My last post was about the benefits of breastfeeding (http://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/11/16/why-should-i-breastfeed-my-baby/). In general, breastfeeding and supplying infants human milk is always something that should be considered for immune health. However, I find that bringing up the benefits of breastfeeding often can be met with anger and guilt on the part of some mothers. That is never my intention, to hurt and polarize. Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time would know that about me and this space.
What may surprise you is to know is that in my professional life I was often the last in a whole line of people to assist mothers and babies in their very last attempt to pull things together to breastfeed. I am a neonatal physical therapist who is certified in Debra Beckmann’s Oral Motor Assessment and Treatment Protocol, Marjorie Palmer’s Neonatal Oral Motor Assessment Scale and trained in pediatric Neurodevelepmental Treatment. I was the one that mothers came to see after appointments with board-certified lactation consultants had failed (oh, and I am one of those as well) to produce an exclusive breastfeeding relationship. You can see more about me on my “About” page if you need to know more about me.
I was often on the end of telling mothers that it may be time to move on from pursuing the dream of breastfeeding, that they really had done it all, that they had done everything under the sun possible to try to make it work. Sometimes the mother’s fifty percent was fine, but the infant had structural challenges with the palate, the tongue, the length of the muscles around the nose and mouth, the strength of the muscles of the jaw or tongue that affected the infant’s fifty percent and things were not progressing how we had hoped after treatment. How difficult, how challenging but also sometimes freeing for some mothers who had been in the “triple duty” of nursing, bottle feeding and pumping for months. Triple duty, as any mother who has been there and done that, is a full-time job. Mothers often felt like such failures when they were doing everything possible to help their infants, sometimes for very extended periods of time when so many other women would have just thrown in the towel!
I have worked with so many mothers who were so wonderful, and giving up on the dream of breastfeeding after careful assessment of their situation, their infant’s respiratory and oral motor status and developmental status, was actually the best thing to do. They had to go on and become a mother who could enjoy her baby, enjoy life, be with their husbands and their other children, take care of their homes and become whole again. All of them carried the wounds and the scars that this relationship had failed and went through the grieving process for having an unexpected outcome to the breastfeeding relationship they had envisioned. Many of these mothers contacted me years later to tell me about their children – some of the children were fine and thriving, some had ended up being diagnosed with challenges to their neurologic system coming out in sensory issues or other challenges. These mothers and I forged a close bond. I have also worked with some mothers who had toddlers and wanted an assessment just to provide themselves some closure, to know why this had failed, so they could go on.
I have never forgotten any of these mothers; I have rejoiced with the mothers whose infants attained all breastfeeding at the breast through the oral motor exercises and techniques that I knew how to provide; I have supported the mothers who chose to pump for years to do what they thought was right for their child, I have come to walk alongside the women who decided that nursing with a supplemental nursing system or a nipple shield was still a good nursing relationship (and it was!) and yes, I have cried with the mothers who made the bittersweet decision to be done with the pumping and attempts at nursing in order to just enjoy their children.
Breastfeeding is wonderful, it provides an excellent start to infants and to families. However, the way we connect to our children goes through all developmental stages, not just infancy, and not just through breastfeeding. Some parents excel at connection during the early years of infancy and toddlerhood and do not have a clue as to how to connect at all during the preschool, grade or teenaged years. The way we structure our family culture, the way we respond to our children through setting boundaries with love is really important, and lasts throughout all the years of the development of the child.
If you are in the situation where you have done it all and have sought out professional help and breastfeeding just is not going to happen, please know you are not any less of a mother. You have sacrificed your time, your energy, been sad and angry and disappointed, and your infant deserves and wants a happy mother. Forgive yourself, forgive those who had a breastfeeding relationship come so easily to them that they didn’t seem to appreciate it, tell yourself your relationship with your infant is as it should be, and move ahead in joy and love.
We are all striving and we are all doing the best we can do.