Category Archives: breastfeeding

Telling Mothers the Truth About Breastfeeding

kerry

(This was written in response to the recent New York Times article, which I don’t want to link to here. Google “overselling breastfeeding” if you haven’t read it and want to.)

I have listened to mothers weep over how difficult breastfeeding is, or how much they hate it, dread it, want it to end.

I have helped mothers get through to the other side of breastfeeding, which usually includes varying amounts of pleasure and love.

But I have also helped mothers make the decision to end breastfeeding.

I never gloss over their feelings of loss and regret: these are feelings they need to feel and work through.

I don’t think it’s helpful to tell a mother she shouldn’t feel these feelings, that she needs to move on, or that breastfeeding doesn’t matter anyway.

A mother’s breastfeeding experience lives in her bones. Most (but not all) mothers have a visceral and primal urge to breastfeed. When it doesn’t happen for whatever reason, it can feel earth-shattering.

This is not a feeling EVERY mother has, but when a mother has it, it shouldn’t be disregarded. Women need support to work through these feelings.

I also never downplay the benefits of breastfeeding. I never say breastfeeding isn’t important for babies and mothers. It is. Its short-term and long-term health benefits are confirmed by research (despite recent claims in the media). Every major health organization stands by this.

I will not lie to a mother and tell her breastfeeding doesn’t matter. Because it does, and she usually feels that it does, even though weaning may be the best decision for her and her family.

I believe I can relay this to a mother who stops breastfeeding without hurting her feelings or shaming her. How? By being a good listener, by showering her with love, and by honoring her feelings.

Here’s what else I tell a mother who chooses to wean:

There is more to mothering than the food that you feed your child.

Breastfeeding is just one of the many choices you will make as a mother, and it is the sum total of choices that contribute to the health and well-being of your children.

Breastfeeding is not the only way to bond with your baby.

You are a good mother. You are loved. You are doing your best. You are following your heart, and that is the best thing you can do for yourself and your child.

But I can do all that without diminishing the power of breastmilk, breastfeeding, and her feelings about it all.

Regret is a human emotion that is OK to feel. Disappointment is too.

I am sorry that some women have felt hurt by friends, lactation professionals, doctors, or others when they had to make the difficult decision to end breastfeeding, or when breastfeeding didn’t work out for whatever reason.

But we don’t need to skip over the facts about breastfeeding, or sugar-coat a woman’s feelings in order to be empathetic. Women are most empowered when they are given the whole truth, when they are armed with facts, when they are encouraged to feel the whole range of their feelings, and when they are allowed to speak their truth.

***

Connect with me on Facebook and Twitter!

Advertisements

My Problem with Similac’s #endmommywars Campaign

3D99A31C0C

Have you seen the #endmommywars hashtag floating all over social media lately? It’s becoming a pretty big thing.

On the one hand, it’s an important idea. No mother should ever be shamed for any parenting choice she makes. Period. Truly, it shouldn’t matter if you breastfed, formula fed, stayed home, sent your kids to daycare, whether you were labeled as a “helicopter” parent or “free-range.” Every mom is just doing her best, trying to find her way, and learning as she goes along. The most important thing is how you love your kids. And there is more than one way to provide a loving, secure family base for your child. I’m sorry that any mother has made another mother feel anything but supported in her choices, whatever they may be.

But I’m afraid this #endmommywars campaign is not as supportive as it seems, and in many ways is just pitting mothers against each other further. Are there judgmental mothers out there? Sure. I’ve met them (and I’ve seen loads of them on the internet!). But for the most part, I have seen a ton of kindness from the other mothers I encounter in my daily life. And I think we need to accentuate that aspect of motherhood MORE. Let’s talk about what we can do to support one another, not underline how some small number of moms are cruel to each another.

But most importantly, the campaign shuts down our ability to voice our opinions and debate civilly. Although I wholeheartedly support motherhood in all forms, I know that feeding babies breastmilk is the best thing for their developing bodies. As a lactation consultant (IBCLC) it is my job to support mothers who wish to reach those goals. Does that mean I don’t support formula feeding mothers? Of course not! I know that breastmilk is not an option for all mothers, and I know that in most cases their babies will do fine with formula. But I should be permitted to say that one infant food is, in many ways, better nutrition.

