We all know the benefits of breastfeeding: healthier baby (thank you, antibodies), reportedly IQ boosting power, calorie-burner for mom, and it's (usually) the cheapest option. And breast milk? It's empirically best for your baby. So if "breast is best," what's the problem? Unfortunately, this natural process doesn't always come naturally. In fact, it can be way harder than an expectant mom is, well, expecting, especially if she's not getting the support she needs because people do cruel things to a mom struggling to breastfeed.
Exclusive breastfeeding was my plan from the get-go. I was so confident that I opted out of the breastfeeding class available to me at the hospital, and skipped over the chapter on formula in every baby book I emphatically and meticulously read. So, it was a complete shock to me when my newborn daughter had trouble latching. It took me weeks to get in my breastfeeding and pumping groove and, by that time, the damage to my supply had already been done. I ended up supplementing with formula, and I "only" managed to breastfeed for seven months.
I don't want any mom to go through what I did. Breastfeeding moms need support. People may mean well, but the road to hell was paved with good intentions. Consider keeping that unsolicited advice to yourself and, instead, show up at mama's doorstep with a batch of lactation cookies and an encouraging smile. Honestly, it doesn't matter what you do, as long as you don't do the following:
Give The Baby A Bottle Or Pacifier
Well-meaning nurses and concerned partners are usually the guilty parties, and they're not trying to undermine you. However, when they give the baby a bottle of formula or sugar water (especially without your permission or behind your back so you can "sleep longer") that's exactly what they're doing. Newborns have tiny stomachs, and if they're given a feeding from someone other than mom, they may be too full to nurse. That means less breast milk because mama's breasts aren't being stimulated to produce more. Hello, vicious cycle.
Pacifiers are also problematic because they may fill baby's need for sucking. Babies are the best breast pumps in existence, so you want them working for you. A rubber nipple is easier to manage than a real one, and your baby can become lazy, which will interfere with nursing.
Early on, I was pressured into supplementing with a bottle. However, I insisted that my baby only be given a bottle after a nursing session. One time, my husband was letting me nap when the baby got hungry. He told me he almost gave her a bottle so I could keep sleeping, and I came absolutely unglued. I know he was trying to help by letting me rest, but it felt like breastfeeding sabotage.
Give Her A Nipple Shield
Granted, the nipple shield may initially be a small mercy. For those unfamiliar, a nipple shield is a flexible plastic nipple that covers mom's own nipple and, essentially, gives baby more to work with.
It's a great tool, but it's also obnoxious. One of the main selling points of breastfeeding is that it's easy to just whip your boob out and feed your baby. It's not so easy when you have to fiddle with a shield that you then have to sanitize and make sure you have on you at all times (I mean, it's not like you're going to forget your own nipples when you go out).
They also don't tell you that you eventually have to wean your baby from it. In fact, it's been suggested that medical staff often hand out shields when they're not needed, and frequently without proper instructions. After a week of the thing, my pediatrician (also a licensed lactation consultant because he's awesome) took a look at me and said my nipples weren't inverted. In fact, all it took was changing my hand position to get my little one to latch.
Give Her A Supplemental Nursing System
I'm going to say it: the supplemental nursing system (SNS) is the worst. I mean, you know it's bad when most baby books warn that it's not for every breastfeeding team. For the uninitiated, the SNS is a feeding tube designed to stimulate breast milk production at the same time formula is given.
You wear a container of formula around your neck (I felt like a f*cking St. Bernard) and place a thin tube into your baby's mouth while they're latched to your breast. I can only assume this device was created by a man who thinks breastfeeding is a hands-free endeavor. It is literally impossible to hold your baby at the breast, keep the tube in place, and open and close the valve at the same time.
When I tried the SNS, with a lactation consultant at my side, the tube got clogged. Three times. I drove home bawling my eyes out. It was expensive, so I didn't want to throw it out, but I had to get it out of my sight. I never tried it again.
Perhaps the worst thing you can to do a mom struggling with nursing is dangle formula in front of her. Come to the dark side, Luke. OK, I don't think formula is "evil," because it isn't, but breastfeeding mothers are well aware that it's made available to them. Constantly reminding a mother that she can just waltz into a store and buy formula isn't helpful. Instead, it undermines her plans for feeding her baby with her body.
At my baby's first check-up, she had lost some weight (which is normal by the way). The nurse asked me how I felt about formula on a scale of one to ten. I answered negative three. She insisted that it was in the best interest of my baby's health, and I totally caved. It was only supposed to be until my milk came in, but once the formula floodgates were opened, there was no going back.
Talk About How Easy Breastfeeding Is
No mom who is having trouble with breastfeeding wants to hear about what a walk in the park it was for you. Keep that sh*t to yourself. It's also not helpful to hear that it will be so much easier the next time. That's not doing her any favors in this moment. Instead, remind her what a good job she's doing.
Get In Her Way
Well-wishers, beware. I know you can't wait to get your hands on that sweet newborn and smell that wonderful new baby smell, but you need to back off. Mom needs to be able to completely concentrate on breastfeeding, and that's hard to do if she's regaling you with her birth story (which she might actually want to do, just not at that exact moment). By all means, pop in with a casserole, but don't overstay your welcome.
At the time of my baby's birth, we were getting ready for our family's first permanent change of station (my husband is a member of the military). I knew we were moving, and I wanted everyone to be able to meet our baby girl. It's really hard to tell your loved ones that it's time to go, so don't make new mamas be the bad guy.
Use The Words 'Failure To Thrive'
I'm looking at you, medical professionals. Failure to thrive means your child is undernourished. I understand the need for a descriptive term for these situations, but can we please exchange this one for something a little less dire-sounding? Something that doesn't place the blame squarely on an emotionally and physically exhausted mother?
My dear friend was actually told by her doctor that she was starving her baby. And don't get me started on "inhospitable womb." Use of these terms should be considered cruel and unusual punishment.
Minimize Her Pain
Breastfeeding moms are dealing with engorgement, leaking milk, and sore or cracked nipples. If things get really bad, her milk ducts can get clogged or she can develop a breast infection called mastitis. She doesn't need to "suck it up." She needs lanolin cream, breast pads, and a healthy dose of sympathy.
There's nothing lonelier than being a new mom, and it's exacerbated when you're struggling to breastfeed. New mothers need their moms, aunts, sisters, partners, and friends to support them. They also need access to medical professionals such as doctors, nurses, and lactation consultations who are pro-breastfeeding. Partners, don't let your loved one try to do this on her own.
Shame Her Into Stopping (Or Continuing)
Let's try this for a change: a mother's baby is her baby and how she feeds him or her is her business. She should never be pressured to continue breastfeeding if she doesn't want to or can't. Anything of the "you should try harder/nurse more often/pump through the night" variety is verboten. That said, it's also callous to compel her to give up if she's not ready. "You're starving your baby" is manipulation in the third degree.
Moms are just trying to do the best for their babies. They deserve to be lauded for their efforts at breastfeeding and, frankly, every other damn thing they're doing for their child.