There are generally three types of people you will come across when talking about breastfeeding. These people will be most obvious to you when you are pregnant, or when you’re in your early days of parenting.
There will be those who make you feel like breastfeeding is horrible, the absolute worst. They will make you feel it’s painful and incredibly difficult, bordering on impossible. They will make you feel like breastfeeding is only possible for a very small amount of special, lucky people, and this will probably leave you expecting to be one of the unlucky ones. They might tell you about their own breastfeeding horror stories, which will terrify you. They will invoke negative feelings in you, like fear, uncertainty, inadequacy and incompetence. They may leave you feeling unwilling to commit to breastfeeding, or if not, uncomfortable with vocalising your commitment.
Most people fall into the second category. They are usually pro-breastfeeding, but somehow manage to make breastfeeding look a little unattractive. Their eagerness to tell you EVERYTHING might make you feel overwhelmed at how complicated breastfeeding sounds. You might worry about how you’re going to remember everything. They might tell you about their own breastfeeding journey, and how they overcame their challenges. You’ll be impressed with their stories, and they will probably terrify or impress you (or even both). You might regard these people with admiration for their grit and determination, but they might make you question whether you’ve got what it takes to deal with such difficulty. When you express concerns, these people usually reassure you that they will be there for you, but you don’t know how you feel about having to rely on another person to breastfeed. You want to be able to do it yourself.
The last group of people are champions of breastfeeding. I call them “champions” not because they are simply really good at breastfeeding, but because they champion the act of breastfeeding. These people will make breastfeeding sound amazing AND achievable simultaneously. They will make you feel positive, excited and confident. They won’t overwhelm you with volumes of information, but they’ll tell you just enough to motivate you to learn what you can on your own. A champion of breastfeeding isn’t focused on telling you about their breastfeeding journey, because when they talk to you, it’s not about them – they want to help you get on the right path for your own. You know you can rely on a breastfeeding champion if you have problems, but since they’ve made sure you know about the many different places you can seek information and support, you’ll feel good that you haven’t placed all of your eggs into one basket.
The key difference between the three groups is that breastfeeding champions empower you, instead of making you feel inadequate. They don’t tell you what to do – they give you the tools to work it out on your own. Even a very successful breastfeeder with the best of intentions can railroad you away from breastfeeding success if the focus of their stories is on them instead of you.
If you’re feeling a bit crappy now, having realised that you aren’t a breastfeeding champion, please don’t. Most people aren’t! Your opinions and experiences are valid, and I just hope you have plenty of safe places where you can voice them, and that you get loving and supportive responses.
At the same time, I am mindful of the effect my words can have on an expecting or new parent. Our words have the power to shape someone else’s experiences, so I save my stories about mastitis, tongue ties and elimination diets for a time when it’s really needed.
If your goal is to become a breastfeeding champion, to support and empower other women so they can experience a successful breastfeeding journey, hopefully I’ve given you just enough information to get where you want to be.
Do you agree that there are 3 main types of people who talk about breastfeeding?