The same goes with other opinions I may have about parenting choices, like what I think is the best car seat, how I want to discipline my children, and whether I think it’s important or not to feed children organic fruits and vegetables. Can’t I voice these thoughts and opinions without somehow starting a war with someone else? Not every disagreement is a war!

Now, I have to walk on eggshells anytime I state an opinion in this current parenting climate. But it doesn’t have to be that way. And #endmommywars only perpetuates the myth that there is some kind of huge divide between parents. Most of us all basically want the same sorts of things for our children, and listening to one another—hearing varied thoughts and opinions—can be truly enriching. In fact, I have learned a lot from talking to mothers who did things differently than me. If I couldn’t talk about things, I would never know what works for others, and how similar we are even when we look different from the outside.

And, of course, the biggest problem with the #endmommywars campaign is that it is entirely a marketing campaign from Similac! Yes, it is. Let me say it again: IT IS A MARKETING CAMPAIGN FOR FORMULA. If you do a search anywhere for the hashtag, you will see Similac’s name splashed right under it. Even if you like the campaign, you need to know that’s what it is. It’s a campaign whose aim is to get mothers to buy formula.

Formula is a really useful modern innovation, and many babies who have access to clean water and modern medicine do well on it (this is NOT the case in developing countries, and it is a dire problem). Many of my dear friends used it for various reasons, and I support them fully. I believe you can formula feed and be the most cuddly, loving mom. I know that.

But for a mother who really wants to nurse, is struggling, still finding her footing, getting criticism from left and right, and feeling entirely open and vulnerable, this campaign is potentially QUITE damaging–which is exactly Similac’s purpose.

Research has pointed out the power of formula advertising, and formula companies are quite stealthy in how they sneak their advertisements in. Have you gone into a pediatrician’s office recently? There will be pens with formula brands on them, and posters on the wall sponsored by formula companies. Our pediatrician gave us a little book to record shots and baby milestones that was made by Similac. And of course, there is the formula that is handed out left and right at hospitals, and sent to new mothers’ homes whether they request it or not.

I remember when a friend called me after her third baby was born. She had successfully breastfed her first two children, but her newborn was really fussy at the breast. She was exhausted, in tears. When babies fuss at your breast and you don’t know why, it’s hard to have faith that breastfeeding is going to work, no matter how many babies you have. She told me they’d been sent home with formula and were about to use some, but she thought she’d call me first. I gave her some tips to calm the baby down, helped her feel more normal, and things ended up going fine. But she told me had she not spoken to me, that bottle of formula seemed pretty damn tantalizing.

And it is, for many moms. Most moms don’t know what to do when their baby cries while nursing, when their nipples hurt, or when they aren’t sure if their baby is getting enough. They may not have a breastfeeding helper’s number to call, but they almost always have formula on hand, thanks to the generosity of companies like Similac. And quite often, one bottle of formula leads to another, and another, until breastfeeding is over. Obviously this is not the only way things unfold, but it is an altogether familiar scenario I encounter.

Thanks to formula companies, it is much easier to find formula than breastfeeding help. Thanks to formula companies, it is easier to say that women are at war than it is to find ways to unite them.

And I am sick and tired of it all. So, let’s END #endmommywars. And support one another by listening, questioning, thinking, loving, and listening some more.

EDITED TO ADD: Part of the publicity for #endthemommywars is that Similac is putting out a movie with that title. Click here to watch the trailer. I was actually asked to participate in this film a few weeks ago. More about that later…

***

Connect with me on Facebook and Twitter!

