Children: A Mother’s Journal of Memories, Wishes, and Wisdom.
Connect with Dionna on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest!

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Babymooning- 12 signs you are the mother of a breastfeeding newborn

I’m babymooning.  Sugarbaby and I are doing very well, now 12 days postpartum.  I’ve been trying very hard to take it easy and respect this postpartum time for myself and it has been paying off.  Over the last almost 2 weeks I’ve been simply enjoying my baby, my family, and resting.  Cherishing this newborn time that goes too fast has been my priority.
I wanted to share some observations I’ve made during my babymoon, maybe you can relate and I’m sure you can add some of your own.
You know you’re the mom of a breastfeeding newborn when…
  1. You finally get to take a shower and within 10 minute of getting out you already have leaked milk all over your clean shirt.
  2. As much as you like the longer, thicker hair you grew during pregnancy, hacking it off with a dull pair of scissors is starting to sound like a good plan between the frequency of showers you get, the death-like grip of a tiny handful of hair your baby is capable of, cleaning spit up out of it several times a day, and the nagging fear of a hair tourniquet.
  3. You wonder why you didn’t invest in more yoga pants and are certain you will never wear blue jeans again.
  4. Your favorite food is: “anything someone else made.”
  5. Any time someone hugs you any way but with a side hug you wince.
  6. The old adage “never wake a sleeping baby” doesn’t apply when your boobs are rock hard boulders crushing your chest.  Yes, you will wake your baby for some relief.
  7. You wish you had jedi powers for every time you forget to grab a drink of water before you sit down to breastfeed… again.
  8. “Sleep when baby sleeps” seems like a good plan but you wonder when you’d get to pee or brush your teeth or eat.  Then you realize that sleep trumps everything else and decide you’ll pee, brush your teeth, and eat while holding your baby.
  9. Something seems really funny and you laugh hysterically only to forget what was so funny 5 minutes later.
  10. Shirts are “clean” unless the smell is too bad or there is obvious spit-up or poop on them, dried milk leaks don’t count as “dirty.”
  11. The stash of reusable breastpads that seemed so impressive before giving birth is used up in one day after your milk comes in.
  12. You’d rather sniff your baby’s head snuggled on your chest than even your favorite flower any day.

The Leakies on The Leaky Boob Facebook page had plenty more here and I hope you’ll add your own in the comments below.  Now back to my baby head sniffing!

 

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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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Nipple confusion, bottles, and alternative feeding options

On January 17, 2012 in the United States, Medela, best known for their pumps, launched their latest “feeding innovation”, the Calma.  The Calma is a bottle that seeks to eliminate nipple confusion and flow preference by making a bottle fed baby work for its milk, similar to how your little one must compress and suck at your breast to get milk out.  According to Medela, this “supports an easy transition from the breast to the teat and back.”

As a registered International board certified lactation consultant, I am very skeptical of these claims.

I have often heard that nipple confusion is a myth, foisted on mothers to keep them stuck to their brand new babies, to keep them from leaving the house, to subjugate us all.  This is simply not true.  Nipple confusion happens.  I have seen numerous cases of it in my practice.  Babies become nipple confused for three reasons – flow preference, difference in movements, and difference in feel.  Medela has the right idea on part of the equation.  Babies that are given a lot of bottles in the early period can decide that it’s not that fun to work a breast when this plastic thingy is way easier.  Most bottles, even the slowest flowing, flow faster than milk from a breast.  However, your baby also moves their mouth differently to get the milk from a bottle than from a breast.  The jaw and tongue movements are not even close to the same, and trying to transfer the movements from one to another can frustrate and upset your baby.  After all, if your baby is new, this whole eating thing is new, too.  Why complicate it?  There’s a bonus too: a baby nursing at the breast will develop their mouth in a way that will help with prettier smiles and better speech, too!

The third part of the equation is the different feel.  If you are giving your baby a softer breast and a harder silicone, they may very well like the way that a bottle feels more – especially since that silicone is, again, delivering milk faster and the mouth movements are different.   Medela hasn’t really done anything to cure that.  I’ve seen and felt the Calma, and, I assure you, it will not be mistaken for breast tissue anytime soon.

