Breastfeeding statistics in Australia indicate most mothers want to breastfeed, with a 96% initiation rate.
Breastfeeding, although natural, is still a learned skill and it can take some time to get the hang of it. Knowledgeable support is very important when it comes to helping mothers achieve their breastfeeding goals.
International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs) are the gold standard in terms of helping mothers with breastfeeding. IBCLCs also need to be sensitive to mothers’ needs as they work with them to help them achieve their goals.
But what if breastfeeding is not working out so well, or if a mother thinks she might want to stop breastfeeding?
Do Lactation Consultants Ever Suggest Formula?
Lactation consultants don’t tell mothers what to do.
When working with mothers, an IBCLC’s role is to provide information and support. It’s not an IBCLC’s prerogative to tell a mother to use formula, any more than it is to tell her to breastfeed.
A mother who is experiencing breastfeeding difficulties doesn’t automatically want to wean and formula feed. To suggest this to a mother struggling with breastfeeding can undermine all the time and effort she has put in so far.
Instead, a mother needs to be provided with a safe environment, to work out what will work best for her. She doesn’t need an IBCLC to make up her mind for her.
Of course, in situations where there is a medical need for formula, an appropriate health professional (such as a medical adviser) should inform a mother of this.
An IBCLC’s role, especially when working with mothers struggling with breastfeeding, is to do these 3 things:
#1: Understand What Mothers Are Experiencing
This is probably the most important aspect of supporting mothers struggling with breastfeeding. It involves being patient, listening actively, and showing empathy and unconditional positive regard.
Meeting mothers where they are right now helps them feel comfortable and confident that IBCLCs are there to support them unconditionally.
It’s important for IBCLCs to provide mothers with a supportive and caring environment, but they cannot read minds. It’s equally important for mothers to be as open and honest with IBCLCs about how they feel – emotionally and physically.
#2: Understand That Breastfeeding Problems Are Experienced Very Differently
Mothers experience breastfeeding problems in very different ways. This is because their experiences are affected by many different factors, such as level of social support, confidence in their ability to breastfeed, previous trauma, pain history, personal situation, anxieties, or expectations.
It’s important for IBCLCs to support mothers as they work out the best management plan for their individual circumstances.
#3: Let Go Of Her (Or His) Own Ideologies
What an IBCLC would do in a certain situation is irrelevant. It’s more important to help mothers work out what might be best given their individual situations.
Although breastfeeding is important from a public health perspective, for some mothers, weaning or not breastfeeding might be what’s best, given their individual circumstances. All mothers need to be supported, regardless of how they choose to feed their babies.
Struggling with breastfeeding can be a very emotionally painful experience. When mothers face breastfeeding challenges, the way in which they are supported can have a significant impact.
What should you do if you feel pressured to keep breastfeeding but don’t want to?
Remember, it’s your baby and your decision! Don’t let anyone make you do anything you don’t want to do. Remember, too, that although breastfeeding is important from a public health perspective, sometimes individual circumstances override population level risks.
It’s always important to do what works best for you and your individual family.