…Contemplating the Core Elements of a Modern Breastfeeding Lifestyle
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Breastfeeding Class of Distinction

I have been teaching breastfeeding classes in New York City since the 1980’s. For more than 10 years, I have exlusively taught at the premier prenatal program for expectant families in NYC at St. Luke’s- Roosevelt Hospital
I have been surveying the participants of all of my classes to find out what are their expectations of their upcoming breastfeeding experience. This has been enlightening, and at times a bit disturbing, to see that so many of these moms continue to worry about whether they will be able to breastfeed and/or like it. Pain, having enough milk, difficulties with latch-on, infections, pumping, weaning and returning to work were among their top concerns. Many reported having received both positive and negative feedback from close family members and friends who have breastfed. Everywhere they turn they find inconsistent information and support leading them to believe that breastfeeding is a matter of opinion.

One of my pet peeves is that most classes are teaching “Generic Breastfeeding”. This is patently ridiculous since pregnancies are not the same from conception to completion. There are different ways to conceive, a variety of types of delivery and babies come in all different sizes. Most classes give too much information without practical, simple specifics; there is a tremendous emphasis on the use of gadgets and equipment. This “Pseudo-Science of Lactation” does not translate well across the board into positive outcomes.

Some of you may have attended a prenatal breastfeeding class, perhaps you may even be an alumni of one of my classes or of The Breastfeeding Salon. I am trying to track and fill in the gaps between the fantasy and reality of breastfeeding. I invite you and your breastfeeding friends to join in the conversation.

What information or tips did you find helpful, confusing or plain wrong? Did you get these ideas from a class, a book, word of mouth, the hospital staff or your OB or Ped? Your feedback and comments contrasting pre and post breastfeeding class impressions should make a this a lively discussion!

We cannot change things if we continue to maintain the status quo.

June 21, 2010   1 Comment

Conscious Breastfeeding for Posterity: Everyday is Earth Day

Breastfeeding may not seem to have anything to do with Earth Day.  However, I beg to differ.  On this occasion, I am emboldened to declare that  it protects our global environment by reducing the demands  on it which are intrinsic to the production of artificial baby milk; when mothers directly breastfeed, sources of waste and pollution are eliminated.

Breastmilk is the bio-available, species-specific food which is perfectly crafted for human babies.  It is delivered by the elegant and  nurturing act of breastfeeding.  Literally organic, it is made by the mother’s body, and delivered to her baby via her breasts.  In contrast to artificial baby milk,  human milk is a raw food that does not require processing and distribution. It does not use valuable resources nor does it pollute the environment .

Breastfeeding is a feeding practice that is almost completely self-contained; the supply depends upon maintaining a synergistic connection between the baby and the breast. The baby, breast and hormones released by the pituitary gland of the mother set up the milk supply after birth. Supply adjusts to removal of milk by the  baby over time.

Unfortunately, the modern practice of pumping and bottle feeding human milk does exert an impact on the environment in terms of use of electricity, cleaning products, bottles and other gadgets that will eventually become waste in a landfill or elsewhere.  However, relative to the elements that go into the production of formula, it is far less of an ecological burden.

Conscious breastfeeding  mothers make a positive contribution to the ecology and environment in which they are raising their children  by actually breastfeeding whenever possible.  A shift in emphasis away from an over-reliance on pumping will reduce their carbon footprint.

On this Earth Day, and everyday, we need to create a world in which breastfeeding is the norm rather than the exception.

April 22, 2010   1 Comment

Retro Breastfeeding: From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

Retro breastfeeding…now there’s a concept.  It could be viewed in many ways, both positive and negative.

Retro is a prefix from the Latin meaning backwards.  Retro, in the common vernacular, refers to the way things were.  Be it a noun, adjective or adverb it describes something from the past. 

For purposes of this post I am drawing on an expanded definition found in Wikipedia, ”a term used to describe, denote or classify culturally outdated or aged trends, modes, or fashions, from the overall postmodern past, but have since that time become functionally or superficially the norm once again.”

