Becoming a mother is defined by beginning a journey to love and care for a child, brought into our lives through birth or adoption of these responsibilities. As a lactation consultant, I share the art and science of mothering by nurturing another woman through the rite of passage to breastfeed her young baby. The job has its struggles (as I discovered becoming a mother of four many years ago), with worries of “Can I do this?” “Will I have enough milk?” “Is my baby getting enough?” “Will my nipples ever quit being sore?” and “Will this baby ever wean?” Being able to share my struggles, triumphs and what other moms have taught me along the way, drove my passion to becoming a lactation consultant 22 years ago.
Many ask, “Is that really a job?” Yes, it is. Lactation consultants are formally trained in the special needs of both mother and child to offer hands-on help and to educate moms about how to breastfeed. After becoming a lactation consultant, I discovered how many medical professionals’ training omitted breastfeeding education.
Mammals have breasts which produce milk after delivery of the young. Breast milk has the perfect chemical formulation and temperature to nourish the baby. In our society, the word “breast” will trigger a restricted website warning on a work computer, mothers will be shamed in public and breasts hypersexualized. However, breasts are made for feeding babies and anything that supports the mother to be able to breastfeed has benefits to the mom (e.g., cancer prevention), baby (e.g., prevention of illness and obesity), business (e.g., mom needs less work sick days) and community (e.g., healthier population).
However, please do not judge if someone has decided breastfeeding is not for them; there are many psychological and physiological reasons moms choose not to breastfeed. Sometimes a mom’s breast tissue is incapable of making milk or exiting the breast, or a mom’s medical condition may either delay increasing milk or it suppresses milk amounts. Babies must be fed, so in some instances breastfeeding can be adapted to feeding them breast milk with a device (e.g., spoon, syringe, bottle) and if medically necessary, breast milk can be supplemented with formula. Moms need “mothering” themselves following the loss of not being able to breastfeed as they intended.
Lactation consultants start the process to nurture a new mom to breastfeed. Employers should ensure moms have a comfortable place to pump (not in the bathroom), that they get a break, have flex schedules and have adequate time off after the birth of a baby. Communities can nurture moms by having places to feed and care for babies at festivals and support someone who is discreetly breastfeeding in public.
It’s empowering for me to share the gifts, experiences and talents that I have experienced through life’s journey. It takes a village to “mother” these young families in raising their children by mentoring, educating, reassuring and inspiring moms.