And, we recognize what a difficult decision this can be! Women who don’t want to breastfeed are being put under more pressure with little help or understanding for how they may feel, or what obstacles they may face. We are here to help you. It is no fun being on the fence.
Believe me, I know, because I was a mom who was on that fence! That’s why I’m urging you not to wait until after the baby’s birth–like I did–to make your decision. Do your research now. The fact is, that while breastfeeding comes easily for some moms, for most moms, the hardest time to learn about breastfeeding for the first time, is after the baby is born, when new mothers are exhausted, vulnerable and at the mercy of myths and misinformation. Believe it or not, hospitals, nurses, doctors, families, and friends, while well-meaning and competent, may not be educated on the latest about breastfeeding and frequently have their own barriers to work through (see AAP, Policy statement on Human Milk). Add to that any personal unresolved issues you may have and now you have put yourself at an even greater disadvantage if you do decide to give it a whirl. Breastfeeding is just one of those important life events where you will do better if you are prepared and can hit the ground running. You wouldn’t show up to run a marathon without a strong resolve, some coaching and proper shoes, right? So, the best thing you can do for yourself and your baby is to explore the feeding issue – both your feelings and the facts about it–now, before the baby is born.
To help you make your decision, I’ve put some suggestions below–these are merely suggestions, the ones that I wish someone had mentioned to me before my first baby was born. I hope that they are helpful, and that you will take what you like from them and leave the rest. In any case, I wish you only the best on this amazing journey into motherhood.
If you don’t want to breastfeed:
- Find someone you trust to talk to. Choose someone you respect, admire and trust who will listen to you compassionately and help you sort out your feelings without judging you. I was too afraid to admit that I didn’t want to breastfeed to anyone, and kept my feelings bottled-up, which only made things worse. Whether you choose a friend, relative, or professional, the person(s) you talk to should not push their agenda on you. A good sounding board should neither hit you over the head overbearingly with the benefits of breastfeeding nor should they easily let you off the hook from trying breastfeeding at all. He/She should help you understand yourself, what is factoring into your decision and most importantly, should be positive and encouraging! Becoming a parent is a transformation on many levels, and as you explore your feelings, you will grow and mature and be more ready to take on that transformation.
- Get to the bottom of what’s bugging you. There are a million reasons why women choose not to breastfeed, and we’ve heard them all. All of them are valid, because any feelings a woman has about breastfeeding are real and important! Unless you get to the bottom of what’s stopping you from embracing breastfeeding, you won’t have the chance to separate fact from fiction. For example, some women fear they won’t be able to make enough milk, perhaps because their mothers didn’t nurse or had difficulties–but we now know that more than 95% of women are physically capable of breastfeeding. Like a lot of women, I was afraid of what breastfeeding would do to my ta-tas, not realizing that pregnancy itself, not nursing, is the culprit. [Rinker, Brian: “Breastfeeding Does Not Create Sagging Breasts; Study Throws Out Old Wives’ Tale, Amer. Society of Plastic Surgeons] Others are anxious about nursing in public, or disapproval from in-laws or friends. Some are plain squeamish. Some women have suffered sexual abuse —if this is the case for you, as it is the case for possibly 25% of women, we urge you to get help from a qualified professional, such as Penny Simkin (listen to this Motherwear podcast with her, it’s amazing) and join a support group. You may find and meet other mothers who have been able to work through this difficult barrier and have gone on to nurse successfully or have pumped—for some, it has even become an empowering, positive and healing experience. In any case, you will know you are not alone). Still others fear that their medications won’t allow them to breastfeed. Unless you are in touch with what’s bothering you, you’ll never find out if there is a way to deal with it—plus, once you get it out in the open, you might find out it loses it’s power over you. Regardless of what you decide, chances are you will have a lot more peace and serenity, and be better equipped to handle questions or even nosybodies.
- Weigh the risks. While there has been lots said about the benefits of breastfeeding, research has shown that knowing the benefits alone is not impactful enough, just as knowing the benefits of eating broccoli hasn’t kept us away from fast-food joints. What everyone needs to know is that studies suggest that there are very real risks associated with feeding artificial baby milk (ABM)–commonly known as infant formula.
To what degree is breastfeeding associated with a reduced risk of disease?
(excerpted from www.breastfeeding.blog.motherwear.com/2007/04/how_much_does_b.html )
“A new meta-analysis (study of studies) from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services helps answer that question. (This study looked over 9,000 studies on breastfeeding from developed countries, weeded out the ones with poor methodology, and came up with an overall percentage for each one. This is harder than it sounds because “breastfeeding” is defined differently in each study. Nevertheless, here is what they found.)”
