When I began writing Milk Boss 101: The Modern Breastfeeding Journal and Guide, there were a few themes that immediately began to rise to the surface. They were principles I’d learned primarily during my time of serving new breastfeeding mothers on Guam.
They are elements that women have had access to for centuries, but are almost always lacking from the modern mother’s breastfeeding experience.
- A curated community
- Gentle support from a wise woman
- Confidence in her own “mother wisdom”
See, while there on the island I realized that the women I was meeting were being inundated with so much information and input during their pregnancy on how they should go about breastfeeding their baby, from how long they should breastfeed, which positions were most ideal, to the supplies they absolutely needed, and of course all the horror stories of how painful it would be. By the time they were actually home with their baby they simply felt overwhelmed and spent much of their time trying to follow a set of rules, implement strategies, and use accessories they were told were crucial to breastfeeding success. The whole experience became overly complex from the beginning, and the idea of continuing to breastfeed for another year let alone a week just seemed ludicrous and unattainable.
When I visited mamas I quickly realized that they were setting aside their own feelings and intuition in order to do what was in the book, shared about in their Facebook group, or told to them by a friend. They were pumping around the clock, self diagnosing themselves and prescribing themseves nipple shields, religiously applying nipple butters, switching between various sized specialty pillows, and flicking apps off and on in order to take meticulous notes on every feeding. I understood that they were doing this in order to hopefully have an easier time breastfeeding, but all it was doing was amping up their stress level and stealing any ounce of joy from that tender postpartum period; and many began to believe that the problem was breastfeeding itself.
What I began to do at each consultation was strip away all the extra things and expectations that my mamas were holding on to. I would then begin to gently share with them that their first lesson in motherhood was to go with their own “mother wisdom”. I would teach them to not be afraid to say that they didn’t like something or felt uncomfortable with how breastfeeding was going. We would then come up with practical solutions that helped her feel at ease and allowed some of the burden to be released from her shoulders. I would provide the partner with instructions on when to contact me, how to help set up and provide hands-on support during each feeding. We made breastfeeding simple again.
It’s important to note that breastfeeding is a learned skill and art form that takes practice, guidance, and support. The women who I’ve seen have the most success in reaching their personal breastfeeding goals and enjoy nursing, are those who have found their own balance in implementing the help of their tribe, the guidance from a trained professional (wise woman), and listening to her own mother wisdom.
Let me explain what I mean by this, because you may be thinking that this all seems just a bit too simplistic.
Having a curated community means having a select group of committed friends or family members surrounding you as you navigate the postpartum period. Not a Facebook group of random strangers from around the country sharing their own breastfeeding experiences and anecdotal advice, or even a breastfeeding professional giving advice who knows nothing about your personal situation. They are people you actually dialogue with on a regular basis in-peron. They are your “tribe” and want what’s best for you and your baby. They will uphold your desire to breastfeed, help you get the support you need to do it in your own way, and won’t judge you for the choices you make. Your tribe may be just three people, and that’s alright. The point is to have people who are committed to you, surround you, and uplift you as you navigate one of the most vulnerable times in your life.
Wise woman support is having the expertise of a woman who’s been there before, gently come alongside you and give you guidance. In our modern society many women feel that they should naturally know how to breastfeed or be able to “figure it out” on their own, much like what they’ve done in their careers or education. But motherhood and breastfeeding in particular just aren’t like that. A wise woman is absolutely vital. You will find these women identify themselves as lactation counselors, consultants, birth workers, and doulas. They have training that goes beyond their own anecdotal experience and it allows them to share that knowledge with the expectant families they serve in a personalized way. These gentle guides help to boost a mother’s confidence in herself and provide the family with insight and techniques on how to get through this new season.
“Mother wisdom“. This is a new term I’ve begun using, and so you won’t find it in the book, but you will find me reaching out to the reader and constantly asking them to self reflect, take time to pause, or think about how a section resonates with them. My hope is to remind each woman of her own mother wisdom, or knowing. Something that I truly believe EVERY woman has but our society has taught women to squelch in order to conform to what is acceptable as a “good mother”. This wisdom may be buried deep down within, but it’s there. It simply needs to be awakened. In Milk Boss 101, I create a running theme of self confidence– a reminder to women that neither their mind or bodies are broken. They are perfectly capable of achieving the goals they have and making choices that are best for them and their baby, but it must all begin from listening to their voice within and refusing to be forced into doing something she doesn’t feel comfortable with.
I would encourage you to take these principles and apply them to aspects of your life even outside of breastfeeding. They are elements of societies that date back centuries but for some reason aren’t always encouraged today. The time has come though to get back to implementing gentle ancient lessons within our busy modern lives.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Please leave a comment below. I always reply.