I have written a lot here (want proof? see posts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7) about that loud little subset of pro-breastfeeding people (other mothers, lactation professionals, people in the media, etc) who cross the line from “supportive” to “judgy.” But I also keep saying that the majority of pro-breastfeeding people are normal, kind people who have no desire to make you feel like shit.
I want to introduce you to one of those people. Lina Martin is a certified breastfeeding counselor and doula who Just. Gets. It. For a little restoration of your faith in humanity, read on to hear what she has to say about her approach to supporting women – especially working mothers – and their varied experiences with breastfeeding.
- Tell us about your mom’s experience, as a working mom in the 80s. How has her experience informed your own?
None of the women in my family were “extended nursers” but they all breastfeed their babies for at least some amount of time, so for me, it was just “what you did.”
My mother has always spoken very positively about her nursing experience, even though she was only able to nurse during her maternity leave. This was the 1980s – she was the sole breadwinner for our family for a time, and…Work accommodations at a bank? Double electric pumps? Ha!
Even though I personally have been able to be [mostly] home while nursing my own children, I promised myself that I would always go out of my way to serve working breastfeeding mothers so that they would have the choices my mother didn’t have.
- What have you learned from working with working, breastfeeding mothers?
First and foremost, working mothersare still mothers – while their plates are portioned differently in terms of time allowances, they have the same worries, concerns, hopes and joys that every other mother has and we’re all on the same team together. Despite what the internet and Similac commercials tell us 😉
The second thing is that working, breastfeeding mothers often face unique challenges that a mother at home, or even a mother with a “work flexible” schedule for nursing, doesn’t face. Lactation professionals and even other breastfeeding mothers need to be aware that working while breastfeeding can create situations that other nursing dyads may never face.
- The line between being supportive and encouraging of breastfeeding, and being judgmental and pressure-putting on a beleaguered woman, seems really hard to define. How do you strike the balance?
Oh heavens. Sooooo many folks in the lactation world err on the wrong side of this line, I think, and NOT for poor intentions. They see any kind of “not all BFing all the time all the days until the end of time” as a defeat, a surrender, a failure; or maybe they don’t want to be the “downer voice” that really is *dis*couraging, etc.
I am there to provide support, help and information in a breastfeeding mother achieving her nursing goals whatever they may be; I am not there to define those goals for her. When you take *yourself* out of the equation, you leave more room to help the person standing in front of you.
I guess it seems sort of basic, but I’ve found that asking mothers what *their* needs are and just listening goes a long way in informing me of how best I can offer to help.
One thing I will say, because I keep encountering women who are apparently being told otherwise and it fills me with Hulk-like hormonal rage: EVERY. SINGLE. DROP. of breastmilk that a mother shares with her baby is precious. Is worth it. Is a gift. Is AMAZING. Any breastfeeding is beautiful breastfeeding and if you nursed for 10 minutes or 10 years, you’re a breastfeeding mother and I’d like to shake your hand.
- Do working women face supply issues in a way that SAHMs typically don’t? And what are our options if supply issues arise?
Supply issues are a totally understandable anxiety for working breastfeeders. I’m sure there are zen, chill, no worries, no cry mamas out there and bless their hearts, but I’m willing to bet more working breastfeeders stress about this than not!
Supply issues for working mothers are real, and anyone who says otherwise is selling you something. And might need shin kicks.
This isn’t to say that every working breastfeeder WILL struggle with supply, but it’s NOT uncommon for it to come up and it’s NOT a sign of failure or anything like that.
Working women can face supply issues in a way that SAH Women don’t because the source of the issue can come from SO MANY angles: pump efficiency, enough time and frequency of time to pump, how the childcare provider is bottle feeding their baby (breastfeeding friendly way or not), response to pump, etc. That’s a lot of fronts to wage a war!!
If supply issues do arise, there are LOTS of options. The obvious one is to figure out which source the issue is coming from and meet it head on, if possible. If it’s an issue that is resolvable, great. If it’s an issue that cannot be fixed, we can come up with alternatives that don’t kill the mom via pump. Is baby old enough for solids to help conserve ounces? (Using solids to nurse less apart, and more together is an option for older babies, closer to a year.) Is baby old enough to receive other fluids while apart (over a year) – cow’s milk, goat’s milk, etc? If baby is too young for solids/other milks, is mother comfortable with donor milk? What about formula apart/nursing together? Is mother close enough to baby’s daycare and has a work timeline to be able to sub out some pumping sessions for live feeds during the day? The list of ideas is long, but the point is that there is a lot to explore. As I said above, it’s not an all or nothing issue, it’s all about finding the solution that fits the family.
- When you have a client who is struggling with breastfeeding…how do you support her through it?
There is no “wrong” way to feed your baby, as long as baby is being fed.
I’ll never forget one of my first clients, who called me on the phone in tears: she was at the end of her breastfeeding rope, she’d seen all kinds of lactation help, done every trick you ever think and had barely any supply left. She was at her wits’ end because she hated nursing, hated how it made her baby seem to “hate” her, wanted to stop but didn’t think she was “allowed.” It broke my heart. Here was this mother trying to be the best mother she could be, and other lactation professionals had somehow wormed into her head and heart that she wasn’t “doing enough.”
We talked about options, and we talked about how she as a good mother no matter what she decided. After a long pause, I said very gently, “I can’t give you permission to nurse or not nurse anymore. You’re the mama, trust your gut, you love your baby best of all.’
When I called later to check in with her, she was a different woman. She had made a decision for herself, figured out what worked for her and her baby, and I had given her the information she needed to construct that plan.
That’s what support is supposed to look like, in my humble opinion.
It’s not about MY goals for any woman, it’s about her own goals for herself. And then, it’s all about helping her, in whatever way she needs, to make those goals happen ❤
- Finally, here’s your space to say whatever the hell you want to working moms. Go:
Let’s face it – if babies are safe, with a trusted care giver who loves them and has food? They’re Good To Go. Sure, they’re excited to see mama and papa, but they’re warm, loved, fed and snuggled.
However, a full work day is a long and hard time FOR MAMA. All the pumping you have to do away from baby, schlepping around to where ever your daycare is from drop off and pick up? It’s HARD WORK to pour yourself into your job but also miss your baby!
I want my clients to hear out loud: You are a ROCKSTAR because you are doing this hard thing, and you are a GOOD MAMA.
Never let anyone guilt you for doing what works best for YOUR family.
You ARE a good mama, you are rocking this and if you EVER need help, or have a question, don’t hesitate to reach out – to a local professional, to mothers in the same boat, and even to me, no matter where you live. I’m happy to help however I can. You do you – your baby is a lucky, lucky little guy or gal to have a mother like you ❤