What do we really know about breastfeeding? Really? We are 3 generations into formula feeding. It’s been said it takes 100 years to make change and make things the norm. Well, indeed, this has worked for formula feeding. That is by far the most common method of feeding infants DESPITE a whopping 90+% initiation rate in our country. We are failing more than we are succeeding which tells me we don't really get it. Why are we so quick to start supplementing or letting go of breastfeeding? What steps are we walking before we made that decision, if any? We should be working to remedy breastfeeding but this idea that we can supplement while we remedy breastfeeding, isn't a wise one. I am not saying supplements are not needed at times but I am saying that our helpers should know how to work with breastfeeding first and foremost.
Why are only a quarter of babies getting any breastmilk by the middle of their first year? A very large part of it is that there is a fabulous amount of interference. Interference comes from all over and starts long before babies are even born. Dare I say this interference starts before most babies are even conceived? Let’s look at media. Let’s look at the propaganda all over medical establishments, directed both at patients and at medical professionals. Let’s look at our own communities and then our own families. What is the message out there reaching people? Could this be part of why we are not able to help remedy breastfeeding?
They are certainly not breastfeeding friendly messages. But, let’s say you get through all of that and to the people that are supposed to be promoting and supporting breastfeeding. You know what? You still will here a large amount of variants in what these people say and recommend you do. From basics of position and latch to troubleshooting concerns, it seems very few of us on are the same page. It is highly frustrating as a professional and I know it is highly frustrating as a parent. It honestly makes me ask myself, what do we know about breastfeeding?
For many years I was involved with a peer support group. Within this group I was told that this is where we see normal breastfeeding. It was a well-established group with many, many years of experience in breastfeeding. This was my introduction to breastfeeding outside my own experience and being able to view and witness many dyads and what breastfeeding looked like for others. It was amazing and eye-opening. I learnt lots and went on to learn more and become a peer-volunteer to help mothers that were struggling. I was all in. Consuming all I could to try and figure out the barriers to successful breast-feeding. I had a big blue book full of breastfeeding information. I studied it. I did activities and exercises to help me expand topics. I read and read and discussed breastfeeding at great length. I was accredited and able to start helping moms. Moms would call me with concerns and I would look up moms concerns and then read to them from the book what the strategies were to help them overcome their challenges. I very often never heard back from these mothers to know if things resolved or not. I am hopeful many mothers did better and were successful but I know now that lots did not. I saw many moms in person return to meetings month after month and got to know many of these dyads well.
We told mothers what they could do right to make breastfeeding work well and especially how if people didn’t interfere all would be good for them. Feed early and often and supply would be there. Don't have pain meds in labour and baby will breastfeed well. Stay away from bottles & supplements and pacifiers and just feed and feed and feed. Yet, that didn’t work for everyone. I really was perplexed as to why. After a few years of this, that is when I decided to expand my education and knowledge and scope of practice. I was going to pursue being an IBCLC. I mean, I knew normal breastfeeding, right? How hard could it be?
Was becoming an IBCLC easy? Not at all. Was it hard? Yes, indeed. On so many levels. I was shocked when I started getting assignments back with really low grades. So many wrong answers. But how? I KNOW breastfeeding. I have been helping moms for years. I have these answers in a big blue book. It says here in black and white this is how breastfeeding works and this is what you do to overcome the struggles. It was wrong? How could it be wrong? How many women did I tell this info to? And how many of my friends did what the book said. This is how breastfeeding is, this is the normal for breastfeeding and all moms and babies are different and that’s ok. But I came to learn, yes, some concerns are common but there are actually tighter perimeters on what is “normal” and expected. I was pointed in a new direction for learning. My beliefs shifted in a few ares. Change is hard. But I was changed. I started seeing stuff in different ways, through many different eyes, many different versions and was taking a critical look at what I knew and what I was learning and the work of many others.
I learnt about growth charts and poop (oh how I love to talk poop now), infant sleep, tummy time, newborn weight gain and loss, milk supply, medications, medical conditions, how to supplement and when it actually is helpful, and how much happier and less stressed some moms and babies (and their families) could be and how to screen the bigger picture. I learnt more than how to tell moms more than “this too shall pass” & “some babies are just like that”.
I also learnt that professionals don't agree on a large number of topics. Weight loss, sleep, pain, creams, positioning. When and why did someone decide that 7% loss if ok, but 10% means we must supplement? Why do some think there should be zero weight loss at birth and some think it is acceptable to take 2 or 3 weeks to get back to birth weight? Why do big babies need to be supplemented an hour after birth but small babies are ok? Why do some say that sore nipples is a right of passage and some think there should be no pain, ever? Why are some nursing babies like footballs and other think we rarely should do this? This list could go on and on.
For some of use we come to our own conclusions based on clinical experience and patterns and outcomes that we see. Some of us just read the guidelines laid out for us because that is how it has always been done. Some of us are halfway between. Some of us come from a place of our own experiences and judgement and biases that come from that. (The latter is really not best practice and we need to learn how to detach from our own experiences to look at the current evidence in front of us.) Some of started in one place and have landed in another.
I can say that I believe I do have good evidence based research to back my opinions on many of those questions, plus many others. I have protocols and practices that I use over and over with success with families, but am happy to say as much as they are protocols they are very flexible and can be defined differently for each family. I haven't stopped seeing stuff in different ways, through many different eyes, many different versions and haven't stopped taking a critical look what is happening with my clients and figuring out how I can best help them met their goals.