I’m No Lactivist, But I’m All About Getting My Friends To Breastfeed

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One of my best friends just gave birth to her firstborn son. When she was pregnant, I did what I always do with first-time pregnant friends: strongly encouraged her to take a course in breastfeeding. She didn’t, unfortunately, and is having some serious trouble with nursing. Her son’s frenulum needed to be clipped and she’s exhausted and frustrated and things are a bit tough. I’m trying to find that fine line between encouraging her to continue attempting to nurse and making sure she can handle it. We’ll see how it goes.

My own path to breastfeeding began with my mother, of course. She gave birth to her kids right around the end of that era where women didn’t breastfeed. But she grew up around women who were always suspect of the formula frenzy. They encouraged her to breastfeed and when my mom gave birth to my oldest sister, she wanted to do the same. She received almost no support in the hospital and says that one nurse downright mocked her for attempting to breastfeed. Finely, an angelic nurse came in, gave her support and encouraged her. The rest is history. History that I was told again and again and again.

When I got pregnant for the first time, far away from home, a couple of girlfriends took me under their wing and gave me info about a breastfeeding course offered in downtown Washington, D.C. I also couldn’t help but notice that while each of my friends made it through labor and delivery with little to no problem, very few were able to navigate breastfeeding without trouble. In fact, frustration surrounding breastfeeding was the number one complaint I heard from all of my friends with newborns.

So while I never went through a childbirth class, I scheduled a breastfeeding session and over the course of two hours, my eyes were opened. Boy were they opened. Going through the mechanics before the crazy days following labor was just what I needed. I got some mental images in my head that really helped me navigate breastfeeding when I was so tired and sore that I could barely think. Do you have any idea how much that baby’s tongue elongates? It’s crazy! One instructor suggested squeezing your breast so that it flattens parallel to the baby’s mouth — like a sandwich. It’s still the first image that comes to mind when nursing or helping a friend nurse.

OK, so it was such a good experience for all of my friends who have taken this course that I encourage my friends to do the same. And frequently they don’t or can’t. I send them guides to breastfeeding. One of the books I used was just so helpful when I had questions in the early days. And I try to be available to answer questions.

I strongly — vehemently, in fact — believe in the benefits of nursing, both physical and emotional. But I don’t think that if you’re unable or even unwilling to nurse that this makes you a bad mom. Your job as a mother is simply to feed your baby nutritiously. How you do that is completely up to you as a mother. So I try to balance my support of nursing without making people feel bad if they’re unable to do it.

One of the things I’ve noticed is that all of my friends who have tried but been unable to continue nursing were children of mothers who didn’t nurse. I don’t know what that means but I find it interesting. I certainly know many women who weren’t nursed as children but nurse their children.

My overall experience with breastfeeding has been wonderful. And I don’t know where I’d be without supportive friends who helped me through the thrush and the mastitis and the clogged ducts and the like. Being able to call on their wisdom and counsel was invaluable. But for me, not breastfeeding wasn’t really an option.

Some friends of mine want to breastfeed but have no idea how difficult it will be. For them, I’m not sure I’m helping when I encourage them to keep at it. For them, I think they’re just looking for someone to tell them that it’s OK to quit. Am I a bad friend if I serve that role, too?

I think that may be the case with my friend who just gave birth. I think I’m just stressing her out when I encourage her with breastfeeding right now. And she already seems pretty exhausted and stressed as is.

I’m willing to hear any and all tips and advice, particularly from women who were similarly at their wit’s end with breastfeeding in the first week after birth.

Do you have any wisdom to share?


  1. KMilt

    December 23, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    I think you need to treat lightly with this sort of thing. What you intend to be supportive, helpful advice given from a place of love may very well come across as judgement or criticism to someone who is already struggling (and very sleep deprived!). I like that you want to support your friends, but your vehemence could, to them, insinuate that you feel breastfeeding is the only REAL choice you think they should make.

    • Cee

      December 23, 2011 at 1:27 pm

      Whole heartedly agree with you!

