Sharing the Good Word of Milk: How to Empower With Compassion

We all know breastfeeding is feeding our children as nature and/or the Divine intended (depending upon your personal beliefs) and all of us are grateful for this ability, but many women struggle with it for SO many reasons and our hearts must always remain open.
Compassion must overtake being right and we MUST work with those who struggle with it, to help them – not condemn them.
Motherhood is sublime, but it’s also terrifying. It brings us into a circle, a sisterhood of women across the world and at the same time we’ve never felt more alone.
Breastfeeding is as unique an experience as your fingerprints and each person’s experience is colored by the vast world, society and culture we live in, other mothers, even our best of friends and closest of family can only walk with us so far – they can only go as far as their own experiences take them and beyond that, compassion must be the bridge to further connect us or we will fall into the boobie traps of fear, judgment and defensiveness.

Breastfeeding moms who work to help others are like missionaries bringing the truth of nutrition, bonding and a lifetime of emotional security to others and that task carries with it a HUGE amount of responsibility to share information kindly, compassionately and clearly.

We MUST leave our soapboxes behind.  We MUST abandon the judgment.  We MUST seek to educate mothers, families, fathers, grandmothers and everyone to see the “why” behind breastfeeding while also being willing to break down the barriers put up by centuries of negativity associated with breastfeeding and motherhood.  If you’ve kept up with this blog, you know it began as a rant about someone who shamed me for a breastfeeding photo on Facebook.  I started this blog, the page on Facebook and the support system we now have and continue to grow in The Cautious Mom because I did not know ANYTHING about breastfeeding when I made the decision to do it and with every step, I felt (and at times still feel) judgement and that judgement infuriated me.  That fury focused on people who were anti-breastfeeding, anti-mother and I raged on people and situations that made me feel violated or made me feel judged.  Heh… well, I’ve certainly learned a few things in the nearly 5 years I’ve been a nursing mom and since starting this page.  I’ve learned what NOT to say because I’ve said it.  I’ve learned what NOT to do, because I’ve done it.  I follow my own advice – Learn Better, Do Better.

I now proudly say I am nursing two toddlers, but I cannot take the credit.  I owe that credit to the many women who helped guide me through each of my challenges and to the unending support of my husband who takes each challenge in stride because he understands the “why” behind breastfeeding.  Now it is my task to help others, because everyone – EVERY ONE who wants to breastfeed their baby should have a right to do so and every baby has a right to the best nutrition on this earth to grow up strong, healthy and wise.  I believe it is our obligation to support new and expecting moms and their families through education and a helping hand when needed, so they can have the best experience with breastfeeding possible.

Now, while I say “we must” help them… we also have to take a step back and decide what that really means.  We truly must help- but in a way they want to be helped, or it will only be seen as judgement.  So, how can we do this?  It’s such tricky business talking to another mother about her feeding processes and I see so many people falling into the traps of accidentally judging someone or accidentally taking bits of advice much to personally.  Everyone shuts down at that point and can’t hear one another – all they hear is the rush of blood in their ears as they fight tears and anger and nothing gets done.

The golden rule is always going to be – Compassion comes first.  Before education, before blame, before judgment – compassion MUST come first.  If you can’t be compassionate, don’t open your mouth.  Know yourself well enough to know better, take a step back and excuse yourself from the conversation until you can collect yourself and remember that compassion.  Before you talk to anyone about their baby-feeding process, consider these points:

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1 – Who – Who am I speaking to? What is their background? Their heritage?  Their personal situation, financial situation, marital status, orientation, etc., and how is this going to effect their perspective on infant feeding?  Who are they to ME?  Is this a casual friendship? Do I only know them on social media? Are they an immediate family member? A distant cousin?  A stranger in a mommy page online?  A mom I can see on the other side of the park while my kids are playing?  Establish a baseline, an understanding of who this person is, who they are to you and decide on your approach through whatever makes the most sense for this person and how well you know them.

2- Why – If you don’t understand – ask.  Maybe they aren’t breastfeeding because they are on heart medication.  Maybe they just had an emergency hysterectomy and they are unable to breastfeed until their meds are out of their system.  Maybe they suffer severe PTSD because of a violent rape and anyone, even a baby, touching their breasts is a trigger for them.  Maybe they have mastitis and allowing baby to nurse feels like a red, hot poker digging into their chest.  Maybe their body didn’t make milk and they couldn’t get it to flow.  Maybe they have nursing aversion and they can’t help their hatred for it, but they don’t realize it’s a chemical thing that can be fixed.  Maybe they were given really rotten advice and never learned how, then dried up.  Maybe baby has a lip or tongue tie and no one ever showed them.  Maybe they were surrounded by people taking bad advice for generations and she really did think she was doing the right thing.  Consider that each woman has a story, a reason and they probably feel guilt over it.  Have compassion for that and speak kindly, ask questions, LISTEN and be there to support them in a way that makes sense for them.

3- How – How can I help them?  Do they need a ride to a Breastfeeding USA class?  Do they need to be shown what  good latch looks like?  Do they need to know they are amazing and just need someone to hold their hand and give them that strength? Are they skeptical and need to be shown proof that breastfeeding is better?  Ask yourself, with the “who” and “why” already answered, how can you support them.  Devise a plan by using compassion as a foundation and your “who” and “why” as your compasses.  Don’t be afraid to reach out to others for advice on how to help someone.  The community of breastfeeding moms and those who support them is vast, global and always at the ready to help with information and support.

4- What – Do they need a “thing” to help them?  Do they need physical tools? A cover to feed in public?  A nursing bra?  A nursing tank?  Nipple balm?  Essential oils?  Tea?  A breast pump?  Lactation cookies and recipes for them?  Dietary options to support breastfeeding?  A new water bottle to make hydration on the go easier?  A baby carrier so she can nurse and clean house or care for other children simultaneously?  A co-sleeper cradle or bed?  Donor milk from a local mommy who is making enough for 5 babies?  Consider what physical items she might need that could help make her life easier and her breastfeeding journey more possible.

