Going Through Breastfeeding Grief and Redefining Breastfeeding SuccessMothers experiencing supply issues are frequently grieving the loss of exclusive breastfeeding. Mothers who are unable to feed at the breast sometimes say that they feel as they are grieving a death. These mothers are often frustrated that their family and friends are not sensitive to their mourning process. Some mothers even stay at home because they feel ashamed to bottle feed in public. They feel upset or humiliated by the perceived stares and comments of strangers. (This is something I struggle with, personally! I avoid going out alone with the baby, because I hate to be seen bottle-feeding, even though I breastfeed first. If I am out with my husband, I will breastfeed, then hand her over to him and let HIM bottle feed her, and I'll walk away. No one is going to judge a man for not breastfeeding, right? -L.F.)
Many mothers find that redefining their breastfeeding success and their mothering goals can help with the resolution of breastfeeding grief. They find closure by understanding that they did or are doing the best possible in the circumstances. Some mothers come to see the challenge of going out into the world as an opportunity to inform others about the issues that can undermine breastfeeding.
Redefining breastfeeding success restores a mother’s self-confidence, and enables her to feel that while things are not perfect, they are as right as they can be. For example, for some mothers, nursing can mean breastfeeding at the breast with a supplemental nursing device for some or for all feedings. This allows even mothers who produce no milk at all to keep their babies at their breasts. When the baby is old enough to get her calories through solids, this same mother may continue to “comfort nurse” for as long as she and her baby likes. This is a nursing relationship.
Other mothers and babies may need supplementing (topping off with supplement) after nursing at the breast. This is a nursing relationship.
Some mothers exclusively pump milk for a baby who can’t nurse. The mother can take pride in providing her baby with a special gift. She is a lactating mother and her body benefits form the hormonal benefits of lactation. Her baby benefits by receiving her milk.
Still other mothers wean and do not pump or supplement at the breast. They may also grieve and feel concerned about what their babies may have missed. Redefining mothering goals can help mothers find resolution: life with a newborn and young child affords many opportunities to develop a bond and to work on health-enhancing behavior.
I have always had trouble "redefining breastfeeding success," because, in my mind, true success would be an exclusive breastfeeding relationship. But, as the third time is not a charm, I'm working on accepting hand I've been dealt.
I need to remember:
- Some breast milk is better than none.
- A happy, well-fed baby is better than a miserable, under-fed baby.
- Every day we continue to nurse at all is a mini-victory.
- Bottle-feeding can be done with just as much love.
- The most important thing is to FEED THE BABY.