You plan to breastfeed, you hear it’s really great (for you and for the baby!) and its natural (sure to be easy!!). You see pictures of breastfeeding in those baby magazines, everyone looks so relaxed and fresh! You take a prental class, and learn how to know it’s “go time” and also what your options are for pain relief. You get one class on baby care and they mentioned breastfeeding but it was mostly about those first few hours (skin to skin!), no pacifiers, no bottles, baby’s cues.
The baby arrives! The birth might not have been what you envisioned, you can’t believe how sore you are and while you recover they are letting you leave the hospital with this tiny human that you don’t feel very prepared to care for! The breastfeeding in those early days is varying degrees of painful (not normal!), you are told your baby is jaundiced, or lost too much weight or will not latch at all, so you have to give your baby a bottle (not the plan) of formula (also not the plan) Ummmm, where was this information in that class?!?!
No problem though, because you’ll just go to your doctor and get some help. Oh, wait, your doctor got even less training than you did in that prenatal class. So you get help and a plan and still you are struggling. You don’t know where else to go. Topping up after feeds and/or pumping after feeds leaves you feeling overwhelmed and even more tired. Or it’s so painful you can’t even put the baby to your breast without crying or more damage. Or topping up with bottles of pumped milk seems like less work than even trying at the breast. Or no matter what all the “experts” say, no one can get your baby to latch. And overtime it just gets more and more unsustainable. So you end up, little by little changing your plan from breastfeeding to something else. And you feel guilty.
But, is that what you are feeling? Did you do the best that you could with the information you had? Did you get informed choice from your health care providers? Did your breastfeeding support use evidence based information to help you meet your goals? Often breastfeeding parents think they feel guilty for having to use formula. There is no guilt in these situations; I believe what many are feeling is GRIEF. They need to grieve their plan to breastfeed. When that doesn’t work out, you need to give yourself time to understand what you are feeling. When you see parents that did meet their goals, you might even feel ANGRY. Are you angry at them? Are you being shamed by them for not breastfeeding? No. Those feelings in the post partum period are big and complicated but there is never any need for guilt. Every parent does the best that they can with the information and situation that they have at the time.
Personally, I figured I would breastfeed when I was pregnant with my first; it was free, always the right temperature and ready to feed at the drop of a hat, oh and all those health benefits for both the baby and I. I didn’t have a plan, didn’t take any classes but I had a midwife, so I thought that was all I needed to do to prepare. Then my baby wouldn’t latch. No one panicked (except me!). During those early days I finger fed my son formula. Did that mean the end of our breastfeeding relationship? No. Did I feel guilty; because I wasn’t giving him ONLY breastmilk? Never. The number one rule of breastfeeding is feed the baby (this is a LOT different than Fed is Best. See here for a great discussion about that). There are many different ways to do this, some protect the breastfeeding better than others.
My hope is that we all turn that grief into anger and passion; passion to change the current system that not all breastfeeding parents can afford the gold standard of lactation care; the International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). Often we don’t know who is giving us breastfeeding information and advice. Anyone that calls themselves a Lactation Consultant should be an IBCLC but since it is not a protected title, anyone can. There are also a few different ways to become an IBCLC, I’ll write more about that in another blog post.
Please follow along on the IBCLC journey in Ontario toward regulation; https://www.facebook.com/OCRLC