Breastfeeding has been around since the dawn of time.  It is the way human babies were meant to be nurtured after birth.  Nonetheless, it fell out of fashion in the 20′th century. 

You could say that the first wave of Retro breastfeeding began with La Leche League in the late 1950’s.  Against much resistance, mothers banded together to support one another and breastfeed their babies.  They were viewed as reactionaries as they seemed opposed to the progress offered by the medical model of birth and childrearing that relied on the drugs and formulas of big Pharma.  Going back to the “basics” was their call to action.

In 1985, the inception of the allied health profession of Lactation Consulting, born out of  La Leche League roots,  fanned the flames of that Retro breastfeeding comeback.  The job of the IBCLC’s (International Board Certified Lactation Consultants) was cut out for them.  In those days, breastfeeding meant timed feedings and supplementation with water or formula.  Those consultants entered in to the fray and began working to change the standards of practice in Western hospitals.  They set out to educate and support women so that breastfeeding would be the rule rather than the exception.   At first there was resistance from some in the medical community who were accustomed to managing infant feeding by manipulating formula intake.   Gradually it became politically incorrect to advocate against breastfeeding.

As we approach the 25′th Anniversary of Lactation Consulting as a profession we are entering yet another wave of Retro breastfeeding.  However, this one merely pays lip service to what began in La Leche and the early days of lactation consulting.   It is a weird amalgam of dogma and old practices, that fundamentally do not support breastfeeding,  blended with touches of tech and pseudo-science.

What is most ridiculous and ironic is that this latest version of Retro breastfeeding can be traced to the the practice of many lactation consultants. Those that have begun to rely too heavily on managing pumps and gadgets and less on the art and skill of breastfeeding have changed the focus from breastfeeding to human milk feeding.

Give me the music any day, but spare me this techno version of breastfeeding from the 1970’s!

July 17, 2009   2 Comments

Dad Walking On Egg Shells

Had an interesting call this week from a dad.  He wondered what were the chances of relactating at 7 weeks? 

And no, before you go there, it wasn’t a crank trying to get a rise out of this passionate lactation advocate.  This call was legitimate.  He was a friend of a father in my practice who had encouraged him to reach out to me across state lines to sort out his dilemma.

He called me to suss out the situation and shared a very sad, but typical scenario.  His wife, had been buffeted on the seas of lactation support with inconsistent advice, emphasis on pumping and after two weeks was summarily dismissed and told to bottle-feed.  For approximately 6 weeks now his son has been bottle-fed formula.

In general, I always prefer to speak directly with the mother.  However, his voicemail touched a heart string as he confessed that he was calling without having yet broached this subject with his wife.  He was genuinely concerned and felt badly that they were missing out on breastfeeding because of the questionable support and consultation they had received in the early weeks.  

The reason for the abrupt weaning was the usual  ”Not Enough Milk”.  This was determined, of course, by his wife’s inability to pump enough to bottle-feed after the delivery.   More bottles and pumping led to formula and weaning.  The reason it was bothering him so much was that he noticed her leaking tons of milk a few days ago.  He didn’t understand why she didn’t just offer the breast to their son as clearly there was milk.

This dad was walking on egg shells. He was the support team during the initial battles and was now fearful of incurring her wrath by bringing up the notion of trying it again.   

I can empathize.  I’m often called in for these kind of situations and find the solution is not as simple as merely choosing between offering the breast or a bottle filled with human milk or formula.  The weeks of reinforcing a behavior other than breastfeeding and living a bottle-feeding lifestyle with their new baby could make the transition difficult on many levels.  

 I complimented this dad on his thoughtful and loving inquiry.  My suggestions were simple:

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1.  He could now share honestly some of his impressions about that stressful time with his wife.  Sharing empathy without the stress and pressure biting at their heels.