The easiest way to prevent nipple confusion is by waiting to introduce a bottle until four to six weeks (three to four at the earliest) and to simply offer the breast more than the bottle.  Some families have other situations, though, that don’t make the whole four to six week thing possible.  So what is a modern mom to do?  For many of us, it is not feasible to never give milk from anywhere but the breast.  We have work, and school, and other children, and obligations, and, man, sometimes Mommy just needs a day (or an hour or two) off.   But babies still have to eat during that time!  And what if your baby has issues with latching at the breast, or you are inducing a supply, or you need to do some supplementing?

Luckily, being a modern mom means that we have some awesome options available to us.  There is spoon feeding, where you can hand express colostrum or milk directly into a spoon and give it to your baby.  This works best in the beginning, when your baby isn’t taking in much milk yet – it would be a fairly long process for a family feeding an older infant.  To spoon feed, you simply use a clean spoon, hold the baby in an upright position (like sitting) and put the spoon at the lower lip, giving small amounts and letting the baby go at their own pace.  A spoonful can be considered a full feeding if you are dealing with a newborn.

Cup feeding is another option.  Cups are widely available, cheap, and easy to use.  Your infant won’t take the cup from your hands and drink like a big kid, of course, but will instead lap at the milk kind of like a baby animal might.  There are special cups sold for cup feeding, but it might be easier and cheaper to just use a shot glass.  With cup feeding, like spoon feeding, you’ll hold the baby supported and upright.  You’ll put the cup to the lips and tilt slightly so that the baby can easily lap at the milk (not so it’s pouring into his or her mouth.)  Allow the baby to eat at his or her own pace.  It may take a while, but that is ok!  Babies shouldn’t be gulping down their feeds – when they do, they often overeat, which can hurt their tummies and set a bad precedence of wanting more than they need.

You can also use what’s called a supplemental nursing system, or SNS.  SNSs are generally a bottle type thing hooked to a long tube.  You put the milk in the bottle part, and then you can do one of two things with the tube.  First, you can use it on the breast, either by sticking it in a nipple shield (which you should only use if followed by a lactation consultant for sizing and to negate any potential complications that might arise) or by taping the end near the nipple so that the baby gets an extra boost of liquid while nursing.  This can be really helpful if you’re relactating or increasing a milk supply, if your baby needs to be supplemented but is nursing well, or if you have a preemie or baby with suck issues that maybe doesn’t milk the breast as effectively as they should be.  You can also use a SNS to finger feed your baby.  With that, you attach the tube to your finger, and the baby sucks the finger to get the milk.  A lactation consultant can even help you use this method to train or retrain your baby to suck properly.  SNS systems can be hard to clean, so please carefully read the instructions and check with a health care provider for any extra precautions you should take if you have a preemie or immune compromised baby.

If you have an older baby (4 months or so) that’s just now getting around to taking milk in another way, you can try forgoing bottles altogether and working on cup training or using sippy cups.  Sometimes the difference is interesting enough for an older baby who has rejected bottles.  As with any of the other methods, the goal is to allow your baby to learn and go at their own pace.  Be prepared for this to be a messier endeavor with an older baby who is starting to show some independence.  You will probably have to help them to hold and tilt the cup – they may not be content with the idea of you holding it all yourself, and you may have some spills in the process.

But what if none of these methods work for you?  Maybe your care provider is balking, or you are annoyed and uncomfortable with one or all of the methods, and you really, really just want to use a bottle.  In that case, instead of purchasing the reportedly $15 a piece Calma, I would try Fleur at Nurtured Child’s method of baby-led bottlefeeding.  In fact, any time you are bottlefeeding, you should use this method.  It is the ideal way to feed a baby from a bottle and encourage any care-takers that will be feeding your baby with a bottle to utilize this method as well.  In choosing a bottle, there is no really good evidence that I have seen showing that a certain bottle or nipple is better than another for breastfeeding.  There are a lot of nipples that are supposed to be similar to your breast in look and feel, but in my time in the bottle aisle, I never saw any that made me go, “That looks EXACTLY like my boob.  That one, right there, with the wide base and medium sized nipple!!”  My kids never really liked the wide bottomed nipples, although they are often touted as being awesome for breastfeeding babies.  When it all boils down to it, most of that is hype.  When selecting a bottle, select the one you think might work that is in your budget.

