Mama, misinformation makes nursing harder
By Heather Lin, Guest Writer
PHOTO CREDIT: The Wish Photography
“Dear Mama, I hope you will be able to get timely breastfeeding information and support from experienced people.”
This is my closing wish after I deliver my breastfeeding class to pregnant mothers in my role as a La Leche League leader. Let me explain what I mean.
So. Many. Mothers. I have heard from so many mothers, “I wish I had known that…” “If only I knew…” “I didn’t know, so…” It is gutting for me as a LLL Leader to hear such admissions, as it means that the struggles the mother faced, possibly alone and in pain, might have been avoidable had she had the right support at the right time.
Breastfeeding is time-sensitive, as milk supply gets built in the early weeks and months, and separations from baby and challenges during these times can compound into ever greater difficulties.
It is worth noting that a breastfeeding journey will not be derailed after one difficult session, but it remains true if a mother experiences challenges breastfeeding during the early days and weeks, it is important to future success that she be given timely support when she needs it, and as often as she needs it.
New motherhood is an insane blur of a time for many. Mothers might feel physically and emotionally drained as they struggle with all the new experiences that this time brings. It is unreasonable to expect mama to know breastfeeding best practices, or to thumb through reference books and scour the internet for answers.
This is where spouses, parents, friends and outside service providers such as lactation consultants, nurses and LLL leaders can step in. It is particularly heartening for me to receive a message from a spouse who is collecting information on behalf of their partner.
This is often the type of support we wish for PHOTO CREDIT: TESCHKA TAKES PICTURES
new mothers, for those around her to support her to
reach her goals instead of watching her struggle with increasing frustration.
Another way mothers can access timely breastfeeding information is by taking a prenatal breastfeeding class given by an organisation that whole-heartedly advocates breastfeeding. Stocking up information in two brains (we recommend the new mother to attend LLL breastfeeding classes with a partner for this very purpose) is a great way to ensure a degree of knowledge and problem-solving when baby arrives.
Breastfeeding Information and Support
Personal anecdotes are precisely that, personal. Just because a friend down the street had a baby who latched with no issue doesn’t mean every mother will. Just because mothers on the WhatsApp group say they didn’t have enough milk (often a fallacy) doesn’t make that statement factually sound or true for others.
Community groups such as WhatsApp groups or Facebook groups can have immense value in providing mothers with emotional support as well as accurate information. They can, however, also contain personal anecdotes that are framed as facts, and this can cause confusion.
People often connect through sharing experiences, and this absolutely has a place in striving toward breastfeeding success. If a mother is experiencing breastfeeding challenges, however, particularly in the early days, it would be wise to seek accurate information from reputed sources along with emotional connection and support from communities.
Information is factual and grounded in evidence. Information is not opinions or horror stories or a blog that confirms what a mother fears.
If one is going to advise or inform a mother on how to breastfeed, I would hope that they know what they are talking about. My definition of “knowing what they are talking about” would include lived experience, active training in the subject, actively keeping up to date with best practices as well as relying on verified sources.
International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC), lactation consultant, LLL leaders, members of breastfeeding advocacy organisations, medical practitioners who specialise in obstetrics or infant health are all individuals who can likely speak with some to great authority on the subject.
Getting one’s information from such sources can help ensure that the mother is receiving accurate, up to date information on how to achieve her breastfeeding goals.
Again, a community of breastfeeding mothers often provides life-giving, hope-giving emotional support to a struggling fellow mother. I do not wish to discount the importance of emotional support from one’s community, as this can often give the mother the hope she needs to persevere another day. The ideal formula is a mix of both; a community of mothers with similar goals combined with experts on the subject who can verify and give accurate information.
As I often tell the mothers I counsel, “half the battle is knowing where to go for information and support when you need it.”
Mothers who reach out to LLL are already on a great path to success, as they have actively sought out an organisation and done their due diligence as to our credibility and ethos. Knowing where to go for information can also look like being aware that one’s postnatal ward has a lactation consultant service that can be requested, or perhaps having a list of outside lactation consultants at the ready.
At the end of the day, we do not know what we do not know…and motherhood is fraught with things we do not know, as it is impossible to learn everything beforehand and apply it correctly after birth.
Humans are a clever species, and our evolutionary guard against the impossibility of knowing everything is to form communities and help each other. One mother does not need to hold a million pieces of information in her head when she can lean on others for information and support.
So, following the adage of “it takes a village,” firstly this is deeply true and secondly, in our modern, complex society, often we have to seek out that village ourselves.