Some mothers and babies take to breastfeeding like a duck to water. They gracefully dance through latching and milk supply and returning to work like experts. But many mothers and babies find that breastfeeding is not the easy swim they thought it would be.
Lactation consultants know this. It is why MilkWorks exists. Yet an on-going dilemma in the breastfeeding support world is: how do we portray the reality of what breastfeeding might be like, yet believe in a woman’s ability to breastfeed?
I taught childbirth classes and was a doula for years. In my opinion, birth is an amazing experience. Yet every time I showed a class of expectant parents a childbirth film, I could see them squirm as the mom sweated and groaned and cried out. There was nothing dignified nor easy about giving birth. Yet I loved supporting parents through childbirth just because of that.
If we make childbirth (or breastfeeding) look easy, and a mom has challenges, do we let her down? Does she feel as though something is wrong with her because it is not easy and natural?
If we acknowledge that breastfeeding is hard for many moms (for many different reasons), do we scare moms away? Or make women sound like they are sissies?
We get feedback on both sides of the coin.
In 1981, when I gave birth to my first child, breastfeeding rates were low. Less than 10% of moms breastfed for 6 months. There were no breastfeeding classes or lactation consultants in outpatient breastfeeding centers. Most women could not turn to their mothers for help, because their mothers did not breastfeed. The fact that any mothers were breastfeeding was in large part due to La Leche League, a group of women who chose to ignore their doctor’s advice and breastfeed their babies.
My son latched right after birth, but stopped latching the next day after he was circumcised. For the next four days he refused to latch, no matter what we did. On day four, I drove to northeast Lincoln to a La Leche League meeting. I was welcomed into a house full of mothers, babies and toddlers and encouraged to sit down and nurse my baby. I was terrified and terribly ashamed to tell these women that I was there because my baby would not nurse. If I admitted it out loud, would I be even a bigger failure as a mom?
I can still picture leaving that split level grey house and walking back to my car in tears, asking myself what on earth I was going to do now?
My husband called our doctor, who replied, “Give your baby some formula.” I sobbed. My dear husband drove to Walgreens and bought a medicine syringe. He had me hand express some milk and he held our son to my breast as he dribbled the milk over my nipple. Our son lapped the milk up and latched. While I always had a low milk supply (most likely from the delayed removal of my milk), my first son nursed for 16 months.
Twenty years later, in 2001, MilkWorks opened our doors. Public health experts were encouraging a return to breastfeeding, citing the impact of low breastfeeding rates on the health of our country. Many people, even those in the breastfeeding support world, thought that desire was enough. A common mantra was, “Just nurse your baby!”
Once MilkWorks started working with moms, we quickly learned that desire was not enough. There were many mothers who desperately wanted to nurse their baby. But for multiple different reasons, they found it downright hard. Today, our mantra is: “Any amount of milk and any time at the breast is good for your baby.” After working with thousands of mothers, we know that breastfeeding is not always “the perfect swim”. And when moms equate breastfeeding with perfection, it is very easy for them to end up discouraged.
Last year we had a three-minute video made for our 15th birthday. Non-profit videos, designed to create awareness and solicit donations, get at the heart of a non-profit’s mission. What IS MilkWorks all about? We are here for moms who want to breastfeed and are having a tough time. Support fixes many breastfeeding problems, and the ones it doesn’t fix? Well, they usually become a lot more manageable when a mom has support.
Many people love the video, but some don’t. The critics feel that our message may scare moms, or set them up for failure. I truly hope that before too long, the need for MilkWorks goes away. But for right now, we are here for those moms who find the going is too tough to handle alone. And we want them to know we are here.
I wish that both childbirth and breastfeeding were neat and charming and easy. They aren’t. They are full of uncertainty and they are messy. They may be painful and they may be disappointing. But they are still two incredible female experiences. Since the beginning of time, women have supported women through childbirth and breastfeeding. MilkWorks has embraced this tradition. We are here for moms because we believe mothers and babies can handle the challenges of breastfeeding. Generations of women before us have led the way. We are honored to follow in their foot-steps.
We DO believe that breastfeeding is easy. That is, until you are a mom that finds it difficult. Maybe that’s when our video makes all the sense in the world...