If you are giving milk due to a breastfeeding problem, be sure to discuss methods and supplements with a medical professional with good lactation training.  Ask a lot of questions.  If supplements are ordered, get a LOT of information on them.  Why do you need to supplement?  How long does your medical professional want you to supplement?  How much should you supplement?  How often should you supplement?  Can you use your own expressed breast milk?  What is the plan of action for weaning from supplementing?  If your baby isn’t nursing well at the breast, you will likely need to do some pumping along with the supplementing to keep your supply healthy while you work through the problem.  Find out how often you need to pump and how you should store your breastmilk – especially if your baby is hospitalized and you are transporting it.

There are other feeding options for more serious problems, such as cleft lip/palate as well. That type of situation needs to be followed very closely by a lactation professional and physician to ensure that the baby’s unique situation is being addressed.

If you are going to be separated from your baby for another reason – work, school, or just going out – remember to think of your magic number.  This is the number of times your baby breastfeeds in a normal day (and, yes, that can vary.  Just take an average.)  You want to be sure that you are replicating that amount of times by a combination of pumping and nursing.  This will help to keep your milk supply plentiful.

In the end, there is no product on the market that can magically be just like your breast and provide your baby the exact same experience.  Luckily, there are many options for your baby and your family that will help you to achieve your breastfeeding goals.

 

 
 Star Rodriguiz, IBCLC, is a breastfeeding peer counselor for a WIC in the Midwest and has just started her private practice as an IBCLC (her Facebook page is here, go “like” for great support).  She also sits on the  breastfeeding task force in her town, is helping her  community’s Early Head Start redefine  their breastfeeding support, and is the  driving force behind a local breastfeeding campaign.  In  the remainder of her free  time, she chases around her nursling and preschooler.
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Unsupportive Support- is your milk good enough?

Continuing the series on unsupportive support come two more gems.  Hit the quality.  Please, if you have the opportunity to come into contact with a breastfeeding women and you can’t say anything supportive… maybe you shouldn’t say anything at all?

How not to support and how to avoid being unintentionally unsupportive- part 2.

Unsupportive support is…

Informing her that her baby must not be getting enough and that’s why her baby wants to eat all the time, saying she can/can’t eat/drink certain foods while breastfeeding, telling her breast milk turns to water after 6 months, that she needs to start them on solids, Sating her baby is too skinny/too fat and needs her diet needs to change, or pretty much anything else that puts down breast milk.

I’ll keep this one short: have you studied human lactation?  Are you well read in the latest scientific research and health care recommendations on infant nutrition?  Have you done anything more than read a couple news articles or listen to a radio personality/TV celebrity talk about breastfeeding?  Unless you can produce researched (as in legit, peer reviewed, scientific research) information backing these claims, don’t ever say anything questioning the quality of her milk or the validity of her feeding choices.  Ever. Are you even qualified to say this stuff?  Go do some research before you spout off ignorance and recite this until it sticks: “I must trust this mom to do what she feels is best and support her along the way.”

Telling a new mom “Isn’t formula just as good as breast milk?  My children were all formula fed and they turned out fine!”

While she’s probably quite happy for you that your children did fine on formula, that’s not the choice she has made for her child.  Her choosing something different isn’t a criticism of your choice, not even a little bit.  You may choose to wear pink yet she never would and that’s no reflection on you, just a difference in what each of you feel is right for yourselves.  She’s taken a lot of time in making her decision just as I’m sure you did in making yours.  You may not realize it, but in questioning her decision like this you are insulting her ability to make the right choices for her family.  And it is her family, her choice to make.  You already got to make your choices for your family or will some day.  If this thought runs through your head the most supportive act you can do is to button it and don’t dare bring it up to her or her partner.  Not even once.  If you’ve already done this, go out of your way to apologize and intentionally let her know you support her breastfeeding.  Put this on the inside of your front door to help you remember this: “I will support her even if she makes different choices than me.”

 

Pulling the quality card is exceptionally manipulative, most moms really want to give their child(ren) the best they can.  Taking a swipe at her for what she’s feeding her child and planting seeds of doubt that maybe, for some reason, her milk is inadequate isn’t supportive.  It becomes very difficult not to take it personally and she doesn’t need the worry you planted.  Breast milk quality is rarely an issue, in fact, breast milk is perfectly engineered to meet her growing child’s needs with a custom blend.  The quality couldn’t be better!  On the rare occasion that there could be an issue an expert on human lactation is better equipped to address it than the people that should be encouraging her in her parenting goals.  Your lack of understanding of normal human lactation and the normal needs of a breastfed child should not be what you draw from to show concern or support.  (A great place to start educating yourself is this post on normal behavior of the breastfed newborn.)