 

The Time I Was Shamed For Breastfeeding In Public

Sharing a new article I wrote for RoleReboot​ about the time I was asked to leave a Subway restaurant while nursing my first son. That was over 8 years ago, but I can still feel the way my throat closed up, and how simply terrified I felt. I was a new mom, just trying to get through my days. I am certainly an advocate for public breastfeeding, and this incident didn’t stop me from doing it, but it helped me to understand in a real way why so many moms feel uncomfortable breastfeeding outside their homes. We need to make the world a kinder place for breastfeeding moms and babies.

ginos

Here’s a sample of the article:

By the time my son was a few months old, I became an expert at nursing anywhere, anytime. And let me tell you, my baby nursed all the time. Every hour, to be exact. I gave little thought to nursing in public: If I hadn’t done it in public, I wouldn’t have left the house. (Pumps didn’t work well for me, nor did I particularly want to use bottles.)

So I nursed at stores, parks, and restaurants. I nursed him in a baby carrier while walking down the street. I learned how to nurse while leaning over his car seat (only when the car was stopped in traffic—with my seat belt on).

I never got a second glance from anyone while nursing in public, without a cover. We live in a suburb of New York City—not many mothers nurse in public, but it isn’t unheard of. I took for granted that I was never harassed. It didn’t even cross my mind.

And then, the summer my son was six months old, we spent a week upstate. One afternoon we decided to go out to lunch. There weren’t a lot of restaurant options so we reluctantly settled on Subway.

While we waited for the sandwiches to be ready, my baby needed to nurse. As always, I lifted my shirt and nursed him. We were seated near the back of the place, in a booth, and my breast and baby were fairly well hidden. I didn’t think about that at the time, but it was a detail that would spin through my head later, as I revisited the scene in slow motion.

Across the restaurant, an employee called out to me: “Excuse me, ma’am, you can’t do that here.”

“What?” I asked, truly not even realizing what she meant.

“Listen, I nursed by babies too, but you can’t do that here. You can go to the restroom if you want to continue. People are eating here.” She motioned to the one other patron, his back turned to me. “That’s indecent exposure,” she said.

Click here to read the full article.

***

It’s World Breastfeeding Week, and I will be sharing breastfeeding photos all week on my Facebook Page. Please come over and take a look. I’ll post as many pictures as I get. Email pictures to me at wendywisner78@gmail.com.

25 Things I Want Breastfeeding Moms to Know

10252182_10152453975974515_4985809755467075345_n

1. We’ve all had days when we wanted to give up.

2. There are breastfeeding helpers out there who won’t judge you. Keep looking till you find one who makes you feel safe and supported.

3. Breastfeeding isn’t all or nothing.

4. Breastfeeding looks different for each mom and baby.

5. It’s normal for newborns to never want to be put down. Ever. And it’s normal for them to nurse all the time, sometimes more than once an hour. Really.

6. Almost all moms will make enough milk if they nurse often enough, but for a small number of moms, this isn’t the case. Low milk supply is a real thing, and if you have it, you deserve good, kind, thoughtful help.

7. Tongue tie really can impact breastfeeding. Tongues that are tied down can’t milk the breast properly (leading to low weight gain) and can cause a lot of pain.

8. Tongue tie isn’t always the problem, or isn’t always the only problem. Breastfeeding difficulties are usually multi-faceted, which is why all moms deserve the skilled help of a good IBCLC.

9. I wish all good lactation consultants were covered under insurance. But we are not there yet. Please spend the money to get good help. Most lactation consultants don’t cost more than a good stroller or a baby swing. Most lactation consultants will spend two or more hours with you and provide follow-up.

10. Most breastfeeding problems can be solved by going back to basics. If your nipples hurt, you probably just need to change position, shape and hold your breasts, or unlatch and start again. If you aren’t making enough milk, you probably just need to nurse more frequently. Start with the basics before assuming anything more complicated is going on. Trust biology, your body, and your baby.

11. Lactation cookies and herbs can really help, but they are only helpful if combined with other treatments for remedying supply issues.

12. Breastfeeding isn’t meant to be done alone. Find your tribe. Go to a breastfeeding support meeting. Find moms online who have babies your age. It can make a huge difference.

13. Some babies sleep long stretches and fall asleep easily. Some do not. It (usually) has nothing to do with how you are feeding your baby. It’s usually just genetics and temperament.

14. There is no magic age when babies should stop nursing in the middle of the night. Some babies need the nutrition well past the first few months, and many like the nighttime connection for years.

