Most people have a group of friends that they love and support and who love and support them back. You know, the good friends who focus on your positive attributes instead of what they perceive to be your deficits. After your childbirth is behind you—and parenting is ahead of you—your gentle, respectful, kind friends become the emotional hug you rely upon. You call them with the little successes that you experience in the first few days of your baby's life; sometimes you call them when nothing is wrong and you just need someone to listen while you cry. And they listen. No judgment. They just listen.
Almost always in that group of friends, though, there are a few gals who seem a little confused as to what friends are supposed to do for each other. They’re usually the ones who describe themselves as "opinionated," “telling the truth” or “keeping it real.” They are the self-proclaimed mavens on virtually every topic (and somehow almost always the least informed regarding said topics), and just loooove to give unsolicited advice.
This in-your-face personality is difficult to be vulnerable around at any time, but especially after you become a new mom. It’s tricky. They’re your friends and you love them and value their opinions and (in ways) you’re looking for approval. Never is this experience of vulnerability in friendship more profound than when you first become a mama.
Mostly they call with good intentions. Sometimes they call with an agenda. Asking questions. Collecting “intel.” At some point, when you’re trying to be open with your emotions to these friends (you know who they are and you’re apprehensive to be vulnerable) they bust out the “s” word. Should.
“You should keep that baby skin-to-skin.”
“You should put that baby down so it doesn’t get spoiled.”
“You should breastfeed only on demand.”
“You should breastfeed every 2 hours.”
“You should pump.”
“If you know nothing else you should know that you should never pump.”
You walk away from these conversations feeling frightened about your choices, afraid that you’ll make the wrong decision at any moment and your parenting will be ruined forever. You feel lousy and sad. Why wouldn’t you feel bad? Your friend just “should” all over you. (Yes, I lifted this from “Sex and the City”—it’s just so appropriate.) This is not a bosom buddy situation at all. This conversation that leaves you feeling lousy is the kind of convo that only happens with…a breast frenemy! Dun dun DUN!
The breast frenemy not only “shoulds” all over you, she also frequently employs the word “I.” As in, “I breastfed for 12 months” or “I began pumping immediately so my husband could feed the baby and I could sleep” or the ever-popular classic “I wanted to be safe. I wanted my baby to gain weight so I made sure to supplement with formula.”
|Sorry, I can't get enough of this meme. It's as addictive as the Ryan Gosling "Hey, girl" ones.|
Here’s the deal: these people who leave you feeling rotten are almost always experts only in their own experience. The fact is, what works for one person occasionally works for another. The good news is that there are many ways to do one thing and that is true for breastfeeding, as well. What worked so well for your friends may or may not work for you. The advice should probably be left to the experts, like Lactation Consultants.
Here’s another fact: Lactation Consultants are experts in breastfeeding. They are not experts in you. Who you are in your breastfeeding experience is special to you; the story of your breastfeeding experience is the one that you write.
So, maybe you’re expecting your first baby or you’re newly home and the reality of being a mom is settling in. Perhaps you’re a mother–in-law who exclusively breastfed or you’re a mother-in-law who exclusive formula fed your children. What I hope you take away from this piece is that the important thing for every new mom is her experience. There is no question that breastfeeding is the normal way to nourish a baby—our bodies were designed for it. The question that I think we often forget to ask when supporting new moms is “what do you want to do?”
This question can be asked at any time, once a week or once a day. In moments of stress—whether it’s sore nipples, engorgement, a fussy baby, difficulty with pumping—try asking it. “What do you want to do?” or “Can you just try to do this for another day?” or “Can you do this for another week?”
Reminding that new mom that she can always decide to stop nursing is not the same as telling her she should stop.
Reminding that new mom that she can probably get through this tough period—to a point where nursing will be easier and enjoyable—is not the same as telling her she should push through.
Now I’m going to should on you all: You should be gentle with yourself and your friends; you should focus on positives and strengths (instead of your perception of deficits); most importantly, you should be open to the winding trail of your experiences as you blaze forward.
Special thanks to Sara and Sarah. Your dedication to parenting your babies in a way that felt right for you inspired me to write this!