Tips and Tricks from the pros- Moms and IBCLCs on biting and breastfeeding

My journey with biting and breastfeeding has been full of ups and downs.  I shared some of my story in this post about how I handled Earth Baby biting me by going against my instincts and flicking her on the cheek which led to a nursing strike and then weaning.  After that experience I began looking for more gentle ways to respond to my baby biting while at the breast and found some methods to be very effective for our family.

Biting comes up so often in conversations about nursing I decided to see what others would suggest to stop the behavior and save the boobs.  Sending out my question to the great world of Twitter, I got some great replies from some wonderful IBCLCs.

Practical tips for dealing with biting from tweeting IBCLCs

@NortoriousStar, Star Rodriquez, IBCLC (Facebook)

“I usually tell clients that their baby had to break suction to bite, so if they have a biter, to pull them off as soon as that happens. You have to pay attention and be fast, but removing the breast when they think about biting? That works well as negative reinforcement.  The fact that you’re removing the breast is negative reinforcement. Not all babies bite because they are done…and if they seem to want to nurse afterward, I usually waited a 2-3mins (and up to 5 if they actually bit.) It was a more gentle negative.”

@FeedYourBaby, Denise Altmen, IBCLC (website)

“Rub the baby’s gumline with a cold/damp textured washcloth using gentle pressure right before (breastfeeding).”

@NurtureNormally, Melissa, IBCLC (website)

“Take a break when it happens. Prevent w/pre-feeding cold.  Pre-feed cold: cooling/numbing baby’s gums with a damp, frozen cloth. Some moms make BM “popsicles” for this purpose.  Or make BM ice cubes and put them in a mesh feeder. Numbs gums so baby is more comfortable before a feed.  Also, some moms are able to begin to recognize when a feeding is ending (when most babes tend to bite) and end feed b4 bite.  Feeding slows significantly. Also, some babes tend to “quiver” their jaws before a bite and moms can use that as a signal.”

@Stylin_Momma, Katy Linda, IBCLC (website)

“I’d focus on comfort of the baby. Frozen wet wash clothes, ice cube in a mesh feeder, etc.  If you can get them comfortable before they nurse, they’re less likely to bite. Also, check latch, babies can change position to their comfort level when teething, and sometimes a quick adjustment can make a world of difference.”

@BreastfeedingNY, Deidre McLary, IBCLC (website)

“Swift, firm, consistent response: unlatch, say “NO, biting hurts”, put baby down, walk away.  Don’t reward behavior by keeping baby nursing. Take short break, separate. Baby learns biting = END of bfing session.

@DianaIBCLC, Dianna Cassar-Uhl, IBCLC (website)

“Press baby in, he’ll have to open mouth to breathe. Toddler? Firmly say ‘no bite!’ and put him on floor facing away.”

After sharing how flicking Earth Baby on the cheek to stop her biting led to early weaning at 10 months, I asked the Leakies on The Leaky B@@b Facebook page for their experience and any tips they had to gently stop biting.  Here’s a sample of their comments and you can find the original thread by following this link.

Leakies share how they handle biting

After sharing how flicking Earth Baby on the cheek to stop her biting led to early weaning at 10 months, I asked the Leakies on The Leaky B@@b Facebook page for their experience and any tips they had to gently stop biting.  Here’s a sample of their comments and you can find the entire original thread by following this link.

Kayla: We stop immediately.

Rose: Take him off (usually after forcing his teeth apart as he clamps rather than just bites) and sit him down next to me. I then tell him no I’m a stern voice and say ‘that hurts mummy, we don’t hurt people we love people.

Claire: my son never bit (thankfully) !! *phew*

Alishia: When mine bit me I would take her off and tell her in a calm but firm voice “no.”

Jennifer: My older daughter only bit me a few times, and never on purpose. I pulled back instinctively from the pain, but didn’t make a big deal out of it. She also bit my shoulder (hard!) when she was teething, so I know it was just her way of dealing with the discomfort of her teething.

Tonia: I say ouch, no bite and take the boob away, for 5-10 minutes and put the baby down. It only takes 2-3 times, I’ve done it with all 3 of my kids.

Jennifer: I just have to say, “OW!” and my little gal has a freak attack. People told me to flick her on the cheek and I was uhm, no. Poor little punkin’ doesn’t like just OW so I can’t imagine what flicking would do to her!

Tracy: My kids didn’t bite until they were older, over a year. so we ended the nursing session immediately when biting occurred.

Hayley: I’ve heard to pull their head into your boob and that is meant to work, never tried it as ds didn’t bite.

Kate: I found that my children mostly only bit me near the end of the feed when they were no longer hungry. So if they bit, that was the end of the feed for then. Worked great, hardly ever bitten.

Elle: I tell her no say ow & take it away for a few minutes. She only bites when she is sleeping now, and I’m learning when to take it out & when to leave it be.

Ashley: I tried the flick method and my demon seed laughed and bit me again. That’s what I deserve I guess.

Amy: I pop him off the boob, say “we don’t bite the boobie!” And give a break for a little while then try again… Still working on it.

Brandilynn: I slip my pinky between his gums so he can’t bite down any harder and tell him no biting mama, he can’t nurse if he’s going to bite me right now and take him off.

The Hook Up: my little one bit quite a few times. I always gasped (not on purpose, but it did startle him!) and firmly said NO and showed a mean face. He got it after a time or two, and there was no physical “punishment.”

Laura: I’ve always just yelped and yanked off for a minute. I’ve had to pry my little guy off a few times because he’s got a mean streak and will bite when he’s in a bad mood.

Kit: With my DD, what had it come and go fairly quickly was to detach her, sit her facing me, and tell her “no, we don’t bite. That hurts mommy and mommy doesn’t like it.” When she would pout, I’d give her a hug, tell her that she can’t do that because it hurts, and put let her relatch. I had to be consistent and it took a few weeks, but it worked, and it stopped completely. We nursed for another 4 months or so after our last biting incident.

Jessica: My method is to scream, “Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Kovi, please stop!” lol. I can’t say it’s terrible effective, but it’s the only thing I can manage to say/do at all.

Vicki: I used to put my finger in DD’s mouth to unlatch her, then progressed to pushing her head into my breast and now at 19 months saying no very very firmly and pinching her nose. She usually laughs at me though but only bites when teething now.

Leanne: I just yelped which startled baby enough to stop then relatch and carry on. If it happened again I would remove baby and put boob away for a minute. It did work eventually! Biting really hurts!

Karen: Well, first I yelped “Aaaahhh” and it startled him enough to break suction. Then I looked him in the eye and said, “Ouch, biting hurts!” Babies are usually empathetic enough to understand the sad and hurt look on Mom’s face.

Misty: When he bites I tell him no and sit him on the floor. He cries for a few seconds then I pick him up and let him nurse again. Normally, this stops the biting.

Tristen: I have put my son down, I also flicked his cheek and felt how wrong it was. I have had to step back and realize he only bit when dealing with teething pain so I addressed the teething pain and the biting all but stopped.

Jeanette: Sometimes I gently pinch my Daisy’s chin. She just laughs at me. If I ‘close up shop’ she gets mad and cries. I always, always give in and put her back on the boob. If she does it at night while we’re laying down, I know it just isn’t time for her to go to sleep yet. I haven’t really gotten her to stop biting (not that its that often) and I don’t think I will. I am just happy that we are still nursing strong at 16 months!

Nichole: When mine bit I gently pulled them off, placed my fingers to their lips and said no bite in a firm tone.

Jenna: I told both my daughters ‘ouch, that hurts’ and made a sad face. After a few times of that, they stopped. I think it was just a phase anyhow.

Erica: We used Kellymom’s smush the face into the boob technique.

Elisa: Sometimes just ignoring it works. My son thought it was funny when I would say ouch, or yelp. So I just didn’t say anything, unlatched him and put him down. He stopped within days.

Lauren: Biting led us to a 2 day wean at 1 yr and 2 days. She ripped open my nipple for the second time and it became too painful to nurse. I tried holding her nose to get her to unclench as well as yelling no. (she’d been biting for over two weeks and drawing blood) Nothing worked. My aunt, who nursed three babies, gave me the advice to yell no and set them down far away from you, ending the nursing session. I think this would have worked but we never got the chance to try it because I received the advice the day we weaned for good.

Ginny: Whenever my boys nipped me when nursing I would gently slide a finger between their mouth and my breast to break the latch and say a stern ‘No!’. I’d then lay them next to me for 30 seconds before re latching them. I found this worked well and continued to breastfeed both sets of twins to over 12 months.

Victoria: I was told by my breast feeding support group to take the baby off the breast, put them down & in a firm voice tell him not to bite because it hurts. This wasn’t very effective at first until I started putting him down & walking away out of the room. When he realized that he wasnt getting milk or mummy he soon stopped.

Amanda: I would blow quickly on his face to get him to stop and then put him down. If he came back we would try it again. It only took a couple of tries before he stopped.

Amanda: I always said ouch and would take them off and say ouch that hurts mommy, then put them back on.

Maureen: It makes me terrified to put my nursling back on after he bites, but I realized that he only bites when he’s done and just wants to play- so paying attention to when your nursling bites is a good idea. I also yell every time because I can’t help it! It hurts! I wish I didn’t!

Jessica: I just push my breast further into her mouth, most of the time she bites because her latch is lazy and she’s not paying attention. That makes her open wider and latch better, which in turn stops the biting.

Ginny: I yelp and say no biting.. and put it away for ten minutes or so.

Chelsea: When I realized my daughter was starting on that phase, I waited, finger ready, and popped her off as soon as she began to bite down. I didn’t even set her down, just said, “That hurts Mama” very calmly, and waited a few minutes before resuming nursing. She would get so upset at her dinner being interrupted, but it only took a couple of times for her to realize that biting accomplished exactly the opposite of what she wanted it to. I figured out incredibly quickly that the worst thing I could do was react a lot-she thought it was funny. But I couldn’t stand the thought of hurting her feelings, so popping her off was the most I could bring myself to do.

Natalie: I wish I could say I reacted all nice and calm. In reality I was reading while she was nursing, so the bite was completely unexpected. I screamed and bopped her on the forehead, she popped off the boob and cried a bit, I apologized to her and said “We don’t bite Mommy.” She resumed nursing and never bit me again.

Nicole: I firmly tell her no, put her down somewhere safe and give her something she can chew on. Sometimes I give her a cold teething ring before nursing if I know she is teething to help prevent bites. We seem to have this issue for about a week right before/after a new tooth.

