Saturday, June 8, 2013

Breastfeeding Trauma: How I want to help and how you can too

In 1994 I gave birth to my 2nd son and thought, since I was an experienced breastfeeding mom, I'd have no problems.  I was wrong.  Not only was I wrong - I was REALLY WRONG.  What followed was nearly 4 months of an incredibly difficult situation that gave me a career as an IBCLC - but also gave me severe sleep deprivation, severe postpartum depression and a delay in my bond with my baby.   (see my story here - Why am I an IBCLC

I have worked with breastfeeding mama's and their babies since January of 1995 when I first started my training working for WIC as a Peer Counselor and becoming a Certified Lactation Educator.  (About Jaye)  In the beginning, most of my clients had very basic challenges which were easily corrected with simple latch and positioning help, milk supply support and basic counseling.  But, over the years, as my practice grew and my skills improved, I started seeing more and more complicated cases.  (My Services)

The babies I work with are struggling to breastfeed (tight muscles and/or tongue-tie).  They are often high needs, difficult to feed and/or need body work (which can get expensive adding in a financial stress to the mix).   Their mamas are struggling emotionally with the stress of pumping, nursing and bottle-feeding.  They are often exhausted from sleep deprivation, emotionally stressed and battling postpartum depression and dealing with injured nipples, painful breastfeeding (if there is breastfeeding), mastitis, plugged ducts and thrush.   

Any Mother who has struggled with breastfeeding knows that the emotional toll can be considerable.  Sleep deprivation and postpartum depression are common.  Emotional disconnect from baby due to severe breastfeeding challenges is more common than one would like to know.  It is a very difficult time for a mama when she has intense struggles to do something that should come so easily - and is instead fraught with pain, frustration, fear and emotional overload.  The emotional fallout can take months and even years to recover from, cropping up as intense fear and dread with the next baby, praying that they will not again go through the difficulties they went through last time with many fighting between just bottlefeeding and taking the risk and giving breastfeeding a try.   Many mothers describe those emotions as akin to PTSD - and I understand that all too well having faced those intense fears myself with the birth of my third son.

To add insult to injury, many of them (myself included during my struggles) are told by well meaning family, friends and HCPs to 'just get over it - it's just breastfeeding,' and  'just give the baby a bottle, formula is just as good as breastfeeding,'  and comments such as, 'I don't know why you are so worked up over this' are common.   Those who have not gone through this type of experience truly cannot understand or appreciate the depth of pain comments like these cause.

The level of counseling I do with these amazing women has gone from  basic breastfeeding support to considerable emotional support - helping them stay calm, find peace (if at all possible) in difficult decisions, get through each day, one at at time - sometimes one feeding at a time.  They know I am available to them any day of the week.  I have talked more mama's off a proverbial ledge than I can count.   Actual lactation education/help has gradually become a secondary aspect to the care I routinely provide.  Currently, the emotional support I provide is fully 50% or more of my work with struggling mama's.

When I work with a mama in a tough situation like this (which is often) I always recommend counseling to assist with the emotional distress that results from the challenges they are dealing with.  Counseling can be very effective if the counselor is familiar with the nature of the struggles that Mama is going through.  Understanding Mama-Guilt is especially important as l
earning to reconnect with one's baby can be especially painful as there is a lot of mama-guilt just from being disconnected in the first place.  But, my Mama's often tell me that their counselor, who is great with other issues, doesn't seem to be grasp the seriousness of this particular issue.  Rather, many mamas are told it's just not a big deal - not every woman can breastfeed.  In essence - they are blown off - and they do not get the help they often desperately need.

For women who have had serious birth trauma, there are counselors who specialize in birth trauma issues and emotional healing.  I want to be that person who does the same thing for mamas who have suffered Breastfeeding Trauma.  I currently offer a lot of 'hand-holding' and emotional support, doing my best to help mamas 'hang in there' while they work through their breastfeeding challenges.  But, for me, this is not enough. 

I watch and listen as they struggle with not only their own emotional stress, but the emotional disconnect or distance from their baby that breaks their hearts - and mine.  While I personally understand how it feels, and can relate and empathize with them, I do not yet have the skills needed to assist these mamas at the level they need and I want.  I want to help them heal not only themselves but also their relationship with their baby if it too has suffered.  Or better yet - be better able to assist in NOT letting that happen in the first place. 

My goal is to get specialized education that will facilitate what I already do with these amazing Mamas but take it a step or three further.   But education is expensive and I need help.  So I am appealing to you for help.  My goal is to be able to offer not only in person help, but long distance help as well.  I know it is needed - I want to provide it. 
To see how you can help please go to my website and take a look at the fund raiser I am holding.  If you are a Mother who could have benefited from (or could benefit from) this type of specific counseling, please feel free to share your story so that others can understand why it is so important to have someone who can do more than just hold you hand.  While it is an honor - a huge honor - to help the many, many women I have been privileged to work with - I am left with a sense of wanting to be able to offer more to them...they deserve it.  I will deeply appreciate any help given to fulfill that goal.

Jaye Simpson, CLE, IBCLC, RLC, CIIM, BC 
Breastfeeding Network