The Power of the Mind/Body Connection

mindbody

Okay… Here’s the deal. It’s probably going to take you a long time to have your baby. Hours and hours and hours. Longer than you hope it will take. Way longer than you expect it will take. Way, way longer than you think it should take.

Don’t kill the messenger – I’m just trying to help you realize something: Giving birth is a B.F.D. It’s a once (maybe more) in a lifetime opportunity where you get to bring a brand new human into being. Through your body. When I put it into those terms, does it start to make sense how it might take a little while?

We live in an age where if our download from Netflix is not complete in less than three minutes, we’re either screaming at our screens, or switching to another TV show! Information – all of it – is available at the touch of a button! We’ve become accustomed to life happening at the speed of Now! and we just don’t have much collective patience anymore for the things that really count. And when anything – even giving birth – takes longer than we think it should, we freak out!

And therein lies the problem: not that birth might take a long time, but that we freak out when it does.

When we’re in freak out mode over something that we cannot control (like birth, for instance) we take a process that is physical in nature and exquisitely designed to work just about every single time, and move it out of our body and up into our brain. I hate to state the obvious here, but babies don’t come out of our brains – they come out of our bodies. The brain needs to stay out of the whole process. But that’s not how the brain likes to do business.

Don’t get me wrong – I love the brain! I love how it acts like it knows everything! I love how it interacts and reacts to outside stimuli. I love how it tries to tell our bodies a story that may or may not even be true. I love to watch how our bodies respond to that story. I really do love the complex interconnectedness of the brain and the body. The mind/body connection is endlessly fascinating to me!

Had I held this same fascination when I was pregnant 7+ years ago I would have offered myself up to the neurobiological study of the pregnancy brain and its effects on the body from conception through the end of the 4th Trimester! What happens during this time is incredible and we know very little about it, really. But here’s what we know about how it works when we’re giving birth.

The uterus is made of smooth muscle tissue, the same kind of muscle tissue that comes in other pre-programmed organs like the esophagus and the stomach. These are two organs that don’t ever need to be told what to do. When you eat a sandwich, you don’t have to tell your esophagus to begin to contract and break down the bites of food into smaller bits and then move them down into your stomach. Once there, you’re not required to tell your stomach to release acid and begin to further break down food into the nutrients that are kept for your body and the waste products that are to be expelled.

Your body just does it – BECAUSE IT ALREADY KNOWS HOW.

The same is true for your uterus. It’s designed to hold your growing baby – up to a point. Then it’s designed to begin to contract and bring your baby down the birth canal and into this world. Without a whole lot of input from your brain, I might add.

When a Momma is calm, cool and collected – meaning her brain has been lulled into a state where it’s either pleasantly neutral or otherwise distracted and decidedly not in freak out mode – she creates the perfect environment for two hormones called Oxytocin and Endorphins to work their magic during birth. Together, they are unstoppable! Oxytocin fuels the contractions and keeps the contractions going, while the body’s natural pain killers, Endorphins, increase over time to help the birthing woman meet the challenges of her labor. They’re like two gorgeous dance partners, stepping in perfect unison with each other, anticipating each other’s next move.

When our birth doesn’t go according to plan: labor is too early or too late, too long or too short, too complicated, too painful – basically, not what our brain expected it to be… Our brain starts to tell our body a story. And it’s usually not a good one:

“Attention body! Listen up! This is not a drill! This is an emergency! There’s no way I’m ever going to survive birth! Somebody needs to make it stop! And stop now! I’m scared! I’m not in complete control! And I don’t know what’s happening to me!”

Such a negative story! And, unfortunately, the body listens to every single word. The body starts to buy into this story. It starts to believe what the brain is saying. And the body starts to react.

When our brain stages a birth coup, our body pays the price because everything we wish was moving faster can’t help but begin to slow down. When the brain is in freak out mode, there’s another hormone, called Adrenalin, that starts to seriously screw up the love fest going on between those two other hormones – Oxytocin & Endorphins.

