If a picture speaks a thousand words, then this Instagram post speaks volumes. In it, Leah Beyer, a personal fitness instructor and first-time mum, shares her struggle to breastfeed her 2-month-old daughter Penelope.
In the passionate post which has since gone viral and received global applause, Beyer writes, “Breastfeeding is full of unanswered questions. You truly don't know what's going on down there. Too much? Too little? Too intense? Not enough hindmilk? Not enough time? Plugged duct?... Sometimes I can't even explain what makes it so difficult. The uncertainty, second guessing, responsibility, commitment, discomfort...just to name a few.”
Expectant and new mothers are told during their antenatal class and initial visits by lactation consultants that breastfeeding is a natural process that’s been practised for thousands of years. So, everyone goes in thinking it’s going to be a cinch ― until it’s not.
“I had no idea how much of a learning process breastfeeding was,” admits mum-of-one Cynthia Tan, 35. “But the worst thing was that instead of being helpful, I got a lot of statistics and facts about the benefits of breastfeeding thrown at me by others, in a bid to ‘help’ me breastfeed better ― once, even from a random aunty on the bus!”
It’s normal for mums to have to overcome road bumps along their breastfeeding journey, but since most mothers aren’t prepared for how hard it can get, they feel like they’re doing something wrong. And self-blame is the last thing a mother who’s just had a baby needs.
Something else she doesn’t need ― your two cents’ worth on the matter. As long as you’re not walking in her shoes, you don’t know what’s going on. The next time a friend pours out her heart to you about her breastfeeding struggles, steer clear of making the following statements…learn the right thing to say instead.
“Isn’t breastfeeding easy?”
WHY YOU SHOULDN’T SAY THIS Some women take to breastfeeding like the proverbial duck to water. Sadly, this isn’t the case for many. For some women, the breastmilk could take days, even weeks, to come in fully. Until then, baby might be hungry and unsettled which could cause him to cry a lot, which makes mummy cry as well. Then, some have to deal with latching issues and trying to find the perfect breastfeeding position that works for mum and baby. Plus, your boobs aren’t used to being gnawed and sucked on, so your nipples will crack and bleed. If bub does not have a good latch, your breasts aren’t emptying successfully. This can lead to plugged milk ducts and mastitis ― an infection of the breast that causes chills, fever and fatigue. So, no, breastfeeding isn’t easy!
WHAT TO SAY INSTEAD “I hear breastfeeding is tough, especially in the initial stages. Hang in there and keep going at it if you think it’s the right thing for you and your baby.”
“I had no idea how much of a learning process breastfeeding was.”
“It’s the natural thing to do”
WHY YOU SHOULDN’T SAY THIS Just because something is natural, doesn’t mean it doesn’t present its own set of challenges. Nor does unnatural always mean that it’s something bad. “Antibiotics used by humans are unnatural, so are C-sections, but both can be good in saving people’s lives,” notes Dr Pascal Gagneux, an evolutionary biologist.
WHAT TO SAY INSTEAD “There’s no right or wrong way to feed a baby, fed is best.”
“Have you tried…”
WHY YOU SHOULDN’T SAY THIS A mother who is passionate and determined to breastfeed her baby has probably tried everything. She’s probably chugged fenugreek tea and stuffed her face with oatmeal, quinoa and lactation cookies in a vain bid to boost her milk supply. A mum who is struggling to find the perfect latch or breastfeeding position is probably calling a third lactation consultant right now for help, on top of doing her own research. Mums want the best for their babies, so they’ll do everything they can, trust them on this.
WHAT TO SAY INSTEAD “I’m sure you’re doing everything you can, let me know if you need anything else or how I can help.”
Find three more statements you shouldn’t say to a mum who’s struggling to breastfeed…
“Don’t supplement with formula, it will ruin your breastfeeding journey.”
WHY YOU SHOULDN’T SAY THIS Recent studies indicate that if a new mum isn’t producing enough milk, giving baby small amounts of formula in the first few days can tide them over until the supply increases. This, in turn, raises the breastfeeding success rate in the long term. Also, if a mum is recovering from a challenging delivery and needs more rest, giving baby a little formula gives her to time to recuperate, so that she can care for baby better. At the end of the day, it’s not your place to tell a mum how she should or should not feed her baby.
WHAT TO SAY INSTEAD “Do you need information or advice on how to supplement? I have a friend who did that and she’s more than happy to speak to you about her experience.”
If a woman is unable to produce milk or has a baby who refuses the breast, the last thing she needs is for her genuine problem to be dismissed as insignificant.
“Only 5 per cent of women can’t breastfeed.”
WHY YOU SHOULDN’T SAY THIS If a woman is unable to produce milk or has a baby who refuses the breast (this is a legit problem by the way), the last thing she needs is for her genuine problem to be dismissed as insignificant. Even 5 per cent of a large population of nursing women is still a substantial number ― and each and every one of them deserves our sympathy.
WHAT TO SAY INSTEAD “Have you thought about joining a support group to meet other mums in the same boat as you? It will be helpful to hear their stories and you will feel less isolated.”
“Your baby won’t get the full benefits of breastfeeding if you pump.”
WHY YOU SHOULDN’T SAY THIS A fed baby is a happy baby ― breast or bottle. If the baby has a poor latch or just hates the breast and mum has an endless supply of milk, it makes sense for her to express her milk for her little one. As to all the other breastfeeding benefits including bonding, mummy and baby can achieve this in plenty of other ways. Also, plenty of mums continue breastfeeding after returning to work by pumping. In fact, these mums should be recognised for their commitment as expressing milk takes up a lot of time and effort!
WHAT TO SAY INSTEAD “Pumping round the clock is tiring and time consuming, but I’m so proud of you for doing that for your baby!”
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