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Birth and breastfeeding are meant to go together.

jess after birthBreastfeeding is part of the birthing process, not a separate nor even different event. Babies who birth vaginally without medication, placed on their mother's belly and left undisturbed, crawl to the nipple and are usually feeding themselves within an hour after they are born. The release of the placenta starts your breasts making milk and breastfeeding contracts and heals your uterus.

What birth practices affect breastfeeding?

  • Medications pass through the placenta during labor.  They can make babies sleepy and disoriented and impair breastfeeding reflexes, as well as affect the mother.
  • Delivering via C-section means milk production may be delayed by 12 or more hours. 
  • Mothers who experience rough handling or injury during birth may find even small challenges in breastfeeding too difficult to overcome
  • Babies may be separated from you at birth for treatment in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
  • Mothers may need to be treated for high blood pressure, hemorrhaging, or illness and may be separated from their baby. 
  • Doctor-caused injuries can occur during birth or after. A common example is suctioning a baby, which if done roughly, can lead to feeding aversion. 

Before you decide on giving birth with pain medication, or schedule an elective C-section, take time to educate yourself on risks and side effects so you are comfortable making an informed decision. You will not get full risk factors and information from the anesthesiologist, much less be in a position to take in a lot of information during labor. 

Post birth procedures such as bathing, eye drops, and mother-baby separation can disrupt, upset or even repattern innate reflexes and cause the baby difficulties in latching and transferring milk. Nipple shields, pacifiers and bottle nipples can also confuse babies beginning to breastfeed. 

You can only ask for what you know about. Read as much as you can about things that interest you about breastfeeding. If you don’t know what is important, take a class or make an appointment for a prenatal consultation with a lactation consultant.

The 5 warning signs you NEED help

The three best places to get it & why it's not the internet...

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1. You're trying to breastfeed your baby and have hit a speed bump, or two or three;
2. Your nipples are raw, bleeding, cracked, or hurting;
3. You think, or have been told, that you are not making enough milk;
4. You think that your baby hates you and/or breastfeeding;
5. You are crying more than an hour a day and you feel like quitting;

How Google and YouTube make things worse

There’s a time and a place for Google, YouTube and books and it’s not when your baby is crying and you are frustrated.

The biggest reason these don't work is because they only offer tons of information without any filter. They can’t listen to you, discern subtleties and hold a space for you to vent and share your frustrations while you struggle with breastfeeding. When we are struggling or suffering, we need another human being to witness and listen to us. This last part is the most important part of my job as a lactation consultant.

Breastfeeding is a complex mix of intuition, positioning, timing, hormones, culture and family dynamics all mixed up with overwhelming emotions like desire, joy, sadness, frustration and anger. A lactation consultant’s skill is to look at the whole breastfeeding process, listen to your experience, including your upset and separate the problems into smaller pieces so you can solve them one by one.

You can be focused on the wrong thing and not realize it. One thing I’ve seen over and over is moms "trying to get the latch right" and damaging their nipples, instead of simply pulling the baby close and leaning back. (read "The latch is not the key…to success”)

So, before you search online, pump, use nipple shields, syringe, finger, Lact-Aid or SNS feeders, or bottle feed; Before you do anything that isn’t ‘breastfeeding’ find someone who will help you breastfeed your baby in real life.

The four best sources of help

1. If you are in a hospital, ask for a lactation consultant. If they can't help, ask for a different one. Keep asking for help until you have seen everyone on staff. If none of the hospital staff is able to help you…
2. Call an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) to come to the hospital, or to your home, or schedule an office visit with them the day you leave the hospital. It may seem like a lot of money up front and you may feel like your problem really isn't “that bad.” If you feel like this, think of the visit as preventative education. You will receive so much information and reassurance you will realize the value immediately. Breastfeeding for the first six months typically saves $600 on formula costs alone, so there really is a net savings when you get professional help.
3. If an IBCLC is not available, call a La Leche League Leader, a Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC), or WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor.
4. Find your tribe. 

While some mothers find breastfeeding amazing, intuitive, easy, natural and satisfying from the first feed, many women (and babies) need a little (or a lot) of help, encouragement and support in the beginning. Breastfeeding is intuitive and natural, but often it's not easy to learn.

The easiest way to prepare yourself for breastfeeding is to have been breastfed and raised in a culture of breastfeeding mothers. If this is your experience, then it decreases the amount of learning you need to do, increases the likelihood of successful breastfeeding, and how long you will breastfeed.

If you are like most people, you haven’t had this experience, and it would be helpful for you to immerse yourself in pictures, videos and the company of real babies breastfeeding. When you see women breastfeeding, your body begins to learn how to breastfeed. You tap into your instincts and reflexes and slowly you start to absorb the positioning, the attitude, the information and the relaxation needed to be comfortable and enjoy breastfeeding.

La Leche League, Baby Café and Breastfeeding USA are a communities of breastfeeding moms and families that have groups that meet monthly all over the world. It’s likely there is one near you.


Interview lactation consultants as well as pediatricians while you are pregnant, so you know who you are calling and are comfortable asking questions when you need to.