When the body reacts to the negative story our brain is telling, a ton of Adrenalin gets released into our bloodstream. Adrenalin is like the drunk guy at a frat party who jumps in between Oxytocin and Endorphins and whisper-shout-slurs: “Hey, ken I dance with u guys? I like to dance! Watch my muufs – I’m umblieve, unbelief… I’m rilly, rilly good.”

Oxytocin and Endorphins want absolutely nothing to do with this guy, Adrenalin. They run away in opposite directions, leaving the confused body to wonder, “What the hell?” That awesome blood flow and oxygen that had been pumping into the uterus to help it do its thing, seems to shut down almost completely – to the point of the uterus not being able to function very well.

And then, what story does the brain try to tell the body?

“See what I told you? You can’t do this thing… Nobody can. It’s too hard, it’s too long, it’s too dangerous, it’s too – whatever.” The body doesn’t want to believe, but…

I don’t want any of you to be unconscious while you’re having your babies! I want just the opposite: I want you to be superconscious of what’s happening at all times in that brain of yours. And I want you to be ready to interrupt that overbearing and all-too controlling 3-pound organ that’s attempting to run the show. But how?

Learn to calm the beast within before labor even begins.

Anytime you feel anxious, worried or frightened – check in with your body and try to gauge whether or not the situation really, sincerely calls for an Adrenalin dump. Here’s a hint to figuring this out: If you’re not actively being chased down by a deadly predator, then the answer is most likely “Not really in need of much Adrenalin at this time. But thanks for the offer, brain. Catcha later.”

Then see if you can calm yourself through breathing. Close your eyes if you have to, and take in nice, deep belly breaths through your nose to a slow count of four “In – 2,3,4” and then exhale through your mouth, “Out – 2,3,4” and do this for a couple of minutes just to see what happens. The body sometimes forgets it’s ability to reverse the effects of a brain takeover. Once the brain settles down and realizes that it’s not actually in any real danger, the body can continue to go about its business without interruption.

Our brain is like a toddler in full tantrum when it’s in freak out mode. Logic very rarely works to calm a screaming toddler. In fact, sometimes it only makes the screaming louder! The same is true with your brain. But holding a calm, quiet space while breathing can really help. It settles the brain and cuts off that flood of Adrenalin to just a slight trickle.

There’s good reason for Adrenalin to be hanging around. When it spikes right before the actual birth of the baby, it’s ends up being really beneficial. It helps to heighten awareness and can assist in initial bonding between Mommas and babies. Adrenalin isn’t bad – it’s all about timing and striking the right balance between these three hormones: Oxytocin, Endorphins & Adrenalin.

It’s not necessarily an easy thing to do, but it sure is simple:

Calm the brain and watch what the body can do!

Have you ever noticed how your brain wants to be in control all the time? What kinds of stories does your brain tell you? Are they negative, stress-inducing stories? What other ways have you tried to settle your brain so that your body can do its thing?

Five Minute Friday: LISTEN

5minfriListen…

Sometimes I feel like the brokenness of our world could be fixed through this one little word: listen. It seems like we’re always talking – sometimes screaming – at one another, trying to shout over each other to be heard, to be right.

But what if we all just shut up for a moment and tried extra hard to listen to each other instead? What if we recognized that no one has a monopoly on the truth? What if we took a little time to sit, be still, and listen to one another’s stories? What if we discovered that our differences are minor in comparison to how much alike we really are? What then?

I think much of what is broken in the birth world could also benefit from listening to one another. The “us vs them” shouting matches are divisive and do nothing to reconcile what we all want at the end of the day: happy & healthy Mommas, happy & healthy babies, happy & healthy families.

We cannot achieve this shared goal when we’re too busy. Too busy to show up. Too busy to be still and quiet. Too busy to ask the right questions. Too busy to practice patience and wait for the answers. Too busy to listen to one another for what is being said, and what is not being said.

Listening is a skill that I’m afraid many of us are lacking and it’s in dwindling supply. It’s like a muscle that might atrophy if we don’t exercise it more often. Daily? Maybe even by the hour.

How can you show up today and listen? Who will benefit from your gift of focused time and attention? What might you discover if you will only truly listen?