15. You should breastfeed for as long or as short as you want. It is entirely up to you (and your baby).

16. It is NEVER anyone’s place to judge a mom who chooses not to breastfeed. There are so many reasons why a mother might make this choice, and none reflects poorly on her mothering or her level of care for her child.

17. How much you pump doesn’t always reflect how much milk your baby takes at your breast. Most babies take more than the pump extracts; some take less.

18. Working and pumping mothers deserve all the respect and love in the world.

19. Exclusive pumping moms do too.

20. Babies who never latch are rare, but this does happen, and it is one of the hardest things I have witnessed as a breastfeeding helper. These moms deserve the right to mourn the loss of at-breast feeding, but they need to know this doesn’t make them any less a breastfeeding mom.

21. All mothers have a right to feel whatever they feel about how breastfeeding went for them. All feelings are normal. All feelings are real.

22. Whether or not you breastfed or were breastfed matters in many ways, and in many ways it doesn’t matter at all.

23. Breastfeeding, above all, is love. It’s one of many ways to exchange love with your baby, your toddler, or your child.

24. Children need to grow up seeing breastfeeding. It makes breastfeeding normal. It teaches them breastfeeding positioning, behavior, and more. This is one of the key ways we can increase the breastfeeding rates in our country.

25. Breastfeeding is normal. Breastfeeding is intense. Breastfeeding is simple. Breastfeeding is beautiful.

***

It’s World Breastfeeding Week, and I will be sharing breastfeeding photos all week on my Facebook Page. Please come over and take a look. I’ll post as many pictures as I get. Email pictures to me at wendywisner78@gmail.com.

Nursing In The Dark

My son will be three in September. Nursing has been changing lately. Most of it is done at naptime and bedtime/wake-up. I realized today that I can’t remember the last time he nursed during the day. A couple of times I have asked him if he wanted to, when he was really upset and I sensed that nursing could help him relax. He declined. I know the way weaning usually works: there is a lot of back and forth. Nursing sessions aren’t just dropped overnight. So I’m not ready to say that he is never going to nurse while we’re snuggled up on the couch again. But I have no way of knowing for sure. Maybe he’s just done with it.

I feel proud of him for not needing that afternoon or mid-morning nurse with the urgency he did before. And I feel a sense of wonderment about it because my older son wasn’t at this point when he was this age. I feel a bit of sorrow too, of course—that bittersweet feeling you get as your child reaches a milestone.

So lately we have just been nursing in the dark. Sometimes it’s light enough for me to watch him nurse—other times not so much. In just a few months he might be done napping, and that session will slide away. Today I realized all this with a rush of feeling, and so I decided to take pictures of our naptime nurse, in the half-dark.

IMG_2202

IMG_2201

Oh my child, growing, changing, loving, breaking my heart, putting it back together again.

IMG_2203

***

Connect with me on Facebook and Twitter!

 

Is It Normal Not to Like Breastfeeding?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Many mothers start off thinking of breastfeeding simply as a feeding method. In those first few weeks, they want to be sure they are doing it right—and, of course, that their baby is getting enough to eat. Sometimes the technicalities of nursing can wear a mother down, especially if she is having difficulties. Sore nipples, for instance, are among the top reasons that women give up breastfeeding (sore nipples that make nursing unbearable are not normal, and there are usually simple solutions out there to remedy them). Other mothers are trying to remedy low milk supplies. Another, lesser-known discomfort is a phenomenon known as D-MER, where mothers feel strong feelings of depression and agitation when their milk lets down (these feelings are linked to hormones, and disappear soon after letdown).

Even without challenges like these, new nursing moms are often bogged down with concerns about feeding schedules (is he really ready to eat again?), leaking breasts, sleep deprivation, self-doubt, body image issues—and just the huge, often startling transition into motherhood. My own first son had trouble latching on. For the first few weeks it took lots of tries, repositioning, and coaxing to get him to latch on and suck. Once he latched on things were fine (though I was still an exhausted, leaky mess), but nursing often felt tedious, technical, and stressful. By the time the latching got more seamless, the fussy evenings began, and my son would often cry at the breast until we could calm him down enough to nurse.