Amanda: I went with my instincts (which I have learned are never wrong when it comes to mothering) and let out a gentle “ouch”, made a very sad face, and said, “that hurts mommy”. I also paid attention to when it was happening.. often it was when I was watching TV or looking at my phone while nursing, Emmaline wanted eyes on her, my hand ruffling her hair or massaging her ear.

Amy: I was told to press my baby’s face into my boob; forcing him to break the latch since he couldn’t breathe.   I’ve had yet to do it.

Ariel: just unlatch him/her every time they do it for 5-10 seconds.

Stacy: The first time my son bit me I immediately took him off the breast for a few minutes. I only had to do this a few times before he figured out that biting = no boobie.

Margaret: I yelp, “OUCH” and pull him off. Usually it results in tears. Its never resulted in a nursing strike even though I yelp pretty loud (I’m not one of those people that can hold it in when I’m hurt by surprise). He’s still nursing even though i’m 11w pregnant and dried up!!!!!

Richain: My first only bit a couple of times but learn quickly that mommy wasn’t kidding around. He would bite, I would say OUCH! That hurt mommy! I would separate him and remove him from my lap to the floor (safe place) for a minute then pick him back up and nurse again. He was a quick learner… biting means nursing time is cut short. My second nursling has not bitten yet… but teething has started

CaryAnn: Honestly? I couldn’t handle it and began weaning. I tried “no biting!” a few times first.

Lori: With my oldest, he bit me at 7mos and we stopped nursing and started pumping til 1 yr. With Judah, I just put up with the biting. I have tried “no bite”, stopping the feeding, pinching, flicking, and he still bites. He started biting at 3mos and just turned a year. It’s not intentional/malicious, so I guess you just get used to it.

Krista: I just pull them closer in to me..so they are forced to release their bite (my little one would bite and not let go!). Then I say firmly, “No biting.” You just want to get their attention and interrupt their eating. They’ll look at you like, “what’s going on? Why’d you stop?” Do that enough times and they should get the hint.

Marilyn: Say OW LOL I push her face into my boob a bit, makes her let go because she thinks she can’t breath. then I look at her and say We don’t bite, that hurts mama. She onlyseems to bite when she is semi interested so I usually stop the feed right then and there too. resume later.

Lucile: With my first child I’d say: “no biting, biting hurts” for the first bite. For the second bite in a row I’d repeat it and add “if you keep biting I’ll take it away.” The third bite I’d put her down and say “OK, you’re done.” Sometimes she cried, but I drew the line at being a chew toy! With my second, I’m more aware that she bites when she’s having teething pain or is bored with nursing and feeling devilish. I can usually anticipate a bite and detach; if not I do the same as above. I usually give her something she CAN bite and say “if you want to bite, chew on this.” In my experience, biting comes and goes, so you may have to repeat this lesson several times.

Erin: I bring the baby in very close (covering the nose so she’ll let go) and then end the feeding right then. I also found that *most* of the time I could prevent the biting by paying attention. A baby who is actively nursing can’t bite, and my kids all have bitten me when they were done nursing and just hanging around. So I became very vigilant and watched for an end to the active suckling. One of my kids actually got a “naughty look” on her face right before she was going to bite. And I found that if I was multitasking while nursing, my kids were more likely to bite because I wasn’t giving them my undivided attention.   So I just watched them closely, and ended the feeding with a frown if they bit. They learned pretty fast that if they wanted to nurse, then no biting.

Aimee: Mine only bit if there wasn’t really any interest in nursing right then (shallow, lazy latch), so I just closed up shop and tried again later. Easy for everyone involved. 🙂

Marta: Jonathan has been very gentle over the past 13 months, but there have been bitings here and there. I immediately remove him when that happens. Although sometimes I know his biting/painful latch is related to teething, and then I usually just go with it, because I know he didn’t intend to do it, he is just in pain himself.

Fonta: I was taught by my midwife to push the boob into their face which smothers them for an instant and they always let go and it only takes a few times…very effective and still loving.

Sarah: I’ve definitely got a little nibbler on my hands. She’s almost 10 months and has had teeth since 4 months. I just pry her mouth open and unlatch her and set her down on the floor. She gets the point quickly! And typically only bites when she’s teething or not really interested in nursing. The worst is when she’s falling asleep. Oouuuch!!

Carissa: My little one only bites after she has finished feeding so I just make sure I detach her when she has stopped actively suckling. I’ve tried saying no firmly and detaching her as soon as she bites, but because she’s already full she doesn’t care. The thing I’ve noticed is the more I react the more she enjoys doing it… She giggles and bites harder if a yelp!

Colleen: Take her off and set her on the floor. A baby cannot nurse and bite at the same time. Clearly she was just playing or wanting my attention. 😉

Cheryl: With my LO, I just put up with the biting. From what I’ve seen, biting can be a sign of frustration (at least, past the exploratory stage – mine is 17 months and still does it!) so when she bites, I take the boobies away and try to remove whatever is frustrating her before she nurses again. It usually works – even a sippy of milk to quench her thirst helps sometimes, if she is frustrated by not getting enough milk.  When she does bite, I either slip my finger in her mouth to release the bite or pull her towards my breast, basically smothering her with it LOL but she has to open her mouth to breathe, so she lets go. She is doing it less and less now, the more I do that.

Shauna: When my 14 month old bites I put my pinky inside his mouth and gently pull his lip in a fishhook type motion which distracts him and he let’s go and I try to communicate “gentle, no biting please” sometimes it works 🙂

Anna: In a light hearted voice I said ” oh?! You’re finished???” and take him off and our my bra back on. He looked confused then I’d bring him back to the breast… If he did it again, I’d repeat. I never caused him any distress but he got the hint – if he but I thought it meant he was finished!

Melissa: Nothing. Absolutely nothing has worked for my son. So every feeding, without fail, he bites. And now that I’m pregnant too, the pain is unbearable, but I don’t have the heart to wean my baby.

April: I have to be VERY attentive and just stop it before it happens.

Rebecca: I jumped because I wasn’t expecting it… Was chatting at the time to a friend. But since I just tickle her feet (10month old) as she is very ticklish… And makes her laugh. I Don’t make a big deal of it and couldn’t upset her because I know she doesn’t understand that it actually hurts me.

Molly: With our girls I yelped (not exactly a plan, it hurts!) and blew in their face. That was unpleasant for them while nursing but not painful. If they bit more than once in a session they were done. All three figured it out fairly quickly, even at 3, 4 and 5 months when they got their first teeth.

Nicole: The first time my little one clamped down on my boob I yelled ow pretty loud because it shocked me. She let go really quick and looked up at me to see why I yelled.  She’s done it a few times after that so I just tell her no biting and put her down. She’ll cry for a bit then we’ll resume. Pulling her into my breast doesn’t work. She actually pushes her face into my breast before she bites sometimes (advance warning for me).

Michelle: It doesn’t work immediately but I always push on their teeth/gums and tell them no bite every time.

Kasey: The first time I told her No Bite! In a firm voice and she cried so hard. I felt terrible. She has done it a few times since but not like that first time so I am hoping I got the point across.

Tamara: Watch for circumstances that tend to lead to biting like being really tired, being at the end of a feed (baby being satisfied), teething pain or frustration. Watch for the baby to pull to the tip of your nipple. My experience is that they usually pull to the tip before biting.) When you notice any of those things, unlatch the baby. Really watch baby every time for common factors that proceed the biting.  If you can’t get ahead of the biting and she clamps down, first don’t pull away. Pull baby close. This prevents extra pain, and a lot of babies will unlatch at this point. If she doesn’t unlatch at this point, unlatch her yourself. Find something that you say every time it happens. I said, “No bite. When you bite, you don’t eat.” (If they bite while latched, they’re not eating anyway.) Then wait a few minutes before offering the breast again. If that means rehooking the nursing bra, pulling your shirt over the breast so that baby can’t relatch, do that. If baby is interested in resuming the feed after a minute or two, offer the breast and repeat what you said earlier. (I would say, “Remember: No biting. When you bite, you don’t eat.”) If baby relatches and bites again, follow the process again except completely end the nursing session. My experience is that if it’s not a problem of baby being in pain, they bite when they are finished eating anyway.  You will go through the process several times before the baby gets it. (Tristan continued to do it for a while but gradually got to where it rarely ever happened at all–like once a month when teething was a problem or when he hadn’t napped enough–until he just hasn’t done it at all for a long time.) It’s a learning process, so remember to have patience and love in your demeanor no matter how much it hurts.

Kari: Mine only bites with teething, thank God he still has no teeth. But I pinch his nose and he pulls off, and doesn’t continue to do it.

Rachel: I learned to stand on guard with my finger near his mouth… I could tell when he was about to clamp down and would insert my finger, remove him, and walk away.

Melissa: I flicked my first nursling too, worked great, but my second was sensitive so I would cry from pain and refuse to nurse for a minute or two and then relatch while holding his hand and teaching “soft touches”. Worked great, so that’s what I’m doing with number 3 too.

Lorna: Using baby signing to signal pain helps get the message across too.

Tracie: I tapped my babies on the nose and said no. This worked with all 9 of mine.

Stephanie: I would unlatch my son, sit him down, adjust my shirt, tell him my breasts were in time out, get a cup of water for myself, and come back. It only took 3-4 times for him to get it, but I left the room so he could see the result of biting.

Kinberely: I thought that with my son it was a cue to end nursing but when I’d unlatch he’d route around to feed again, think he is hungry just teething too.

Heather: Easy, I tickle them!! 😀 they get distracted, giggle and let go!

Katherine: The first time my soon bit me I didn’t even think before I flicked him. He cried but never bit me again. I felt horrible though. With my daughter she has bit me a few times, the first time was right after her sister was born and I was so sore that all I could do was cry which freaked her out. My husband had to take her and was more upset it than I was, I was sad that I scared her but it hurt SO much. She has nipped me a few more times but each time I tell her no, tell her to be gentle with mommy’s breasts, and have stopped nursing her for a minute so she understands that if she’s not gentle I’ll take the breast away. She hasn’t bit me in a few weeks so I think she got the point. She’s moved on to putting her fingers in mouth or holding hands with her sister while they nurse. Way cuter than biting.