Breastfeeding is associated with a lower risk of the following diseases for your baby:
- Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS): 36% lower risk
- Type 1 Diabetes: 19-27%
- Type 2 Diabetes: 39%
- Leukemia (acute lymphocytic) : 19%
- Leukemia (acute myelogenous): 15%
- Asthma: 27%
- Gastrointestinal infections: 64%
- Lower respiratory tract diseases: 72%
- Atopic dermatitis: 42%
- Acute otitis media: 50%
Breastfeeding is associated with a lower risk of the following disease for mothers:
- Type 2 Diabetes: 4-12% lower risk
- Ovarian cancer: 21%
- Breast cancer: 28%
This study looked at the relationship between breastfeeding and only some of the diseases that breastfeeding provides some measure of protection against. More research is needed, but the evidence is growing all the time.
Bottom line is, only you and your doctor can weigh any risks from current medications you are taking vs. the risks of feeding your baby formula, and you owe it to yourself to be educated. You should also be aware that the World Health Organization says that screened, donated, pasteurized milk is a more suitable alternative than artificial milk (formula). They state that formula should only be used as a last resort–a message that certainly hasn’t made it into the mainstream! Hopefully, one day human milk banks will be as ubiquitous as blood banks, and all mothers who can’t breastfeed will have better choices.
4. Make your decision.
If You are Leaning Away from Breastfeeding:
You’ve done exhaustive research and have confidence that you have made the best decision for you and your family. Some things you may want to consider:
- You can always stop breastfeeding if it is not right for you. If you don’t try, it is a lot harder to start (but not impossible) if you change your mind! Consider that lots of women regret not breastfeeding, but we know of no one who regrets having breastfed.
- Pumping. Many women who are uncomfortable with nursing directly for whatever reason have pumped successfully, often for a full year. Kudos to them.
- Donated, Screened, Pasteurized Breastmilk. See www.hmbana.org to see if this is a feasible choice for you, if not, become an advocate so that some day more moms have this much better feeding option.
- A friend or relative nursing your baby, or donated milk through a network. This is very controversial due to the risk of any communicable diseases, however we hope that someday through a thorough screening process women who can not breastfeed can be matched with a volunteer who can nurse their baby. Once again, only you can weigh the risks and make the best choice for you and your family. Organizations that are helping parents connect with informally donated human milk are Human Milk for Human Babies (www.HM4HB.net), Eats on Feets (www.eatsonfeets.com) and Milk Share (www.milkshare.com). Please note that for liability reasons, Best for Babes does not officially endorse informal milk sharing, but believes strongly that moms deserve access to information about all milk sharing options.
- Organic Infant Formula. If pumping, donated breastmilk or a surrogate breastfeeder are simply not options, then we encourage you to use Organic artificial baby milk (generic is fine) as it will not contain pesticides or milk products from cows treated with antibiotics or growth hormones. Choose one that does not include artificial DHA & ARA as these chemicals are not organic, their efficacy in formula has not been proven and there is more research needed on potential side-effects such as gastric upset in infants.
- Have a good answer. Finally, if you choose not to breastfeed, we urge you to have a plan of how to handle well-meaning but overzealous do-gooders, and have a “stop them in their tracks” response at the ready. Unfortunately, we have heard a few horror stories of women who have been hassled for giving a bottle by complete strangers, and we are on your side, babe, no one has the right to intrude upon you! Women who judge other women for not breastfeeding make the problem worse. Try saying: “Thank you for your concern, and thank you for respecting that this is a personal decision no mother takes lightly.” You can even encourage them to read the Best for Babes Mission & Credo!
If you are leaning towards breastfeeding:
Take baby steps. If you are one of those people (like me) for whom adopting healthy lifestyle choices is challenging, treat it like deciding to work out: set small, achievable goals, and give yourself lots of praise and rewards. I am not one of those people who could commit to training for the marathon, but I was able to get myself (kicking and screaming) to sign up for a 5 mile race. Similarly, when I was nursing my son, I kept saying, “okay, I’m going to do this just until Sunday, and then I am going to quit,” and then by the time Monday came around, I postponed weaning for another 7 days. Try committing to the first 6 days, then commit to another week, and so on, and you might find that the first month has gone by before you know it! Add another week at a time, and soon the first 4-6 weeks of the Learning Curve (link to (http://www.bestforbabes.com/prepare-the-learning-curve-of-breastfeeding/) will be over and you will have gotten the hang of it. In fact, just like those of us who hated going to the gym at first but came to enjoy the incredible feeling they have after an intense workout, your feelings about nursing may change as time goes on. You may even succumb to its ambrosia-like effects and fall in love with it!
Surround yourself with a cheering squad. It’s really, really important (did we say VERY!) to find people who believe in you, will cheer you on and remind you that you can do it! To lean on the sports analogy again: my husband bought me a membership to the gym and for four years I used it maybe 10 times. He liked to tease me that every time I went it cost him $500. Now I go to the gym at least twice a week. What changed? Two girlfriends roped me into going to an exercise class (the same ones that proceeded to sign me up for that 5 mile race), and what I would have hated doing alone, was actually fun to do with some friends. When my son was born, I thought I would never make it past a week of breastfeeding, let alone six months, and with the encouragement of others, I ended up nursing my son until he was almost a year and a half! If you don’t already have these women in your life, then go find them. You will find a ready-made cheering squad at a great breastfeeding support group. You’ll meet some great moms, learn lots of tips it would take you hours of internet surfing to find, and you’ll probably enjoy the whole transition to motherhood and nursing even more. You may even end up surpassing your expectations!