I had this image in my head of tranquil breastfeeding, mom and baby nestled together with beads of light surrounding them. I had some nice moments, but I didn’t seem to be there yet.

This is very common, especially for first-time mothers. Breastfeeding or not—having a newborn for the first time is difficult. Very difficult. And it doesn’t help that there is pressure from within and without to “enjoy every moment.” It doesn’t help that people think breastfeeding is supposed to be easy and perfect right away. It doesn’t help that there is a seemingly easier solution out there (bottles and formula), while there is very little accessible, compassionate, affordable breastfeeding help out there.

I have led a monthly breastfeeding support group for six years now, and I can’t tell you how relieved breastfeeding mothers are when they gather in a room together and realize that all those conflicted feelings are completely normal. It is such a relief to them to know they are not alone. They relax a little then. And that is often when they start to truly enjoy breastfeeding.

Almost every time, it does happen: breastfeeding becomes enjoyable, second nature, comfortable—often lovely. When it happens varies for each woman, depending on her circumstances, support, and baby. Usually it happens after a few weeks, when any initial soreness disappears, and mothers actually get to see their babies growing from the milk their body produces. (Even moms with true low milk supply often are able to reach a point of acceptance with whatever supplementation is necessary, and are able to find peace with the amount of breastmilk they are able to offer.)

I remember when I began to relax into nursing. I was sitting in the armchair in my living room. My son was born in winter, and now spring was just beginning to blossom—little buds waving on the branches of the tree outside our window. I had just nursed my son, and he popped off the breast, milk dribbling out of the side of his mouth, his eyes fluttering closed, and a giant grin splashed across his face. I had heard the phrase “milk drunk” before, and now I saw it. It was bliss, pure and utter happiness. And it was contagious. I felt so content there. I was so glad that I had persevered and gotten to where I was with breastfeeding.

If you are at the beginning, know that chances are, you will eventually fall in love with breastfeeding (a small minority of women never enjoy breastfeeding, but most do). If things are so hard that you’re not sure how you’ll make it to the next feeding—just take it day by day, feeding by feeding, and you will get to the other side. Go to a breastfeeding support meeting. Meet other moms who are feeling as you are, and talk to other moms who made it through to the sweet spot of breastfeeding.

Even when you get there, know that it is normal to have rough days as your baby gets older. Teething, growth spurts, and other fussy phases can all drive a nursing mother mad! We have all been there. You have the right to complain. You have the right to vent. It’s all part of the cycle of life you are in with your baby, and with breastfeeding.

But all the difficult moments will be interspersed with the most delicious milky smiles, and the coziest snuggles. You’ll get there, in your own way, in your own time.

***

Photo courtesy of Flickr

***

A version of this post first appeared in Natural Child Magazine

***

Connect with me on Facebook and Twitter!

***

If you are looking for breastfeeding help, you can contact a La Leche League Leader or a Lactation Consultant.  If you are interested in setting up a breastfeeding consultation with me, visit my website , or contact me at wendywisner78@gmail.com.  I do in-person consultations for mothers in Queens or Nassau County, NY, and I also offer phone/Skype/FaceTime consultations for mothers outside of my area. 

How To Get Through a Nursing Strike

3129076234_29f24646bb_o

Scenario 1: Your eight-month-old seems to be teething. He bit you while nursing and you screamed at the top of your lungs (ouch!). Now your baby cries when he comes to your breast, and refuses to nurse.

Scenario 2: Your four-month-old had a cold last week and was too stuffed up to nurse. Then you had a busy week—lots of plans out of the house—and your baby wouldn’t sit still to nurse while you were out. Today she arches away from the breast every time you sit down to nurse. You were already stressed out and now your stress is skyrocketing.

Scenario 3: Your fourteen-month-old seems too busy to nurse lately. He’ll sit on your lap, latch for a second, and then run off laughing. He would rather eat snacks or drink water from a sippy cup. Last night you were staying at your in-laws’, and he was restless and pulling off the breast even while nursing to sleep. Today he’s flatly refusing the breast altogether and you are concerned he’s weaning.

