Written by Chris Mikesell Green, La Leche League Salina
I’ve wanted to be a mother since I was a little girl. While most other pre-teens were wishing for sports cars, I jumped right into longing for my first mini-van. It took me a little longer to get there, but in 2010, my husband and I found ourselves expecting our first child. While I hadn’t previously spent much time considering how I would feed my baby, upon reading about breastfeeding we decided it was the right choice for our family.
I like to be prepared, so when we learned that our hospital offered a breastfeeding class, my husband and I signed up. Unfortunately, that particular class didn’t live up to my expectations. At one point, the teacher remarked “sometimes we practice positioning with dolls, though this usually makes people feel dorky.” Well, call me a dork, because I was all about practicing with the dolls! In the next weeks, I read everything I could find about breastfeeding and borrowed a doll from a friend to practice my positioning. How could I go wrong if I had practiced with a doll? I was prepared and ready.
Following my baby’s birth I thought I was headed in the right direction with nursing. Most of the medical professionals I interacted with following delivery, and in the first few weeks of my baby’s life, voiced no concerns. However, after a few weeks of breastfeeding I noticed my baby was struggling. I called my obstetrician, I called the pediatrician, I called the hospital, and no one had suggestions. It seemed that the medical professionals in my life had had very little training around breastfeeding education. Fortunately, I was directed to someone who had a great amount of knowledge.
Theresa arrived on my doorstep like an angel from heaven. She was an accredited La Leche League leader who came to my home. She checked my anatomy, orally assessed my baby, and offered some tips. She helped me with positioning and latch. While I continued to visit my doctor and receive little practical help, Theresa continued to offer more recommendations. It seemed like she had a bottomless bucket of ideas for supporting breastfeeding. With her help, I was able to repair my nursing relationship and move to a place of successful breastfeeding. Without her dedication there’s no way I could have made it.
After Theresa had offered her help for many weeks, I decided to attend the meeting she suggested. Held in a local church nursery, I walked in to see a wide variety of moms and babies: Young babies to toddlers, stay at home moms, working moms, moms with tattoos, moms in high heels, moms with their first baby, moms with large broods. It was an eclectic group. The meeting had an easy flow and the evening was very relaxed. Moms asked questions and group members responded. The leader provided general information, but much of the conversation was driven by the other women sharing their experiences.
As a new mom, I got to hear from a variety of “experts” about how they handled various parenting dilemmas. While one mom might not have knowledge to offer, another mom had passed through the same challenges I was experiencing. I might agree with a particular mom on one topic, but when another subject came up I was more closely aligned with a different family. La Leche League prides itself on offering mother to mother support and leaders often say that a meeting is like a buffet; you take what you like and leave the rest behind.
My first meeting definitely piqued my interest, but the moment that hooked me was about 6 months in. Another mom shared a story about feeling discouraged, and recalled how something I had said at a meeting helped her feel supported. It was a little bit of a shock for me. Me? I’m a hot mess most days! I needed help to even make breastfeeding work! I had helped another mom? I was still in the crazy haze of new motherhood, yet while I was participating in this group and sharing my story, I was able to offer support to someone with my words. It was empowering to recognize that I too had a gift to offer others when I invited them to take part in my mothering journey.
Four breastfed babies later, and now a La Leche League leader myself, I’ve developed my own bag of tricks to support breastfeeding moms. I am so grateful to be able to pay it forward as a tribute to those moms who helped me in my early days. The single most important factor in determining breastfeeding success remains the same: good support. Support from partners who provide encouragement, from other moms and trained experts who answer questions when things don’t come as easily as we might expect them to in this "natural" process, support from knowledgeable medical professionals who know what "normal" is for a breastfeeding baby. Moms thrive when they are surrounded by support.
To find support groups and resources available in your area, search here.