Tuesday, 24 May 2011

When breastfeeding goes well but all goes wrong.

Today I spent time with a distraught mother.  She was distraught because two days ago she gave up breastfeeding.  It turns out that the baby had a posterior tongue tie and some cranial issues (tension in the neck and he's been a little compacted since birth).  She breastfed happily and well for six weeks.  Then she was told that his weight had plateaued and that she needed to feed him more because he wasn't growing as he should.  And so she began to worry.  She internalised her worry and as the stresses of life closed in (by which I mean the normal everyday stresses that have nothing to do with babies) she was told to ignore them and concentrate on feeding her baby.

She closed out the world and concentrated.  She saw Midwives, Lactation Consultants, Night Nurses, Doctors.  Eventually she went to see a Cranial Osteopath and he said "You've been at this long enough.  It's stressing you out.  You've done your best".  She accepts this as true.  She had stopped enjoying her baby and instead obsessed about feeding him.  In her words "breastfeeding [was] destroying [her]".  She cried as she told me that much as she had loved breastfeeding and how wonderful it was when it was good, she needed to be a normal person again.  She needed to go outside again and not worry that her son was being underfed.  And the whole time, her breasts poured milk.  

So much information, so much help.  How do we filter what is good from what is bad?  How do we help rather than hinder the Mums and Dads that come to us seeking advice?  Do we know when to hold back and simply hold them whilst they cry?  

I asked her how she felt about giving up breastfeeding, because I wanted to see if it was something that she had thought through.  She clearly thought I was about to persuade her back to breastfeeding.  She mounted her defence.  I wanted to be SuperDoula and help her find her way back, but I stopped asking questions and simply said "It's okay."

Inwardly, my heart broke.  The first time that I met her she was keen to breastfeed and she did so well.  When I left all was well.  Going back six weeks later the coin had flipped.  I don't know what happened to make it so.  I taught her how to hand express herself so that she could rid her engorged breasts of their milk and disperse the hard lumps that were forming in her breasts.  

I'm sure that there are those who will say that I should have pressed her harder to remain breastfeeding, but I am also sure that there are some who know when to stay silent and let things be.  It doesn't mean I'm not sad about it.  


  1. Worry not, SuperDoula, the citizens of Metropolis appreciate your work!

  2. I to have has similar experiences in my work and it is heart breaking because you know that like you said all it takes is one doubt it's like a small flame in a forest one spark and the whole thing burns. It took me ages to learn to let go and realise that sometimes no matter what you can't always help ones but for all the ones we lose there are so many moms that because we helped have gone on to have amazing bf experiences xx

  3. Sometimes we just get there too late and the damage has alreayd been done. I, too, have had to learn to swallow hard and just provide a space for them to grieve without anymore pressure from me.

    On a separate note, Osteopaths are not trained or insured to provide infant feeding advice and as such, this practitioner needs a slap on the wrist.

    Even superdoulas can't win 'em all, as the great Pam Lacey said to me on numerous occasions.