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Episode 168   How do moms decide about breastfeeding?

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Episode 168

I am going to start with a topic that is not one that I specially get asked, but a question that I typically ask of mothers.  At the outset, it seems like a fairly simple question and one that would have an easy answer.  However, I find that the response to this question often makes for great conversation and is a constant reminder to me to not take mothers and their thoughts and feelings for granted and a reminder to never make assumptions. I also find that the answers to this question is actually quite insightful as this will be a very important factor to not only the initiation of breastfeeding but the answer will greatly influence the duration of breastfeeding. Let’s begin at the beginning.
The BIG question:
  1. How do moms decide about breastfeeding?
I ask moms this question and then I am quiet and let them answer  as I don’t want to influence their response. This simple question can lead us into a very interesting and thought provoking discussion.  It also gives me great insight as to where each mom is coming from, what her healthcare philosophy is, what she is envisioning for her breastfeeding goals, who will be helping her at home to support her.  It also allows me to find out if there are any specific concerns she has, any trauma that needs to be addressed, any hesitation on her part or fears or anxiety about breastfeeding.
Some of the most popular answers are:
  1. I know it is the best thing for the baby.
  2. Ever since I was pregnant and began reading about it, I knew I wanted to breastfeed
  3. I come form a long line of breastfeeders and I never really thought that I would do anything else.
  4. We have a lot of allergies in our family and I want to be able to avoid that for my kids.
  5. Other moms bring up the cost of formula and are looking to save money
Once they answer the question, this inquiring mind begins to probe?
  1. When do they decide it?
  2. Who and what influences a mother to breastfeed her baby?
  3. Is it something you thought about for years before even becoming pregnant?
  4. Did you grow up in a household of breastfeeding women and assumed this is what you would do also and never really thought twice about it?
  5. Are you someone who does not want to breastfeed and yet you feel pressured by your partner, friends, society?
  6. Had you planned on formula feeding and once your baby was born, surprised yourself by changing your mind?
What are your thoughts on this subject?
Do you remember making a conscious decision to breastfeed your baby?  When I interview guests, I will usually ask them – How they came to the decision to breastfeed?  In what ways did they prepare for it – read books, speak with other breastfeeding moms, take classes.  I also ask most of my guests:  Did you ever have the conversation with your mother to find out if you were breastfed?
If you are a regular listener of the show and have heard me ask this question of my guests, has it prompted you to have this discussion with your mother?  Some of my guests responses have left me teary eyed.  I remember when Jan from episode # told me that her mother  was a very traditional mother keeping a tidy house and good home cooked meals, and well taken care of children.  My mother and I from Day 1 never really got along well and ironically my mother told me at 3 weeks old I rejected her.  She was breastfeeding her and didn’t feed well. It really hurt her feelings but I think she held it against me.  We didn’t start out too well and have always struggled to understand one another.  Jan told me that she was told this at a very early age and how badly it made her feel.
Guests who were born before 1970, will frequently tell me the reasons for their mothers not breastfeeding is that their moms were told that formula was the best nourishment for babies.  Moms were given medication to dry up their milk right after birth.  Some who showed an interest in breastfeeding were given all kinds of reasons not to and the snide remark of :  you don’t want to be a cow now do you?  were frequent comments.  Drs that they trusted told them that their milk so no good for their baby.
Some women born during these times, decided to breastfeed against others judgements.  They just felt strongly about breastfeeding, even though noone else in their circle did so.  And others, actually did come from families that breastfeeding was the norm.
Many mothers of this generation have said that before they had a baby, they knew they wanted to breastfeed.  Some say they knew this as a young girl, others when they started thinking about becoming pregnant.  A very few admit to me that they really do not want to breastfeed, but feel pressured to do so – some by their partners, others by society.  I imagine this is a very hard thing to admit and I figure that if a few are brave enough to tell me their truth, there are probably more who feel this way, but do not say anything to me.
