A large part of what I do as a Lactation Consultant involves teaching, guiding, sharing, touching, and demonstrating. But above all, I think the most important aspect of my job is supporting. Breastfeeding a newborn is not always easy. I like to describe Breastfeeding as a journey. There are quite often many bumps along the way, but with the proper guidance and support, the journey can be a successful one. Most of the mom’s I help in the hospital setting are experiencing challenges with positioning and latching their babies. They always tell me ‘I didn’t realize breastfeeding was so hard! I thought my baby would just know what to do when he came out!’ I reassure them that they are not alone in this struggle....and that this is why I have a job.
Sometimes as a new mother, you don’t realize that even though your story and experience are unique, there are many other women going through much the same. I find it is hard to prepare yourself for breastfeeding. You can read, look at pictures, videos, observe others feed their babies. But until you are going through it yourself, you don’t quite know what to expect. Yes, there are some mom’s who deliver their babies and they instantly latch on and their journey has begun on a smooth sailing path. But for most, there is usually some sort of challenge that presents. Most of the time when I am consulted in the hospital, I can successfully help a mom figure out what is causing her breastfeeding issue. But sometimes, there is no quick fix. To be honest, it usually takes a few days and sometimes even a few weeks before the issues have resolved. There are times when you fix one challenge and low and behold another one comes up!! This is just the nature of breastfeeding....always evolving, never quite staying the same for too long.
The first few days for a new mother are hard enough in themselves. You are sleep deprived, uncomfortable, hormonal, and now trying to figure out how to nourish this new little person who has suddenly taken over your life.....and your heart. I can easily tell mom what she needs to do. I can easily show mom what she needs to do. I can readily put a plan down on paper for mom so she knows the ’steps’ to follow if she can’t get her baby to latch. The hard part is making her believe that she can do it on her own and that she can do it well!!!
As women, we naturally put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be the best and only do what’s best for our babies. No mother wants to see herself as a failure or feel that she can’t provide the basic sustenance of life for her infant. But yet so many mothers feel this way. When a mother expresses to me her feelings of guilt and failure, I reassure her that she is doing the best she can RIGHT NOW and that’s all she needs to focus on. She needs to take it feed-by-feed and day-by-day. Sometimes the latch is perfect and baby is gulping milk at the breast but mom still wants the LC to come in and have a look just to make sure. I am always more than happy to do so as I realize the importance of this simple gesture. We all want to be heard, and have our feelings validated and know that we are on the right path to successful nourishment of our babies. This is one part I truly love about my job. How great is it to be a ‘cheerleader’ for a mommy and her new baby. When I see the happiness and relief on mom’s face, it truly brings me joy and a sense of accomplishment. This is why La Leche League has worked so well and has helped thousands of breastfeeding women over the years. Having someone educated in breastfeeding answer your questions and guide you through some challenging times is so beneficial for the breastfeeding dyad. I never charge for a phone consult or an e-mail consult as I realize a mother so often needs reassurance that everything is on the right path.
But there are times when it’s not all smiles and relief. There are times when things are not going as hoped. Times when baby is not latching well or milk supply is low. In these instances, all I can do is share my knowledge, assist in the best way I can, but most of all support. That support also means supporting whatever decision the mother and her family may make regarding their breastfeeding journey. Clients will ask me, ‘when do I know if ‘this’ is working? When do I decide to go on or quit?’ My answer is usually the following: ‘You will know in your heart when it’s time. You sometimes have to step outside of your current situation and evaluate how things are going.’ Sometimes a mom will say, ‘You know what, this isn’t so bad, I am managing and for now its working.’ Other times she will say ‘You know what, for the sake of my physical and mental health, I cannot do this anymore.’ Quite often there are tears and it is evident the pain that she is going through. At the end of the day, when it’s said and done, she has to make the decision that is best for her and her family.
My role as a Lactation Consultant is to educate, empower, and support. I do not stand in judgement or ever tell a mom what the ‘right’ thing to do is. Only she knows that. And for all the efforts and trials and tribulations she has been enduring the past days, weeks, months......she has to feel ok with her decision and let those feelings of guilt and failure go. This is a lot easier said than done. I’m sure we have all come across women who share their ‘for better or for worse’ breastfeeding stories. Some mother’s never really get over a breastfeeding journey gone wrong. My second daughter self-weaned at 9 months. I was devastated when this happened. I tried my very best to continue breastfeeding her but she just refused. I had feelings of rejection and ohhhh the guilt that I wasn’t going to breastfeed for the entire first year of her life! I’m sure I cried almost every day for a week. Eventually I began to accept it and decided that I could continue pumping and give her my milk in a bottle. I had found a way to make it work, and I was ok with that.
It truly pains me to see my clients experience the bumpy road of breastfeeding. These women are so dedicated and will persevere through almost anything to ensure their babies are breastfed. But sometimes the price they pay by having their physical and mental health suffer is not worth it. There are always options. If feeding directly from the breast isn’t working, pumping and bottle feeding your breast milk is a great one. Bottom line, it is still your breast milk and you are still nourishing your baby.
Without support in the breastfeeding world, I know our success rates would dramatically drop. As women, we need to be there for each other and hold each other up when times are difficult. No other time in a woman’s life is as challenging as entering into the realm of motherhood. To empower a mother with knowledge and support her through her beautiful journey of Breastfeeding is a gift I am given every day, and for that I am grateful.
Leanne Rzepa RN BN IBCLC