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It Takes Two to Make a Thing Go Right

February 16, 2012 by Joanna Drake, Registered Dietitian

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When my mom walked in I was sitting on the edge of the bed sobbing, "I can't do this! It's too hard!"

"What's too hard?" she asked.

"The who-o-o-ole thing" I gasped.

My daughter was two weeks old and I was in a heightened state of emotion brought about by a difficult delivery, rampant post-partum hormones and sleep deprivation. It wasn't actually the "whole thing" that had me in crying convulsions; it was learning how to breastfeed.

Before my daughter's arrival, my husband and I had read about everything we wanted to do and be as parents and breastfeeding was at the top of my list. But, it seemed like no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't figure it out and she wasn't gaining weight at the expected rate. I was terrified of ruining her.

(Like I said, I was sleep deprived.) In spite of amazing support from my husband and family, I felt like a failure.|

Wasn't breastfeeding supposed to be "natural"? If women have done it since the beginning of humanity, what was my problem? Everyone from my doctor to random strangers offered me advice about nipple placement, making sure to feed her when she wasn't over-tired, different feeding positions… it went on and on and on until I wanted to scream:

"YES, I GET IT. I UNDERSTAND WHAT I'M SUPPOSED TO DO. I JUST CAN'T DO IT!"

As it turns out, breastfeeding is as much of a skill as learning how to drive a car. The difference is that with breastfeeding there are two people learning at the same time, on the same piece of equipment and they don't speak the same language. Imagine learning how to drive a car if you took the steering wheel and someone else took the pedals - and he only spoke Spanish. You'll get there, but not without some scratches on the bumper (so to speak).

What helped me turn a corner on this experience (I'm still using my car metaphor) was that I saw a lactation consultant who was able to spend some time with me while I was trying to breastfeed. Instead of giving generic advice of "things to try", she was able to see my challenges up close and personal (very personal). She offered amazing support and guidance.

I continued to breastfeed and over the following weeks it got easier. What started out as a negative experience turned out to be a positive one and I didn't hesitate to breastfeed again when I had my son. But what resonates with me was how badly I had felt about myself for not knowing how to breastfeed the moment I became a mom.

Being a parent is really hard. Raising another human being to be a healthy, happy, self-sufficient and contributing member of society is a lot of pressure. In a day of baby-friendly initiatives that offer excellent information about the importance of breastfeeding, I wish there were more parent-friendly initiatives to provide support to the women who are doing the breastfeeding. "Natural" is not the same as "easy".

If you or someone you know is looking for help breastfeeding, you can contact a Lactation Consultant in your area or call HealthLink BC's Nursing Services (8-1-1). You can also find breastfeeding support through the La Leche League, 1-800-La Leche (1-800-525-3243).

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