The overzealous push to get all moms to breastfeed

Mommy wars aside, I think you’d have to be living under a rock if you haven’t heard the enormous and real benefits of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is awesome on so many levels. Health of baby and mom alike. Both physical and emotional.

But, what if it doesn’t work? What if you’re a mom (like me) who couldn’t produce enough milk? Hardly any in my case.

What if you’re an adoptive parent or your baby has latch issues, or a medical condition precludes you from exclusively breastfeeding?

What if you simply (gasp) choose not to breastfeed?

What then?

Ask any mother or parent who found themselves in one of the above scenarios.

What you get is a pile of guilt, shame, and unnecessary judgement from the well meaning masses of breastfeeding advocacy.

It’s not necessarily the advocacy, the education, or the support that ends up hurting these moms. It’s the trickle down effect of our overzealous push to get all moms to breastfeed.

Moms are continuously just told to keep at it, it will come. Don’t worry, you two will get a hang of it. Don’t give up, your baby doesn’t need anything else. Don’t give your baby a bottle or pacifier. If you keep trying really hard, you will succeed. Here’s your baby, start breastfeeding. If you can’t, here’s a pump, now get to it.

Now, perhaps for first time breastfeeding mothers without any of the above obstacles, this advice would suffice enough.

But this doesn’t work for everyone and those women who truly need guidance, support, and well informed medical experts will never get anything beyond the above remarks and this is a real problem.

An underestimated and real problem.

Moms and babies will suffer. Feeding becomes a time of angst and guilt instead of a time of peace and love.

I went through 3 lactation consultants before finding one that could help me. I still thank God for her. She diagnosed my IGT and helped me more than she’ll ever know. But, many others will go unrecognized. They’ll be left feeling like they’ve failed their child because breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world and every mother should be able to do it.

The unfortunate reality is that by declaring breastfeeding a public health issue and pressuring hospitals and medical personnel to encourage breastfeeding, it’s like putting the cart before the horse. Women need more than words. They need more than study after study declaring breastmilk and breastfeeding as the superior way to feed your baby.

They need real action. Real support by having access to certified lactation consultants who know how to diagnose and treat milk supply issues and latch problems. It’s why I’m thankful for breastfeeding advocacy groups such as Best for Babes and The American Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine that are making strides to do just that.

I support trying to make some headway with maternity leave and making the workplace more conducive for breastfeeding and pumping mothers.

But if you have never heard of Insufficient Glandular Tissue (IGT), low milk supply, baby latch issues due to tongue tie, or have never even considered these issues in a mother struggling with breastfeeding, please never casually say, “Just keep at it, it will happen.”

Because for many, it won’t.

It didn’t for me. And while my story is merely an anecdote in the great sea of successful breastfeeding mothers, there are others out there like me. Thousands actually. But no one has studied us. No one has taken our collective anecdotal stories and compiled them into evidence for the world to see.

We often suffer in silence. Riddled with shame and guilt. And all we want is to feed our babes in peace, the best way we are able to.

Yeah, we may use formula and bottles. But for heavens sake, we are not poisoning our children. We did not give up.

Our babies will still thrive and grow up healthy and smart in our loving arms.

And we don’t need a study to prove that.

Melissa Arca is a pediatrician who blogs at Confessions of a Dr. Mom.

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