Ma Ma: The first time I pressed her into the breast to make her release and said no and showed the sign for no. She was teething her first two teeth at the time. A couple days later she bit down pretty hard! I said no and signed it then sat her down on the floor (I was in the chair) she cried and didn’t nurse for two days (except for at night when she was half asleep). That nursing strike scared me so bad and I thought she was gonna stop nursing at 8 months…I remember sitting in bed with her that second night saying it was ok and mama wanted her to nurse. She would move in and then shake her head and cry 🙁 I was crying too. I finally think she just understood and it was ok but just not to bite because when I finally got her to latch (while she was crying) she tested the nipple with her Lil gums and then when she went to with her teeth I said “no teeth…hurts mama” we got passed that and now she’s 13 months old and we’re nursing strong.

Aliza: Wow Jessica, a very similar thing happened to my 10 month old, she bit, and I screamed very loud… and she never nursed again, I had to pump for another 7 months. She finally tried nursing again recently at 22 months! But at that point there was no more milk.

Dorothy: It’s depended on his level of understanding. Generally, a quick re-latch did the trick. Though if he was cutting a tooth it often took several tries. Once I could tell the difference between accidental biting and purposeful biting, I would simply end the nursing session with a “NO BITING!” (Stern not loud). Generally, I’d unlatch, cover-up, if he cried I’d make him wait 5 minutes and let him back. Sometimes he was done but decided my nipple was a better toy. I could tell because he’d unlatch and go play.

Kivy: I’m exactly where you are. “pressing the baby into the breast” seems to work and be more gentle, but honestly, it freaks me out when she gasps for air. She seems less bothered than by the flicking, but it’s more disturbing for me.

Amber: Flicking worked wonders for me. Didn’t slow any of my 3 down for nursing, but it curbed the biting. I’m so very sorry that it didn’t work for you. I’ve heard the putting them down, away from you, works too. I could imagine that might traumatize the right child too though. I imagine it’s all about your child and what work for them.

Adventurous Shoestrings: After trying bad advice, I called my local LLL chapter and received a great tip. I told my then 7 month old “no biting” before our nursing sessions. If he bit after hat, I would break the latch and say “biting hurts mommy.” I would end the session and reoffer if he wanted to nurse. I also tried offering a teething ring before nursing or right after a biting incident. It worked for us.

Paula: I didn’t have too much trouble with dead on biting, but there was lots of messing around. I just kept removing the boob each time it happen and talked sternly. If you bite me I can’t nurse you. Eventually, I had to wean the first at almost three because he sort of forgot how to nurse when the milk dried up during my pregnancy with the second. The second I nursed til almost 4, and just had to gradually shorten the time, because, frankly, I was done. But the removing the boob thing really checked the naughty stuff. I mean when they start chomping and look up at you and smirk, you know, they know that they are pushing it. But it is so cute.

 

What you chose

Remember, it may take a combination of approaches to stop your nursling from biting and it can be done gently, without flicking or scaring your child.  Be consistent and as patient as you can with the process.  You don’t need to be a martyr, it’s ok to want the breastfeeding relationship to be mutually positive and beneficial for both you and your babe.  Setting boundaries, even with a young one, that respect your physical person are important and won’t damage your relationship with your child, in fact, it can be very healthy for both of you and be a critical part for a long lasting, pleasant breastfeeding experience.

 

Caution

Sometimes I see it recommended to numb the baby’s gums with a numbing agent designed for teething just before bringing them to the breast.  My concern with this would be the potential problem that can come from a child swallowing the numbing agent, losing feeling in their tongue and throat.  The potential risk for choking and poor latch don’t seem worth the attempt when there are other safe and effective options available.  If you choose to use a numbing agent on your child’s gums to help with teething pain, waiting until after a feeding is probably the safest time to do so.


 

All images used with permission and generously shared by the Leakies on The Leaky B@@b Facebook page.

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What time would you share with someone that has just started dealing with biting at the breast?  

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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 B@@b Facebook page.

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

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Your Guide to Relactation

 

Stopped breastfeeding and want to start again?  Here’s our guide to relactation.

What is relactation?

Relactation is re-establishing breastfeeding after stopping breastfeeding, or after a period of very little breastfeeding.

Why would I want to relactate?

Mothers decide to relactate for many reasons, but most want either to resume the breastfeeding relationship, or provide more breastmilk, or both.

What are my odds of successfully relactating?

There is little research on relactation, but the available studies strongly suggest that, with proper support, most mothers can partially or fully relactate.  Below are some studies that offer some encouraging findings about the success of relactation.  It’s important to bear in mind that in most of these studies mothers received help in relactating from trained breastfeeding support people.

One study of 139 Indian mothers who had stopped breastfeeding for at least ten days found that 84% were capable of either full or partial relactation:

  • 61% fully relactated
  • 23% partially relactated (formula supplements reduced by half)
  • 16% were unable to relactate

A recent survey of 84 relactating mothers of infants (on average, 2 months old) in Korea found:

  • 75% of mothers fully relactated (defined as 90% or more breastmilk feedings)
  • 25% of mothers either partially relactated or did not relactate

An older survey of 366 U.S. mothers, mothers reported that:

  • More than 50% established full production within one month
  • 25% required more than one month to establish full production
  • The remaining mothers breastfed with supplements until their babies weaned

A study of 50 mothers of hospitalized infants under four months old, found:

  • 92% of mothers fully relactated
  • 6% partially relactated

 

What factors will influence my success in relactating?

The research on relactation confirms what you might already suspect.  The following factors are associated with more success at relactating:

  • A younger baby
  • A shorter gap between weaning and relactating (sometimes called a “lactation gap”)
  • The willingness of the baby to take the breast
  • Having assistance from trained breastfeeding support people

These factors may influence your chance at meeting your goals, but each mother/baby pair is different, and relactation may still be possible even you don’t meet the most favorable criteria.

 

How long will it take?

Based on the research above, Nancy Mohrbacher, IBCLC, in Breastfeeding Answers Made Simple, recommends that mothers plan for relactation to take one month.

 

How should I measure success?  What goals should I set?

You may want to spend some time reflecting on your motivation for relactating.  Is it important to you to provide as much breastmilk as you can?  To have the feeling of closeness you have with breastfeeding?

You might set a goal of full breastfeeding, or you might set a goal of partial or any breastfeeding.  Some moms, who don’t think that their babies will return to the breast, set a goal of pumping and providing as much breastmilk as they can by bottle (exclusive pumping).  Some mothers want the breastfeeding relationship back, and aren’t concerned with how much milk they provide.

Interestingly, one survey of relactating mothers found that “Milk production was less often a goal and, when so specified, it was likely to influence the mother to evaluate her experience negatively and to result in difficulty in achieving a total milk supply.”

There is no right or wrong way to set goals for relactation.  And you may not want to set any goals at all.

 

How do I relactate?

There are two, related parts to relactation:  bringing back a milk supply, and bringing the baby back to the breast.  These are interrelated projects, as the best thing for your milk supply is to have a baby nursing frequently, and a baby is more likely to return to the breast if there is plenty of milk there.

But the first, and probably the most important thing, is to seek some support.

Get support.

We strongly recommend seeking out sources of support for this process.  As we note above, the mothers in the studies cited above were typically receiving skilled help with relactation, and this may have influenced their success rates.

You may want to consult with a lactation consultant (IBCLC), La Leche League leader, a breastfeeding-friendly pediatrician, or other trained breastfeeding support person (see links at the end of this guide for sources of support).  A well-trained support person can help you uncover reasons why breastfeeding stopped, troubleshoot as you work on relactating, and connect you with good resources to help you meet your goals.

Trained help is important, but don’t underestimate the power of support from other moms, family, and friends.  Having more people on your team can make a big difference in breastfeeding success. You may find attending a La Leche League or other support group meeting helpful.  WIC breastfeeding peer counselors are another good source of mom-to-mom support.  You may also want to discuss your goals and motivation with some friends or family members (especially your partner), and ask for their support and encouragement.  Relactation requires time and effort, and having support is key.

Explore what happened.

It helps to explore why breastfeeding stopped.  If it was a problem with basic breastfeeding management (poor advice, infrequent feeding, etc.), relactation may be a simple project of restarting what you were doing before.  If breastfeeding ended because, in spite of “doing everything right,” you didn’t produce enough milk, and your baby became unwilling to breastfeed, there are more issues to explore.  If you stopped because of pain, learning more about latch, and exploring the possibility of issues like tongue tie, are worthwhile topics to consider.

You may find it helpful, particularly in cases of unexplained milk supply problems or behavior in your baby, to explore these issues with a lactation consultant (IBCLC).  You’ll find a link to find one at the bottom of this guide.

Bring back your milk supply.

Empty your breasts frequently.  If your baby is willing to nurse, feeding frequently is the single most effective thing you can do.  Aim for at least 10-12 feedings every 24 hours.  Feed on both sides, and feed long enough to drain each breast well.

If your baby isn’t taking the breast, or is doing so infrequently, use a pump to stimulate your milk supply.  Ideally you should pump at least every three hours (though many mother find it more manageable to take a break at night).  Double pumping provides more stimulation than pumping one side at a time.

Ensure effective feedings.  If your baby is nursing, make sure that he or she is taking the breast deeply into the mouth, and that you feel comfortable when nursing.  A shallow latch and/or pain can mean that your baby isn’t feeding as effectively as possible.  Get help correcting this from a trained breastfeeding support person.

Pump after feedings.  If your baby is nursing, try pumping after feedings with a hospital grade breastpump.  Since milk supply seems to be calibrated based on how empty your breasts get, pumping after feedings can be an effective way to increase milk supply.

Use breast compression. When nursing and/or pumping, use breast compression to fully empty your breasts and keep your baby engaged while nursing.  This is a particularly effective way to get good feedings with a baby who is sleepy at the breast.

Consider a supplemental nursing system (SNS).  Using an SNS allows a baby to receive formula supplements at the breast while stimulating your milk production by nursing.  There is also some evidence that substituting feeding methods other than bottles – such as cup, spoon, SNS – increases the chances of relactation success.

Use the power of skin.  Holding your baby skin-to-skin (your baby in just a diaper on your bare chest) boosts your milk making hormones.  And it feels great!

Take a galactagogue.  There are both herbal supplements and prescription medications which increase milk supply.  Some herbs are particularly helpful with glandular and hormonal causes of low milk supply.  Consult with a lactation consultant and/or your health care provider about which may best suit your needs.

Bring your baby back to the breast.

