Weaning Henry... What helping a mom to stop breastfeeding taught this Lactation Consultant
See this gorgeous picture?^^ This is what most of my moms want. They dream of effortless, beautiful moments of intense bonding while breastfeeding; ample and bountiful milk with no pain, no fuss and years of health and well being for their babies and themselves. Ahhh. Sounds fantastic doesn't it? Lots of times it works out something like this. Something resembling their vision at least, something meaningful and totally worth the work and doubtful moments.
This is what I hear from most of my mommas. They say, "I really want to breastfeed!". After all, then why are they contacting me? A board certified lactation consultant?
Samantha ( not her real name ) contacted me before her baby was born, for a prenatal planning class. One of my favorite things to do! I happily traveled to her home, chatted with her and her supportive husband. She asked all kinds of appropriate questions, she looked engagingly at all my teaching materials. We got to one of my absolutely important discussions... " What is your goal with feeding your baby? How would you like breastfeeding to look for you and your family as you move forward?" She hesitated just slightly. I noticed her husband quietly slip out of the room.
"I'm not entirely sure about this" she said. " I really want to try and I know it's best for the baby, so I guess we'll see".
She got a bit quiet, but insisted she really wanted to try to breastfeed. She didn't really have a reason for her trepidation. I made it clear that no matter what, breastfeeding had to work for her and her alone. I made eye contact with her, and made it clear there were lots of ways to feed her baby, and I'd be there for her to make her way, whatever way that was.
"Henry" was born healthy and lovely a few weeks later. I heard via text he had a drive by through the NICU for a small respiratory problem, but that he and mom where breastfeeding beautifully, even easily. She asked for me to come to her home for a visit. Henry was a champ, nursed, slept, and gained weight. None of the issues I usually see. Nada. Couldn't be more perfect. Mom was surprised, she said, happy that things were well. No signs of breast engorgement or of post partum depression. No unhappiness; all was well. We spent some time talking and it was time to go. I touched her hand, had her look directly at me. "How are you doing? Is being a mom everything you thought it would be?" She said, "Its really ok. Thank you". I left, thinking, well, perhaps the oxytocin is doing it's thing, and we're past whatever issues momma had.
Two days later she called back. " Lori, please come. I cannot do this". She said she just didn't know why, but had been hating every moment of breastfeeding, and was wracked with guilt, but needed to wean Henry. That day. I made a mad dash to her home. She was teary but resolved... Henry needed to take a bottle. Breastfeeding felt horrible to her, and she was dreading each feeding. She wasn't at all feeling depressed, the only "bad" part about her postpartum recovery was feeding. That her husband had been supportive towards whatever plan she wanted, but was encouraging her to wean, too. Pumping her milk wasn't in the cards, either. Guilt fell down with her tears... despite his feeding so well, she just couldn't do it.
Gosh. I won't lie that it was a little hard for me. Watching this gorgeously breastfeeding baby stuffing his face while his momma cried over him. Knowing how hard this would be for them both. So very many things crowded my mind....But knowing that for this momma, at this moment, she needed me to support her and be there for her. She didn't need preaching or rehashing of our education, or facts or statistics. She needed me to show her what she needed. She needed another woman to not judge her. She was doing plenty of that herself. How this was a watershed moment in her motherhood. That how I reacted could have far reaching implications.
I took a deep breath, gave her a hug and asked where she kept her bottles. We made some formula, practiced some paced bottle feeding and ways to keep him skin to skin, and feed him in a loving, close and special way. He chewed on the bottle nipple at first, quizzically looking at mom, then happily figured it out, to her relief. I gently asked a few more questions, and she honestly couldn't reflect why she felt the way she did. There are studies about women with sexual abuse histories struggling with breastfeeding. Some moms experience a physically uncomfortable feeling with nursing, called DMER. She said this wasn't the case. She just didn't like it. I left a grateful, loving mom that had chosen to formula feed.
Of course I worried about postpartum depression, as not meeting an infant feeding goal can be a risk factor. She knew, too, and we kept in touch for a few weeks. She actually felt better, she said. She looked forward to feeding her son, and was deeply enjoying motherhood. She thanked me profusely, but my gratitude was to her. She reinforced to me how important our work is. Who else would have taught her how to respectfully bottle feed with evidenced based techniques and taken the time to screen her for postpartum depression and about her coping and recovery? She encouraged me to go forward, to educate about infant feeding and breastfeeding with science and with love...and help families make choices that work for them. She strongly reminded me how my job isn't to have a goal and a path for a mom. My goal is to help her find her own.