2.  He could share some of his conversation with his friend that led him to call me.  It would be helpful to emphasize that these situations are usually not truly black and white, but rather if she were empowered and given consistent support much would be possible.

3.  He could gently suggest that she offer their son the breast without worrying now if she had enough. Without pressuring her, he could point out it would be a shame if what she was still producing for their son would ultimately go to waste.

4.  He could share what he intuitively knew, and I corroborated, that milk supply is not increased by the pump, but rather by the baby breastfeeding.  Any amount of breastfeeding would greatly increase the odds of them being able to shift the balance of feeds away from the bottle and back to the breast.

5.  He could continue to offer his love and support reassuring her that it was ultimately her decision.  Sometimes knowing that it is a real team effort can make these transitions seem more possible.

Breastfeeding is a relationship and is relational.    It is the mother who ultimately breastfeeds and chooses whether or not she will continue or resume if there have been challenges.  However, her choices do indeed have an impact on everyone in her inner circle.  Breastfeeding does not exist in a vacuum and is very much a family affair.

How many of us sisters, moms, friends, partners, spouses, and  even lactation consultants, can identify with this dad? Have you ever been afraid to further encourage or advise a mom who had been beaten down and had weaned because of a negative experience with breastfeeding ?

Have you ever felt like you were walking on egg shells?  And what did you do?

July 16, 2009   1 Comment

Breastfeeding Role Models: What Messages Are We Sending

Today is my sister’s birthday.  I vividly remember my mother breastfeeding Daire all those years ago.  She reassured me, as I sat quietly on the bed beside her, that “this is how you feed babies”.  The next three in line would be boys.  By the time our youngest brother arrived, we all understood that breastfeeding was a normal part of taking care of a baby.  For us girls, it was an expectation that when we grew up, that we would follow in mom’s footsteps and breastfeed our own babies. 

Fondly remembering those moments as a child, I wonder what will be the memories of some of the new generation of breastfeeding babies.  Will they remember idyllic feedings at their mother’s breasts? Or will they remember watching and listening to the gentle swishing sound of her pumping out her milk to feed them with a bottle?  Will they see their mother breastfeeding their siblings or see her hooked up to a strange machine? 

What is being modeled these days is not breastfeeding, but some sort of techno version of same.   Mothers often complain, but continue to dutifully pump because they are being told that it will increase their milk supply.  They get up in the middle of the night and are out of synch with their babies; they get up to pump to keep up with the ever increasing amounts of their milk they feel a need to put into bottles.  Their breastfeeding is being driven by measurements of how much they can express and how much their baby takes in a bottle.

Health care professionals regularly urge mothers to supplement with non-human milk, be it from other mammals or soybeans.  The lactation “experts” push back and recommend pumping as necessary in all cases.  Mothers are caught in the middle of this advice and will lose trust in their milk supply when they are focusing more on measured amounts of milk, human or otherwise, given in bottles.  Breastfeeding for them can feel confusing and overwhelming and  early weaning will be a real possibility.

This does not mean that there isn’t a time and place for pumping, such as work outside the home.  What is worrisome is that pumping is being touted as being almost equal to actual breastfeeding.   We all must relate to technology on a regular basis in modern life be it phones, PDA’s, computers, etc..   Although many of us are rather attached to same, we should not be having a relationship with our machines.  Our various gadgets , including pumps, are merely adjuncts to our experience of daily life. 

It is a sad commentary about breastfeeding these days that, for so many women, the attention and fanfare centers around the regimen of pumping.   This is most unfortunate because the magical alchemy is not merely in the liquid gold that is expressed, but in the relationship that exists between the mother and her unique baby as it breastfeeds. 

Mothers, and those in the Lactation community, need to remember that we teach by example. 

I long for the day when we can believe again in the bounty of our female bodies… They are designed to carry our babies for 9 months inside and continue to nourish and protect them long after birth through breastfeeding. 

October 22, 2008   2 Comments