Get skin-to-skin.  Skin-to-skin contact is immensely powerful in establishing breastfeeding, and it can significantly aid the process of relactation.  Hold your baby (wearing only a diaper) on your bare chest as often as you can.  You may find that he or she begins to self attach (see next point).

Use Baby-led Breastfeeding, Laid Back Breastfeeding positions, and co-bathing.  Research is increasingly pointing toward the importance of baby’s innate feeding instincts in the establishment and re-establishment of breastfeeding.  Babies are able to crawl, scoot, and wiggle their way to the breast all on their own from birth, and new research is showing that babies retain this instinct long after the newborn period.  Baby-Led Breastfeeding involves positioning babies in a way that allows them to crawl to the breast.  Biological Nurturing, or Laid-Back Breastfeeding, involves reclining to breastfeed.  See more about the Laid Back Breastfeeding position and its ability to take advantage of babies feeding reflexes.  Some lactation consultants have also found that taking baths with your baby (called remedial co-bathing) can help in re-establishing breastfeeding.

Ensure a good latch.  As mentioned above, a deep latch will allow your baby to receive the most milk, and will keep you comfortable.  Seek help from a trained support person if getting a good latch poses a challenge.

Breast compression.  Keep your baby engaged at the breast by squeezing your breast when your baby is nursing.  This is particularly effective if your baby is sleepy at the breast.

Consider a nipple shield.  Some babies who have had many bottle feedings will nurse if the mother uses a nipple shield, as it makes the breast feel more like a bottle.  For some babies, it can be hard to wean from nipple shields.  Seek help from breastfeeding support person for assistance in using and weaning from a nipple shield.

Use a supplemental nursing system.  SNS can persuade babies to return to the breast because they get a greater flow when they nurse.  And as noted above, they can help increase milk supply by keeping all sucking at the breast.  Seek help from breastfeeding support person for assistance in using one.

Focus nursing around strategic times.  Try nursing when supply is higher, such as nighttime and morning.  Offer the breast for comfort when you know that your baby is already full, or when your baby is sleepy.

Consider pre-feedings.  Some babies will nurse if the “edge” has been taken off their hunger.  Try giving your baby an ounce of formula just before attempting a feeding at the breast.

Ensure that your baby continues to thrive.

If you are reducing formula supplements while relactating, we’d suggest:

  • Reducing formula supplements gradually.  Kelly Bonyata, IBCLC, of kellymom.com recommends initially reducing formula supplements by one ounce per day (not per feeding).
  • Doing frequent weight checks to ensure that your baby continues to grow normally.  Checking for swallowing and monitoring diaper output can also provide some information about your baby’s intake.

 

What are some good resources for more information and support?

  • Lowmilksupply.org.  Comprehensive online source of information on increasing milk supply
  • KellyMom.com:  Relactation and Adoptive Breastfeeding:  The Basics

 

 

 Tanya Lieberman is a lactation consultant (IBCLC) who has helped nursing moms  in hospital and pediatric settings.  She writes and produces podcasts for several  breastfeeding websites, including MotherwearMotherlove Herbal Company, and  the Best for Babes Foundation.  Tanya recently authored Spanish for Breastfeeding Support, a guide to help lactation consultants support Spanish-  speaking moms.  Prior to becoming a lactation consultant she was senior  education policy staff to the California legislature and Governor, and served as a  UN civilian peacekeeper.  Tanya is passionate about supporting nursing moms, and especially to eliminating the barriers so many moms face in meeting their breastfeeding goals. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, her 8 year old son and her 1 year old daughter.

This resource page was made possible by Motherlove Herbal Company.

 

Once Upon a Time- A tale of a journey towards being an IBCLC

by Star Rodriguez

Once upon a time, I was a brand new mom-to-be and I was going to breastfeed.  I was determined and informed and ready to go.
And then I had my baby and everything went crazy.  If there was a breastfeeding complication, I felt like I was hit with it.  I had horrifically bad advice and support.  We made it 14 months, but it was a serious struggle.  In that struggle, there were a few beacons of awesomeness – my pediatrician, who was not well informed on breastfeeding but was totally willing to admit that and send me elsewhere for realistic help , and a couple of IBCLCs.  There were also a few terrible people, including nurses and an IBCLC.
At one point during the whole ordeal, I remember thinking, “You know, I’m going to look into being an IBCLC, because women need help, and if this is any indication, they’re not getting it.”  At the time, the requirements dictated what I thought was an absurd amount of contact and lactation specific education hours for me to be able to do it, so I put the thought from my mind and moved on.
Fast forward three years, and I have baby #2.  The incorrect information and bad support in the hospital persisted.  Luckily, I was no longer a novice – but even as an educated mom who had breastfed before, I found myself getting a little nervous about the scary picture the nurses painted as my daughter – delivered at 42 weeks by c-section following hours of IV fluids – lost “an excessive amount of weight in the first 24 hours.”  A simple Google search found research papers identifying IV fluids as a determining factor in inflated birth weights – however, none of the nurses at the hospital where my daughter was delivered professed to know anything about that.
It was then that my interest in promoting correct, evidence based lactation support came back to the forefront.  I was lucky to obtain a job as a Breastfeeding Peer Counselor at WIC, and I decided to use those counseling hours to take the IBCLC exam.  You know, eventually.  Like 2012.  I would take some college classes to meet the 2012 requirements for the exam (here are the official requirements, criticized by many for being slanted towards those with a medical background – ie, nurses and doctors.)
In August, a series of random events occurred that left me with ability – and a need – to spend more time at work.  What was very part time increased and I began to wonder – what if I sat the IBCLC this year?  After doing all sorts of math, I realized that getting all of my contact hours (I needed a thousand) was possible, if only just.  I talked to my boss and family, and decided to go for it.  Thus began a crash course in everything lactation related.  I felt, for quite some time, like my life revolved around working and studying.  I read everything from textbooks on lactation to research papers to statistics texts to Medications and Mother’s Milk.  I joined study groups online and made flash cards and attempted to memorize the difference in looks between a herpes blister on the breast versus poison ivy versus eczema.  There is a ridiculous amount of knowledge on breastfeeding out there, and some of it is quite different based on where you are globally.  Since the IBCLC is an international exam (so your certification can be used anywhere in the world) there were certain things that I had to condition myself to think of in a global context instead of in an American one.  I also had to fit in 45 hours of lactation specific education.
I sat the IBCLC exam on July 25th 2011.  It was probably the most daunting test of my entire life, and I quite honestly am still not certain how I did on it.   Most people who take the IBCLC exam pass; however, the exam grading process is very complex.  It’s graded on the “Nedelsky” method, which is incredibly complex.  Not only that, but during the exam, all candidates are given sheets allowing them to dispute questions that they consider unfair or incorrect.  These sheets are all taken into account and certain questions can be thrown out based on them.  Candidates do not know, going into the exam, what percentage will be passing; it varies by year and is not known until the day the results are released.  All in all, it takes the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners about 3 months to get the results out.  For me, this will be Friday October 28th.  Candidates can use a code sent to them to check pass/fail status on IBLCE’s website, but they do not get the full breakdown of their results until they receive them in the mail.
For those of you considering taking the test, I urge you to go for it.  It was a scary and huge endeavor, yes, but it was also so very worthwhile.  Just be certain that you are adhering to the new guidelines for 2012 and beyond, and be aware the IBLCE changes them semi-regularly.  For those of you reading this who, like me, are awaiting results, I hope you did a fantastic job, and I raise my hypothetical glass to you.  Based on my experiences, we need driven, passionate, educated people in the lactation world, making a difference for new moms and babies.

 

 
 Star is a breastfeeding peer counselor for a WIC in the Midwest.  She sat the IBCLC  exam for  the first time this summer, and is anxiously awaiting the end of October.   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.

The High Life of a WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor

Yesterday, The Huffington Post ran the story “Virginia Foxx Proposes To Cut Breastfeeding Support Funds.” In light of the news regarding a proposal to cut funding to the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) for the breastfeeding peer counselor program in the USA, my friend (and helping admin. on TLB Facebook) Star shares her perspective as a peer counselor.  Star, like almost all peer counselor in the WIC program, works part time supporting women in breastfeeding meaning she receives no benefits.  Her response to the proposition of Rep. Foxx indirectly addresses the very serious implications of such a proposal: we do not value breastfeeding as a culture.  We claim we do but then, as Star says, we do not walk the walk. Additionally an action such as this demonstrates that we don’t understand the very nature of breastfeeding education and support which is a major contributing factor in why so many women that start out breastfeeding are no longer breastfeeding within a few weeks or months.  We should be examining how to make support for breastfeeding more available to women, not less so.  I’m proud to present this guest post from Star.

Hi. I’m Star, and I’m a breastfeeding peer counselor for WIC.

However, if Representative Virginia Foxx from North Carolina has her way, I won’t be able to say that for much longer. “All this money is being spent on salaries, benefits and cell phones for a program the federal government has no business doing,” Foxx was quoted as saying on Wednesday.

You caught me, Virginia Foxx. I am living the high life on government money while performing a totally unneeded job. I’m so glad you exposed my career as the farce that it is. Thank you.

All sarcasm aside, let’s talk about what I do.

First of all, let’s have a (really brief and as non-boring as possible) history of the peer counselor program. WIC used to be seen as “that formula distribution center for poor people.” WIC decided, in the early 2000s, that they needed to get serious about promoting the normal way of feeding a child – breastfeeding. So they initiated a pilot program of peer counseling. After all, their research showed that mother to mother support made a huge difference in breastfeeding. They would hire women – women who were or had been on WIC that the other moms could relate to, who had successfully nursed babies. They would provide training and education and these peers would give support and advice. They would also, they hoped, get more mothers to breastfeed.

It worked. It worked so well that WIC decided to roll it out around the nation.

So what do I do, exactly?

Well, it’s not as glamorous as Virginia Foxx makes it out to be. First of all, my salary is a pittance. Most peer counselors make between $8 to $10 per hour. I get no sick days, no health insurance, no paid vacation time, no 401k. I run a Facebook group that is only peer counselors, and I have never heard one of them discuss the awesome benefits or salary of the job, so I’m pretty sure that this is country wide. I get to bring my child to work with me until she’s two, but that’s my office and not reflective of every WIC everywhere. Sometimes my boss buys cookies. I once got a t-shirt.

I know, I know. Try not to die of jealousy, everyone.