*This was my reflection for Five Minute Friday. There is a word prompt, and you write for 5 minutes – that is all. You can find out more about this right here. I visit their Facebook page from time to time just to see the prompt. I was unable to resist the word for today. I guess you could say that “listen” spoke loudly enough for me to hear it – and then write about it.

What do you think about the value of listening in the world of pregnancy, birth and parenting (or any other work that you do)? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this word today, or to hear how you exercise this particular muscle in your own particular worlds. Share your comments here. Thanks!

PREMADs – Do You Know About These?

premads

I read this article by Juli Fraga from the Washington Post: “Prenatal Depression May Be The Most Severe Form of Maternal Depression” and it got me thinking… There are probably lots of pregnant women out there who don’t even know that PREMADs exist. What are PREMADs? PRE-natal Mood and Anxiety Disorders. It’s a word I came up with to describe what happens when a woman experiences a mood or anxiety disorder prenatally, during pregnancy.

Our focus in the field of maternal mental health has primarily been on raising awareness of PMADs – Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders. And rightly so! According to PSI International, 1 in 7 women suffer from postpartum depression, and 1 in 10 men do as well.

A recent search I did for information about the rates of prenatal depression yielded this information from a 2009 ACOG report that states somewhere between “14-23% of women will experience depressive symptoms while pregnant.” I would guess that now that we’ve expanded the umbrella of postpartum depression to include anxiety, OCD, PTSD, bipolar and psychosis, that the percentage of women who might be experiencing one of these anxiety or mood disorders during pregnancy has expanded as well.

In the past several years, I’ve witnessed an increased awareness across the board from OBGYNs, midwives and nurses for the need to screen women postpartum for mood or anxiety disorders. And I can speak directly to how much more time Childbirth Educators spend talking about this issue in the classroom.

But I’m beginning to think that there’s a hole in that education and screening, as the focus continues to be on a mood disorder waiting to happen to a women until after her baby is born. What if she’s experiencing anxiety or depression right now – while she’s pregnant? PREMADs might be getting overlooked entirely (seeing as I just made up the word today!) and women end up suffering in silence during their pregnancies hoping that they’ll eventually feel better. I’m afraid this might be leading to higher rates and more intense mood disorders in the postpartum period.

This doesn’t need to happen.

The symptoms of PREMADs might get overlooked during pregnancy because they’re chalked up to just being a part of the hormonal ups and downs of pregnancy. These will all even out in the 2nd trimester, or after childbirth classes begin, or whatever. But they don’t.

We all have days during pregnancy that are really stressful – we may even question whether this pregnancy was a great idea! (Personal confession: In each of my four pregnancies I had a day where not only did I question whether it was a good idea, I actually said it – out loud, to other people. “This was a bad idea. A very, very bad idea.” All four times. No lie.)

But if you’ve been experiencing any of the following symptoms pretty consistently over a two week period, you should really be touching base with your provider – or someone else you trust who can get you the professional support you need.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Being sad most of the time and not being able to “shake it off”
  • Feeling anxious or worried about the pregnancy, the baby, the birth, your relationship… the list goes on and on
  • No enjoyment in the stuff you usually like to do
  • Sleeping a lot – or not being able to sleep very much at all
  • Not being able to focus for very long periods of time
  • Feeling guilty or worthless
  • Thinking about harming yourself
  • Feeling hopeless

Again, after a stressful day at work or following a recent fight with your partner, you might be able to say yes to a few of these symptoms – but they go away after some time has passed. It’s when any of these symptoms are persistent or nearly continuous over a two week period that you need to be checking in with someone.

You don’t have to have all of these symptoms to seek help. Even one of these would be an indication to be talking to your provider so they can screen you further and then create a treatment plan that might include lots of different things that have been shown to help: exercise, diet, support groups, acupuncture, getting more sleep, herbal remedies and Omega 3s, individual psychotherapy and medications.

Please take note of these symptoms and ask your provider to screen you during your pregnancy for your risk of PREMADs.

There’s no reason to not get help as soon as you can. Because if you seek and receive support now, you might not be so overwhelmed in the first few days, weeks and months of postpartum with your newborn.

