Both of these sayings have recently come to me as I attempt to share about something that I have wanted to articulate for many years. What was so special about the education and support I received and subsequently provided to others starting over 40 years ago? This question has puzzled me and the answer(s) have evaded me until I attended a workshop in the spring of 2010. It was then something hit me as the question was posed and there was some discussion about “How many current day moms (and dads) have actually ever seen an infant at the breast?”
Most of us remember images and diagrams better than words. I won’t bore you with the research references, but the numbers are pretty straightforward on that. Not only do we remember better, but when words are accompanied by illustrations, we even understand the content better. I looked into this a little over the last year as I have pondered the impact of new parents facing being handed their newborn, with the expectation that they know what to do. I think if we consider the concept of knowledge and what to do, what parents are able to visualize is very important when it comes to breastfeeding.
I have been a strong advocate of nursing mothers support groups and became active in La Leche League after the birth of my first in 1966. The pieces of the puzzle are still coming together. While I had read almost anything I could get my hands on including the manual written by the seven founding mothers of La Leche League, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, before the birth of my son, I remember feeling very much on my own. I was extremely excited and it didn’t occur to me that I wouldn’t breastfeed. As I reflect back on those early days I can only say that I am very grateful that very soon after becoming a new mom I met some other ‘nursing’ moms!’
So, what I would like to impress on all expectant couples, moms and their partners, is the huge value of simply observing nursing couples, the nursing dyad, mom and baby. No doubt that if you are expecting you are living a busy life these days and much of your energy is consumed with thinking about what to expect at your birth – labor and delivery. I truly hope you are considering your birthing options and learning as much as you possibly can about what they are. There are many things you will want to do to plan for the arrival of your newborn. However, I can’t urge every parent-to-be strongly enough to attend a La Leche League meeting or any other gathering of nursing mothers and babies at least once before their baby arrives.
The discussion at such a meeting isn’t the important thing. If at the end of the meeting, you find that your mind wandered and you aren’t sure you remember anything that was said, that’s OK! What being there will do is fix in your mind a visual of breastfeeding. Most likely once you have your own infant and you begin to build your own relationship some of what you actually heard will also come back to you. In addition, you will have at least one person who you met that if you do have questions, doubts, concerns (and, as parents, most of us do from time to time!) you will hopefully feel comfortable calling that one person. However, my real hope is that that visual will be imprinted so that when your infant is handed to you after your birth you will comfortably, and with some assurance, hold him or her on your chest and joyfully begin your breastfeeding relationship.
P.S. Yes, it’s true that today we can find most anything on the internet and, indeed, there are YouTube videos with good examples of breastfeeding. I do think these are helpful and once your relationship has begun and you perhaps have a question, you will find these helpful. However, I don’t believe anything replaces a roomful (!!) of moms and babies and it is that visual that I wish for the pregnant mom – the person expecting – BEFORE her baby is born.