I’m a firm believer that fed is best, and that we as parents can place undue stress on ourselves by trying to meet others’ expectations rather than our own when it comes to parenting decisions, especially around feeding infants. I am also a firm believer that support networks are incredibly powerful, important elements to keeping our anxieties and worries in check – and that a lot of challenges can be dealt with head on if we find the right supports.
I’ve chosen many feeding routes – breast feeding, bottle feeding breast milk, and formula feeding. I was lucky to feel supported in each choice. Not everyone can say the same, but hopefully programs like naturopathic doctor Sarah Hardy Walsh’s Om Mama Health breastfeeding support group can help more local mothers find the support they need when choosing breastfeeding. That’s why Pickle Planet invited her to share some thoughts on her program.
The transition to motherhood, whether for the first time or the fifth time, calls upon every ounce of love and strength we have, no matter how exhausted we are. And through that time, we feed and care for our little ones, with the hopes that they’ll grow and develop into the healthiest possible versions of themselves.
Breastfeeding is initiated by nearly three quarters of new mothers in New Brunswick, but by the time they reach six months of age, only one third of those babies are receiving breast milk exclusively.
The World Health Organization and Health Canada recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a child’s life, with continued breastfeeding as an important part of an infant’s nutrition until he or she is at least 2 years old. These recommendations are a result of research reinforcing the value breastfeeding provides for the health of both the baby and the mother.
Breastfed babies have a lower risk of:
- digestive, respiratory, and ear infections
- nutrient deficiencies
- and certain childhood cancers
Breastfeeding mothers are at lower risk of:
- breast, endometrial, and ovarian cancer
- rheumatoid arthritis
- and stress & anxiety
When two thirds of mothers who begin breastfeeding in New Brunswick are not reaching the first milestone recommended by major health organizations (exclusive breastfeeding to six months), we must ask why.
There is an old myth – an assumption – that breastfeeding is a natural process, so it must be easy.
It’s not easy, for most women, especially within the first six to 12 weeks.
Both babies and mothers have instincts that support breastfeeding. For many mothers, however, our minds override those instincts and question: “Am I doing this right? Is my baby getting enough milk? He’s waking up so often through the night, he can’t be hungry every time, right?” And then well-meaning partners, family, and friends chime in: “How do you know she’s getting enough? You’re so exhausted, just give him some formula so you can all sleep. She’s eating again? You must not have enough milk.” And the strength of doubt in our minds grows.
In addition, our modern, North American culture, expects women to do it all on their own – at work, at home, and yes, even with breastfeeding. We’re rarely encouraged to reach out for help, even when we so desperately need it.
Historically, and in many cultures still today, when a woman birthed a baby, she had the support of extended family surrounding her for several weeks afterward. And within that extended family were women – mothers, grandmothers, aunts, cousins, sisters – who’d breastfed their children and could offer support when needed.
That’s the key. Support. Not questions. Not advice. Support.
In 2017, a published research review looked at 100 studies involving over 83,000 women from 29 countries. When breastfeeding support was offered to women, the duration and exclusivity of breastfeeding increased. The most effective support was provided by health professionals or trained lay people during the prenatal and postpartum periods and included ongoing, scheduled visits, so that women could predict when support would be available. Support was provided in the form of reassurance, praise, and accurate information and provided women with the opportunity to discuss challenges and ask questions.
In the Greater Moncton Area, support is available from health professionals and trained lay people, both in person and by telephone. All current opportunities are listed in the charts below (updated January 2019; please check with the resources listed for the most current information).
The most important step for pregnant and breastfeeding moms?
Connect with the available supports. Ask questions to people who’ll provide you with accurate information on breastfeeding. Visit a drop-in group, like the one facilitate: Om Mama Health Breastfeeding & Mothering Support Drop-In. (Up to date details about meeting times & locations can be found at: www.natturra.com/breastfeeding-moncton.)
And for partners, family and friends of breastfeeding moms?
I know it’s hard to see a loved one exhausted and struggling with breastfeeding. Please only offer advice when she asks. Instead, ask her what she needs. Ask her if she’s connected with the support in our community. Ask her if she needs help getting to an appointment or a drop-in group. Simply ask. Your love and interest in ensuring she reaches her infant feeding goals have the potential to add the fuel to her depleted tanks and get her through the challenges she’s facing.
When questions or concerns arise, it’s easy to hop online for a Google search, then be bombarded by information from all directions – from experts (whether they have credentials to back up the title of expert or not!) and from other moms. It can feel overwhelming.
And, with social media, it’s easy to connect with other moms online but feel disconnected from your local community.
I want moms to experience less stress and overwhelm as they journey through motherhood, so they can focus on being the mamas they want to be.
I want them to know they are connecting with the resources they need, online and in our community.
That’s why I’ve created Om Mama Health – a series of programs focused on informed, intuitive mothering – providing solid, reliable information and support for (re)connecting with your inner wisdom, so you feel confident in the choices you make for yourself and your little one(s).
I look forward to meeting you.
xo Dr. Sarah