Here are some tips to find other nursing moms:
- “Store front” birth and breastfeeding education centers: These are springing up all over the country, particularly in and around urban centers, and are a fabulous resource for prenatal classes, support groups, doulas (labor coaches and postpartum assistants), and postnatal help from LCs.
- Many lactation consultants (LCs) run their own groups or can steer you in the right direction. You can find the LCs in your area at www.ilca.org.
- La Leche League (www.llli.org). This is the largest and oldest resource for free mother-to-mother breastfeeding support groups and help.
- Some hospitals offer breastfeeding classes and support groups, but do your homework first: Don’t go to a class at a hospital that has a low breastfeeding success rate! We’ve attended some classes that were dull and a turn-off, and worse, presented incorrect information.
- Yoga Studios and Gyms: Many offer prenatal exercise classes — a great place to connect with other moms who are planning on nursing. Some great yoga studios offer post-natal classes that include baby and nursing time!
- ”Natural” or eco-friendly baby stores and health food stores. Healthy and green living is hip and there are lots of cute and stylish baby stores selling slings, organic baby clothes and bedding and the like, some of them are running support groups during off-hours or can point you to other resources. Many health food stores have seminars for moms, plus they often have seating/eating areas where you can have lunch and nurse on a future shopping trip. Important: if the first group you go to turns you off, keep trying different groups until you find one where you connect. If you don’t want to commit to breastfeeding, try committing to going to a breastfeeding support group at least 4 times during the last two months of your pregnancy. Even if you just listen, you’ll learn a lot, and you’ll feel a lot better about your decision.
Find women you trust, and then take what you like and leave the rest. Just like an athlete would never hire–and would actually fire–a coach who said “give it a try,” didn’t have faith in you, or couldn’t bring out your best and help you succeed, you should take no less from the women (and the professionals) in your life. If you don’t like a particular breastfeeding group, keeping trying different ones until you find one that you do! All too many women get turned off by one person and then throw in the towel. Just remember, one overbearing militant breastfeeder does not speak for the rest of us–there are lots of great groups out there. Even if you only find one other nursing mother you like, at least you won’t be doing it alone! Beware of friends who have unresolved feelings themselves. You want to stick with the winners–women who have succeeded at breastfeeding and women who are self-aware enough not to rationalize. Basically, you want to find women who can cheer you on and bring out your best.
Find out what motivates you and make a list.
If you breastfeed, know that you will have days when you feel like super-nursing mom, and days when you’re tired, cranky, rushing around, and not in the mood. For those days, having a handy list that reminds you in your own words why you are doing this will help you get over the hump. When I felt like throwing in the towel, I thought about how my older sister would probably never let me live it down that she had breastfed for a year (granted, she lives in Europe, where it is much easier to breastfeed). I thought about the unpleasant smell of formula and how my initial reaction the first time I smelled it was that I wasn’t sure I wanted to give something artificial to my perfect, new, and clean baby (plus when I supplemented it made him painfully constipated). I thought about how the hormonal surge during let-down helped my post-partum depression, and that bonding with my baby during nursing made me feel good about myself as a mother. I reminded myself that I did not want to deal with washing and sterilizing bottles (I’m very forgetful and dreaded screwing up the mixing or leaving something behind). I think I turned the corner for good the day my mom pointed out how adorably my son quivered with joy every time I unbuttoned my blouse. In short, you may be motivated by breastfeeding’s incredible health benefits or you may not, but the key is to use whatever works for you. Also, try using imagery (See Learning Curve: See Yourself Successful) to help you achieve your goals. Imagery–positive mental imaging of your success–is a terrific tool and is what great athletes, entrepreneurs and leaders do and it works. In the early days and weeks, you may have to take it one feeding at a time, but you can do it!
Know what is truly second best. We understand that for many women, the hurdles to breastfeeding are truly too great. For example, although most medications are perfectly safe to take while breastfeeding, there are a few that are not. There are also some women who have been sexually abused and are too scarred from their experience to breastfeed. Still others face intense family and peer disapproval (another good reason to attend a support group–you’ll get lots of great strategies for dealing with disapproval). But here is the deal: as per the World Health Organization the second best thing to your breastmilk is not formula – it’s donated, pasteurized and screened human milk! So, even if you cannot — or choose not — to breastfeed, consider the second best and safest alternative for your babe. Let’s make donor milk as widely available as donated blood–your baby, and all babies, deserves the best! For more info, contact The Human Milk Bank Association, www.hmbana.org.
Written by Bettina Forbes, CLC
Brought to you by Best for Babes®
© 2008 by Best for Babes®, All Rights Reserved.