At 9:30 a week ago tonight, my cell phone rang. By the time I was down the stairs and into the dining room (praying the ring wouldn’t wake up Nora), it had stopped. I didn’t recognize the number, and so I didn’t bother to listen to the message. Ten minutes later, though, curiosity got the best of me, and I logged into Google Voice.
“Hi Amber, it’s Desiree…”
I stopped the message right there and called back. No answer; I left a message. Two minutes later she called me back. We chated breifly about how hard it’s been to catch one another, then she asked me three simple questions:
“Did you find the Preview helpful?”
“How did the Preview help you to prepare for leadership?”
“Do you feel ready to assume the responsibilities for leadership?”
And then she said the words I have been waiting to hear for more than a year and a half, “I want to congratulate you on becoming a La Leche League Leader.”
After 18 months of reading, group meetings, one-on-one leader preparation meetings, essay writing, role playing, and lots and lots of discussion, I am officially a La Leche League Leader. There were lost emails, a move, and tons of other crazy little things that held my application up, but finally I am adding another piece to the puzzle that is my vision of supporting new moms. I’m so excited about partnering with the amazing leader we already have here on island, and all the great things we will be doing (on top for everything Sunny already does). It seemed like perfect timing, too, because last week was a week of breastfeeding excitement, with the joint decision of the seven birthing hospitals in Rhode Island to no longer hand out free formula sample “gift” bags as mothers leave the hospital.
It was an exciting week, but it was also a week during which I felt much frustration, and internally debated my own thoughts about breastfeeding and how to talk about it with others. I’m a research person. I have PubMed on my short cut bar and I subscribe to RSS feeds for Pediatrics and the Journal of Human Lactation among others. As a parent, I’ve always done my own research on health related topics, relying largely on peer-reviewed studies. I like to get the facts first hand rather than from someone else, and I want information that is given to me to be backed up by legitimate science. That’s just who I am. As a lactation counselor, I was again trained to rely only on the research. Look at what the science says, not anecdotes.
Last week, as the news about Rhode Island came out, I couldn’t imagine how anyone would be upset about the hospital’s joint decision. Research shows two things: (1) free formula negatively impacts breastfeeding, and (2) families are more likely to purchase the brand of formula that they received at the hospital (even when other formulas are equal nutritionally and cheaper). Breastfeeding advocates should rejoice because one less “booby trap” is in the way of breastfeeding successfully, and formula feeders should have rejoiced because new moms will no longer be taking for a (very expensive) marketing ride. Win, win, right?
Wrong. Everywhere I looked, it was the breastfeeding wars. Apparently, a lot of people believe all mothers should get the first few days of formula for free and that by not providing free food to the babies, hospitals are taking away the mother’s right to choose or judging her, or something.
As a CLC and a person who very heavily relies on research, science, and facts, I was more than a little dismayed by the lack of factually based arguments. Of course, there were people who relied on anecdotes (“my baby had formula and is just fine”), but there were also lots and lots of people who spread some genuinely horrible and inaccurate information (“not all mothers’ milk comes in while at the hospital and so they need the formula to feed until it does”). I loosely followed the comments on the Huffington Post article, only weighing in once or twice, but mostly reading and wondering what I could possibly do to fix this.
I wish every woman and man saw breastfeeding everywhere, from childhood on. I wish it was so normal that we didn’t even think about formula; that formula was for extreme circumstances only, not most babies in the U.S., and that there was no need for CLCs or LLL because any new mom could ask her mother, sister, or aunts about breastfeeding. I wish every woman could sit through the 40 hour class I took, hearing day after day, hour after hour about the facts surrounding breastfeeding. Amazing research about benefits, truths about risks associated with formula, and some surprising recommendations. I wish there was some way to share all that reasearch without “making” someone feel guilty or judged. And I wish that those formula feeding moms who say we are judging them were wrong.
Yes, I’ll admit to it; I do judge formula-feeding moms a little bit. I do not understand how, in light of piles and piles of research, an educated, smart, and intelligent woman can make the decision to not try breastfeeding, not even once. When I hear a mother is planning on supplementing with formula or has switched completely, my first instinct is to find out why, what she did or did not do to make breastfeeding unsuccessful, and that instinct bothers me. That should not be the first thought that comes to mind.
As a CLC, my job is to support mothers in having the best breastfeeding relationship possible with their babies, whether it’s for 3 days, 3 weeks, 3 months or 3 years. As a LLL leader, it is exactly the same thing. I need to be able to educate women on the science so they can make informed choices about what is best for their family, and then I need to give them the tools and support necessary to make that choice a reality, no matter what it is. In practice, I have no problem doing that, but internally I do sometimes struggle. I find myself wondering, if the science so clearly says breast is best, then how can I in good conscience support someone in giving their baby second best?
Even after a year of CLC work, I’m still nervous about how to do it all well: what information to share and what not to share; how to keep my own personal feelings separate; how address misconceptions and incorrect information without drowning it in science overkill; how to make sure a mother who chooses something different doesn’t feel bad about that choice even when the science says she should… I’m still learning how much enthusiasm to share or not share, and always, always wondering how to get more people engaged.
I am so very excited to be a LLL leader and to continue to help mothers here on island (my first meeting is Saturday!), but I’m also very aware of what an awesome responsibility it is, and (I won’t lie) I’m a little nervous, too. Wish me luck, would you?