I have worked with a fair amount of moms who have greatly suffered some form of abuse and this has greatly impacted their decision to breastfeed. There responses to the question about the decision to breastfeed or not are varied.  Some moms look forward to breastfeeding and feel this will be healing for them.  Other moms tell me that they feel lots of pressure to breastfeed, but just don’t see themselves doing so.  They may be arguing with their partners over this.  They may have understanding partners.  Some moms tell me they just plan on formula feeding because they just don’t think they can coordinate working and breastfeeding and pumping.  Other moms just don’t even know why they have a strong negative reaction to the thoughts of breastfeeding.
A small percentage have said they planned on bottlefeeding with formula and then changed their mind as the pregnancy progressed or as soon as the baby was born. The moms that fall into this category are the most fiercest of advocates I have ever seen.
Some equate breastfeeding purely as a food to feed their baby.  They see it as the best food that nature can provide.  Others equate breastfeeding with love.  It is their way of showing their baby and others how much they love them.  Particularly if they are having struggles.  Some moms absolutely refuse to stop breastfeeding no matter how painful or difficult it has become.  To do so would be telling the rest of the world that they don’t love their baby enough. Or that they won’t bond with their baby if they don’t breastfeed.
This makes me the saddest of all.  My heart just breaks for the mom who, for circumstances that are out of her control, and for whatever reason, just cannot breastfeed.  They are left with a big void and a worrisome heart thinking that they will not really bond with their baby if they cannot breastfeed.  They hear in the media and read in the magazines that breastfeeding helps you to bond with your baby.  Moms seem to take what they hear and read and make it an all or nothing kind of a thing.  The media has gotten to us so much that some moms are extremely anxious if they don’t get to breastfeed in the first hour or two after birth.  They worry that this will affect their ability to bond with their baby.
Yes, I am a huge breastfeeding advocate, and yet, I have never told a mom, nor have I ever believed in such nonsense .. that you can’t bond with your baby if you dont breastfeed.  I spend significant time explaining to moms that Dads, who do not breastfeed, well they still bond with their babies.  And moms who formula feed or breastmilk bottle feed, well they bond with their baby also.  We make a list of all the ways parents bond with their babies. Breastfeeding provides many, many things for moms and babies.  Bonding with your baby is surely one of them, however, it is not the only way to bond with your baby.  Holding and caressing and rocking and talking and singing to your baby are all ways to bond with them.  Every diaper change and every bath is more opportunities to interact with your baby and bond with them.  Having them lay on your chest, gaze into each others eyes – such a simple act,, is a very common way to bond with your baby. Every coo, gaze, song, hum, touch, snuggle are just a few of the ways to bond with your baby.
How would you answer this question?  Did you always know that you wanted to breastfeed?  Only really started thinking about it when you got pregnant?
Speaking personally, I often wonder how I made the decision to breastfeed.  My mother formula fed all 5 of her children and the only other adult I knew intimately who had children was my older sister and she formula fed both of them.  I  never even heard the term breastfeeding and never, did I ever, knowingly even witness anyone breastfeeding. All my cousins were all formula fed.  I babysat a lot in my teens and every single baby I watched was formula fed.  As a young adult, I put myself through community college by babysitting for many kids – newborns through kindergärtners   I never did anything but formula feed these babies. A majority of the babies were eating rice cereal by the time they were 3 months old.  Some were getting rice cereal mixed with the formula in the bottle and would drink this mixture.
I remember reading just a few lines about breastfeeding in one book about The Miracle of Life.  I was really enjoying learning about all the changes the fetus goes through in utero.  You know those fascinating pictures that show the baby growing from week to week and month to month.  I quickly became enamored with the amazing placenta.  I made this connection that the placenta is what fed my baby  while inside me and that once the baby was born and brought into my arms, the next place for food was the breast.  From not having giving this whole breastfeeding thing any thought to it becoming the most natural thing to do, just came to me… just like that. And there was no looking back… even though family members thought it was quite odd and strange and why would I want to do something like that… you just give the baby a bottle.