My biggest concern is that women who are experiencing an undiagnosed PREMAD now, are at a greater risk for a PMAD after the baby is born. Add in a challenging birth experience and the normal – but huge – adjustments involved with new parenting and these women may end up experiencing a PMAD that’s much more severe than it would’ve been if it had been addressed prenatally.

I’d love to see screening for PREMADs become part of the routine care for women as they prepare for birth and parenting. Help me spread the word by sharing this post far and wide so that awareness of PREMADs can be something we’re all on the lookout for when we, or our friends and family become pregnant.

Find the support and care that are available to address anxiety, depression or other mood disorders experienced during pregnancy. Learning how to lessen feelings of anxiety, sadness and fear, might increase feelings of enjoyment of the pregnancy experience. This can lead to feelings of anticipation and joy for the upcoming birth which might translate into an easier postpartum transition. It’s a win-win-win-win-win situation. (That’s a lot of winning!)

Thanks for spreading the word. And I hope that this mini-PSA of mine finds a few of those women who might be wondering if their feelings of anxiety or sadness are beyond the usual hormonal changes brought on by becoming pregnant. Even if only one woman reads this post and seeks support, I’ll feel like raising awareness for PREMADs made an important difference.

Do you know any women who you think might be suffering from something beyond the usual hormonal fluctuations that happen during pregnancy? And now that I’ve named it PREMADs, do you, or someone you know, recognize that this is what was happening at the time? How would seeking help during pregnancy have helped you in the postpartum period? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Please leave a comment here.

I’m One of the “Spokes” on Red Tricycle!

redtricycle-spoke-contributor

Whoop! Whoop!

Just found out that one of my blogposts from about a year ago has been picked up and published on Red Tricycle. If you’re not one of the 8 million parents that access this site on a regular basis, Red Tricycle is a kind of go-to, online parenting website where families can discover cool things to do with their kiddos, both nationally and locally. Over the years, if I’ve had a long weekend ahead of me, I’m not scheduled to teach a class, and I need some ideas about what to do with the kiddos, I’ve definitely checked them out!

Recently, they’ve started posting articles that are not just about fun things to do as a family, but more about the experience of parenting. That’s where I come in!

I submitted a blog post I wrote about a year ago which is titled, The Parental Code of Honor. It’s my offering to get all parents – expectant, newbies, even veterans – to support one another as we try our very best to do the hardest, most rewarding job many of us will ever have: the job of raising our children.

None of us is perfect at this. Thankfully, none of us have to be.

But the first step in supporting one another in this parenting journey is to only offer suggestions and advice – when specifically asked to do so.

You can find this and other tips about how to support one another in The Parental Code of Honor published just this morning at Red Tricycle. And if you haven’t checked them out before, stay awhile and poke around. They have lots of cool ideas about how to make the most of your life with little people. Including this list of 20 awesome things to do with your kids in Portland over the long Labor Day weekend. By the way, MY family will be busy doing #14! 

PS – Have a great holiday weekend, and thanks so much for your support. 

Appreciation is Key – Don’t Forget to Say Thank You!

Thank You

Let’s get real for a minute… Parenting is hard. Really hard.

And here’s where I need to give a sincere shout-out to all of you who are doing this work solo. You deserve a standing ovation. Seriously. Single parenting is double, triple and on some days I’d imagine, quadruple harder than when you have a partner to help share the load. One of the main reasons I think it’s so hard, is that there might not be someone there in the everydayness of parenting who appreciates all that you’re doing to raise the next generation.

And I’m not just talking about wiping their butts, cleaning their snot-encrusted faces, making them all their meals (no one ever tells you how much or how often they will need to eat!) or driving them from one end of the universe to the other!

I’m talking about sharing with them our most precious gift: our time.

The time it takes to sit down and feed your newborn, the time you allow for your three year old to “Do! It! MYSELF!!!”, the time you spend reading that book you have committed to memory because you read it approximately 2,000 times a day, the sleep you surrender every time you wake up in the middle of the night to soothe the hacking cough, or run in with a bowl just a moment too late when your kiddo’s sick, the time you listen – really listen – to descriptions of the Pokemon characters you’ll never be interested in (just being honest!), the concerns of starting Middle School somewhere new, the feelings of overwhelm at wanting to be really good at dance, soccer, acting, music, while still maintaining good grades and a successful social life.

