BREASTFEEDING AND COMMUNITY SUPPORT
By Nancy Whistance-Smith and Heather Beaudoin
Previously published in Birth Issues Winter 2011
Most people can spout off a dozen reasons why breastfeeding makes sense1, but few are confident in their knowledge of what steps lead to successful breastfeeding or what to do when nothing seems to be working “as nature intended”. It’s the rare mom who displays the confidence it takes to sail easily through the early days of motherhood. Even reading all the ‘right’ books or successfully breastfeeding another baby doesn’t guarantee smooth sailing! That’s where community, the people you surround yourself with, can make all the difference. This community may be a support or it may be a hindrance. When things aren’t going well, you may not realize how much the voices around you affect your self-esteem, as well as your ability to cope and make well-informed choices for your family.
One of the longest standing and widely know communities which exists to offer support to breastfeeding women is La Leche League (LLL).There are many reasons moms end up at La Leche League meetings. Some are brought by a friend, others referred by a doctor or public health nurse. Still others come across the LLL website while looking for information about breastfeeding on the internet, or through reading various books where the organization is mentioned. A good number approach LLL with some trepidation, worried that the sole purpose of the meeting will be to convince them to nurse their infant into toddlerhood or beyond! The good news is that most moms who choose to drop in on a monthly meeting are pleasantly surprised with the encouragement, support and information they receive. Meetings are relaxed and informal with an emphasis on answering questions. New friendships don’t come as part of the membership package, but seem to blossom and grow as moms find others who are also struggling on some days and celebrating on others, the challenges and joys of raising children. La Leche League does have ten guiding philosophy statements2; however, the mothers who attend meetings come from many different walks of life and parenting philosophies. All are committed to raising healthy children, and recognize there are many different ways to do this.
Moms can certainly phone the Edmonton help-line for information (780-478-0507). When you call this number, you are put in touch with a La Leche League leader; a mother who has breastfed at least one child for approximately one year and has gone through an extensive leader accreditation process. She offers unique mother to mother support in addition to current information about breastfeeding. By contrast, many other people offering you advice about breastfeeding may never have even successfully done so themselves or may be basing their suggestions on out of date or not researched information. The community support experienced at an in-person LLL meeting offers a unique kind of support, that you rarely get in a one on one meeting with nurses, lactation consultants and other such health professionals. Mothers meeting together to support one another often make a lasting difference. Information only takes you so far when it feels like all you are doing is nursing, and everyone’s baby seems to sleep but yours. Or quite the opposite, when nothing you do will keep the baby awake long enough to nurse and you’re scared that something is very wrong.
La Leche League certainly isn’t the only place where you can find community support in Edmonton, so it’s helpful to look at what supports are helpful to new moms. During the nesting time of your pregnancy you may want to think about what supports you already have in place and the areas where you may be lacking. The post-partum period is a very vulnerable time for women who are often sleep deprived, food deprived, at the beck and call of someone else and with no comfortable routine to fall back into. Life feels completely out of control—and in many ways it is! In these deprived circumstances what you really need are people looking out for and caring for you. People who are willing to support you without judgment in the decisions you are making. People who make you feel that you are the best mother for your child. Look for people who can calm you down when you’re agitated or pick you up when you’re completely exhausted. Look for a community that is encouraging and trusting.
Your midwife, a post-partum doula, mother, mother-in-law, sisters, friends, local public health nurses, lactation educators and certified lactation consultants may all be sources of support to consider during your post-partum period as you establish successful breastfeeding. Many mothers find it is helpful to have people to care for older siblings, to let you nap with baby, individuals who will provide you with meals, someone to wash and fold laundry, tidy around the house, etc. so you can focus on breastfeeding. Surround yourself with the sort of people you most desire to surround your child with, and don’t be afraid to ask for help, and to keep asking different people when the answers you are getting don’t sit right with you. Be cautious of advice your are offered which is based on outdated knowledge, inaccurate information or the person’s own prejudices or biases.
Choosing to breastfeed means that your baby is getting the best nutritional and immunological support possible after birth. Choosing to surround yourself with a positive, knowledgeable, supportive community provides the environment conducive to mom and dad’s continued growth in their new role as parents.
Nancy has been an active La Leche League Leader in Edmonton for almost 20 years. She is married to Andrew with two adult sons and a daughter in Sr. High. Despite being long past the baby and breastfeeding stage, Nancy continues to see great value in volunteering her time to get babies attached (literally) to their moms and off to a good start. This early attachment blends nicely into Nancy’s other passion, the study of developmental psychology through the Neufeld Institute.
Heather is the daughter of a woman who volunteered extensively with LLL. She is mother to two sons and a daughter. All were born at home and breastfed. When her littlest child heads off to school, Heather will as well, then join the growing ranks of Registered Midwives in Alberta (in 2014).
Some of the most widely documented advantages of breastfeeding for the baby include; higher intelligence and cognitive function, normal jaw and facial muscle development, decreased risk of dying from SIDS as well as a reduced chance of suffering from diabetes, respiratory illness, ear infections, childhood cancer, and gastrointestinal infections. To say nothing of the advantages to the mother, the family or society as a whole.
These 10 philosophies are: Mothering through breastfeeding is the most natural and effective way of understanding and satisfying the needs of the baby. Alert and active participation by the mother in childbirth is a help in getting breastfeeding off to a good start. Mother and baby need to be together early and often to establish a satisfying relationship and an adequate milk supply. In the early years, the baby has an intense need to be with his mother which is as basic as his need for food. Breast milk is the superior infant food. For the healthy, full-term baby, breast milk is the only food necessary until the baby shows signs of needing solids, about the middle of the first year after birth. Ideally the breastfeeding relationship will continue until the baby outgrows the need. Breastfeeding is enhanced and the nursing couple sustained by the loving support, help, and companionship of the baby’s father. A father’s unique relationship with his baby is an important element in the child’s development from early infancy. Good nutrition means eating a well-balanced and varied diet of foods in as close to their natural state as possible. From infancy on, children need loving guidance which reflects acceptance of their capabilities and sensitivity to their feelings.