…Contemplating the Core Elements of a Modern Breastfeeding Lifestyle
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Conscious Breastfeeding: Beginner’s Mind

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One of the most valuable concepts of Eastern philosophy is found in the Japanese word Nyuanshin which is commonly translated as “beginner’s mind”.  I stumbled upon an amazing post which draws upon this concept… The Inner Art of Airmanship…Master of the Wing , Yet Always a Beginner.

While reading this article I suddenly remembered a fun incident that I had shared many years ago with my youngest brother Stephen who flies silver jets…or so says his email handle.  To be more exact he is now a major in the Air Force Reserves currently on leave from being a pilot for American Airlines.

When he was in the final stages of getting his wings, Stephen had arranged for all 4 of us siblings and the parents to have a go with him in the cockpit simulator used to train pilots.  Sitting there with him and faced with a dashboard of complex and unfamiliar knobs and gauges was exciting, but daunting.  I was immediately overcome with admiration for him to have been able to master such complexity.  On another level, my desire to show how smart I was and to be better than all the other newbies in the family got in my way as I tried to follow his instructions in this unfamiliar space. I became filled with fear being asked to “pilot” this imaginary vehicle.   Although, I was quite comfortable with the technology specific to a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, this was beyond my scope of knowledge and expertise.  I felt like a fish out of water.

So… to no one’s great surprise… I crashed the plane and didn’t even realize it until he exclaimed…gee…you’ve just  cost Uncle Sam millions.

We both had a good laugh!

My misadventures in the cockpit could be a metaphor for the way a new mother may feel when she starts breastfeeding, a bit vulnerable and out of her element.  Although she has lived in her skin for some time, she has not ever had to rely on her body and specifically her breasts in this way.  She knows that breastfeeding is natural and has most likely heard that it has a learning curve.  She may do a fair bit of reading, take classes and/or check in with her family and peers to get prepared.  She may expect that it will be easy, or not, depending upon the input she has had in advance of beginning her breastfeeding experience.

It seems to me that the Zen concept of Beginners Mind is particularly suited to a new mother.  It requires that she leave behind some of her preconceived notions and be open and receptive to learning, both in mind and body, the fundamentals of mother-led Conscious Breastfeeding.

Unfortunately, many mothers experience pain or may even be unable to get a good latch because they believe it should be left up to their baby or worse yet, a pump.

As in flying planes or practicing martial arts, breastfeeding requires attention be paid to the details of a learning a specific physical skill…in this case, the latch.  By “just doing” the specific steps that enhance the latch connection an optimized breastfeeding journey becomes possible.

A muscle memory of the latch will develop for both the mother and her baby; it is acquired after some practice and the rate of learning is different from one individual to another.

Coordination of this latch-on technique can at first seem difficult.  Through continuous repetition of the basics, a dynamic will develop for a Conscious Breastfeeding mom… where she is no longer needing to make constant corrections, but will still remain alert for any changes that could develop bad habits or set backs that might unfavorably alter her enjoyment of breastfeeding.

As a new mother you need to be patient, diligent and forgive yourself for being a beginner.

By embracing your beginners mind, you will own the experience.  Do the learning.  Walk the path.   And you, the student/mother will ultimately become the teacher for your baby of this way of Conscious Breastfeeding and many other life lessons.

August 16, 2010   2 Comments

World Breastfeeding Week 2010: Health Care Worker Call To Action

This is the 19′th annual celebration of World Breastfeeding Week.  The Theme of 2010 is commemorating the Innocenti Declaration made by WHO and UNICEF policy-makers in August 1990 to protect, promote and support breastfeeding.

In the past 20 years there has been some progress in the rates of  initiation of breastfeeding.  Yet, only 28% of Maternity facilities world-wide have fully implemented the Ten Steps and have been certified by the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative.  Were this an analysis of anything else, this would not be a passing grade.

 I’ve been in the trenches throughout this period and beyond.  At first glance, it appears as though we have made great strides.   According to the NYC Dept. of  Health and Mental Hygiene report put out in April 2009,  an impressive 85%  of women initiate breastfeeding.  However, after 2 months the number falls to 32% who are still exclusively breastfeeding their babies.  Surveys reveal that the top two reasons for stopping were related to concerns about the milk supply either having enough (39%) or that it was adequately satisfying their babies (39%).

The fall off rate here in NYC is quite dramatic, but not surprising to me.  Despite health code regulations that prohibit formula discharge packs, many families will leave the hospital with generous samples of formula in tow.  Mothers who have had cesarean sections report that their babies were given at least one bottle, if not more, of formula during the first few days after delivery.  

Many of the New York hospitals have lactation consultants on staff or nurses “trained” to support breastfeeding.  Nonetheless, their focus seems to increasingly be on feeding a measurable amount of fluid to the newborns.  They get  moms to sit on the pump getting drops of colostrum and encourage them to give their babies formula until the “milk comes in”. 

