Looking for The Lactivist? She's retired. But you CAN still find Jen blogging. These days, she's runs A Flexible Life. Join her for life, recipes, projects and the occasional rant.
Sunday, January 21, 2007If you put a bunch of breastfeeding activists and lactation consultants in a room and had them come up with a commercial for breastfeeding, it might go something like this...
Slow and gentle orchestral music starts up in the background as the picture fades in to show a newborn baby in his mother's arms. The mother gazes down at her child in rapt adoration and gently raises the child to her breast. As the music swells and we watch various shots of mothers and nurslings snuggled together in nursing bliss, you'd hear the voice over.
"Every parent wants what's best for their child. Breastfeeding is one of the most natural and beautiful ways to ensure the health their health. Breastfed babies have lower rates of colic, allergies, illness, ear infections and even diaper rash. They are less at risk for childhood cancers, obesity and death from SIDS. Breastfeeding takes far less work than bottle feeding, is inexpensive and portable."
The commercial would go on and on about how wonderful breastfeeding is for both mother and child. Then at the end, Mr. Fast-Talking-Announcer-Man would speedily say:
"Possible side effects may include sleepless nights, breast infections, cracked and bleeding nipples, latch pain, thrush, reliance on breast pumps, societal pressure and a general desire to crawl into the nearest closet to hide."
What's my point? Well, on the heels of my post about the beauty of the nursing bond between mother and child I think it's only fair to talk about one of my biggest issues with lactation consultants, breastfeeding campaigns and nursing mothers.
I think that far too many of them underplay the difficulty that breastfeeding spells for many women.
You often hear it glossed over as "after the first two weeks, breastfeeding is...[fill in the blank]" That "after the first two weeks" part is usually said quickly and quietly.
I've spoken to so many women in real life and online that expressed sheer amazement at just how difficult breastfeeding was. In fact, apart from my friend who had a baby a month ago, pretty much every mom I know TRIED to breastfeed and quit within a week or two. It was just too hard and they couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel.
To be honest, I felt the same way with Elnora. Sure, exclusively pumping worked out for us, but we were very blessed. Had I not known of that option, or had I not had a good supply for the pump, Elnora would have ended up on formula. Not because I didn't want to breastfeed, not because I wasn't educated, not because I didn't have support...but because NO ONE ever told me how hard those first two weeks would be.
I'm a "natural childbirth" advocate as well as a breastfeeding advocate. I love to try to educate and encourage women about their options when it comes to unmedicated birth. The first thing I tell them if they mention that they'd like to "try for a natural birth" is that they have GOT to prepare. We go out of our way to tell women that natural childbirth is like running a marathon. You've got to prepare, you've got to take classes, you've got to know that it's likely to be one of the hardest things you've ever done.
We tell them about transition...the point at which almost every mom, even the most hard core natural birthers think about the epidural. We tell them that that point is usually the hardest point of labor and that if they can hold on past transition, it gets a lot easier and they'll make it.
I wonder why we won't talk about breastfeeding the same way? Sure, I've heard moms talk about the need to have an LC's number on hand or the need to get to a LLL meeting before the birth. I've even heard moms talk about the need to take a breastfeeding class before the birth. What I rarely hear is a mom lay it out in raw, honest truth.
Breastfeeding is HARD for most moms. That first week or two can be enough to make even the most determined mom dissolve into tears at the thought of latching their baby on again. Even with lactation consultants and breastfeeding classes, many moms find that the first week or two results in painful latches, cracked or bleeding nipples, painful engorgement and so little sleep that you think you might pass out. We write things off by saying "get to a LC, it's not supposed to hurt" when the reality is that even with a perfect latch, that first week of nursing DOES hurt for some moms.
Do we do a disservice by talking about the wonderful benefits of nursing and skimming over the problems as if they're the simply the disclaimer at the end of a pharmaceutical ad? Do we lead moms into a false sense of "this should be easy" that leaves them confused, bewildered and heartbroken when they find that it's so much more difficult than they ever dreamed?
I realize the desire to avoid scaring moms. I get it, I really do. But women are intelligent. Can we really not come up with a way to be honest about what moms might face and to make sure that they are equipped with the ability to deal if and when things get tough?
I think I would have made it with Elnora if only I'd known that a few more days might have worked things out. I have to think that I'm not the only one.