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  • Writer's pictureclairemariemiller1

Breastfeeding Expectations (contributed by Danielle Chu)

When your breastfeeding goals don’t match reality...


In anticipation of breastfeeding your first child, many parents are encouraged to set a breastfeeding goal. Your pediatrician may tell you six months of exclusive nursing, your mother may recommend a year, your friend may say three months. Whatever you are recommended, and whatever you decide (if you indeed set one), the goals can be as numerous and as individual as the people who set them.  


Some common breastfeeding goals may be:  

1. To provide breastmilk to your baby (either with a bottle or from the breast, exclusively breast-milk-fed or supplemented). 

2. To have your baby exclusively breast-milk-fed (fed either mother’s milk or donor milk). 

3. To exclusively breastfeed your baby (to provide only your breast milk to your baby - pumped milk, or fed from the breast.) 

4. To exclusively breastfeed your baby for six hours, six weeks, six months, or longer (setting an expectation that you would only offer breast milk until your child reaches a certain age).

 

My goal had been to do all of the above.


As I prepared for our third baby’s arrival I was inundated with folks telling me how “easy” third babies were, that breastfeeding would be a cinch, that everything would go so smooth; the good news was welcomed. Unfortunately though, it was not our story.


At 10 weeks of age my son, Nicholas (Niko) was diagnosed with a weak and shallow suck by the speech pathologist. Additionally, Niko received occupational therapy for plagio- and brachio-cephaly, for which he ultimately wore a head-shaping helmet. Physical therapy was initiated, primarily due to his atypical head shape and delayed rolling. The pediatric dentist did a laser lip and tongue frenectomy for his restricted oral tissues. Speech pathology and dietetics gave exercises and tracked Niko’s growth to keep it on target.


I struggled - emotionally, physically, and spiritually. I questioned who I was as a lactation consultant, but most importantly as a mother. Our difficulties at the breast had radiated out to all dimensions of my life. I don’t think I am that unique either. I think this happens a lot.


As a lactation consultant myself, I know that even the most well-meaning of us don’t understand another mother's struggles with breastfeeding until we have lived it. We nearly force breastfeeding on mothers today. There is no choice, there’s pressure. To do it, do it well, and therefore be a successful mother. Any seasoned mother can tell you it is not that simple. There are days in parenting that make you feel like you soar, and others that knock you down to the ground beneath your feet. Being a good parent isn’t equivalent to having an easy and successful breastfeeding story. Being a good parent is, to the best of our ability, trying hard to give our babies what we feel like is best for them. For one mother it might look like breastfeeding her baby for one year and for another it might look like breastfeeding for one day. We set goals prenatally to have something to reach for when nipple pain visits on day two postpartum, your baby has a growth spurt at six weeks, or cuts a tooth at nine months, or seems too busy to nurse at 13 months. These goals aren’t like the benchmarks we set in the workplace, that you meet or you perish. These goals are like a net woven beneath you to support you if your foot misses a step, they are there to catch you, so you both don’t fall.


My breastfeeding journey with Nicholas led me to lactation consultants, physical therapists, speech pathologists, plastic surgeons, occupational therapists, pediatric dentists, gastroenterologists, psychiatrists…and finally we were granted a miracle. Nicholas grew, we kept trying, and so did he. He turned six months old, gobbled up food, and suddenly we didn’t have to worry anymore. For nearly the first time in our breastfeeding experience, we could enjoy it. Now, I don’t have a goal, but I have today, and today we are still nursing. What a gift.


I recognize that it was a great privilege to be in a position to take my baby to pediatric specialists one after another. With more barriers to access we would not have had the chance to continue to breastfeed.

  

I’ve learned that staying flexible and adaptable to your circumstances, keeping sight of your intentions, and seeking help along the way (when possible) can be key to achieving your goals, if there are indeed bumps along the way. The knowledge, clinical savvy, and insight of knowledgeable lactation practitioners can make a world of difference in your breastfeeding story.


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