Dealing with Feeding Difficulties

Difficulties with breastfeeding can happen at any point for any reason. Lactation consultants see how upsetting this is, parents feel it deeply. However, the impact of this despair is not often respected. A thoughtful book “Why Breastfeeding Grief and Trauma Matter” by Professor Amy Brown, addresses this concern in depth.

One’s hopes, beliefs and physical experience of breastfeeding are profoundly important. Yet, in her research Amy Brown uncovered how often this was/is disregarded on personal and political levels.

She describes the belief, in some cultures, that breast milk is considered a gift from God to the mother to the child. And in some cultures, breastfeeding is a sacred duty of mothers. Those expectations weigh heavily when there are problems. It’s heavy with guilt, shame, loss. Their anticipated joy becomes confusing and it’s their “failure”, their fault. That is a hard way to start parenting.

Most people have little idea of the effort mothers will make to be able to breastfeed or provide breast milk. It may take weeks and months of pumping, feeding with a supplemental system, physical therapy exercises and myriad approaches. Some may have to suddenly or eventually forego their breastfeeding plan altogether.

I’ve met many women in this distress. I’ve noticed that their breastfeeding questions persist for years. In the immediate postpartum, and even decades later, I review their concerns. Senior women in their 60’s and 70’s will ask me questions about their own experience. Mothers always need to understand the problem.

For certain, if a woman chooses not to breastfeed, that is different. That was a decision she could make. However, policies and events often put decisions out of a woman’s control. For example, a health emergency and little leave time for postpartum healing. Those are added challenges that affect what a woman can choose, the directions she can take.

When there are breastfeeding problems, these details make a difference:
They have insurance, it covers several lactation consultations.
They can take enough time for postpartum recovery.
There is regular support available.
They have access to Donor Human Milk*
When we provide timely, sensitive support, it validates the importance of their situation.

Feeding difficulties have long emotional, financial and physical consequences. The first step is to respect that their grief does matter. It deserves time and attention. The second step is to create policies that respect the efforts that families have to make.

Breastfeeding difficulties happen. I recommend this book to any woman, of any age, who has struggled with decisions about breastfeeding options.

Why Breastfeeding Grief and Trauma Matter
Amy Brown
Pinter and Martin Publications

*In regards to Donor Human Milk, it’s value has been recognized and now, by law, is covered by MaineCare. In addition, the PUMP Act, a federal law signed in December 2022 defines specific workplace support for breastfeeding employees. Paid Family Leave would be another step in the right direction.