shutterstock_114424966I don’t know how everyone’s experience with breastfeeding was – but mine was hard. I was hell-bent on doing it, so I did tons of research and really utilized my hospital’s lactation consultant. If I hadn’t had done those things though – I’m sure I wouldn’t have succeeded. Everyone around me just seemed to assume that breastfeeding was something I would know how to do. Not true.

It hurts like hell, it’s hard, and nothing really comes out for the first few days. Luckily, I had a very dedicated lactation consultant on my maternity ward who was there to assure me that everything would be okay. That not a lot of milk is actually produced in the first few days. That I wasn’t starving my baby. The other nurses just asked me if I was planning on breastfeeding and when I said “yes,” they handed me my baby.

I remember thinking, What now?

That’s why the story in this week’s Time magazine about women not getting enough lactation support doesn’t surprise me.

When women have trouble breast-feeding, they are often confronted with two divergent directives: well-meaning lactation consultants urge them to try harder, while some doctors might advise them to simply give up and go the bottle-and-formula route.

“We just give women a pat on the head and tell them their kids will be fine,” if they don’t breastfeed, says Dr. Alison Stuebe, an OB who treats breast-feeding problems in North Carolina.

No one argues against the idea that breast is best, but the truth is that breast-feeding is very difficult for many women, and for some, medical problems make it almost impossible without intervention. With the recent bans on giveaways of formula samples in some hospitals, it’s all the more important that the medical community have the tools and knowledge to help mothers breastfeed — or to figure out why they can’t.

I had a lactation consultant who actually put her hands on me, looked for my milk output, and examined closely to see if the baby was taking in food. I was reassured that he was – that some women can’t produce, but I was not one of those women. Had she not been there, I would have given up for sure.

Conversely, we are now seeing hospitals institute bans on formula. Mothers must request it and have it administered – almost as if it were a prescription. I’m glad hospitals are making an effort to support breastfeeding. I’m just not sure this is the answer.

Nurses that work on maternity wards need to be versed in helping women succeed with breastfeeding and recognizing when their bodies aren’t producing. Lactation consultants need to be readily available. Just assuming a woman can succeed with breastfeeding because you make formula harder to get is pretty ridiculous.

Until doctors and nurses are properly trained to help, women… will experience all of the pressure to breastfeed, with none of the support to figure out how.

What do doctors learn about breast-feeding in medical school? “We learned that it’s what’s best for baby,” said my own pediatrician. “But that’s it.” They’re introduced to evidence that prolonged breast-feeding reduces the possibilities of obesity, SIDS and allergies, but the science of it, what’s happening at the anatomical level? Not so much.

So it seems that even though most medical professionals can agree that “breast is best,” they still have a long way to go in terms of having the knowledge and expertise to actually help women meet that goal – and realize when they can’t.

(photo: Zurijeta/ Shutterstock.com)