Now let’s look at a typical day in the life of me. I get to work, check voicemail, counsel prenatal moms about the benefits of breastfeeding, what to expect, and what to do when they go back to work. I rent our breastpumps. I do feeding assessments if moms are concerned about baby not getting enough. I call clients. I evaluate latches. I teach classes. I leave notes in the files so that other staff knows what is going on with the client. I do everything an IBCLC through a private practice or hospital might do, I just do it much cheaper. (Please note: not all WIC counselors are IBCLCs. I am not, although I am taking the exam this summer. I am not trying to say that I currently should or could make the same amount of money as one. I will say that IBLCE had very stringent requirements for the counseling hours that you need before you sit the exam, though, and currently WIC and LLLI are the only two ways to get that experience that don’t require a career in medicine or a mentorship, though, so we must have pretty awesome training.)

At four, I go home and leave all my work behind me.

*bursts into hysterical laughter*

At four, I do clock out. Then I turn on my cell phone – MY cell phone, Representative Foxx, the one that is not paid for by the company, thank you very much – and I run my own warmline for my clients. Sometimes, I don’t get a lot of calls. Sometimes I do. I have taken calls that have lasted hours. I have taken middle of the night calls. I have taken texts. I have taken calls on major holidays, most notably Christmas Eve. I took a call when my daughter was in the hospital and I was frazzled and upset and kind of really wanted to let it just go to voicemail.

I have been paid for zero of those calls.

I also make calls, from home, from the road (when someone else is driving.) I stuff envelopes with breastfeeding information. I ask local businesses to donate prizes to the mom’s group. I advocate at businesses. I talk to the media.

I rarely get paid for any of that, either. I probably could, but I have never asked. I have never asked because I’d rather have the extra money in the budget go to helping my moms breastfeed. I would rather we buy a pump for an exclusively breastfeeding mom who is returning to work at 4 weeks postpartum doing 12 hour days than line my pocket.

I didn’t take this job for the money. I took it because I have a passion for breastfeeding and helping families. I took it because helping low income mothers who can’t get help elsewhere fulfills me in a way that working in a large clinic or hospital (and, yes, I’ve had offers for once I get my board certified status) would.

I took this job for the clients I have. Man, they are amazing. I have students, and full time workers. I have moms who have babies in the NICU who are totally committed to breastfeeding, despite the challenges. I have moms whose babies never latched who have pumped and struggled for months on end because this is that important to them. I have moms with breast injuries that keep them from producing enough milk who still do as much as they can.. I have mothers who have lost their babies and are still pumping, donating milk, for other babies. My clients are diverse and wonderful. They are black and white and Asian and Hispanic. They are lesbian and straight. They are teen moms and forty somethings. They are incredible parents and they humble me every single day.

I took this job because I care.

But why should you? Maybe you’re not a breastfeeding advocate, or maybe you do think that WIC should have their funds cut. After all, we’re in a bleak economy, right?

Let’s look at what happens if the peer counselors no longer have funding. Well, clearly, we all lose our jobs. So there’s that burden on the economy. Some of us will go on assistance programs ourselves. Some of us will just spend less, negatively impacting our local economies.

In many WIC offices, the peer counselor is the knowledgeable one about breastfeeding. So when she’s not there to answer a phone or see a mom, the breastfeeding rates drop. The money WIC spends on formula increases. Let’s not forget, either, that many a baby has issues with formula.. WIC pays for more costly formulas if you have a doctor’s note. Some of those formulas are $40-$50 a can. Cans last roughly two days to a week. Nice little burden for us taxpayers there.

But wait. There’s more.

Research shows that statistically breastfed babies are healthier than formula fed babies. They have less chance of a number of serious illnesses. They also have immune protection specifically tailored to their environment, so when the other kid at daycare has the flu, they may not get it. So more people on WIC formula feeding = more children that are on WIC getting sicker. Know how many kids on WIC are also on Medicaid? A lot. Medicaid is getting ready to expand in 2014 under health care reform, too. Sick kids = higher taxpayer burden.

And let’s not forget the cost that illness has on the workforce. A sick kid has to go somewhere, and it can’t be daycare. Who stays home with that kid? Mom or Dad, right? So that leaves a business short staffed. Many WIC participants are working jobs with pretty stringent attendance requirements, too. So Mom or Dad loses the job. Suddenly, they need more assistance and contribute to the economy less.

It’s a snowball effect that winds up spending more taxpayer dollars… All because I lost my job.  All because the peer counselor program was cancelled and moms didn’t receive the support they needed to breastfeed.

This idea was struck down yesterday. However, these are tough economic times, and the idea of cutting funds for this may emerge again. You can see how your representative voted here (http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2011/roll431.xml) and then you can send them a letter, e-mail, or even call them to congratulate them or condone them for their vote. You can also send Representative Foxx a note telling her how you feel about cutting breastfeeding support. And if you’re not sure who your representative is, look here (http://www.house.gov/zip/ZIP2Rep.html)

Finally, you can share this with your friends. You can post it to Facebook, or just talk to them about it. Advocating doesn’t have to be hard, but it will absolutely make a difference.

On behalf of those of us working for moms, I thank you.

Good Cop, Bad Cop- On the Breastfeeding Police

I was relieved when Anne Tegtmeier spoke up on a TLB Facebook thread that took what I thought was somewhat of a surprising turn after I shared a link asking for Leakies to go show their support to a blogger frustrated with preparing to breastfeed.  In fact, I wanted to copy and paste Anne’s comment exactly as it was here on the website and share it all over the breastfeeding advocate world.  When I asked her permission to use her comment it morphed into “or you could write a guest post.”  Lucky for us, that’s exactly what she did.  Issuing a few important reminders and challenging us all to think before we speak, Anne encourages us to keep in mind that there’s a lot we don’t know.  Anne’s thoughtful and powerful writing can also be found on her blog Dou-la-la and Dou-la-la Facebook page.

The more you know, the more you realize you DON’T know.

This principle actually has something of a formal name: the Dunning-Kruger effect, named after an experiment at Cornell in 1999. In this blog post, the author puts it in this apt nutshell: “The less you know about a subject, the less you believe there is to know in total. Only once you have some experience do you start to recognize the breadth and depth you have yet to plunder.” And in some situations, what you don’t know CAN hurt.

What does this have to do with breastfeeding? It has a whole lot to do with support and advocacy.

Let me back up. The other day. The Leaky Boob posted a link to a Cafe Mom piece written by an expecting mom who is facing some significant challenges – not contraindications, but challenges. Twins, a prior breast reduction surgery, the likelihood of a cesarean birth: all present potential complications on the road to breastfeeding. The author vented what I read as very understandable frustration in her experience of seeking non-judgmental support for these concerns and finding, instead, the “breastfeeding police”. If you’ve been around the mom blogs and parenting sites for a while, as if an APB had been sent out, you know what happened next.

Here’s one sample; there were quite a few others in a sadly similar vein. Insert [sic] throughout:

“the “i wasn’t able to breastfeed” (no offense) is a mental thing. just like not being “able” to loose weight. its all mind over matter and seems to me no one really realizes it now a days.”

Where to even begin with a statement like this?

And so, to start with, my response was as follows:

I’m starting to feel that if I could get one wish and make one impact on the world, it will be to bridge the gap between these two worlds. YES, I do think that women who feel they ‘can’t’ produce enough milk have often been sabotaged (i.e. booby-trapped) in ways they are unaware of. And one of the things that most often thwarts them is misinformation.

HOWEVER.  Statements that imply that really, everyone can breastfeed and if they didn’t succeed, they just didn’t try hard enough, mind over matter? EVERY BIT as misinformed as the bad advice that might have led a mom to undermine her supply or her belief in her supply. I know it’s highly unorthodox for a breastfeeding advocate to call other breastfeeding advocates out when their intentions really were good, but I see so much poor advice online that it’s really starting to get to me.

Case in point: somewhere on a different page, not long ago, a mom with IGT posted about her struggles. More “lactivists” than I thought possible commented all about how breast size has nothing to do with ability to produce, that an A cup can make just as much as a C cup.

This is only true if the woman’s glandular tissue developed normally – which is NOT ALWAYS THE CASE. Very few of the women who were full of advice had ever heard of hypoplasia/insufficient glandular tissue, let alone known the symptoms. Yes, it is rare, but it’s also REAL. And statements like “It’s all in your mind” not only insult women whose problems were absolutely not imaginary, but reveal a lack of education on the realities of breastfeeding issues. Yes, REAL-LIFE, LEGITIMATE, ACTUAL breastfeeding issues.

Am I suggesting that everyone who wants to support breastfeeding needs to become an IBCLC in order to have an opinion or offer up information? NO. There totally is a place for peer support. What I AM suggesting is that when a mother talks about her difficulties, don’t dismiss them/her, and don’t assume you know everything about the situation. Her difficulties could have been booby-traps, yes. They could also be ‘legitimate’ (in itself a problematic attitude, but I’m rambling enough already). What ALL moms need is respect and support, and to have her experience recognized – she needs to be met with understanding, and we can move forward from there, hopefully armed with more information for the next time, if that’s in the cards. Alienating moms with judgment because you feel that they came from a place of ignorance or were affected by ignorance is not only counterproductive, it’s also, frankly, sometimes hypocritical.

Let’s look at one example in particular: Breastfeeding after a reduction, one of the factors the writer of the above article was facing, can sometimes pose supply challenges to mothers. Some BFAR moms are able to exclusively breastfeed, and some do require supplementation. Are there some things BFAR moms can do to build their supply? Absolutely. Let me tell you what I see time and again when advice is sought online: “Take fenugreek!”

Fenugreek is a galactagogue, an herb that can help to increase a mother’s supply.  Someone who doesn’t know anything about breastfeeding would not know this. Someone who knows some things about breastfeeding might. And that someone sees a mom asking for help on supply issues, and wants to help. Totally good intentions. Here’s the thing: What she likely does not know is HOW fenugreek works to increase a mother’s supply, along with detailed knowledge of how milk production works in the first place, and this is paramount.

Fenugreek works by stimulating the production of prolactin. Prolactin is the hormone that signals a mother’s mammary glands to produce milk. And like any hormone, it is useless without receptors. These receptors are IN the very tissue that was compromised by the prior surgery. Without sufficient prolactin receptors, the mother can take so much fenugreek that she smells like Mrs. Butterworth in Vermont during sugaring season and it won’t make much, if any, difference. Does this mean there is no herbal galactagogue that might help? Not at all – goat’s rue would probably be the most important herb for her to start taking, as it has the potential to help actually BUILD ductal tissue. Fenugreek might then still be helpful, working in conjunction with the goat’s rue, but on its own, increasing prolactin without enough places for it to go? Not so much likely to help.