If you’re doing this all by yourself, I hope you have a solid group of family and friends who are giving you the acknowledgment that you so deserve. And if they aren’t? Go find yourself some new, and better, family and friends! Because this parenting gig is challenging and we need all the encouragement and validation we can get.

But now I want to turn attention to those who do have of a partner to share in the parenting. Are you giving each other the appreciation that you deserve? Because even if you’re parenting with a partner, feeling under-appreciated makes parenting exponentially harder than it has to be.

Why? Because the little people we have committed our lives to don’t really get it. They don’t really know how to express appreciation for all that we do for them. That’s why it’s so important for your partner to acknowledge everything that you’re doing to keep the family going. Especially, if you’re the primary caregiver either working mostly or completely in the home.

In our society, we put so much emphasis on how much money a person makes, that any work done in which there’s no exchange of funds, is automatically considered less important. When, in fact, it certainly has greater importance and impact on the lives of the next generation than what vacations they get to take, or what kind of sneakers they can afford to wear.

I’m not trying to slam the parent that works outside of the home. This is a very important role that allows the other parent (when financially feasible) to even consider working part-time, or staying home entirely to raise the children. But when that decision is made, it’s important to not make assumptions about what goes on during that day at home. At least not negative assumptions.

Instead, let’s assume that the parent who is at home is working, too – doing a million different things all at once to make sure that the offspring are: clean, well-fed, not stuck in front of a screen for too long, intellectually stimulated, chauffeured to and from activities, and all the while, happy and well-adjusted.

So, maybe there are a few extra dishes in the sink at the end of the day. The floors could be a little cleaner. The laundry is starting to pile up a little bit. And if these things bother you, less-at-home-parent, then by all means do what you need to do to change this situation: 1) Pitch in and clean up the dishes, laundry, floors or whatever else is causing you stress or 2) Hire somebody else to do it.

But don’t under-appreciate all that your partner is doing to keep everything – everything that actually matters – going.

I’ve talked about my parents very happy union before – they are closing in on 60 years, and I spoke about my Dad’s musings on thoughtfulness here. But I can remember as a child, several occasions when we’d all settled down for dinner and he would stop the evening chatter to make this announcement: “Look at your beautiful mother. I want all of you to know that this family would fall apart if it weren’t for all of the work that she does to keep our family life running smoothly.”

What a wonderful model he provided for all of us! She worked as full-time parent and homemaker and didn’t get paid a dime for raising six (!) children. My Dad understood exactly what her worth was as his partner and the mother of his children, and he made sure that we all understood it too.

Take your most precious commodity of time to appreciate what one another is doing in the role of parent to your children. It’s all too easy to assume that you’re carrying an unequal load when it comes to parenting no matter who is working full-time, outside of the home. Once there, it’s even easier to begin to resent one another. This one-upping, and keeping score is ugly and negative – and it can poison your relationship.

Instead of looking for what your partner is not doing and criticizing their efforts (or lack thereof), shift your focus on finding the ways your partner is working for your family and recognize their contributions to the family you’ve created together. How and where can you pause to say thank you?

The work of parenting one or several children is not for the faint of heart. And I’m sorry to say, it doesn’t get any easier down the road. This is a lifelong commitment and you need some level of positive acknowledgement and validation from your partner that what you are doing as a parent matters.

Because, my friends, it matters so much more than you know! So appreciate one another for all that you’re doing – in and outside of the home – to make your family thrive.

Does this resonate with you? Have you been feeling under-appreciated lately in your role as a parent? We’re unlikely to get the encouragement and validation we need from the outside world, so we need to make sure we say “Thank You” early and often. Here’s a little inspiration from Sam and Dave to get you in the mood.

Take Your Kids Camping, Please!

Boler

Our upgrade from the early days: cute little Boler camping trailer. Kids are still in a tent, but not us!