You may also find community groups of breastfeeding moms at hospitals, baby stores, churches, community centers, health food stores, yoga centers, on Facebook or on Meetup. If you can’t find a live group, you can find an online community in any flavor you might think of.


Breastfeeding is a sisterhood. Some have a tough initiation, others don't, but we all stick together and support breastfeeding, so we can support all our babies.

When "fed" is not best.

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The “Fed is Best” movement whitewashes barriers that make breastfeeding too difficult to continue and places the blame on the mom.

Each sensational story of breastfeeding failure features a mom’s drive to feed her baby, as she faces setbacks and barriers without adequate medical, social or personal support. In each story, she loses hope, resigns to formula feeding and blames herself, not the system.

In order to feel better about her fate, she is reminded to repeat "fed is best" over and over.

Guilt, shame and selfishness

“Fed is Best” is not balm for a broken heart of a woman who wanted to breastfeed. It is brainwashing to silence her feelings after a painful failure. Failure complete with insinuations of infant death, autism and retardation. A catastrophe narrowly averted with "just one bottle of formula."

In the US, it is a painful, un-preventable failure, unless you are lucky, remarkable, rich, probably white, and/or surrounded by nursing mothers.

“Fed is Best” is in the same family as “The important thing is you got a healthy baby.” It guilts and shames us into the silent, serving, selflessness that good mothers are supposed to embody. A mother who sacrifices her health and dreams to nurture the next generation. 

It implies that if you feel angry, sad or ashamed when breastfeeding ‘doesn’t work out’, you are selfish. If you are angry, you are a mom who would willingly starve your child, just so you could say you breastfed.

Complete System Failure

When the system is slanted so doctors says “Yes, breastfeeding is best, but we better not take a chance” and leads a mom into the very practice that we know is likely to cause weaning, then the system is flawed.

When doctors are so ignorant of breastfeeding that they would let a new mom leave the hospital without breast or other feeding going well, the system is flawed.

We know the system is failing because 87% of US babies are fed some or all formula by 6 months of age, despite of the goals and aims of our medical associations.

When Doctor doesn't know best

When a mom is talked into a cascading series of unfortunate interventions and her breastfeeding goes awry because her care providers lack knowledge and fear malpractice, that mom has a right to grieve and be angry. 

Breastfed is more than “fed.” It’s physical, mental and emotional nourishment for mother and baby. It is soul food. Not being able to breastfeed is a loss and should be grieved, not shut down with a harmful platitude.

Facing a lose-lose-lose situation

When a mom is deprived of breastfeeding, especially when situations could have been handled better, everyone loses. Her “fed” baby loses immunities and instant comfort that fulfills their five senses. The mother loses on bonding, expected reduction of cancer risks and increased risks of depression. Her family loses financially with the costs of formula, and most likely, health care expenses, and emotionally if she is sad or ashamed about ending nursing.

Our society loses because we pay for sick mothers and babies through pooled insurance costs. We pay for garbage disposal costs through pooled fees. 

“Fed is Best” slams the pain of quitting breastfeeding into a grim reminder that it really is not about you and what you want for your baby. It’s the same message that has been hammered into your life from early on. You have no right to think your body is perfect. You have no right to feel empowered. You have no right to be healthy and happy.

A Lunchables level of nutrition

"Fed is best" creates a value system that pits mother against mother and science against shock value.

Breastfeeding is best. “Fed” is so broad as to mean anything. There is no standard. No baseline. No optimal food or ideal levels. “Fed” includes the lowest form of sustenance - a “lunch-ables” level of nutrition.

The only standard in "Fed is Best" is that a “Corporation,” whether it’s your employer, the doctor, the hospital, or the pharmaceutical company, makes money. 

KD

Telling a mom “Fed is Best” is a knockdown punch to her dreams, courage and autonomy. It truly is not what she deserves. Moms in America deserve maternity leave, laws that protect breastfeeding and limit promotion of breastfeeding substitutes, access to many kinds of breastfeeding support, health care professionals that know and support the process of breastfeeding and communities that value and praise their determination to give babies their very best start in life.

Breastfeeding in America

smiling baby breast new baby new paltzOur brains learn best by watching and with mentoring yet many American mothers have never actually seen a woman breastfeed, let alone learn from her. In cultures where everyone breastfeeds, women have an easier time learning.

Our culture boasts of family values, yet there is little cultural support, let alone celebration, for the breastfed baby. Instead, bottles and pacifiers go hand-in hand with babies. They are visible everywhere: in babies’ mouths, on t-shirts, gift bags, party decorations, baby gifts, advertisements, health insurance brochures and doctor’s offices. The result is that at 6 months, only 13% of our babies are exclusively breastfed.

breastfeeding in America

Most hospitals still give new moms a “just-in-case” promotional bag with bottles of formula and pacifiers. Our citizens are sold to by many corporations interested in selling their product at nearly any cost and we are used to doing their marketing for them by accepting branded gifts and products.

