I have just finished an online lactation conference. I must admit it’s quite hard to motivate myself to this after a busy day but to remain certified as a lactation consultant I need regularly to attend conferences as well as, every five years, sit an exam. But I must confess it’s very good for me to do this. A colleague, recently retired, said to me she knew it was time to go when she had started to allow clients to take the easy option with breastfeeding, basically, agreeing to what they wanted to do, without trying to provide them with evidence-based information or trying to encourage them towards breastfeeding.
As she was talking I realised that I was beginning to slip down the same slope. I had frequently found myself saying, “Do whatever you want to do, it’s your life” or words to that effect. After participating in the conference I was fired up again and filled with enthusiasm about breastfeeding and its benefits. I started to question why so much of my time is spent encouraging clients to breastfeed. Almost all of my clients believe that breast milk is the perfect food for their baby but many of them prefer to give expressed breast milk, rather than directly feed on the breast. Here are the most common reasons I have heard:
- Want to be in control; this often involves monitoring how much milk the baby is consuming over 24 hours by logging it on an iPhone/laptop application provided by the hospital.
- Nipple pain or not liking the sensation.
- Fear of failure; often feeling insecure about “technique” such as different “positions” or holds.
- Believe the baby “prefers” the bottle.
- Depression or anxiety; feeling overwhelmed and lacking in confidence that they can do a good job; sometimes not wanting their baby near them some or all of the time.
- Previous trauma to the breast or having suffered sex abuse.
- Shy of exposing their breasts especially in public.
- Not liking being tied to baby and the commitment that feeding their baby on the breast requires.
- Want to share feeding with husband, nanny or helper so prefer to pump so everyone can be involved.
- Worried about going back to work and not being able to transition the baby from breast to bottle.
- Want to drink, smoke or eat junk-food, so prefer to “pump and dump” at times and give expressed breast milk for the rest.
Whilst breast milk is clearly the perfect food for the baby, there are many additional benefits also for baby and mother in directly breastfeeding. So, when I reviewed this list I smelt a whiff of failure. Not my client’s failure, MY failure! As a lactation consultant and health visitor of many years I should be able to help with almost all, if not all, of the above objections. These are my clients, not Joe Public, and thus deserve more than my immediate acceptance, without at least endeavouring to help find solutions. From now on I am determined to be more focused on actually helping clients to breastfeed directly, rather than taking the easy option!