Breastfeeding: Thoughts on Health, Motherly Duty, and Nature’s Perfect Food
I recently had an encounter with a former patient who moved away from NH to the mid-Atlantic about a year ago. At the time of her move, we did everything we could to find her another naturopathic physician she could connect with to support her family’s healthcare needs. I hadn’t heard from her since her move. She called me on a Tuesday morning sounding distressed. Asking for more details, I learned that she’d had her third child about 6 months prior, she wasn’t sleeping, she was very stressed, and she was experiencing a significant decrease in her milk supply. She described how she had seen one or two other healthcare providers who affirmed that she’d nursed for 6 months, and recommended formula going forward. She was crushed- like those providers didn’t understand her or her needs as a mother.
I could absolutely empathize- the mother guilt. (I’m sure dads experience guilt like this as well about a myriad of experiences as a parent, so please gender neutralize in your own minds as you read this article!). I think that as healthcare providers with a certain orientation and bias on medicine, food, parenting, birth, etc., we place a lot of pressure on ourselves to practice what we preach- at least as much as our conscientious patients. Sometimes, reassurance that we’re doing something right feels meaningless, or almost stings, when we aren’t meeting the expectations we lay out for ourselves.
Truth is, while we can move into the world with the greatest intent, life also happens that forces flexibility. Whether the topic at hand is how long you would nurse or whether you would supplement with formula, or whether you let your child cry when they won’t go to sleep, we all have ideals of what we’d like to do, or what we WILL do, and it’s easy to beat yourself when you fall short.
This remembrance is essential when working with patients. What would you have liked to hear? Reassurance without judgment? A plan to go forward?
In this mother’s case, I acknowledged that I understood how important nursing was to her, and that we’d work to ensure she can continue. We implemented some of my favorite nursing support tricks and tips, including Gaia Galactagogue Formula and Lactation Support Tea, nutritious foods, tons of hydration, getting her sleep back in order, and stress relief behaviors and support. She was already pumping between feedings to try to get her stimulation up. I reassured her that it was going to be ok. We discussed options for other nutrition sources, including food introduction for the baby and goat’s milk formula (she liked the Kabrita formula that Emerson offers) to supplement her nursing. And I let her know that while I wanted her to find a provider locally who she trusted, that she could count on me to be there.
The postpartum is an interesting time for a mom. In her case, this was her third child- with the other two, everything went perfectly. There was never any sign of depression or anxiety. But every birth is different, and patients need the support of family, friends, and providers around them to get them through. And all of us , parents or not, especially those of us who move in the world with a high self-expectation for how to <fill in the blank here> (feed your child, raise your kids, eat, etc), can use a reminder now and again to lighten up on the expectations, drop the mommy/daddy guilt, and just do the best we can in the moment.
Dr. Jaclyn Chasse, ND
Dr. Jaclyn Chasse is a naturopathic physician and the VP of Scientific and Regulatory Affairs for Emerson Ecologics. She proudly serves as the President of the AANP and thinks everyone needs a good probiotic!