Can ANY Mother Breastfeed?

BreastfeedingWhen I tell people that I am a board certified lactation counselor, I tend to get one of two reactions.

The first reaction is, "Oh, cool! That's interesting..." or something along those lines.

The second reaction isn't usually voiced... but you can tell by the person's posture and tone of voice that she is thinking something along the lines of, "Oh, no, you're one of those... a pushy breastfeeding advocate."

A "Guilt-Free Zone"

Honestly, I understand where that reaction comes from. In my early days as a breastfeeding educator almost a decade ago, I used to get lactation consult orders from obstetric and pediatric residents. The hospital that I worked at had about 6,000 births per year, so it was a very big, busy postpartum floor. I literally ran for ten hours a day just trying to get to all the moms who needed assistance.

So, I found it very frustrating to walk into a room and hear a mom say to me, "I'm not sure why they asked you to come in here. I'm bottle feeding." I found out quickly that there were some overzealous residents who believed that it was my job to bully and guilt-trip every bottle feeding mother into breastfeeding.

I don't play that game. Sorry. I 100% whole-heartedly believe that breastfeeding is the best choice, by far. But I had enough on my plate dealing with the moms who wanted help breastfeeding and keeping them from getting discouraged or from running into cultural or institutional booby-traps. I didn't have time to waste trying to force breastfeeding on someone who clearly wasn't interested in it.

Well, Every Mom Can Breastfeed, So Every Mom Should... Right?!?

Again... um, no. Not every mom can breastfeed. The estimates vary from approximately 3 to 5% of mothers have medical reasons why they truly cannot breastfeed.

Oh, well... 3 to 5%? That's hardly any. Women are just making excuses for not wanting to try.

I'm fully aware that there are some mothers who will say they couldn't breastfeed when what they mean is they didn't want to... However... 3 to 5% is not such a small number. There are well over 4,000,000 babies born annually in the United States. That means there are 120,000 to 150,000 new moms each year, in the United States alone, who cannot breastfeed... and more who have difficulties establishing and/or maintaining a full milk supply.

While I doubt they are so evenly distributed, that's an average of 2,400 to 3,000 new moms every year in every state of the United States who get unfairly judged for supposedly not wanting to breastfeed... which is especially hurtful if they actually did want to breastfeed. Here's a far more truthful statement:

Almost All Moms, If They Are Given the Support They Deserve, Can Breastfeed Successfully

Let's analyze this:

Almost All Moms: 95-97% of all new mothers are physically capable of breastfeeding their children... recognizing and validating the experience of those mothers who truly cannot breastfeed should never be viewed as a reason to discourage mothers from even trying. The vast, vast majority of mothers are physically capable of breastfeeding successfully.

If They Are Given the Support They Deserve: Oh, now this is where it gets trickier. Far too many mothers do not get the support they deserve. Far too many new mothers are let down by society, by their families and friends, or by the medical profession. These are the booby-traps I was speaking of earlier.

Can Breastfeed Successfully: What it means to "breastfeed successfully" varies from woman to woman. For some women it means that their child is breastfed for the first year of their life. For others it extends into the second and third year. Some mothers just want to breastfeed during their three months of maternity leave. Others want to pump exclusively... their child isn't fed at the breast, but they only receive breastmilk.

It is my job as an IBCLC to help each mother determine what success looks like for her and for her child. It is my job to make sure that mothers have up-to-date and complete information so that they are making an informed decision. It is my job to help mothers know the difference between barriers, challenges, and booby-traps and how to respond to each. It is my job to run interference between mothers and the medical profession so that each mother I work with has a vocal advocate supporting her decisions.

It is not my job to bully or coerce anyone.

Busting the Booby-Traps!

So, my goal is to bust the booby-traps... to help expectant and new mothers to recognize the things that can make it harder for them to successfully establish and maintain the breastfeeding relationship with their child. I want to help every new mom to understand why breastfeeding is important and how to have the most successful breastfeeding experience possible.

Each day we will look at another breastfeeding booby-trap and show moms how to either avoid it or to overcome its effects.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you, my readers. Please share your experiences as we go through this series so that you can help new moms with the benefit of your advice. Feel free to ask questions. That's what I'm here for...

Other Posts in the "Busting the Booby-Traps" series:

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