Sound familiar? These are just some examples of what might happen if your baby is experiencing a nursing strike.

First, how do you distinguish a nursing strike from weaning? Basically, any baby or toddler who suddenly refuses the breast is having a strike. It doesn’t really matter how old your baby is. Certainly any child under two years won’t just stop nursing suddenly without due cause. Even older toddlers can have nursing strikes. Natural weaning—even if it is pushed along a bit by a mom—happens very gradually, the child dropping nursing sessions one by one, over many weeks or months. So, when in doubt, assume your baby or toddler is having a nursing strike.

The first thing to know is that almost all nursing strikes resolve in time. Babies actually want to nurse, but something is upsetting them when they strike, and once this is resolved or forgotten, nursing will resume. In order to get through the strike, you need some faith, good support, and lots of patience. It can sometimes take a few days (or even weeks, in some cases) to resolve completely.

Even though it might take a bit of detective work, almost all nursing strikes begin with some kind of stressor that make nursing unhappy for your baby. The most common ones are illness, teething, developmental changes (both mental and physical), changes in routine (moving, busy family life), biting (especially if the mother reacts by screaming, and startling the baby), and high-stress situations in the family. Sometimes it’s a little more subtle than these situations, and often is a combination of things that push things over the edge for your baby, and result in a strike.

Remember that something is bothering your baby. It is nothing you did wrong. Even if you screamed while being bitten, or were “too busy” or “too stressed,” there is no reason for guilt here. These things happen in our lives. Like I said before, nursing strikes almost always work themselves out in due time.

So what to do once you have identified it as a nursing strike?

First, it’s important to protect your milk supply and feed your baby. Some babies will refuse the breast completely; others will still nurse for some sessions, but refuse the others. Unless you are dealing with an older toddler, you will need to pump or hand express in order to keep up your milk supply. Your baby needs to be fed the pumped milk to get adequate calories.

It’s preferable to feed your with non-bottle nipples (you can try a small cup or a spoon). If that isn’t possible, and your baby will only take a bottle, try paced bottle feeding to make bottle feeding most compatible with breastfeeding. If your baby uses a pacifier, see if you can use it less, or not at all—some babies will come back to the breast by first using it to pacify, so you don’t want to rely on artificial nipples right now.

Babies who are refusing the breast have a memory of something that happened during breastfeeding that upset them, and you want them to move past this memory. So now isn’t the time to force the breast. Definitely continue offering it—but if your baby cries when you do, this may not be the best strategy.

When your baby gets upset at the sight of your breast, a good strategy is to offer the breast when the baby is less aware of what is happening. My favorite time to do so is just when a baby is waking up from sleep because the baby is in a semi-conscious state then. You can also offer the breast in the middle of a sleep cycle, when the baby stirs. If you don’t already share sleep with your baby, now is a good time to do so, even if it’s just a temporary thing. Sleep without a shirt so your baby will smell you—he or she might latch on without your even knowing.

Lots of skin-to-skin usually helps. You can just hold your baby against your breast periodically without offering, without trying to “make things happen.” You want to remind your baby that the breast is a safe, cozy place. A weekend napping in bed together, skin-to-skin, often cures a nursing strike.

Other tricks include nursing in the dark, nursing in a baby carrier, nursing in the bathtub, or nursing outside. Just changing up the nursing routine can be helpful so that your baby can forget whatever caused the strike.

I highly recommend you talk to a breastfeeding counselor, or an understanding friend. When a baby refuses your breast, it can cause a whole lot of stress for you, and being able to talk it through can be immensely helpful. Often your baby will pick up on the relief in your body, and begin to relax as well, which will help end the strike.

So have faith, take your time, go back to basics, and get tons of support. I know how devastating it is when your baby refuses the breast. It’s hard not to take it as a personal rejection. But it will be OK. It’s just a nursing strike, and will be over soon.

Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/okbends/

***

Need help getting through a nursing strike? I offer phone/Skype consultations for mothers worldwide. Contact me at wendywisner78@gmail.com. Visit my website for information and pricing.  

***

A version of this post first appeared in Natural Child Magazine

***

Connect with me on Facebook and Twitter!