Monday, April 26, 2010

Nipple Nazi? Really?

I've just finished an intensive Lactation Educator training, that took up a huge chunk of my last week (hence the lack of writing) and gave my brain an overload of information. It was a great thing to see nearly 70 other women and one lone male from at least 4 different counties there to get current education to help moms and babies get off to a good start (although there were a few who clearly were forced into the training by their employers, but that attitude was uncommon by far.)

The training was full of new information, some things I never would have thought of, and some things I already knew in my heart, but now I have the science to back up. Some of the medical aspects such as diseases and abnormal conditions were rather scary. Although, if the idea of breasts being referred to as "pendulous" was shocking to me, I imagine it disturbed the token male even more so.

The component on working together as professionals brought out a few things that never cease to surprise me. For example, there seem to be people who choose to go into the field of caring for birthing women and their babies, who don't really seem to like birth (which can be loud, messy and unruly) or babies (who tend to be needy and cry a lot.) Perhaps they go into it for the money, but I am equally surprised and saddened when some of these people seem to resent other people in adjacent jobs who actually do like helping the moms and babies. They have a whole list of derogatory names for breastfeeding advocates. I know we've been called "the boob ladies" by random men at community events, but when healthcare professionals call names, it kind of puts a different spin on it.

A nurse at a hospital (that is more known for it's NICU than it's baby friendly practices) said she was very shocked when she made her first referral to the Lactation Consultant for a patient who was having a hard time getting her baby to latch on. Some of the other nurses began to groan "Oh no, not the Nipple Nazi." Seriously? Helping a woman prevent sore nipples, and a baby get nutrition is similar to mass murder? Really?

Apparently, they felt that the woman who was specifically trained to help in this situation was a Nazi because she was "always trying to get people to breastfeed when it really wasn't a big deal to just supplement." The fact that the "Nazi" had thousands of hours of training specifically in this area of expertise, that the supplement in many cases creates additional problems, and that their own job protocol included helping breastfeeding mothers actually succeed did not seem to be a part of the equation. I know it can be hard to learn to do things differently than we have in the past, but it is after all a part of life, and in this case, being current in the field of medicine is their job. I could understand the bad rap if the consultant was gruff or rude or aggressive with the mothers, but that doesn't appear to be the case. I don't think it was the consultants' demeanor, just the fact that she was messing with the good old way of doing things.

Now I've met a quite a few people in the lactation business, and most have them have been pretty loving and kind people- the kind of people I'd want supporting me if I had a new baby and was having a hard time. I've never met one who was rigid, or mean, or in any way trying to make mothers feel guilty if they chose to give up. They usually seem like people who actually just want to help.

That's not to say that the mothers who give up don't feel guilty- they often do, but not because the lactation consultant made them. Mother guilt is pretty strong in our culture, and we all feel bad when we are unable or unwilling to accomplish something that we know would have been good for our babies.

I realize that working at a breastfeeding support center, some people automatically consider my coworkers and I members of the Breastfeeding Police. I don't know whether to laugh or cry about that. I am a woman with a less than quiet manner, and an expressive personality in most of my life, so I have to tone down my natural self in my work. I do try to be professional, but more importantly, I hope I am able to be kind to my clients more than anything. Having a baby is not always easy, and the mamas deserve some TLC. My co-workers happen to be some of the sweetest women around though. Someone once described my supervisor who had helped her try to breastfeed her baby with Down Syndrome by saying "I wish I could take that woman home with me and have her be my children's grandma." I'm thinking that doesn't sound like Nazi material...

Working with the general public, most of us realize it takes all kinds of people to make up the world. We try to support people wherever they are at, knowing that most people are genuinely trying to do the best they can for their babies. I've met some women who try so hard, doing all the right things, and it just never seems to work. My heart breaks for them, and I always make sure they know what awesome mamas they are. I've also met women who give up on the first sign of trouble or inconvenience, and a few who just don't seem to care. Sometimes it's not easy when someone tells you they prefer formula because their baby rarely poops when they drink it, but I still don't try to make them feel bad for constipating a baby on purpose. I try to give them info on bonding while bottle feeding because in the end, I'm not there to judge anyone, but I am there to be an advocate for the baby.

Discussions were had over fear of making mothers feel guilty. Although no one would feel bad telling a pregnant woman that smoking could harm her baby, and encouraging her to quit, for some reason telling a mother the truth about formula and breast milk, and trying to help her breastfeed is off limits for some. I'd think in both cases the approach would be what mattered.

Everyone knows that we're supposed to eat lots of fruits and vegetables and exercise regularly, but most of us don't do that either. I don't think we have the overwhelming guilt about it though. Why? Maybe because there is something so personal about our babies, and our mothering. We love these little people, usually more than we love ourselves, and we so want to do a good job, that it's really hard to hear messages about things we didn't do. Even when the bearer of the message is kind, they still represent something, and in some cases, I think it is regret.

Most people are not going to respond well to a guilt trip, but that doesn't mean they don't deserve factual information to make an educated choice for their family and professional support when they need it. I wonder how many moms have received bad information that led to problems or made them worse, and grieve over the fact that they feel ripped off? I've met a lot, and that makes me angry, not at the moms, but at the fact that the bad advice is so prevalent, at the culture that makes it hard, and at the formula companies for their sneaky and deceptive marketing.

I've been vocal in my criticism of formula marketing in the same way that I'm critical of tobacco marketing. That doesn't mean I'm judging all smokers or formula feeders- I have friends and family who have been smokers, and I know wonderful mothers who have formula fed.

Perhaps the name callers have met some overly enthusiastic breastfeeding advocates? I guess I have trouble picturing a military policing attitude being the norm in the field, but I'm sure there are exceptions.

In any case, I think it's a reminder for everyone who deals with now moms to make sure we treat every one of them with respect, no matter her choices. I am thankful to be able to say that I think the ladies I work do. They are about the farthest thing from Nazi's I can imagine. I agree with the woman who wanted to take home my supervisor- these are the women that I would be glad to have be the aunties and grandmas to my own kids.