Getting Real about Breastfeeding

By Dawn Leprich-Graves, LCPC, PMH-C

Getting Real about Breastfeeding

**Within this post, the terms breastfeeding, chestfeeding, and nursing are used interchangeably to acknowledge the myriad of feeding experiences a parent may have. Additionally, “they/their/them” is used as a singular pronoun throughout as it is not only simpler, but also inclusive of folks outside the gender binary.**

Every August, we celebrate Breastfeeding Awareness Month, with the first week of the month denoted as Worldwide Breastfeeding Week. As we celebrate this year, we acknowledge that a feeding journey is an incredibly personal experience, and how one chooses to feed their child is a decision to be made uniquely by each parent. For some people, nursing is a wonderful experience. For others, it’s not. Sometimes breastfeeding doesn’t happen – be it because of personal preference, medical reasons, lifestyle choices, or physical reasons – and this is great! Sometimes chestfeeding does happen – and this is great! Whether you are nursing your baby, exclusively pumping, using donor milk, mixed feeding, or using formula, the important thing is that your baby is fed. It’s time that we create non-judgmental, supportive environments in which to birth and raise our children where we can equip parents with the necessary information so that they can make the decision that’s right for them.

When it works, it works.

The overwhelming societal message – overtly and covertly – tells parents that “breast is best.” Hospital staff often advise parents to “get that baby on your chest” or to “pump to help your milk come in.” There are a plethora of well researched and publicized health benefits of breastfeeding. When nursing an infant, oxytocin and prolactin are released, which lower our stress response, combat cortisol (the stress hormone), foster parent-child bonding, and induce sleepiness (something almost all new parents need!).

Chestfeeding can lower the parent’s risk of diseases such as diabetes and heart disease while also protecting the infant from common illnesses and diseases, both in childhood and later in life. Parents who successfully and easily breastfeed their child(ren) describe their experiences positively and are grateful for their success.

What happens when chestfeeding *isn’t* successful?

We’ve worked with very few (read: no) pregnant and postpartum clients who’ve said, “I’d really like to try breast/chestfeeding and have it be unsuccessful.” When breast/chestfeeding doesn’t work, it negatively impacts everyone. For the lactating parent, there can be pain, cracked nipples, engorgement, positioning difficulties, sleep deprivation, production concerns, thrush, mastitis, low milk supply; the list goes on and on! For the sweet new baby, there can be a shallow latch, tongue and/or lip ties, insufficient milk transfer, frustration, tears, and hunger.

When your feeding journey is challenging and stressful, there is a significantly negative impact on the parent. We can become hyperfocused on milk production, how much baby consumed, how many wet diapers, how wet the diapers were, how many times baby pooped. And do you know what most falls by the wayside? Our ability to be present and connected to the tiny life entrusted in our care. Our mental wellbeing. Our ability to trust our instincts. We can quickly slip into unhealthy patterns of thinking – blaming ourselves, our bodies, telling ourselves we’re “bad parents.” We consider ourselves failures. Worst case scenario, we struggle mightily to form a secure attachment with our baby. In every instance, this can be avoided.

So what do we do?

First and foremost, we need to listen. Ask the parent, “how do you want to feed your baby?” within a system of support that genuinely says, “it’s okay, whatever you choose. You know what’s right for you and your baby. Your wishes and goals matter. This baby will grow and learn and flourish in your care, regardless of whether milk or formula nourished it.”

If a parent wants to formula feed or stop nursing, we run to the nearest store and buy ready to serve and powdered formula mixes. We celebrate this decision!

If a parent wants to keep trying to successfully nurse the baby, we educate them that chestfeeding isn’t “all or nothing.” We enlist the help of an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, a postpartum doula, a qualified peer supporter, maybe even all of them! We celebrate this decision!

During Breastfeeding Awareness Week, we celebrate all the parents who are feeding their babies – be it by bottle, chest, or breast. Consciously making the choice to feed your little one however best meets your family’s needs is the best way to care for your baby – by caring for YOU.

For additional information about feeding your child, please visit here.


Dawn Leprich-Graves, LCPC, PMH-C

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