This guest post is by Birthing From Within® Mentor and Doula, Amity Kramer. Amity is the owner of Thresholds, in the Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle, and offers inspiring childbirth and parenting classes.
The fairytale is this: there’s a pregnant mother daydreaming of her round-faced baby suckling on her enlarged breast and then drifting off to a deep and restful sleep. She knows that breast is best; she of course, will do what’s best. Months later, the new mother sits with that round-faced baby in her arms. But, instead of suckling and drifting off to sleep, there are tears and frustration. They find themselves in a cold, dark forest. Ok, maybe it’s not a real forest, but that’s how it can feel for the woman struggling to feed her infant.
That cold, dark forest is where parents can find themselves when breastfeeding doesn’t go as planned. It’s scary when a baby isn’t nursing and thriving. When the natural process of breastfeeding isn’t working, parents and especially moms, can become consumed wondering what’s gone wrong.
Nursing is how mammals feed their young and babies like all mammals humans too have an inner map of how the process works. That is all true; nursing is an AMAZING thing- when it works. Most new parents are not adequately prepared for the unexpected. Having a limited belief that breastfeeding is the ONLY right way to feed a baby can backfire causing new parents to believe that all a mom needs to do is try harder or do more and the process will work. It’s helpful for new parents to know a few ways to care for themselves in the face of early feeding challenges.
No one wants spend the precious weeks postpartum wrestling with the self–judgement that often comes along with feeding issues. Why is this happening? What should I do? What’s wrong with me? These low points are about as far away as possible from the fairy tale picture once imagined. What can new parents do to embrace the light and love in difficult times?
One way to shed some love on hard situations is to best-feed your baby. Yes, you read that right, best-feed. There are two parts of best-feeding. The first is to understand that NO ONE is a perfect parent. Best-feeding is doing what is best in real-time for your family as opposed to what you may have thought was best before becoming a parent.
The second part of best-feeding is to look at all of the ways that breastfeeding is beneficial and mimic the ones that can be replicated with whatever current feeding methods are being utilized. The possibilities of what to feed an infant include: breast milk, donated breast milk, purchased or homemade formula. Feeding systems offer even more possibilities: a bottle, syringe, nipple shield, or tube system with a finger or mothers nipple. For mothers dealing with repeat breast infections, or low milk supply feedings may include manual compression of the breast and additional time spent pumping after a regular feeding.
Anyone feeding a baby can best-feed; changing a chore of basic calorie transfer into a opportunity to connect. Here is how. Before a feeding simply take a slow breath and then ask yourself “How can I improve this moment?” Answering this question will provoke action. Maybe a mother will use the bathroom before a feeding to be more comfortable. Maybe a dad will get skin-to-skin with baby. Or both parents powering down the smart phone and listen inward. Talk. Sing. The answer will continually change, making each feeding a doorway to new possibilities.
It’s important for families to know that feeding issues don’t discriminate; it doesn’t matter if a woman read books or took a breastfeeding class or really, really wants to breastfeed. Being informed is an important way to promote a healthy feeding relationship, but it alone cannot guard a family from trouble. It’s possible for a woman to do everything “right” and still have problems that even the best lactation consultants in the city are unable to fix.
Best-feeding isn’t a magic ticket into bliss but it can help implement changes to the original feeding plan while holding onto important bonding opportunities that feeding your baby can provide and allow parents to enjoy the privilege of nourishing their child.