  2. Beth

    December 23, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    I’m the daughter of a bottle-feeder who breastfed for 16 months – so we do exist. None of my siblings have successfully breastfed past about a week though so I’m the exception rather than the rule.

    I do think it’s probably easier if your mum breastfed too as you said though – mine offered a lot of incorrect but well meant advice.

    The biggest thing that helped me is that my husband thought it was really important – not in the, “Well give it a go but don’t worry if it doesn’t work out,” way that I’ve heard from other husbands. He was more, “I know this is really important to you, it’s really important to me too so we’ll figure this out”.

    Anyway, that was a bit random – my ‘wisdom’ is to encourage your friends to take their husbands to the classes with them.

    • k

      December 27, 2011 at 9:22 am

      I agree with you. I think the support of your husband is really helpful with breastfeeding. My daughter is 7 months old and she is getting very distracted and fidgety and more interested in feeding herself, and I am getting tired of pumping at work. I dont think I would be sticking with it if my husband wasnt so supportive and reminding me she’ll be 1 in just 4 months and i have made it this far.
      Also, ive heard some husbands who pressure the moms to let them bottle feed the baby so they can also bond and i dont think thats right. let your wife establish nursing if shes going to nurse! All things they could learn at a class like you said 🙂

    • Leigha

      January 2, 2012 at 1:59 pm

      k–Not to question your choices or anything, but if your daughter wants to feed herself, wouldn’t that suggest that she should be allowed to do so? You didn’t say if you were trying to breastfeed exclusively (which sounds nearly impossible for a baby that age) or if she also eats regular food, but developmentally speaking it seems odd to me to not let her feed herself if she’s ready.

  3. Brianna

    December 23, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    I have been able to breastfeed my baby (now 13 months old) for the last year and it’s been wonderful. Very rewarding. My only advice is that if you have any pain, to get checked for thrush. I thought teeth were causing the pain I was having, but I now believe I’ve had a low level thrush infection for quite some time. Getting those meds were amazing! I still hurt when he gets a new tooth until I get used to it, but not the stabbing pain I was having before. And good luck!

  4. Christine

    December 23, 2011 at 5:05 pm

    Some of my friends did me the worst disservice while pregnant. I wanted to take a breastfeeding class, and they all convinced me I didn’t need it. It was “natural” and would come “naturally.” Nothing about my experience was natural and I really had to learn a lot. But I was stubborn and hard headed. I was told that I “could never” exclusively nurse my daughter. People mocked me for even wanting to try. My own doctor told me there was “no difference” between formula and breastmilk and to just give up. Those were fighting words. My daughter never received a drop of formula – despite our many troubles. I’m grateful to La Leche League and – or I never would have made it. Now, I’m nursing a toddler. 🙂

  5. Amom

    December 23, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    Are you a bad friend if you tell them it’s Ok to quit? Far from it. I was as you say, a vehement supporter of nursing before the birth of my son.

    At 18 days old, he was not back to his birth weight, despite hours of nursing, pumping, mothers milk tea and prescription drugs to promote lactation. H was literally starving and I was so unnerved and hysterical that i could barely function.

    I continued to nurse and supplement until exclusively formula feeding at 16 weeks. Most of the joy Evaporated from those first few months because my 34DD breasts refused to produce milk.

    I don’t care that my exceptionally healthy and gifted 1 year oldson wasnt exclusively breastfed. What I do care about, is that in the hour of moving on, in choosing formula, of letting go, my supposed best friend told me ‘it’s never ok to give up’. That isn’t loving support. Is it? I still hate her q little bit for saying it.

