There Is No “By the Book”
I am currently moving through the steps of birth doula certification through DONA, one of which is to take a basic breastfeeding course, and I recently had the opportunity to attend a class taught by an amazing woman who’s been a lactation consultant for almost 20 years. This class was very important to me, not only in learning how to best help moms, but for myself.
I wasn’t able to make breastfeeding work with my daughter, and it’s something I’ve regretted. I’ve learned so much more since that time about the whole process, but still had a lot of fear that the next time I have a child, I would end up giving up again.
Something really stood out to me during this class though – it gave me the confidence to believe that I will be able to do it next time around.
It started with a story told by one of the other ladies in the class. A friend of hers has nursed her baby to 10 months and strongly desires to continue, but baby has already started self weaning.
The mom is very upset – she feels abandoned, and like a bad mother. According to everything she’s read, baby should be breastfed at least one year. She just keeps wondering where she’s gone wrong.
Baby is happy and healthy – it seems he truly has just set his own timeline and mom is the only one who’s not okay with it. The woman in my class went on to say that mom feels a very strong need to do things “by the book:” she’s done her research and knows what’s best, and not being able to follow through has made her feel like a failure.
My first thought was that this woman sounded a lot like me! I always feel most comfortable when I have a blueprint and I could definitely sympathize with this mom.
But the biggest lesson I’ve learned since becoming a parent (and one I was strongly reminded of in this class) is that there simply is no “by the book.”
This was emphasized to me when we were introducing ourselves and sharing any experiences we had with breastfeeding. Every single one was totally unique and different; even the moms with more than one child were describing how different the experiences were between each of their children.
And what was encouraged and emphasized throughout the class was that it doesn’t really matter how you make it work, that millions of women have breastfed in hundreds of different ways throughout history and whatever works for you and your baby is just fine.
That’s why things like asking mom to keep track of how long baby was on each breast, or saying that it has to be a certain amount of time or a certain number of feedings each day are unnecessary.
What was being taught in this class wasn’t any different than what you could learn from just about any lactation consultant or book on breastfeeding, but the way that it was taught was, for me, a revelation.
In the role playing alone, I was made to feel completely at ease. I was praised and encouraged, everything was communicated with a smile, and the underlying message was a simple “You can do this,” and that whatever works best for you is the best way for you.
Ultimately, it was a vote of confidence. And this is what I want to offer as a doula, and what I want to surround myself with the next time I’m expecting.
Guidelines and knowledge are good things. Our own experiences are important and helpful. Research is very valuable and we should always work to increase our understanding where we can. But ultimately, there is no by the book – whether it’s breastfeeding or anything else in parenting.
i hope the mom my classmate was telling us about is able to come to her own peace in this, and I hope for myself that this is a lesson I will always remember, right along with the techniques and positions and problem solving strategies.
I get the feeling it’s something I’ll need to be reminded of often.
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