I want you to meet three women I know.

Mother A  is a business woman, well into her thirties, who was bottle fed as a baby. She is a health nut who definitely wants her baby to get breastmilk, but doesn’t want to be tied down by the breast, so she hopes to do be able to do as much pumping as possible and to deliver the milk via bottle much of the time.

Mother B  is an older woman who has finally conceived a long-awaited child with the help of a lot of scientific intervention. She has dreamed of being a mother for a long time, and wants to overcome her difficult childhood by showing her child the kind of unconditional love and care that she never received herself. She plans to breastfeed because she feels that it is the most natural way, and because she wants her precious bundle to get the antibodies from her milk that will help protect the baby from the ill winds of fate.

Mother C is a younger woman, an only child, who was breastfed herself but had no siblings. She has a history of depression and anxiety, and has found pregnancy difficult. She is determined to breastfeed because she doesn’t want to spend money on formula (money is a concern), because she values any boost she can give her kid’s IQ, and because she views breastfeeding as easier – no mixing formula, no bottles to sterilize… hell, you can even feed the baby while fast asleep.

Only one of the above women will be successful at exclusive breastfeeding. One will transfer exclusively to formula within a month and the other will feed primarily formula while supplementing with nursing sessions.

Which do you think is which? 

Let me tell you more about them.

I visited Mother A shortly after the baby’s birth and her mother was there, putting together a bottle of expressed breastmilk for the newborn. The baby, born a couple of weeks early, was small and having difficulty latching, because she would fall asleep almost instantly at the breast. The doctors had suggested pumping and giving the baby the milk by bottle to make sure that she regained her birthweight in time.

Mother B’s baby was born bang on time – right on his due date – and he was enormous, nearly 11 pounds. By 10 days old, however, he had not regained his birthweight and the doctors were concerned about Mother B’s supply. They gave her galactogogues to stimulate her milk flow and on their advice she pumped regularly, only getting an ounce or two each time, which confirmed her doctor’s suspicions about her supply (after all, she WAS in her forties). In the mean time, they advised her to supplement with bottles of formula and the baby was weighed and weighed until he finally regained his birthweight at two weeks of age.

Mother C’s baby was born two weeks overdue and was 8 lbs. He had a lot of difficulty with latching on, which caused Mother C a great deal of pain. The doctor kept her in hospital for an extra day to give her time to work on the baby’s latch. Nurses helped her through each breastfeeding session, and her husband quickly learned how to help flange the baby’s lips, which relieved some of the discomfort. The nurses showed the mother how to manually express her breastmilk into a small cup, which could be tipped into his mouth – no bottle necessary. In fact, she was advised to avoid giving him a bottle until he was a month old, and that if nursing was too painful, tipping manually expressed milk into his mouth with the cup would help keep him hydrated without further messing up his latch.

Have you decided which is which?

Mother A quickly changed to formula and gave up breastfeeding entirely. It just hadn’t worked for her. She continues to advise pregnant women to try her long cherished plan of pumping all milk for the baby, so they can provide breastmilk without being tied down.

Mother B provided formula as the baby’s base nutrition, but continued to supplement him with nursing sessions – she never could get much milk from the breast pump. She is disappointed that she couldn’t nurse exclusively, and dislikes the dent that formula makes on her budget.

Mother C is me. I am still nursing 19 months later, with no discomfort. In fact, I had difficulty getting him to take a bottle later on, but eventually was able to leave him with friends for short periods of time. I never could get more than an ounce or two of milk out with a breast pump, either. My baby also had trouble gaining weight, but the public health nurse asked me questions about how many diapers my baby was producing (something Mother B was never asked) and I was told that my supply was fine. He was diagnosed with reflux and given antacids. Even now he eats solid food constantly and is still small – he’s a high metabolism child. My milk was, and is, fine.

Just like the first two women, I had difficulty getting started with breastfeeding.

Unlike the first two women, I was never told to supplement my baby with a bottle of either formula or breastmilk.

Unlike the first two women, my mother was there and supporting each breast feeding, and she never said “bottle” either.

Unlike the first two women, no one made me question my ability to eventually nurse my child, and no one made me feel like a failure when I didn’t succeed right away.

Unlike the first two women, I have an obsession with self-education and took out a copy of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding from the library, which helped boost my confidence and explain my baby’s (and my breasts’) behavior.

I feel that Mother B especially was let down by her support medical staff. No one told her that the amount of milk she pumped  did not reflect her actual capability to lactate when nursing. No one told her that milk is produced on a supply and demand system, and that supplementing with formula would ultimately reduce the “demand” from the child, reducing her chance of being able to produce sufficient quantities of milk to get him off of the formula when her milk came in. No one asked her how many diapers her baby was producing as a way of gauging her milk production. No one talked to her about supplemental nursing systems as a way to stimulate her nipples with each feeding. No one even told her that giving her baby a bottle might damage his latch at the breast.

So, when the researcher asked me how she could encourage women to breastfeed, I told her that Canada is barking up the wrong tree. We don’t need to be encouraged to breastfeed. We need to be told HOW to breastfeed.

(Stay tuned for Part 3 of Breast of Luck by our lactation guru, Carol @If By Yes.)

The image used in this post is credited to Guttorm Flatabo. It holds a Flickr Creative Commons attribution license.

Carol (Canada)

Carol from If By Yes has lived in four different Canadian provinces as well as the Caribbean. Now she lives in Vancouver, working a full time job at a vet clinic, training dogs on the side, and raising her son and daughter to be good citizens of the world. Carol is known for wearing inside-out underwear, microwaving yoghurt, killing house plants, over-thinking the mundane, and pointing out grammatical errors in "Twilight". When not trying to wrestle her son down for a nap, Carol loves to read and write. Carol can also be found on her blog, If By Yes, and on Twitter @IfByYesTweets

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