Being a Kindly Helper

Some people focus on the baby’s body.  A good weight gain and clean bill of health mean things are going fine. Some people focus on the mother’s physical well-being.  She needs rest and relief from pain to be an effective mother.

Some people focus on the milk.  All that really counts is that the baby receive as much breastmilk as possible for as long as possible.

Ah, but baby, mother, and breast are a single organism.  Many mothers would rather nurse in pain than pump in comfort.  Many would rather get up in the night to pump than supplement with formula.  Babies who were fed some other way while breastfeeding problems were solved often refuse bottles once they’re able to nurse effectively.  “Bottles may have filled my stomach,” they seem to say, “but breastfeeding fills my soul.”

Helping the mother-baby-breast organism is a balancing act for us.  The most elegant care plan is useless if the mother isn’t comfortable with it.  The most comfortable care plan may become obsolete within a day if circumstances change.  The mother who thought she wanted A discovers that what she really wants is B.  The baby who accepted C suddenly seems to need D.  Or we learn more about E and realize we need to change course.

Effective helping takes time – time getting to know the mother and the baby, allowing her time to get to know us, time observing and thinking and remembering other mothers.  We need to do our best to walk in her shoes.  Are we asking the impossible?  Are we pushing her in a direction she doesn’t want to go?  Are we leading rather than supporting?

Good helping isn’t “Do this until Thursday,” it’s “How would this work for you?”  It’s asking, not telling.  It’s discussing, not mandating.  It’s remembering that breastfeeding is a relationship as well as a food source, and relationships are both varying and vulnerable.

You’ll find women thank you more for being a cheerleader than for making expert pronouncements.  Our job is to help the mother-baby-breast organism grow and prosper in its own way, and to learn from every mother and baby we meet.  If these handouts help you to do that, wonderful.  What we do is hard work, and we deserve help from anywhere we can find it.  Give your next mother a hug… and take one for yourself !


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