This is just one example of an an issue where a little knowledge can indeed be a dangerous thing. Other examples abound.

I want to reiterate the last part of my prior comment, though: This does NOT mean that there is not a place for peer support. There so absolutely is is – La Leche League turned the tide on breastfeeding half a century ago and its very foundation was peer support. But part of being a trustworthy resource is knowing when something is beyond your knowledge – even for professionals, certain things are beyond one’s scope of practice, and it is crucial to have the honesty and humility to know when to refer. La Leche League itself has a rigorous course of study for those who want to become leaders, and even then, their reach is limited.

The nomenclature surrounding lactation professionals IS confusing, no doubt. Luckily, the topic has been well-covered recently, so indulge me in a brief linkapalooza. Recently, Lactation Laura did a great post on this, including a link to another blog’s helpful post sussing out the differences between the various alphabet soups you see after people’s names, from CLE to IBCLC; what each means and what each can and cannot do. Best for Babes wrote the must-read “Is your ‘Lactation Specialist’ an Imposter?” Hint: beware of anyone calling themselves a ‘lactation specialist’ without any other specific breastfeeding credential – it would be just as accurate and based on just as much for me to start calling myself the Grand Poobah of Boobs.

I have, myself, with my very own eyes, witnessed a person who had exactly zero credentials or any sort of formal training in breastfeeding essentially hang out a shingle as a professional. It started out innocently enough, with a peer support group, but the “peer” part of the equation started becoming eroded as she decided that she was the leader, even establishing time for one-on-one sessions with moms who needed more help. I don’t think her intentions were malicious or even all that self-serving; it’s not like anyone is ever going to get rich from being a lactation consultant. I think she really did want to help, a good thing – and figured she had breastfed her own babies and read enough books to declare herself an expert – not such a good thing.

And finally, if you’ll permit me one more link, Analytical Armadillo talks about the consequences of subpar breastfeeding support. Here’s a lengthy but potent excerpt:

I’ve seen mums with scabs covering the entire tip of the nipples, coming out misshapen post feed.  Very very low weight gain or static (to the point of being of concern to me – but weirdly in this situation nobody seemed too concerned that at three weeks baby had remained static since the day 3 loss.) Babies never showing signs of sation after mums have been sternly instructed to only use one breast.  Who have all been told to “stick at it it will click”. For some mums, should they not contact alternative support – I often don’t see how things will resolve.

For those who say mum can’t have tried hard enough – let me tell you that I’ve seen mums who have seen no less than five, six or seven, health care professionals in total to specifically help with breastfeeding.  These ranged from a peer supporter to midwives (and “breastfeeding specialist midwives”), and health visitors.  Mums who are on the phone constantly asking for help – yet was persistently told things were “fine” or to “stick at it and they would improve” or the gem of the lot “this is what breastfeeding is like”.

In reality what is often happening is that due to baby feeding so ineffectively at the breast, supply by now determined by baby’s appetite – dwindles fast.  But at this crucial point nobody notices that. The trouble is if nobody finds the cause of the problem, but keeps treating the symptoms – no amount of “persistence” will improve things if there is an unresolved underlying fundamental issue.  Mums are left with a reduced breastmilk supply – because of all that had gone before!  We also know that more evidence now suggests those first few weeks of breastfeeding can be crucial in supply later ie 4-5 months.

I can see how women can believe they truly couldn’t breastfeed – that they tried everything they could think of yet nothing worked; that they reached a point they simply couldn’t take anymore trying. Let’s always remember that we don’t know someones back story or what they endured trying to breastfeed.  That it’s not always a case of just “trying harder” or “persisting longer”; in the above case persistence alone would never have resolved the issues – it’s about effective help, emotional and mental support and accurate information – and most importantly it’s about getting it at the right time.

So what am I saying? Not to ever offer help to a mother online or in person when she’s seeking help and looking for ideas, unless you happen to be an IBCLC (and for the time being, this disqualifies me too)? No. Again, community and peer support can be a mighty and wonderful thing. Our hands don’t have to be totally tied. But be very aware of when you start to go beyond the basics;  I can change a tire, but that doesn’t mean I can therefore rebuild an engine. And be especially mindful of when the dialogue gets into analyzing variables of any individual situation. Often the very best thing you can do is help the mother find good professional support. If you really want to help breastfeeding moms in your area, make a list of your local IBCLCs and La Leche League leaders and meeting times. Write down the contact info for WIC’s peer counselor program. For research-based, solid information, should mom want to look into things more deeply herself, Kellymom is the happening place to be. And never underestimate the need for simple empathy and encouragement.

What I do feel needs to be stamped out are statements judging a mom’s performance – ever, but especially after the fact. If a mom faced challenges that were just insurmountable for her, this is not your opportunity to jump in and Monday Morning Quarterback where she went wrong – especially if that assessment involved anything about mind overcoming matter or how she should have just tried harder. Not only does that kind of crap backfire on the entire ‘movement’, because you’ve just confirmed the image of the overzealous lactivist as The Breastfeeding Police, and not only have you most likely alienated another mother from possibly seeking help in the community again – you are probably wrong.

I implore everyone to check out a pair of new posts by Just West of Crunchy – Top 10 Things Breastfeeding Advocates Should STOP SAYING (to which I give a hearty amen, in case you hadn’t gathered from this whole piece in the first place) and the flip side of the coin, Top 10 Things Breastfeeding Advocates SHOULD Say (testify, sister). I especially love the positive focus of the second post, especially since I’ve done more than my share of venting here. Please, if you read no other link I’ve included here, read this one, especially if you feel that what I’ve written here seems unduly limiting – on the contrary, there really is SO much to be said!

Final disclaimer: I’m just starting out on this pathway to become an IBCLC. I’m not even close to knowing everything there is to know about breastfeeding. But I do know enough, now, to know how much I DON’T know, and how much there is left to know.

Need Some Support? A Mother’s Boutique Giveaway!

I had the opportunity to interview Judy Masucci, the owner of A Mother’s Boutique and a sponsor of The Leaky Boob.  Her heart for all mothers, particularly breastfeeding mothers and her wisdom and experience is something I’m so happy to share with my readers.

TLB: What made you decide to start your business?

Judy: The short story is “I had a baby and it changed my life.” I was a corporate executive before having my son. After he was born, I went back to work and worked and pumped for 15 months before deciding to leave my corporate job to do something that would enable to me help other new moms be successful breastfeeding – and enable me to spend more time with my son. I had a very difficult time getting started with breastfeeding and I wanted to help other new moms like me. My son was also an AVID nurser and literally nursed every hour for the first year of his life. So no matter where we went, we nursed in public because by the time we got there, it was time for him to nurse again. I started by business with great nursingwear. I lived in nursing tops when my son was a baby and they were hard to find – none of the local stores carried them and the selection on the web was small and difficult to navigate through. I wanted to develop a place where moms could find everything needed in one convenient location and I wanted it to be easy for them to figure out what they wanted without having to go to 10 different websites to find everything. So I started with clothing, then added nursing bras, breast pumps, slings, nursing pads, hands-free pumping accessories and maternity items. I started my business in April of 2007 and just opened a retail store (in addition to my online store) in April of 2010. I also blog, facebook and tweet – all to connect with moms and provide support for them in any way that I can.

TLB: How do you balance work and family?

Judy: One of the greatest things about owning your own business is that you choose how, when, where and how much you work. For the first 3 years, I operated my business out of my home. So I could literally choose when I worked – and much of it was done late at night after my son went to sleep. Now that I have a retail store, my schedule is a little bit more rigid, but my son is also in school – so that makes it easier to have a regular work schedule. I still do a lot of work at night after my son goes to bed and even during the day when he is playing quietly (I just negotiated 15 minutes of time with him to let me finish this interview- we set a timer and when it goes off, I will stop “working” and go play with him). I probably work harder now than I did in my corporate job – but I work for myself, and when, where and how I want to – and I love every minute (well – almost – there are a few things I could live without LOL).

TLB: What’s your favorite breastfeeding memory?

Judy: I nursed for a VERY long time. Longer than I ever dreamed I would and longer than many moms do – one of favorite memories is actually when my son was older. One he was in a toddler bed (approximately age 2 – 2.5), he would wake up in the morning and come into my bed to nurse. We would nurse, snuggle and both fall back to sleep. It was my absolute favorite time of the day. It was loving, warm and there’s nothing better than falling asleep with a little babe in your arms. Ironically, as he got a bit older and started dropping nursing sessions – this was one of the first to go. I always thought it would be the last – but he would wake up and want to go play with his toys – sometime he wouldn’t even come get me, I would wake up and he would already be downstairs playing. I missed that nursing session most of all.

TLB: How would you encourage someone preparing to breastfeed for the first time?

Judy: I think the things I would say to the mom would differ based on if she was eager to breastfeed or if she was on the fence. I always encourage moms to read books on breastfeeding and to take a class – and most of all – to stick with it. If you get through the first 2 weeks or so (which for some of us can be a difficult two weeks), the rest of it is “easy sailing” and you will be so glad that you stuck with it. I think it is important for moms to know that it “might be hard” at first – because that way they know what to expect and they can prepare themselves and make it through. So many moms who don’t know what to expect think that they must have been doing something wrong and give up – all because no one told them that it might be hard at first. So I wouldn’t say anything to scare them away, but I also don’t hide the truth. One of my favorite articles to give to new moms is by Diane Wiessinger, and it’s called “What if I Want to Wean My Baby?” It walks you thorugh all of the benefits your baby (and you) get from breastfeeding – no matter how short or how long you do it for. I have given this article to moms who were on the fence and didn’t know if they wanted to breastfeed – and it helped them to give it a try – and I have given this article to moms had to stop breastfeeding sooner than they wanted to – and it helped them to see what a wonderful gift they have given their baby – even if they didn’t breastfeed for as long as they would have liked. I think it is an article that every mom and mom-to-be should read.

Nursing bras: ever wonder what size nursing bra should I wear? Judy’s here to help you find out and win one too!

