August is World Breastfeeding Month! During this month proponents of human milk for human babies will promote education and awareness surrounding the benefits of bodyfeeding for infants, children, and their parents. Many parents choose to feed human milk to their children. Birth parents, adoptive parents, trans parents, step parents, surrogates, and many more take on the task of caring for and feeding their children in various ways, so throughout this article and those that follow we will continue the use of expansive language to break down the topic. If you havent already, make sure you visit our IG page to check out resources and connect with Lactation Professionals throughout the month.
Previously we discussed the benefits of providing human milk to newborns and children. Those benefits include reduced risk of certain illnesses for both the lactating parent and their baby as well as increased long-term overall mental and physical wellness. The financial benefits and convenience available to lactating parents is significant as well, especially in this time of global formula shortages. However I will caution, while bodyfeeding may be considered convenient and "no cost", it certainly isnt free.
The ability to lactate does not (usually) have a nominal cost however supporting the parent who provides that milk may take some additional resources. Some parents who consider bodyfeeding their newborn do so because they have experienced bodyfeeding being modeled in their homes or communities. They may know a beloved friend or family member who has nursed a child in the past and has shared their triumphs and trials. However some others are considering bodyfeeding without any contextual experience and no one to provide guidance or support and may feel unsure of how to begin. Regardless of the reason a parent considers bodyfeeding, in order to maintain a sustainable practice or in order to begin the journey with confidence, lactating parents may require additional resources in the form of support.
In my personal experience I recall struggling mentally with nursing for the first two weeks after having second child. I was healing from an unplanned surgical birth, I was tired, and my son was trying to learn how to breastfeed. I was very close to giving up even though breastfeeding was something I planned and hoped for throughout my pregnancy. Without the support of my community as well as the support of a local Lactation Professional I may have given up but was able to overcome and continue for 10 months. My experience is not uncommon, for some parents who desire to bodyfeed their newborn the first two weeks are often very challenging. Having support during that time or even knowing that they aren't alone in their feelings may make a world of difference in their bodyfeeding journey.
Support looks different for different folks and at different times that same parent may need different types of support. I found breastfeeding to be easy with my first child and didnt think I needed much support but I struggled with what I felt was a large hurdles when it came to my second child and wished for more support than I had. So what are some ways we can support lactating parents and increase the opportunity for them to enjoy the benefits of bodyfeeding?
The World Health Organization and UNICEIF have come up with a 10 step plan to engage with and prepare pregnant folks prior to birth. When I attended their 10 Steps to Success workshop we discussed how hospitals and providers all over the world work with pregnant folks to encourage and engage with a sustainable nursing practice. WHO published a 2016 review of 58 studies in which they determined that adherence to the 10 Steps impacts early initiation of bodyfeeding immediately after birth, exclusive bodyfeeding and total duration of bodyfeeding. Selecting an OB/GYN, Midwife, Pediatrician, and hospital who supports and encourages bodyfeeding adds to the success one can experience.
Other ways to support a sustainable nursing practice may include connecting with a Postpartum Doula such as myself or a trusted Lactation Counselor prior to birth. Get an introduction to what to expect, common challenges, and simple ways to get over those challenges. Connect with a Peer group such as The Pregnancy Circle to surround yourself with folks who remind you that you arent on this journey alone. Once baby arrives remind friends and family of the steps they can take to help feed baby, even if you are the milk maker, loved ones can participate by:
Creating a comfortable home environment where parent can practice and get used to bodyfeeding and all that it physically and emotionally requires.
Run interference with phone calls, texts, and visits – and limit them if necessary.
Take on additional household responsibilities like chores, preparing food, running errands
Bring any needed items during a nursing session, like water, a snack, phone, pillow for support or comfort, or a book.
Give supportive words or encouragement when they're facing feeding difficulties
These are just a few of the simple ways to support a lactating parent as they begin their journey of bodyfeeding. If you are curious about other ways to support a lactating parent, ask them! Each individual is different and each time they need support may look different. Consider that the support a newborn parent may need will look very different when compared to a parent who has nursed their child for several months. The child changes, the milk changes, and so may the life of the parent. Together we can help create healthier communities by supporting and uplifting individual families.
Sarah Foster is a Holistic Wellness Educator and Full Spectrum Doula in Altamonte Spring, FL that provides whole person wellness education along with a full spectrum of support for all birthing outcomes. This support includes providing thoughtful emotional, spiritual, and physical support before, during, and after pregnancy and pregnancy release. If you or someone you love are interested in support let's connect! I look forward to meeting you!