It is not that my mother did not want me to breastfeed, she just did not understand this way of feeding a baby. How sad that this was such an odd thing for her that she just had no idea how this whole breastfeeding thing worked.  I remember clearly one female family member in particular, was so against breastfeeding and me using my breasts in such a way and she would always that how badly she felt for me as she could not understand why I would want to have a baby sucking on my boob all night and all day she said.  She also was constantly talking about somehow my baby was growing and getting rolls, but not being able to see the milk go into the baby, well, she just had a hard time understanding it all.  To a small degree, I can relate to this  because if I were to look back at me as a young girl,  I was totally clueless.  I remember taking class and while I don’t remember exactly what I thought breastfeeding was going to be like, I do know that I was only a few weeks into breastfeeding and I looked back and thought…. this is absolutely nothing like whatever I thought it was going to be like.
Everyone in my family was thrilled that I was going to have a baby. I was thrilled to receive many clothes that were in great condition.  They were beautiful, well cared for, 100% soft, soft cotton baby clothes and pjs that were handed down from the generation before.  My siblings and I had worn these clothes.  So had my cousines and nieces and nephews.  My mother had washed and folded all of these and gave them to me, along with the “baby bottle propper” that was also handed down.
I do remember telling her that I would not be needing it and she made some comment about that I would be grateful for it one day as my baby will be able to feed herself and this would free me up to get other things d one.
I have read much about how moms come to the decision to breastfeed. I have pored over research studies going back to the late 90s to 2004 through 2011.  As many of my regular listeners know, it is not common to hear me spout statistical information as it relates to some areas of breastfeeding.  Of course, I do enjoy reading and researching and utilizing statistical information at times.  However, I find that in certain areas of research, the conclusions that I or someone else might care to share can lead the listener down a very different road depending upon many different factors.
Studies are quite interestings –  Who were the researchers?  Who is funding the research?  How many mothers and babies were actually studied?  Should we really believe what formula companies research is telling us about breastfed babies?  When studies come out against breastfeeding saying this it does not reduce the rates of certain health issues, should we believe their results when we find out that they only studied 250 babies and they were fed a mixture of formula and human milk?  I would say this renders the study null and void.
Research and statistics are very important.  The benefits to breastfeeding for mom and baby, society and the environment are all well documented.  In the end though, I believe that all women have the right to make their own decision and should do so without feeling pressured by anyone.  My part in all this, as an IBCLC, it is my job, my  pleasure and my passion, to work closely with a mom and help her achieve what she desires.  Whether it be exclusive breastfeeding, exclusive pumping, a combination of both.  Whether she wants to use a supplementer nursing system or she wants to use donor milk, if she does not have a full supply and wants to supplement with formula, and yes, if there comes a time when she wants to wean, I want her do this safely and I will be here to help her.  Her baby, her body, her breasts.  Meeting the mom where she is at.  This is what I am all about.
I hope todays show has sparked some interest for you.   Perhaps opened up the door for you to talk to other moms about their thoughts on this subject.  Maybe have you engage in a conversation with your own mother or sister of friend of the subject.  Talking honestly and openly about breastfeeding helps to reduce our judgement of each other.  You will often hear  me say -Who are we to know what is going on in that moms life?  Be kind to each other.

Lori J. Isenstadt, IBCLC

Lori j Isenstadt, IBCLCLori Jill Isenstadt, IBCLC is a huge breastfeeding supporter.  She has spent much  of her adult life working in the maternal health field. Once she became turned on to birth and became a childbirth educator, there was no stopping her love of working with families during their childbearing years.  Lori became a Birth doula and a Postpartum doula and soon became a lactation consultant.  She has been helping moms and babies with breastfeeding for over 25 years.  Lori founded her private practice, All About Breastfeeding where she meets with moms one on one to help solve their breastfeeding challenges.  She is an international speaker, book author and the host of the  popular itunes podcast, All About Breastfeeding, the place where the girls hang out.  You can reach Lori by email at: [email protected] or contact her via her website:

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