 

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Did some of your support people question if your milk could be any good?

How do you respond when people say unsupportive comments trying to tell you your milk isn’t any good or that formula is just good if not better? 

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Our night weaning journey, even more questions answered.

This post is made possible by the generous support of Arms Reach Concepts makers of ARC cosleepers.

After Dreaming about sleep for years, The Piano Man and I decided to try Dr. Gordon’s method for sleep changes and the family bed and blog about it.  You can read about night 1 night 2 night 3 night 4 night 5, night 6night 7 and the one month update.  I also answered one round of questions about our experience here and a second round here.

 

Originally I tried to answer all your questions in one post but it was too darn long, you can find more questions here.  Much too long for sleep deprived people to read any way.  So I broke it into two parts.  I need to make it clear, I am not an expert, not a doctor, and have no background that qualifies me as an authority on the subject.  All I have is my experience as a mom and what I’ve learned along the way.  I’m happy to share my opinion with you but please keep in mind it is just that, my opinion and based on my own personal experience.

 

What do you do if baby just screams bloody murder when DF/DH/partner goes in to settle them? Do u finally give in and give em the b@@b?

First I would try to sooth them without the breast but with cuddling with me.  Sometimes I think it works great to have the non-breastfeeding partner to do the soothing when night weaning.  Other times I think the child becomes confused, not only do they not get to breastfeed, they don’t get their mommy.  There is a significant bond between mother and child and that bond still needs to be honored.  Smunchie still wants me at night, even if it’s me without the bobbies.  Honestly, I think being denied access to the mother could be traumatizing if her presence is truly what the child needs.

If that still didn’t work and if the crying crossed the line of what I can comfortably accept as just expressing anger into feeling abandoned or betrayed then I would nurse.  I would do so because I would have to consider that my child is responding this way simply because they are not ready to night wean.  In Dr. Gordon’s plan he warns that there may be a few nights that are really rough but by this point most parents would be doing this they would know the difference between angry cry and totally confused, scared cry.

 

Could you have coped with this method on your own, or do you think it worked so well because you had the help of your husband on the *worst* nights? (Single mother here, trying to work out how best to go about on my own)

Yes, I do think it would have worked on my own.  There were a few nights that I did it completely on my own because Squiggle Bug needed The Piano Man.  The hardest part for me on my own was staying awake enough to follow through with the plan and not just nurse so I could try to sleep.

 

Do you regret not night weaning sooner? Also, sometimes my 12mo will wake up and be up for 1.5-2 hours at time. Does night weaning help with this problem also?

Part of me wishes we had tried it sooner but only because I was feeling so incredibly burned out as a parent and getting sick of breastfeeding.  Those feeling have completely lifted with the night weaning, not that I always love breastfeeding but I am enjoying it more and can relax to be more in the moment.  However, I’m not convinced that earlier would have been right for Smunchie and would not have ended well.  So I don’t regret the decision to wait until I felt she was ready.  Yes, the night weaning has helped with the extended night waking/play time thing too.

 

Not sure if you could answer this one, but I was wondering what age would a baby/toddler wean himself the night nursing, if the parents are not actively trying to encourage him/her to stop nursing in the night.  I have a 11 months old that wakes up 6-7 times a night, to nurse, If i do not nurse her she is crying in a very panicky/distress way.  We co-sleep and we do get our rest for the time being, but would be nice to have a bit of a perspective.

Usually between 2-4 years old if it’s on their own.

 

I’m curious how you arrange the sleeping surfaces in your bedroom?

I don’t have any pictures of my bedroom or I’d show you.  It’s a tiny room with not a lot of room once the bed is in there.  Our queen-sized bed is against one wall with Smunchie’s pack-n-play directly across from it against the opposite wall about 2 feet from the end of our bed.  That’s usually where she starts out and stays until her morning waking any more but when she was waking she’d end up in bed with me.  Often, even still, The Piano Man ends up in Squiggle Bug’s room sleeping with her as she still wakes during the night.