  6. Rebecca

    December 23, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    I preferred to pump and bottle feed. My daughter had a really hard time latching on and it really took big burden off me. She ended up having terrible acid reflux so we had to use special formula in the end, but I tried. I tell all my preggo friends,even if they don’t plan to breastfeed, rent a pump for a month. It’s so much better to decrease your milk supply gradually then go through that horrible engorgement and the baby gets at least some of the good stuff;)

  7. Wendy

    December 24, 2011 at 4:18 am

    As someone who has had to explain repeatedly that I am on medication for a chronic condition that is none of their business, you should be careful how you approach this. I’ve been told that formula is practically poison; that my baby will end up sick, stupid and fat; and that I’m not a good mother if I don’t even try breastfeeding. I’m sure these observations came from a good place, but to me, they just feel like judgement.

    The truth is, I would love to breastfeed, but it’s more important for me to be healthy and well enough to bond with my baby over formula than to have people constantly shoving down my throat that I’m doing my baby a disservice by not breastfeeding.

    • k

      December 27, 2011 at 9:25 am

      Wendy, you are doing what is best and healthiest for both you and your baby. Good for you! People who told you otherwise are jerks 😉 I wasnt able to nurse #1 at all, the second only for 5 months, and #3 is on month 7 and they are all fine and healthy!

    • Leigha

      January 2, 2012 at 1:56 pm

      Well, considering there was a generation (or two) that was almost entirely formula-fed, and that many of those people are healthy, intelligent, and fit…I have to laugh at people who act like being formula-fed is the end of the world. Heck, my boyfriend drank MILK (he was allergic to formula), and he’s one of the smartest people I know.

      Some people can be truly obnoxious about it, and considering that the majority of women who try have trouble breastfeeding, not to mention the number who can’t to begin with, and considering that (unless they’re close friends or immediate family) it is ABSOLUTELY none of their business, it’s just ridiculous. There are certain things that people should just keep their noses out of.

  8. Jules

    December 26, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    I come from a family where NO ONE nursed their babies! But I always knew that if I ever had children, that I would at least attempt to nurse them. When I got pregnant unexpectedly at 37, I did lots of prep reading and talked to the few friends I had who nursed their babies. I received all kinds of great tips and advice. Unfortunately my own mother and sister repeatedly mocked me for nursing and told me it was “gross and archaic”. (Isn’t that cruel?!?!) I had wicked fights with my mother who tried to convince me that my son wasn’t getting enough to eat and that I was being ridiculous. Luckily I am very stubborn and independent, and had no problem telling both of them where they could stick it. I knew what I was doing was right, and sought guidance when needed from my books, and I breastfed my son for over a year!! So my advice is this: Do what you think is right, and shame on anyone who is cold and unsupportive towards you, whatever your choice is!

  9. Makenna

    December 26, 2011 at 4:34 pm

    I breastfed for the first couple of months, but I contracted MRSA on an ingrown hair and my doc told me to stop. I have friends that comment on my facebook (6 months later!) about it. I feel guilty every time. I miss that connection I had with my son! Breastfeeding was so fulfilling, and I seriously wish I had gotten a second opinion (several lactation nurses have since told me the doc was an idiot).

    • Hailey

      December 30, 2011 at 1:08 pm

      You shouldn’t feel guilty. You did the best you could, and you should have been able to trust your doctor’s advice. I’m sorry you weren’t able to continue breastfeeding, but not being able to doesn’t mean you should be made to feel badly about it.

    • leigh

      March 27, 2012 at 7:03 pm

      I got a clogged duct that abcessed due to MRSA. The LCs encouraged me to pump and dump while on meds and once I was able I went back to breastfeeding. A few weeks later the same thing happened again and the MRSA was back in full force. My doc told me the LCs were idiots as MRSA loves to come back and the breasts can be very prone to the infection while breastfeeding. I miss breastfeeding too. I just wanted you to know if you continued bf after getting MRSA it might have kept coming back like it did with me.

  10. Mommiss

    April 9, 2012 at 1:22 am

    One of the things I’ve noticed is that all of my friends who have tried but been unable to continue nursing were children of mothers who didn’t nurse. I don’t know what that means but I find it interesting. I certainly know many women who weren’t nursed as children but nurse their children.

    Huh? I was breastfed. My sister was not. She nursed her son. I did not. The world is a big place…

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