If I’ve timed this right, this post is going to drop right in the middle of our annual week-long camping trip along the Oregon Coast. It is, by far, my favorite Summertime activity and I look forward to it like a child waiting for Christmas.

This week marks our 6th year of camping and there have been some changes since the early days. That first year, we piled everything we needed inside the Honda Odyssey (we didn’t even have a roof rack!) and I took us on a road trip that covered about 800 miles in total and had us setting up and tearing down camp every two days.

“Variety is the spice of life” is a personal cliché of mine, and I had no idea what kind of camping we’d enjoy the most: near the beach? in the mountains? high desert? Obviously, I also had no idea how much work was involved in setting up and tearing down camp! Which is why on the last day as we were driving home I took my husband’s hand and asked, “You sure you still want to be married to me? I’m so sorry…”

That year we had four kids under the age of 10, including one that was still nursing, in diapers, and happened to spike a pretty high fever on our first night as we huddled together in 40 degree temperatures at beautiful (freaking-cold-at-night) Crater Lake. “Oh, this is why the ranger kept insisting that I get a fire started when we arrived at 4 pm when it was still 80 degrees!” I thought to myself as I shivered while making dinner via flashlight.

Our air mattress popped in the middle of the night so we woke up on the freezing cold, hard ground and had to head into town to buy a ridiculously expensive new one so that my husband’s back wouldn’t break. Remember, it was already under considerable strain due to the loading and unloading of all of our crap from inside the mini-van. I seriously can’t believe that he agreed to do this again after that first year! Were we crazy? No, I’d like to think that even in the middle of all the nuttiness of that first year we realized a few of the “whys” of camping is so good for our family…

There is nothing like the smell of fresh air that surrounds you as you drive into your little campsite encircled by old growth pines.

We play games – Farkle, Gin, Loaded Questions, Apples to Apples, just to name a few!  And our charades are legendary.

The food! I’m a bit of a nut job in that I like to prepare all of our dinners ahead of time and freeze them – so that all I have to do at the end of the day is warm up a big pot of something delicious and we eat as well as we do at home. This gives me more time to sit by the fire, drink a beer, and connect with my family (or a really good book!)

And my kids love that they get to eat stuff that we rarely have at home: Top Ramen (Hey, don’t judge! I LIVED on Top Ramen, beer, potatoes and peanut butter for four years while I was in college, and I turned out okay!), Pop Tarts, Funions (what are these anyway? I don’t even think “onions” is in the list of ingredients…) and so, so many s’mores.

But the thing that I look forward to the most is that there is no wi-fi and because we have a super crappy phone network, no cell service. For an entire week, we are all unplugged and I.LOVE.IT. My kids, who are pretty much digging their Summer screen time which is waaaay over what I know is good for their brains, get a break from it all. Especially the older ones – for whom the world and its pain never leaves them alone for a minute when it’s all just a click away on their phones.

We engage. In the here and now. With each other. And it is good.

Take your kids camping, please.

Let them find “their” climbing tree and the hidden way to get to and from the bathrooms. Buy them fishing poles and sit quietly next to them for hours in August after the lake’s bounty has already been snatched up and hope, hope, hope that this is the year they catch “the big one” that is legend around these parts. Laugh yourselves silly and sing at the top of your lungs. Create the type of memories that matter as a family. Then sit back and wonder who gets the most out of this experience – you or them.

Does it matter? Not really.

Have you ever camped as a family before? Did you love it? Only do it “for the kids?” What other kinds of things do you do with your babies/kids that might become a family tradition? Let me know – I love this kind of stuff!

World Breastfeeding Week – But Is It Always Happy?

Bottle Baby

“It’s really hard sometimes. I’m frantically trying to mix the bottle and he’s really hungry and upset and I could comfort him so much more quickly if I could just breastfeed him. I wish I knew why they didn’t do what they were supposed to. Why didn’t you work?!” She looked down at her chest and aimed this last question directly at her breasts as she let out a heavy sigh. When she looked up I saw her forced smile, but I could also see the pain in her eyes.