 

What foods do you offer that you think help with more sleep/less waking?  Sometimes I wonder if dinner wasn’t substantial enough when my 11 mo old wakes in the middle of the night.  Why almond milk? i’m feeling the pressure to start cow’s milk but I, myself, don’t drink cow’s milk so I’m hesitant to offer it.

We go for high calorie, high fat and high protein foods in the evening. Rice and beans are a favorite with some avocado, Greek yogurt, meat (providing Smunchie will eat it, often she won’t), nut butters, cheese, quinoa (she LOVES this), eggs, veggies in a “cream” sauce (we use Greek yogurt for that usually), hummus (I make several varieties including traditional, black bean, white kidney bean, etc.) avocado with anything, and almond milk. As to why almond milk, we’re an omnivore family but Smunchie doesn’t like cow or any other mammal milk but mine but she loves almond milk. I like that it is a good source of protein and is yummy. Since we have no nut allergies in my family I don’t have to worry about giving my kids nuts after 12 months.

We offer a cup of water usually with her meals and she drinks almond milk because she doesn’t like any other milk. Smunchie still nurses often, several times a day. She’ll continue for a long time still, a couple of times a day I’ll offer her a cup of water and in the evening she gets a cup of almond milk as we read stories. But it doesn’t replace me, not by a long shot, she wants to nurse often!

 

What’s your bed time routine for Smunchie?  How do you get her to go down without breastfeeding her to sleep?

Because I have older kids or used to be on-call to attend births I always felt like I had to be sure my babies could go down without the breast.  Here’s what works for us.   Around 7.15-7.30 or even 7.15-8.30 (flexibility is crucial in our family, the reality of having older children with activities) we start getting ready.  A story or two (usually French selections daddy reads) with Smunchie and Squiggle Bug on the couch while Squiggle Bug drinks a cup of milk and Smunchie a cup of almond milk.  Then brushing teeth and getting into pajamas.  After giving good night kisses to the entire family we split up, The Piano Man taking Squiggle Bug and Smunchie is with me.  On night’s that he’s working I work it out on my own.  I nurse Smunchie for a bit while reading to her but I haven’t let her fall asleep consistently on the breast for a long time now so when she’s done she sits up and we read a few more books.  Then I say a little prayer with her, we snuggle, I start singing something and stand up, she hands me everything she wants in bed with her (usually a couple cooks, her lovey and her doll and sometimes random things like shoes), I lay those down and then she reaches for me.  We stand just outside her bed hugging while I continue to sing and then I lay her down.  I stay in the room singing for a bit until I can hear her settling and then I tell her good night and slip out.

 

I can’t stress enough that being flexible and figuring out what works for your family, not following a set schedule of what someone has predetermined your child should be doing at what age is crucial for the night weaning experience to be free from trauma.  Please don’t take what I’ve shared as what has to work for everyone.  Thank you for letting me share our journey with you.

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Wrap Your Leaky Boobs in a Cloud- Bamboobies Giveaway

As part of our LIVE Facebook chat this week with TLB sponsor Bamboobies, Kerry Gilmartin has generously offered 3 prizes just for The Leaky Boob readers.  I love Bamboobies, of all the breast pads I’ve used, these are my favorites.  You can read my, uh… “experienced” review of them here.

The three prizes are a $16.99 discount code to the 3 winners good for a 2-pair package of either our regular ultra-thin, milk-proof bamboobies or our ultra-thick ultra-soft overnight bamboobies.

All you have to do to be entered is to comment on this post and if you feel like it, share a breastfeeding challenge you got through and how.  For a second entry, go like Bamboobies on Facebook, let them know TLB sent you and come back and leave a second comment letting me know you did so.  If you already like Bamboobies on Facebook, share them with your friends and leave a second comment letting me know.

That’s it!  Two easy ways to be entered.  This giveaway is open just for the next 24 hours as part of today’s chat.  The giveaway is open to international entries.

As always, Kerry has also generously offered an ordering code for Leakies as part of Bamboobies regular support of TLB.  Use TLB20 for 20% off at www.buybamboobies.com.  This code is always available for Leakies, use it this week and thank her for the informative and helpful chat!

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The Semantics of the Sisterhood: How We Can Promote Breastfeeding Honestly and Positively

Today I’m pleased to bring my readers a lovely guest post by Lara, CLEC and the woman behind TLB Sponsor Mama Pear Designs.  Let’s consider how we talk about breastfeeding!