 Using the pump as a  first line of breastfeeding support relegates direct breastfeeding to the back seat.  New mothers leave the hospital knowing how to pump rather than how to achieve a deep, pain-free latch.

New parents are set up to believe that artificial baby milk or formula and human milk can be exchanged ounce for ounce in bottles without consequence .  Unwittingly they are weaning from the beginning or setting themselves up to experience the top two reasons many of them will choose not to breastfeed beyond two months.

Without a doubt, the Ten Steps are a helpful tool to focus our attention on the importance of consistent breastfeeding education and support.

To pack a punch and ensure successful breastfeeding beyond the first few weeks, the Ten Steps must be embraced by unequivocal  and truly breastfeeding-friendly health care workers:  nurses, doctors and lactation consultants. 

To be continued…

August 2, 2010   2 Comments

Breastfeeding Needs A New Marketing Mindset: Part 1

Breastfeeding has been, and remains, the biological norm for feeding human babies since the dawn of time. It is the completion of the pregnancy and birth cycle designed to nurture human beings in their accelerated growth and development after birth. The first 3 months are often called the 4th Trimester because it is during this period that the mother’s milk supply will be established based upon the feedback loop between the baby, breast and brain (pituitary glands).

Early in the 20′th century, drug companies started selling commercial artificial baby milks, aka formula. Gradually women were persuaded that breastfeeding was a choice, rather than the natural food needed to ensure the optimal growth and development of their infants during the first year of life and beyond. In the late 1960’s, formula began to be marketed directly to the medical community and a sharp decline in the initiation and duration of breastfeeding was noted throughout the world. In less than a century, it was no longer the birth right of human babies to be fed their mother’s milk.

What’s a breastfeeding advocate to do to combat the marketing prowess of Big Pharma? For the past 25 years legions of dedicated lactation professionals and breastfeeding women have pondered this question, myself included.

The basic approach has been to promote breastfeeding by proclaiming that it is natural and full of health benefits for both the mother and her nursling. Education and peer support have been the primary tactics to shift the global paradigm back to breastfeeding as the accepted norm.

Unfortunately, modern breastfeeding advocacy has been fashioned from a defensive mindset. Marketing efforts take on formula, tit for tat, pun intended. The activity of breastfeeding has been steadily taking a backseat to the commodity of expressed breast milk.

In their efforts to create an evidence-based model, many lactation consultants have moved their attention away from direct breastfeeding and are promoting pumping and breastmilk to go up against the competition, one-on-one, bottle by bottle.

The current breastfeeding marketing strategy is in desperate need of an overhaul. What do you think?

June 2, 2010   1 Comment

Conscious Breastfeeding the Antidote for Murphy’s Law

Murphy’s Law : If Something Can Go Wrong. It Will.

Turns out that I am an actual descendant of said Murphy.  Kathleen Clements nee Murphy was my maternal grandmother.  It is true that she had her share of hard knocks being widowed in her mid-thirties.  She had nine children ranging in age from 12 down to 9 months at the time of my grandfather’s fatal car crash on the winding roads of the Wicklow mountains.  Nonetheless, she lived a full life and saw all of her children grow-up to adulthood.  I would like to think that my optimistic spirit is part of her legacy.

Throughout the past 30 years actively working as a Maternal-Child Health Nurse and Lactation Consultant, this feeling of optimism has at times been difficult to maintain.  Being a passionate advocate of breastfeeding has been frustrating.  Often I feel like a salmon swimming upstream against the current of bad advice and token support.

Breastfeeding in the modern era has always had its challenges.  Much like childbirth, yet another natural process of the female body has fallen victim to a medical model which at its core assumes intervention will be needed.  Mothers are confronted with an over-reliance on gadgets, weights and measures and liberal supplementation with formula served up as breastfeeding support.

Anyone who knows me, reads this blog or my articles is very aware of my dismay at this medicalization of breastfeeding.  I am constantly reminded about this sad state of affairs when I teach my prenatal classes and survey the expectant mothers.  It is shocking that the majority know someone, with less than six degrees of separation, who has had a difficult breastfeeding experience.  As a result, these mothers-to-be are tentative and will say “I will try” or “If it works” when they discuss their own breastfeeding goals.  In essence, they are starting with an expectation of failure…Murphy’s Law.

Conscious Breastfeeding is your tool to outwit dear old Murphy.  Your breastfeeding is not a science project nor is it an illness.  It is a natural extension of your pregnancy meant to sustain your baby through its continued growth and development outside of your body.  

You need to be Conscious…put your focus on optimizing your breastfeeding connection.  Get help with the latch. It is skill and a teachable moment for you and your baby.  Don’t be fooled into thinking that your baby can do it without your help.  A baby and a pump are not the same.  When in doubt your baby always trumps the pump when you have a great latch.

By focusing on the fundamentals and keeping things as simple as possible you can replace a fear of failure with a sense of accomplishment.  Replace Murphy’s Law with the positive Universal Laws which see you in all of your glory as… a Conscious Breastfeeding mom.

 

June 2, 2008   No Comments