The Two Rules of Breastfeeding
By: Emily Zell, MA, CLEC. Certified Lactation Educator Counselor, Postpartum Doula
Article courtesy of Osana Family Wellness
As a Lactation Educator and Counselor, I see women at all stages of pregnancy and motherhood, supporting them in successful and rewarding breastfeeding relationships with their babies. While I see breastfeeding as the most natural, normal way to feed a child, I also know that for the vast majority of women, it is work. And I mean real work. If a mother experiences breastfeeding challenges, as so many do, it can be an exhausting, physically demanding, and emotionally draining journey to remedy the situation. However, time and time again, these women do just that, and the rewards are plentiful and come flooding forth with a level of relief, comfort, and confidence I have not seen matched anywhere else. It is my good fortune to aide and to bear witness to these victories.
With all my clients, whether we are working on relactation, proper latching, or any number of topics, I always keep in mind the two rules of breastfeeding, as taught to me by Virginia Baker, RN, MPH, IBCLC:
You did the best you could with the information you had.
If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.
These might seem straightforward, and they do serve as very practical guidance, but they also shed light on deeper philosophies that I incorporate into my work with mothers. Rule number one speaks to the absence of shame and guilt that these mothers should have. By and large, women love their babies, and their actions come from this genuine place of love. If they have been told that they do not have enough milk to feed their baby, of course they will supplement with artificial milk because they will believe that it is what’s best for the child. And if they don’t have the knowledge to determine if they actually do have adequate milk supply (as most women do) and/or have not been made aware of the many ways to increase low supply, how could one blame them? It is therefore my mission to spread information like wildfire, trying to reach as many women as possible so that they can make informed decisions. I will never shame a mother who has a true desire to breastfeed her child but who, for whatever reason, has not done so. What I will do is support her and guide her, hopefully making this desire to breastfeed a reality. Quite simply, I want to give you the information to make “the best you could do”, better.
The second rule also speaks to a mother’s mindset when it comes to feeding her baby. I have worked with women from more than ten different countries and one thing we all seem to have in common is doubt. Doubt and guilt. We constantly question our own abilities as mothers, feel guilty about our choices, and insecure about asserting our intuitive feelings. So often, breastfeeding brings with it this insecurity, and while I help women tackle some very real problems, I also often help them tackle their self-doubt. In my pre-natal workshops, hospital visits, breastfeeding support groups, and private consultations, I meet women who, deep down, know what to do. They are smart and sensitive to their babies needs, they just need a little guidance and a nudge in the direction of confidence. Of course, they have valid concerns: a painful latch, or a baby with chronic reflux, or poor weight gain…so many situations require a professional’s help. But I also want to leave these women armed with more information, and more confidence in their own abilities. I remind them that every day with a new baby is different, and to not “borrow trouble” or to stress about every little hiccup in the road of motherhood. I like to say, there are four things to ask: Is your baby happy? Is your baby healthy? Are you happy? Are you healthy? If a mother answers ‘no’ to any of those, then yes, let’s get to work identifying and remedying the problem. But if she answers yes to all of them, then I’m not going to change a thing. Mom, you are doing an amazing job, and you are the absolute best mother for your baby. It is time someone told you that!
Emily Zell is a Certified Lactation Educator and Counselor as well as a Postpartum Doula and sometimes Birth Doula. She received her CLEC certification through the University of California at San Diego and her Doula training through Childbirth International. She also has her MA in International Human Rights Law from the American University in Cairo. Hailing from the San Francisco Bay Area, she now resides in Cairo with her young son, who she has successfully breastfed for almost two years now. Through workshops, support groups, and private clients, Emily has worked with women from over ten different countries, guiding them through the journey of birth, the postpartum period, and breastfeeding. She is passionate about empowering women, helping to nourish their trust in themselves as capable, intuitive, intelligent and strong mothers.
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