When you are pregnant, you must give birth to the baby, there’s no alternative.  And while there are various birth options available to women the end result is the same – you will give birth to a baby.  Until relatively recently, and in many parts of the world still today, the same was/is true for breastfeeding.  There was no alternative to breast milk to nourish and sustain a baby.  Either you or another lactating woman, had to put your baby to breast for its survival.  Today however, we know that breastfeeding is not a given, and as such we need to offer more support to pregnant women because they can choose not to do it.  Perhaps they make the choice not to, simply because they do not have enough information to make an informed one.  I am in no way saying mothers who choose to use artificial baby milk are in the wrong, I support their choice to do so.  I do not think that anyone should be forced to breastfeed, the choice is a personal one that must fit every mother and her new family; sometimes that means choosing artificial baby milk, and no mother should have to justify her choice to anyone. However, I do believe that prenatal breastfeeding education is lacking in many ways, and as such many mothers who might breastfeed miss out an on the opportunity because they are not given the information.  In addition, postnatal breastfeeding support can be hard to come by for some, and the combination of the two can be detrimental to women who have the very best intentions.  The reality is once you choose not to breastfeed it is a decision that is difficult to reverse.  For these reasons we need to offer support to women in need, so they do not get caught in a situation they did not anticipate.

So who am I talking about, who is “we”? Well everyone, really: all healthcare professionals, employers, friends, and family.  Specifically though I want to address the sisterhood aspect of the support scenario.  And by sisterhood, I mean the mother-to-mother support, such as the friend who hosts your baby shower and brings you dinner while you are “babymooning” after your baby’s birth, or whom you call when your baby has its first cold, first giggle, or rolls over for the first time.

What we say to each other and how we say it can be very powerful, both in a negative and positive way.  I want to raise awareness and create consciousness about these conversations involving breastfeeding.  I truly believe it is time to re-examine the language we use when we talk about the breastfeeding experience to women who have never done it, who are considering it, or who are in the throes of it.  If you have professional lactation training, you are sensitive to this.  You never phrase anything so that the mom feels like she has done something wrong, and you try to get a sense of her confidence so that you have the correct approach for her individual situation.  But the rest of us, well we could use a little guidance.  I have been a breastfeeding mother for four years, and recently became a Lactation Educator, so now I am able to participate in both sides of the conversation.

The first thing I would like is for people to stop telling breastfeeding moms is that it is hard.  Does the word “hard” word motivate you? Probably not, and especially not if you are worried about how the baby will be born, when will it be born, will your pre-pregnancy body come back, what is sex like after the baby, will your swollen ankles ever go away, etc.  Pregnancy is hard, and you do not want to hear that once the baby comes, more “hard” is waiting for you around the corner.  (A TLB post asking if Breastfeeding is hard “Breastfeeding Hard?” and another listing 25 things women commonly face that are harder than breastfeeding.) I think we can be honest, but careful with our words.  Breastfeeding can come with challenges and many questions, but there are ways to overcome those challenges and professionals and friends alike, can help new moms find the answers.  A conversation with a pregnant friend really should not sound like this:

Me: So, you are going to breastfeed, right?

Friend: Well, I think so, but I am not sure.

Me: Well it is hard, I had cracked and bleeding nipples, thrush, I leaked milk for months, but it was worth it.

Friend: Ummm…okay. (exit pregnant woman, running for the hills)

First of all, even though I have the best of intentions, I made the assumption that she was going to breastfeed and asked in a tone that made it seem like she was wrong if she chose not to do so.  I do not believe she is wrong for choosing not to breastfeed, should that be the case.  Remember, she is entitled to make her own decision on how to feed her baby, I really just want her choice to be a well-informed one.  So while I was trying to be honest, and I did tell her it was worth all of the early obstacles, I just scared her nipples of her poor swollen boobs, because she stopped listening at  “bleeding nipples”.  After that she heard nothing else. Guaranteed.

So maybe here’s a better way to approach the conversation:

Me: I just wanted to let you know that if you decide to breastfeed, I am always available to help you in any way, I’ll be glad to help you answer questions or help you find some reliable resources.

Friend: Oh thanks, I am not sure yet, I have heard that is it really hard, so I will probably try it, but we’ll see.