The US is a country that has not adopted the The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (the Code).  The Code helps to protect vulnerable parents and innocent babies from predatory marketing. Predatory marketing in this case, is marketing a product (formula and teats/nipples) to a vulnerable market (new parents) using untrue statements. Claims that may seem plausible to someone who is in distress, such as a new mother who is tired and worried about her baby being hungry. Predatory marketing is the opposite of informed consent. 

How do you get around this?

Culture. When women are with other women who breastfeed, they keep breastfeeding.

Fortunately, there are little sub-cultures of breastfeeding families everywhere for you to discover.  Don’t follow the example of the pioneer woman living alone on the prairie. There is a new wonderful world awaiting when you join or create a breastfeeding community.

Café Mama is a just such a community in New Paltz, NY. 

While you are pregnant and when you are out with your baby, scope out breastfeeding-friendly resources in your community. Places like playgrounds, libraries, public spaces, play spaces, cafés and stores are hubs where breastfeeding women gather.

Look for breastfeeding support groups at hospitals, WIC offices, baby stores, community centers, on Meetup.com, in OB/GYN’s, midwives’ and lactation consultants’ offices. 

Join La Leche League or another breastfeeding support group and attend meetings starting in your first or second trimester.

Become an advocate for breastfeeding in your life and community. Host a Big Latch On or participate in a Live Love Latch event during World Breastfeeding Week to raise awareness in your community.

If you can’t find a breastfeeding support group, start one. Join Meetup.com, or put up a flyer at your local doctor’s office, church, library children’s room or preschool.

A Five Step Cure For Breastfeeding Ignorance

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Yes, breastfeeding is natural. Yes, it’s normal.

But you probably had more education on getting your period than feeding a baby. You have every month to learn about your period and nobody is going to die of starvation if you don’t. 

But breastfeeding? You and your baby have two or three wobbly days to figure it out before doctors start pushing supplementation and using words like "no milk', ‘failure to thrive', ‘dehydration’ and ‘brain damage’.

Scared Mommy

Many mothers stop breastfeeding in the first few months simply because they truly don't know what normal breastfeeding is like. Today's moms have all of Google and modern medicine at their fingertips, yet they still lack knowledge, experience and education in breastfeeding.

Moms mostly fear not making enough milk. Because people don’t know how human milk is made, they get scared, and do exactly the thing that tanks their milk supply. They supplement with formula. And with each ounce of formula fed to the baby, mom's breasts make one ounce less milk. 

Other mothers have too much milk along with plugged ducts and mastitis. They are uncomfortably full all the time. Their babies gag and sputter with feeds.

Most have heard about hind milk and the elusive “good latch”? But what are they and why are they important? Most importantly, "How do you get them?"

Babies cry for a hundred reasons 

And not just because you don’t have enough milk. The sad thing is that many moms interpret all the cries as "My baby is starving. I must not have enough milk."

They cry for hunger and thirst. They cry because they are too hot or too cold. It’s too bright or too loud. They are lonely, upset or bored and more. Breastfeeding fixes everything except an overfull tummy and a dirty diaper. But, nobody explains it that way.

How DO you know if your baby is starving? When do you need help?

Nobody tells you that breastfeeding in the first 4-6 weeks is very different from breastfeeding at 4-6 months. They might say it gets faster, easier or better, but in the early weeks when you are going through hell, you may not know or understand that.

When informed consent isn't informed.

Women make choices during pregnancy and birth to use interventions that are known to make breastfeeding more difficult. Epidurals cause more difficulty breastfeeding. C-sections delay milk production and the mandated separation after a surgical birth interrupts babies' innate reflex patterns causing a cascading sequence of problems.

Some decisions are carefully thought out before they are chosen. A woman with placenta previa has time to learn about and understand the risks of a C-section and prepare for additional breastfeeding support. Many parent's are not receiving the "information" part of informed consent. A c-section, whether its a true emergency, or the result of a non-progressing vaginal birth is presented at the last minute and there isn't time to plan for breastfeeding problems and extra household help at home.

The cure for ignorance is education.

Here are five ways to learn more about breastfeeding. Ideally, you do a bit of all of them, because just like breastmilk, even a little bit is a wonderful thing.

A five step cure:

1.  Choose doctors that value breastfeeding. Plan for an unmedicated vaginal birth by taking childbirth classes and using a birth doula. 

2.  Educate yourself to prepare for breastfeeding by taking a breastfeeding class and reading all you can. Schedule a prenatal appointment with a lactation consultant to ask questions.

3.  Spend time with breastfeeding mothers so that your unconscious mind starts to learn what you need to do and you can ask questions and hear what they say about breastfeeding, the challenges they face and the solutions they know. Attend La Leche League groups or other breastfeeding support groups while you are pregnant.

4.  Formula promotional packs are trojan horses that sneak into your house and whisper words of doubt into your ear. Give them away or do not accept them. In most countries, they are not distributed by healthcare professionals until needed. If you need to buy formula, you will be able to.

5.  Even if your birth goes all wonky, insist the baby be placed skin-to-skin immediately after birth and wait for the cord to stop pulsing before cutting it. Keep your baby near you and skin-to-skin as much as possible for the first two weeks. After birth, read your baby, not a book. Feed 12-16 times every 24 hours until your baby is gaining weight consistently.