Friday, August 18, 2006

On breastfeeding...

I've been working on a post about breastfeeding for some time, but haven't been able to put it exactly into the terms that I want to. I recently posted this on a message board in response to a thread asking for responses to reasons women give for not breastfeeding.

I stopped trying to exclusively breastfeed my son due to a multitude of reasons at three months and then continued to comfort nurse him for another month until he went on a strike that I just couldn't wait out. I did seek some help early on, but I just wasn't able to put it into practice because of a woeful lack of physical support and the stress was severely impacting my ability to be a mother (history of major depression).

I was *very* defensive in those early months after I weaned. I knew what to do but was unable to implement it given my circumstances and consequently felt a great deal of guilt and grief over it. I used any number of "excuses" to explain why our breastfeeding relationship ended and on more than one occassion pulled out the laundry list - long sleepy nurser, large breasts w/inverted nipples, could only nurse in football hold, nipple shield, pumping, supplements, etc. as if to prove that I had done all that I could. If someone responded to my laundry list with a bunch of suggestions of what I could have done differently in those early months, it would have sent me into a downward spiral of guilt and second guessing.

Now that I have come through my grief and am proud of the fact that my son got four months of breastmilk, I am faced with the problem of how to respond to others when they confess to having problems. There were some pieces of advice that I got that just infuriated me - my most hated was, "it gets so much easier after X weeks." Everytime one of those milestones came and it didn't get any easier I just wanted to cry, so that is one that I don't plan on using much. I do have an overwhelming urge to spout warnings about what led me astray on my breastfeeding journey and am constantly having to think twice before I speak for fear of coming across too over-zealous, thinking about how I would have reacted and did react when I received similar advice when I was struggling.

One of the things I have been concentrating on is debunking the myth about La Leche League. Because I was struggling so much, I projected my own feelings of failure and guilt onto them and consequently removed what may have been a great source of help and support, I was so afraid that I was going to be told I was a bad mother. I've also been able to relate my own story with out having to justify it, but with the caveats that every nursing relationship is different and that some bad advice and treatments (didn't start nursing with the shield until 7 days post-partum, that burns me the most) really impacted us.

It's a very difficult road to tread - advice that may give one mother enough to keep going may send another deeper into the guilt/failure downward spiral. Moreso than anything else is the realization that nuclear families and society in general is not conducive to breastfeeding. Yes, nursing on demand and pumping every two hours is a good way to help increase supply. Telling this to a mother who is already completely overwhelmed by her baby, family and responsibilities may not be. I agree with many others who have said that shaming and judging mothers has no part in lactivism, not when there are so many barriers to a successful breastfeeding relationship, and I am very happy to see a thread like this trying to change things.