Me: You know just like learning anything with a new baby, it can have some challenges, but most women find that with the right support they are able to overcome the obstacles breastfeeding poses for them.

I did not use the word “hard,” but I did not make breastfeeding seem like it was going to be as natural as some assume it to be.   I also offered to support her, and hopefully she now knows that she can ask me when the time comes should she have any questions.

Using language that makes breastfeeding seem unfavorable, words like hard, hurts, and painful, really does not do a great deal to sell the idea to women who may be on the fence regarding breastfeeding.   I talk to women all the time who say, “Well I hear it’s hard, but I am going to do it anyway.”  What a wonderful attitude, she is committed from the get-go.  The problem is that if she thinks it is going to be hard, it will be.  If you have read anything I’ve written before then you know that my sister was my biggest supporter as I began to breastfeed my oldest son, and I was smart in that I really only turned to her for advice.  One reason was that I was the first among my friends to have a baby, but the main reason was that she was successful in breastfeeding my nieces, and she never told me horror stories, she just offered positive support.  And you know what? I never had any major problems.  A couple of times I had plugged ducts, but nothing too serious that could not be solved by a twenty four hour nurse-a–thon.  I had an overactive Milk Ejection Reflex, but eventually my babies grew and were able to keep up with mama’s fast flow! Essentially, I just tuned out the naysayers and focused on my cheerleaders: my sister, my husband, and my growing baby boys.

One of the other things with which we need to learn to be okay, is approaching the topic of breastfeeding in the first place.  Pregnant women are often subject to invasive questions, and even unwanted belly groping, we are all aware of this phenomenon.  It is commonplace to ask, “Do you know what you are having? (A human is always a great answer), or “What are you naming your baby?” (I always responded with “Chuck Norris”).  I said before that my only hope is for women to make well-informed decisions about choosing to breastfeed.  It is possible to offer your help, your sisterhood guidance, in a way that does not put the mother-to-be in an uncomfortable position.  I approach pregnant women, perfect strangers, all the time and discuss breastfeeding.  As a Lactation Educator, I cannot help myself – I am like a moth drawn to a flame.  However, I am very careful about the language I use.  I never ask their plans for feeding, I just offer my support and information.  I usually say, “If you are considering breastfeeding, I would love to have you in my class.  Here’s my information (on a business card), please contact me if you have any questions about my class or breastfeeding, either now or after the baby arrives, as I love to help moms and have a great list of resources to share.”  Done.  If she has chosen not to breastfeed then she can say, “Thank you” and throw my card away, or if she has (and I am glad to say most moms say they are going to try) then she has met one person who has offered to help her.

And last but not least, let us stop asking moms with older babies if they are still breastfeeding.   Even if we mean no harm, improper emphasis on the word “still” can make a mom feel like she is doing something wrong, when in reality if she and her baby/toddler/preschooler are still nursing happily, then they are doing everything right.  We are all aware that there are many people in society who are okay with a woman breastfeeding a newborn, or a baby who is four or five months old.  But with the eruption of teeth, moms start hearing suggestions that maybe it is time to wean, and certainly if a baby or toddler can ask for the breast the time has come to wean, right?  Wrong.  Is your breastfeeding relationship anyone’s business? Why does it matter if a mother is breastfeeding her 12 month old, or her 22 month old, or her 32 month old?  Quite simply, it does not.  It has no bearing on anyone whatsoever.  The problem is most people, including “first-generation” breastfeeding moms do not realize that it is normal to breastfeed children, not just babies.   When most people use the words “still” and “breastfeeding” together, it is merely so they can then comment how it is time to wean, that the relationship has run its course.  (Except me of course, if I ever meet you and ask you this, and you say yes, no matter how old your child is, I will congratulate you!)  So while I support talking openly about breastfeeding, I think the details of your relationship should remain as private as you like.  Should someone ask you a question that you do not want to answer because you anticipate that you may receive unsolicited advice about weaning on someone else’s timetable, then I suggest you reply with this question: “Why do you ask?” It will usually put people in their places without them even realizing it.

So are you in? Can we start rethinking and rewording how we offer our support to our breastfeeding mama friends, our “sisters”, in need of a little advice? I hope we can let go of the negative words that are a turn-off and instead be honest in a positive way, while showing our friends where to turn for help, either in their local communities or online.

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