I reassured her, “Your baby is gorgeous and thriving, so you must be giving him exactly what he needs!” And then the conversation shifted to how bottle-feeding was going. I was happy to hear that they’d found a formula that the baby was tolerating well and that Dad had jumped into help with feeding his newborn son – a happy and alert four-month old, curious about the world around him.

The assumption is, that if a woman has the equipment and a baby has the breathe-suck-swallow-reflex, all you need to do is put the two together, and – Voilá! Breastfeeding happens, no problem! And when it does work out that way, it’s fantastic! But it doesn’t always work out that way. In fact, I think a lot of women would place breastfeeding challenges at the top of their list of unexpected outcomes – but only after they’ve had their baby.

If I taught breastfeeding – which I don’t, I’m not trained to do so – my classes would probably focus on the challenges that a woman might face. (Remember me? I don’t call myself “The REP” for nothing!) I recognize the valid concern that if all we talk about are the challenges of breastfeeding, that this might discourage women from attempting breastfeeding in the first place. I get that. But it’s all in the delivery of the information!

There’s a balance to strike between “Here are some challenges that you might face when you’re breastfeeding” and “Wow! Breastfeeding is going to be waaaaaay harder than you think!” I continue to hear from so many women that they wish they’d known more in those early days and weeks about how challenging breastfeeding might actually be for them.

Now, I’m lucky enough to have friends who are excellent breastfeeding educators and lactation specialists and I know first-hand that they do talk about breastfeeding challenges – both in the classroom and one-on-one. Maybe this information just isn’t able to fully sink into the minds of these pregnant women who are still fixated on how they’re going to get the baby out.

In any case, women share with me how their feelings of being unprepared lead them to feeling “broken” and then guilty at not being able to do what is best for their baby (“Breast is Best!” after all. Yes, they know… they hear it all the time.) It literally breaks my heart.

In Portland, Oregon if breastfeeding goes well for you, than this can be a wonderful city to live in. We’ve got Baby Friendly hospitals, amazing IBCLC trained lactation specialists, great initiation rates, some impressive longevity rates, and many people feel more comfortable breastfeeding in public here than in other parts of the country because they see it all around them and know that what they’re doing is largely supported.

But, if for any reason, breastfeeding does not go well for you, than living in Portland, Oregon can be really tough. There’s a lot of judgement about bottle-feeding in this town. Maybe this is also true where you live?

I’m not trying to promote bottle-feeding over breastfeeding. I breastfed all four of my kiddos until they were close to two years old. I promote breastfeeding all over the place, personally as well as professionally. I am a breastfeeding advocate.

AND I’m also a new parent advocate.

I want to support these new parents – even more so if they’ve had to make a challenging decision while feeling vulnerable and still trying to find their way in their new roles as parents.

I want to provide positive attention to those women who’re truly unable to breastfeed or who’ve made the decision to bottle-feed their babies for a number of different and valid reasons. Oftentimes, this can be the most difficult decision they’ve had to make as a new Momma. Most of the women that I know personally who’ve had to switch to any amount of supplemental feeding for their babies have only done so after weeks and months of trying to get breastfeeding to work. The amount of effort they have exerted is nothing short of Herculean.

So, how can we better support Mommas who’ve had to make a decision that goes against the way want to feed their baby, when they’re confronted with the reality that breastfeeding is no longer an option?

I’d just like to acknowledge that for some women, “Happy World Breastfeeding Week!” might not be that happy. Those of us who’ve been able to breastfeed can be grateful that breastfeeding was not that challenging for us, or if we did have challenges we were able to move past them and continue to breastfeed. But maybe can we also try to be more supportive, truly supportive, of the Mommas who’ve had to make other, different, hard choices around the issue of breastfeeding?

Instead of judgement, let’s offer each other a soft place to land in this challenging and trying world that is new parenting. Be gentle with one another. Be gentle with ourselves. We’re all doing the very best we can for our babies, and they’re thriving because of our tender love and care. This is hard work, and we need all the support we can get.

What was your breastfeeding relationship like with your baby(ies)? Easy-peasy, challenging-but-doable, or it-just-didn’t-happen? How do you feel about that? Were you able to find support? Where? Please share your comments with me. I appreciate them and YOU so much!