When having a child it is normal to consider breastfeeding as something that will just happen with ease. At least, that is what I was expecting when I was preparing for Addie’s birth. My expectations all went out the window when I learned that my wife had milk duds. First, let me state that my wife is the one who named her, uh, baby feeders “milk duds.” Despite my wife’s ability to joke about her milk duds, a mother’s inability to produce milk can be an emotionally devastating experience for her. It is important to keep this in mind when discovering that the mother may not be able to produce milk as planned. When my wife was first discovering that she might not be able to produce milk, I had decided that she wasn’t trying hard enough and that it was just a matter of time and effort. That was, obviously, the wrong approach to take.
Be aware that the mother will be encouraged, more like harassed and in many cases guilted, to produce breast milk no matter the consequences. The problem with this type of encouragement and harassment is that the helpless baby is caught in the middle between a mother trying desperately to produce enough food to keep the baby properly nourished and the strict breastfeeding crowd who believe supplementing the baby’s food supply until breastfeeding is an option is detrimental to the mother and the baby. It is important for the father of the baby to take control of this portion of the experience—at least it was important for me to do so. The mother has enough to worry about and does not need to expend herself emotionally fending off the pro-breastfeeding crowd.
The hospital’s lactation specialist can be an important tool to helping the mother eventually produce breast milk or eventually accept that breastfeeding just might not be an option. In the first day or two after the baby is born and it becomes apparent that breastfeeding may be an issue, find a computer and search for advice on how to approach the situation. Learn about the options and tools that are available, particularly the proper way to supplement any breast milk that the mother is able to produce. Once aware of the options and tools that are available, create a plan and speak with the lactation specialist and ask him/her to help with the steps in that plan.
At some point throughout the process the mother will either be able to breastfeed the baby or accept that breastfeeding is not an option. The key in that sentence is that the mother will make the decision on when it is time to move on from breastfeeding. The inability to produce enough milk to properly nourish the baby is going to be difficult enough emotionally for most mothers, she certainly does not need the father overstepping his bounds and making that decision for her. Instead, do whatever it takes to support the mother in that process. If this means mixing formula and arranging various tubes to help the mother supplement the milk, then do it. If it means waking up two, three or even four times in the middle of the night to formula-feed the baby as the mother pumps, do that as well. Learn to view feeding the baby in the middle of the night and any other time as an opportunity to spend additional one on one time with the baby that would otherwise not be available.
When the time comes and the mother makes the decision to move on from breastfeeding, support her in that decision as well. Do not pressure her into stopping before she is ready and certainly do not add monetary stress to the situation by pressuring her to continue to try to produce milk when it is clear that the mother cannot produce milk or cannot handle the emotional stress of trying to breastfeed. Finally, when the mother does move on from breastfeeding do not let her get dragged down by those who believe that formula-feeding is absolutely wrong no matter the circumstances. Until those people can produce magic wands that fix every woman’s ability to produce breast milk, leave those people and their opinions exactly where they belong—on the sidelines ignorantly pretending to have all the answers.
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