Did you know that 70% of women are wearing the wrong size bra? And I bet that percentage is even higher amongst nursing moms. When you get pregnant and have a baby your body changes in ways that you could never have imagined. And for many of us – one of the biggest changes (besides the little life form growing in our bellies) is the changes that happen to our breasts! On average, most women will go up 1-2 cup sizes from their pre-pregnancy size to their breastfeeding size. But this is an average and the spectrum ranges from no changes to WOWZA – I didn’t know bras came that large! I have a friend who started out as a 34C and ended up a 34J – yes, that is “J” as in JUGS! She was a size small but had to wear size large shirts just to accommodate her bust.

Luckily, most of us won’t change that much – but any changes mean a new bra is needed. And since most of us started out wearing a bra that probably wasn’t the correct size, figuring out what our new size should be can be very challenging. Lucky for us, there are moms our there who want to help.  Judy from A Mother’s Boutique is one of those moms.  She specializes in helping moms find great bras and you can see from all of the testimonials on her website -that she does a great job at it. Whether you meet her in person or virtually via phone or email – Judy will be able to find you a great bra
that is perfect for YOU.

First things first – in order to get a great bra, you need to know your measurements. If you can get a professional bra fitting – that is ideal -but if you aren’t nearby a place that can properly measure you, just follow these simple instructions from Judy’s blog, Mommy News and Views, and you will be ready to go.

Now that you know what size you are, you need to pick out a bra that is right for you. And the difficulty here is that every bra runs differently -so even though you have measured yourself and know your size, you need to know something about the bras you are interested in to know if you need to go larger or smaller based on how it runs. For instance – some bras are sized S,M,L,XL instead of particular cups sizes – so you need to look at the sizing chart to see what size you will need. Other bras may “say” they are a 36D, but they really fit someone who is a 38D. Then there are the bras that have European sizing instead of US sizing – for those, you need a translator, because while a DD cup in European sizing is the same as a DD cup in US-sizing, an H in European is really a K in US – so having a conversion key to lead you through is crucial.

So once you figure out your size and find some bras that you like, you now need to know how bra sizing works – because it isn’t always as straight forward as one might think (or hope). A 34C and a 36B have the same “cup size” even though they have different letters – this can be very confusing when trying to get a bra that fits. If you try one one bra and it is too snug in the band, but fits in the cup, most women will just get the next band size up and keep the cup the same. But now this bra will fit in the band, but cup will be too large. If your 34C is too snug, but fits in the cup – you need to get the 36B, not the 36C. If only bra sizing were simpler – moms wouldn’t have so much trouble finding a bra that fits.  When you are shopping online – this is key because you don’t want to spend all of your time and money shipping things back and forth.

Believe it or not – it is possible to get a great fitting nursing bra even if you don’t live close to a shop that sells them. And Judy, from A Mother’s Boutique is here today to help out FIVE lucky moms!! Of course, she’ll help all of you if need or want help – but FIVE of you will get a personalized bra fitting and free bra* of your choice!
Winner #1 will get a free nursing bra (up to a $55 value)
Winner #2 will get a free nursing bra (up to a $30 value)
Winner #3 will get a free nursing bra (up to a $25 value)
Winner #4 will get a $15 gift certificate to be redeemed toward any nursing bra of your choice
Winner #5 will get a $15 gift certificate to be redeemed toward any nursing bra of your choice.

A Mother’s Boutique carries nursing bras ranging in size from 32-48 A-K and ranging in price from $14 up to $55. So there is something for every mom and something for every budget.

To enter to win one of these bras, please leave a comment below telling us why you need a new bra and which one you think would choose from A Mother’s Boutique if you win. This entry is REQUIRED in order to be chosen for a prize.

You can get a 2nd chance to win by stopping by and visiting A Mother’s Boutique on facebook. Her facebook pages is great source of interactive information and she has even hired a Certified Lactation Counselor to post information and answer questions from moms – so stop by, like her page and say “hi” – then be sure to come back here and leave a 2nd comment telling us that you did it. This entry is optional and will give you an EXTRA chance to win one of these great nursing bras.

That’s it – two simple tasks and FIVE lucky mamas are on their way to winning a great nursing bra along with a customized fitting!  Thanks to Judy for her generous giveaway, providing support for breastfeeding moms everywhere.  With 5 prizes, be sure to share this giveaway, an easy way for you to support other breastfeeding moms as well.  This giveaway will remain open until March 7th, 2010.  Good luck and have fun!

___________________________________________________________________

This giveaway is now closed.  Good luck to everyone that entered, winners will be drawn through a random drawing using random.org.

Congratulations to our lucky winners!

Prize 1: comment 457 Larissa Brunken
Prize 2: comment 116 RaShes
Prize 3: comment 311 Katie Langan
Prize 4: comment 182 Rachel T
Prize 5: comment 68 Pocklock

Thank you Judy for this wonderful opportunity!

___________________________________________________________________

Passionate Advocacy or Cyber Bullying?

I’ve wondered this before.  Where is the line between being a passionate advocate and being a cyber bully?  Is there ever a point a point when even sticking up for the little guy in advocacy crosses over to being the playground bully? I’ve wondered this about interactions I see online.  I’ve wondered it for my online friends.  I’ve wondered it for myself.  Several times after seeing an exchange or ongoing situation with advocates that makes me cringe I would considered writing something on compassionate advocacy then Dionna did just that over on Code Name Mama and I thought *phew* I’m off the hook.

Recently though I’ve felt the need to add my voice to those advocating for compassionate advocacy.  After a particularly disappointing situation on The Leaky B@@b Facebook page I shared some of my thoughts on this issue in brief on the Facebook page and longer on the forum.  I’m expanding on some of what I wrote on the forum here.

Whether we’re talking breastfeeding, birth, circumcision, homeschooling/public schooling, gentle parenting, babies/children and sleep, sustainable living, organic/non-organic, vaxing/non-vaxing, or any other topic we care enough about to attempt to educate others on, how we share our message matters.  In fact, I believe how we share our message can be the difference between it being heard and considered, possibly leading to change or it being dismissed and embittering, leading people to dig their heels in to defend their position.  Open or closed.

The Leaky Boob is intended to be a safe place, supporting breastfeeding mothers and the people that support them.  People, particularly moms, come to TLB to find help and support in a safe and authentic community.  I don’t ever want that to be compromised by agendas being pushed and sides being taken. Stimulating conversation is fine and encouraged. Personal views are fine too. We don’t have to agree on everything, in fact, we won’t ever agree on everything.  In order to be an authentic community we have to be able to voice when we disagree and share our concern about something we see.  But we also have to know when our language is not communicating effectively, when the issue is one that can’t be heard any more through the hurt and when our passion for our cause has superseded our compassion for people. Grace, just a little bit of grace all the way around would worked wonders in sharing our passion.

As much as possible I try to empower my children to make good choices.  Attempts to control their behavior usually backfire and leave us all frustrated.  If I resort to words that tear them down or belittle them they begin to resent and fear me, focusing only on how mean I am.  In that frame of mind they are unable to learn anything.  Speaking down to them, talking as though they are incapable of understanding puts distance between us and leads them to be annoyed and why wouldn’t it?  People speaking down to me annoys me too.  And shame?  Or expressions of self-righteous anger?  Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s the path to having my kids hate me forever.  Validating and sharing my own personal feelings and what or how I’ve learned something, on the other hand, opens up conversation.  Sometimes I get impatient and want to tell them what they should do and how right I am but then they don’t own the choice, all they own is their resentment for me dismissing them and their ability to make positive choices in their lives.  When I take the risk to empower them to take responsibility amazing things happen: they come and ask my opinion, they independently consider or research their options, they think critically through the choices before them, they choose with confidence (and usually wisely) and they accept responsibility for their decision regardless of the outcome.  It’s not to say that it’s perfect and that sometimes I don’t want to just yell at them to do it my way, it’s just that if I can not do that the outcome usually surprises me.

I am a Christian and I grew up in a very fundamentalist Christian home.  I know a thing or two about how the ways we try to spread our message can damage our message and discredit the messenger.  Studying Christian history I know this well and I am pained by what some have done in the name of Christ.  So much so that sometimes I avoid associating myself with them in anyway I can because I don’t want anyone to think I’m like that.  Since I can’t do that and accomplish anything positive by doing so, I instead try to validate those that have been hurt by Christians, acknowledging the damage done and striving to be different but true to what I believe.  In some of the bitter exchanges I’ve seen over hot button topics I find myself wondering if we’re seeing the modern version of crusades.  Violence in the form of words and condescending attitudes, cutting down people that don’t believe what they believe.  It starts looking more like an attempt to control than a mission to educate with a purpose to empower.

I don’t have to convince anyone of anything to still make a difference. I just have to keep doing and living what I believe is right.

It is important to me that The Leaky B@@b Facebook page and The Leaky Boob Forums be something more than a platform for those that love to hear themselves spout off and instead strive for community that encourages people to grow through gentle education. A place where patience is exercised and compassion applied.  We have to remember People over principle, compassion over being right, grace over righteous indignation. It seems so obvious to me that emotionally loaded terms should be avoided when you’re trying to actually inform, educate, and effect change. Lasting change comes with respect, compassion, grace, gentleness. Bitterness, resentment and hard hearts come from shaming, violence and belittling.  If you wouldn’t talk to your child that way why would you talk to anyone else that way? Modeling is the most effective form of parenting, I was saddened to see that behind a screen so many people modeled behavior I’m certain they wouldn’t want their children to emulate when interacting with their siblings.

We should speak up about what we’re passionate about or when we see something we feel is wrong.  I don’t want anyone to think I want conversation stifled or that I want to censor people that say things that may be hard to hear because that’s not true. What I do want though is for our messages, particularly the ones that are the most likely to be a flash point, to be couched in a constructive way that encourages dialogue. We are smart people, I’m fairly certain we know that when we use terms like poison, abuse, mutilation, lazy, uneducated, followers, ignorant, stupid, mutilate, chop it off, lame, pathetic, cruel, irresponsible, idiot, etc. we are using inflammatory language. People don’t even hear what we’re trying to say, the information is completely missed and the educational opportunity is lost all because of our word choice. Condescending questions intended to provoke (i.e. “Why would you ever…”) tear down people before they’ve even had the chance to consider your point.  Even if those words or others fit your feelings on any particular subject you don’t actually have to use them in order to have effective dialogue on the matter. I swear, you don’t.  For those of you passionate advocates out there that already understand this, thank you and I know that is actually the majority, we just aren’t the most obvious.