5 – When – Timing is everything.  Is it the RIGHT time to talk to this person about her breastfeeding journey?  Is she crying because she’s exhausted, miserable and hating herself for not being able to do it?  Probably not the right time – Remember, when a woman is at her lowest, the LAST thing she wants is for someone to jump in and be her savior – because all she will see is someone who can do it better.  No woman wants someone to come in and “fix” their lives.  We hate men for it, why would we want it from other women?  No one wants to feel like they aren’t capable of knowing what to do with their own child but chances are, each of us have felt this way and wished someone was out there to show us how without making us feel like idiots for not already knowing.  So consider the “WHEN” very carefully.  In order to be that “someone” who knows how to offer ideas, suggestions and tools for success without making them feel small, stupid or powerless without you, the timing has to be right.  Show support, condolences and give empowerment.  Just love on them and let them know you are there for THEM, not to show them how cool you are because you know stuff.  Then, when you do begin, make sure it’s all “them” focused and never “you” focused.  Show them how THEY have the power.  How THEY are the very embodiment of the Goddess, of creation, of God’s plan and how, by offering their baby the feeding method given to us naturally, we are doing exactly what we should be doing and no greater gift can be given to our child.  Use phrases like, “you may find success using these hold”, or “recommendations are sometimes to do x” and try to stay away from “when I did it, this is what I did and it worked”, or “I was able to be successful because I did this”.  You can use statements like “I relate to that, I struggled too – here’s what happened with me” then share the entire story so she knows that you truly do understand what she is going through.  It’s even okay to say “what that struggle happened with us, I was given some great tools to try” and then go into those tools, but try not to do it in a way that makes her feel like you’re just gloating about how you figured it all out. Understand the human psyche and how she needs to know that you are not throwing your success in her face.  She will be less likely to try your methods when you bring those methods to her in a way that can be taken in any way condescending or unsupportive of her, directly.  She will just see you as a busybody know it all who she will probably never invite over again.  By offering advice in general ways, that advice is less threatening and less to be taken in a way we are not intending.  Another point to add to that one, is – let her ask you how it went for you.  Don’t offer that, unless she asks.  When you are in a direct position to help someone, the focus should be on her and her story, not yours.

Where – Where are you going to provide her this advice? Via social media? Texting? Phone calls? In person?  Where makes a difference because we speak to people differently in different places.  Be sure that if you jump in to help someone with their breastfeeding journey that you are using a medium of contact that makes the most sense for the mom.  If she asks you to come see her, GO SEE HER.  If she asks you to text or if you can send links – do that.  If she starts messaging you privately, share and help her there.  Let her lead that game and be in control of as much as she can be, in a time when she probably doesn’t feel like she has much control over anything.

Remember also, many mothers don’t get support from friends, family or spouses.  When you consider the 6 points, also consider that each physical challenge she may be facing may also come with someone in her life who is unsupportive, selfish or just plain mean and that is all likely due to a lack of education.  Understand that the entire family may need to be given tools and resources to show them why breastfeeding is so important and part of her lack of empowerment to successfully breastfeed may be coming from someone else in her ear telling her not to bother.  Consider that and then compassionately act accordingly.  I’ve seen on mom forums where the mother is desperate for help because her husband hates her breastfeeding and other mothers will tell her “LEAVE HIM!”  Okay, I understand… but seriously – don’t do that.  If an entire thread of people are telling her to leave the father of her children when they don’t know anything about her, be the ONE who messages her privately and says, “hey, I understand how breastfeeding can be seen as a negative thing for some people, especially spouses who don’t understand the bond or the physical and emotional benefits of extended nursing.  If you feel like it may help, try showing him these links to these studies specifically focused on those issues.  Maybe educating him will help him to see why this is so important for baby’s health and you.”  See the difference?

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During Breastfeeding Awareness Month, it’s sometimes our first impulse to scream “NORMALIZE BREASTFEEDING!” “FREE THE BOOBIE!” from the rooftops, fly our boobie flags, put boobie beanings on our baby’s heads and demand that “the milk be respected!!”.  While I think there is a place for that exuberance, I also think we need to remember a few things; Normalizing breastfeeding is about sharing the benefits of breastfeeding to those who may not know what they are. Normalizing breastfeeding is about reminding people that we are human creatures, biologically tied to our children in a way that requires that closeness, that connection and the energetic exchange of breastfeeding.  Normalizing breastfeeding is about showing people that even if you couldn’t do it, there are still options for your baby to be given that precious gift and that does not make you any less a perfect mother or a perfect woman for needing that support from donor milk.

Most of all, we absolutely have got to remember that change does not happen at the edge of a sword, (well, unless you’re England, but that’s another story).  It happens with the opening of arms, embracing our needs, the needs of others and at times, by being willing to meet people half way.  Maybe mama won’t breastfeed exclusively.  Maybe she won’t do it until her babies self-wean, she will until they turn a year old. Maybe her milk will dry out before she reaches her 1 year goal or her 3 year goal, or maybe she will have to return to work and can only nurse during the night but is too tired to feel safe with baby in the bed.  Whatever she decides, we have to accept that.  What YOU can do, is live by these points, tell her to use caution, show her where to look to educate herself, show her how to help herself.  Give her a map, a compass and all the knowledge she could ever need – empower her with the courage to step out, to boldly take control of her breastfeeding journey and then step back.  In love, in peace and always with compassion.

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Have a blessed Breastfeeding Awareness Month, my friends!  Go spread some knowledge and help give someone the courage to keep going!

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