I’m No Lactivist, But I’m All About Getting My Friends To Breastfeed

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One of my best friends just gave birth to her firstborn son. When she was pregnant, I did what I always do with first-time pregnant friends: strongly encouraged her to take a course in breastfeeding. She didn’t, unfortunately, and is having some serious trouble with nursing. Her son’s frenulum needed to be clipped and she’s exhausted and frustrated and things are a bit tough. I’m trying to find that fine line between encouraging her to continue attempting to nurse and making sure she can handle it. We’ll see how it goes.

My own path to breastfeeding began with my mother, of course. She gave birth to her kids right around the end of that era where women didn’t breastfeed. But she grew up around women who were always suspect of the formula frenzy. They encouraged her to breastfeed and when my mom gave birth to my oldest sister, she wanted to do the same. She received almost no support in the hospital and says that one nurse downright mocked her for attempting to breastfeed. Finely, an angelic nurse came in, gave her support and encouraged her. The rest is history. History that I was told again and again and again.

When I got pregnant for the first time, far away from home, a couple of girlfriends took me under their wing and gave me info about a breastfeeding course offered in downtown Washington, D.C. I also couldn’t help but notice that while each of my friends made it through labor and delivery with little to no problem, very few were able to navigate breastfeeding without trouble. In fact, frustration surrounding breastfeeding was the number one complaint I heard from all of my friends with newborns.

So while I never went through a childbirth class, I scheduled a breastfeeding session and over the course of two hours, my eyes were opened. Boy were they opened. Going through the mechanics before the crazy days following labor was just what I needed. I got some mental images in my head that really helped me navigate breastfeeding when I was so tired and sore that I could barely think. Do you have any idea how much that baby’s tongue elongates? It’s crazy! One instructor suggested squeezing your breast so that it flattens parallel to the baby’s mouth — like a sandwich. It’s still the first image that comes to mind when nursing or helping a friend nurse.

OK, so it was such a good experience for all of my friends who have taken this course that I encourage my friends to do the same. And frequently they don’t or can’t. I send them guides to breastfeeding. One of the books I used was just so helpful when I had questions in the early days. And I try to be available to answer questions.

I strongly — vehemently, in fact — believe in the benefits of nursing, both physical and emotional. But I don’t think that if you’re unable or even unwilling to nurse that this makes you a bad mom. Your job as a mother is simply to feed your baby nutritiously. How you do that is completely up to you as a mother. So I try to balance my support of nursing without making people feel bad if they’re unable to do it.

One of the things I’ve noticed is that all of my friends who have tried but been unable to continue nursing were children of mothers who didn’t nurse. I don’t know what that means but I find it interesting. I certainly know many women who weren’t nursed as children but nurse their children.

My overall experience with breastfeeding has been wonderful. And I don’t know where I’d be without supportive friends who helped me through the thrush and the mastitis and the clogged ducts and the like. Being able to call on their wisdom and counsel was invaluable. But for me, not breastfeeding wasn’t really an option.

Some friends of mine want to breastfeed but have no idea how difficult it will be. For them, I’m not sure I’m helping when I encourage them to keep at it. For them, I think they’re just looking for someone to tell them that it’s OK to quit. Am I a bad friend if I serve that role, too?

I think that may be the case with my friend who just gave birth. I think I’m just stressing her out when I encourage her with breastfeeding right now. And she already seems pretty exhausted and stressed as is.

I’m willing to hear any and all tips and advice, particularly from women who were similarly at their wit’s end with breastfeeding in the first week after birth.

Do you have any wisdom to share?