Sometimes there are situations where strong language and a level of force is effective or required.  Perhaps reflecting my approach to parenting though, I think those times are rare and best when exercised cautiously and in a limited fashion.  Even better when it is by someone in real life, in a face to face exchange after care and attention is given to being sure everyone understands the whole picture and only after more gentle measures have been attempted.  It is likely to be even better received by a person that is perceived as an authority on the subject or is in a relationship of respect with the individual.  Forceful language and soap box stomping are far less than effective when respect and personal relationship are neglected.

Sometimes even the most gentle attempts at education and sharing views on a hot button topic become volatile when someone takes these words as personal as condemnation.  I think this usually happens when someone has already felt attacked once (or twice or ten times) before and has started to discriminate against anyone with a different view.  Learning how to hear an opinion expressed without applying it to oneself as a personal attack will go a long way in diffusing potentially hurtful conversations not only online but in our face to face relationships as well.  A good friend of mine helped me learn this lesson years ago and it’s been an important part of my relationships since.  Now when someone says “I think it’s stupid when women post photos of breastfeeding on Facebook, like, do they want people staring at their tits?” I can ignore the part that seems to imply that he’s saying I’m stupid and instead address the real issue he’s bringing up.

It is nice to have friends that see eye-to-eye on everything with you. Or at least I would guess it is. I have yet to actually have friends like that. In my experience there have always been some things I’ve not agreed on with my friends. Yet we can still be friends. Even if we’re passionate about those issues. I need friendship more than I need to be right and more than I need to save someone from being wrong.  And I’ve found that being open both to listen and to share has been the single most effective way to productive conversation.

It’s easy to find people that want to rant and rave about how right their views are. It’s hard to find the rare place where love, support, and openness are practiced; where even if we think someone is wrong we can let them be as wrong as they think we are; where genuine care and patient compassion educate gently; all working together to building supportive, empowering community.  I want The Leaky Boob to be that rare place.

The Problem Continues

Hi XiLan,

I again apologize for the inconvenience you have experienced. The Page was disabled initially disabled in error and appears to have been affected by some sort of glitch.

We are currently looking into the matter that you reported, and will respond as soon as possible. Please be assured that Facebook takes users’ concerns around content very seriously. We apologize for any inconvenience this delay might present.

Your Page has again been reactivated and you should be able to use it shortly.

Thanks for your understanding,

Lysander
User Operations
Facebook

(XiLan is the username of Jessi, the person that originally helped me set up The Leaky Boob on Facebook.)

The thing is I don’t understand.  It sounds like he just said: “I’m sorry, we here at Facebook don’t know what we’re doing.  It must be some sort of computer thing, it’s completely out of our hands.”

Mark Zuckerberg, get someone who knows what they are doing STAT!  As TIMES man of the year, surely you understand the importance of hiring people who are not only experienced and trained but also give a damn when they screw up.

The thing is, this “glitch” he speaks of continues to disable the accounts of women, other pages and groups that have shared breastfeeding photos.  Additionally users and pages deactivated receive little to no response to their inquires as to why.  I got some sort of an apology and an excuse but most do not.  It’s starting to feel like we’re living with an abusive partner.  Many of us that share breastfeeding photos are on edge now, there has been a rash of deletions and more coming out and saying they would share breastfeeding photos but they are afraid of getting pulled.

So why do we stay?  I’ve addressed before why The Leak Boob is needed on Facebook and why we choose to carry on our little community there.  But still, wouldn’t we feel safer if we moved on to some place where accounts don’t just suddenly disappear?

Of course we would.  However, I’m refusing to accept being told to hide to feed my babies, virtually or otherwise.  The easy access on Facebook makes it such a simple step for women and those that support breastfeeding to participate in The Leaky B@@b community, providing a wealth of information and resources in a place where they are already active and connected.  Beyond that though having an active presence on Facebook does something else:  normalize breastfeeding.  Shunning breastfeeding moms to “discreet” (read: obscure) corners of the internet does nothing to encourage accepting breastfeeding as a normal and beneficial piece of family life.  We have to stop communicating one thing (i.e. “breast is best”) and doing another (i.e “but I don’t want to see it“).

Facebook told the ABC 13 reporter that they are not against breastfeeding and that breastfeeding photos are permitted on the site.  In an email response to her inquiry regarding the deletion of The Leaky Boob they invited her to search the site stating she would see many breastfeeding materials pop up.  She did and yes, there were other groups and materials related to breastfeeding including photos.  They restated their terms of service regarding nudity, obscenity, hateful content, etc. and maintained that they are pro-breastfeeding.

Yet just as recently as yesterday another page was deleted for breastfeeding photos and another just a few days before that.  Several participants on The Leaky B@@b have had photos removed and a warning issued that they posted a photo that violated the TOS.  There are at least 7 others that I know of that have had their accounts deactivated, 1 after posting just 1 breastfeeding photo within just the last week.  Historic Photos and Prints of Breastfeeding had a good chunk of their photos and art prints removed this week as well.  Personally I had 5 photos deleted and warnings issued last week and am surprised my account has not been deactivated.  This just a sampling and it continues to grow.   Groups and pages like Removed: The List, Stop Deleting Mother’s Support Groups F. B., Breastfeeding and Birth Pics that were deleted by bots, and more  dedicated to keeping tract of who was removed and petitioning to bring back users are being created almost as quickly as breastfeeding photos are being removed.

When these individuals and groups request information as to why they receive the same form email I did.  Upon appeal they receive yet another form email.  If they hear anything at all.  Facebook may claim to the media that they support breastfeeding and women but their actions and lack of communication with the users they’ve deactivated indicate something entirely different.  If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, looks like a duck…

Hello Lysander,

Thank you for your personal response regarding the deactivation and request for reinstatement for The Leaky B@@b page.  I genuinely appreciate your apology and having the page reinstated again.

As excited as we are to have The Leaky B@@b back, the situation has not changed.  Any page, individual, or photo is at risk of being deleted when related to breast health.  Because of message size constraints, I will send the list of pages and profiles still deleted to you under separate cover.

Facebook has a responsibility to its customers to clearly communicate that they are pro-women by creating a new way to moderate materials flagged as obscene and providing protection for pages that register as breast health or breastfeeding related.

By reinstating The Leaky B@@b page, twice, Facebook indicates that you are aware there is a significant problem with your current system and it appears this has been an ongoing problem since 2007.

I respect that you need a system to maintain a site free of inappropriate groups and pornographic images and I appreciate the efforts to keep Facebook safe.  However, when images, pages and user accounts are deleted it is nearly impossible for these to reinstated without the involvement of the media.  The lack of response for requests to appeal disabled accounts or at least to receive an explanation for the action communicates you do not support breastfeeding or breast health which means you do not support women.

Lysander, I know you are not personally responsible for this flaw with Facebook, however, you are the only person that has attempted to contact me personally.  I would appreciate your attention to the list of names and pages I’ve included that are currently deactivated for posting breastfeeding photos.

I would love to report in my next round of media interviews that Facebook has a solution to this problem, can you tell me how you plan to make this situation permanently better?  Also, when can the deleted pages/profiles expect to be reinstated?

Thank you for your time and quick response on this matter.

Sincerely,

Jessica Martin-Weber

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Remember that fairytale?  It even got a fairytale ending.  For a little bit anyway.

It felt like a victory, like one small step for women-kind when Facebook reinstated The Leaky B@@b page around 3 on Tuesday, January 4, 2011.  The whirl-wind of the previous 2 days seemed like it suddenly stopped.  There was virtual celebrating and our little fairytale community picked up right where it had left off plus a few thousand more members.  The wall on the page was hoping, after the celebrating calmed down posts asking about everything from how to deal with teething to is it ok if my baby wants to nurse all the time and is it ok to breastfeed past 12 months (it is, by the way) filled the page.  Leakies got back to the business of feeding their babies and supporting other Leakies.  Well wishers popped in congratulating us on getting our space back.  The energy was like a good party, a good party with good friends.  People that had never heard of TLB before joined and expressed how excited they were to know they were not alone.  Several others expressed how they wished they had something like TLB when they were breastfeeding and were so happy to see our community there for other moms now.

Personally, I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep.  You know that big sigh you heave when something intense, requiring hard word is over?  I couldn’t believe that after just a few short days I was already there, heaving that sigh and moving on.  For a moment my mind even wandered to other posts I had been planning before the page went down.  Everything was normal again.  I looked around at my neglected house and tackled a few areas.  I took Earth Baby to ballet, made dinner, spent some time on Facebook, read with my girls, made a batch of bread dough, did dishes, fed Smunchie, fiddled around on Twitter, fiddled around on the new web page, worked on an outline for another post, answered some emails, went back to Facebook.

And it was gone.  Not Facebook, The Leaky Boob.  I tried 3 times but I knew right away what was going on.  So I tried the Bring Back The Leaky Boob page.  Same result.  Both pages were gone.

Last time I cried.  This time I didn’t cry.  I closed my eyes and put my head back.

There was the same form letter email in my inbox, deleted for violating the terms of service.  Violators don’t get to come back.  I’ve heard that one before.

We’ll get the pages back.  It’s just not over yet.  But I already knew it wasn’t over.

It wasn’t enough to get The Leaky Boob page reinstated the first time because the problem is more than that one page being deleted. The Leaky Boob was reinstated and that was a very exciting and important piece of what we wanted. Still, Facebook needs to do something about the problem with deleting (erroneously or otherwise) breastfeeding pages and materials. Their system is not working and ignoring the problem positions all groups related to breast health including breastfeeding and breast cancer to experience the same treatment simply because any Facebook user can report or flag them for being obscene. Breast health is not obscene. Breasts are not obscene. Facebook needs to create some way for breast health pages, images (including personal breastfeeding photos), terminology and information to be exempt from automatic deletion when reported, or some other way to keep truly obscene content off the site without blocking legitimate pages.

The Leaky B@@b fan page is missed by thousands of “Leakies.”  We need it back.  Studies show that support is crucial to breastfeeding success and a support community is what this is all about.  But this isn’t just about breastfeeding support, it’s about breast health, normalizing breastfeeding, infant nutrition, women’s rights, the objectification of women, and so much more.  This is about public health.

One step forward, two steps back.  I’m ready to run a marathon.

Two new pages have sprung up on Facebook, one aimed to Bring Back The Leaky Boob- again and the other invinting you to Join TLB in Support of Women’s Health.  Like these pages on Facebook to get up to date information.  I shared here ways for you to help, working together a community can accomplish great change.