On Giants' Shoulders

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Help Wanted

First a little bit of background. I was a La Leche League Leader back when my own two children were little. I loved the volunteer work and did it enthusiastically. However, there came a point where LLL's "family first" philosophy meant that I needed to very reluctantly retire as a Leader. I had dreamed at one point of becoming a Lactation Consultant, but that dream too seemed to die and I plunged into the world of homeschooling and sheep raising, without really looking back. Then I plunged into the world of elder care for several years. Finally the last of the elders died and I found myself with time to do something different. I decided to look into both getting my lactation consultant certification and returning to La Leche League work. I've done both. Now comes where I need some help.

I have observed that one of the things that can make breastfeeding more complicated is an unsupportive grandmother. Some of these grandmothers are truly hostile to the whole idea of breastfeeding, some of them are simply uninformed about the subject, and some of them truly want to be supportive (they may even have breastfed their own children), but have a lot of misinformation to pass on along with some wisdom. I've watched both situations where the mom succeeds at breastfeeding, but ends up having to deal with repeated criticism from a grandma and situations in which the proffered bottles by grandma end up in a very premature weaning. I know it doesn't have to be that way. I've seen some grandmas who have done a good job supporting their daughters or daughters-in-law. I'm interested in doing at the very least a pamphlet on grandmothers and breastfed babies. What I'm looking for is input from both moms and grandmas on the ways the grandmas can help and the ways that grandmas can hurt.

I have to say that, while neither my mother-in-law nor my mother breastfed their own babies, both of my children's grandmas were largely supportive. I never had to deal with some of the horror stories I've heard of grandmas who gave formula while the mom was sleeping or who told their daughter that nursing a baby was gross. I've only heard these stories second hand. On the other hand now that I am a grandmother I know that sometimes even well intended help or information isn't always perceived as helpful. Young moms do like to figure some things out for themselves and when they've made what seems to be an informed decision they don't like to be constantly second guessed.

My observation as a LLL Leader is that grandmothers advice is a particular problem with some of the younger lower income moms in our area. Unlike their older college educated middle class contemporaries some of them are quite close both emotionally and geographically to the grandmas of their babies. They are far more apt to listen to them at the end of the day than to a La Leche League Leader or a Lactation Consultant. So in order to make real progress in improving breastfeeding rates and duration we need to get the grandmas on board. What I would like to do is to write something that not only gives some vital information to grandmas, but does it in a way that they can accept, instead of in a way that makes them react negatively because it stirs up all sorts of feelings of being judged, being disappointed, or of regret.

So moms, how have you dealt with the grandmas in your baby's life. Grandmas, what would you like to know? How can we inform you and still be respectful of your feelings and even perhaps your choices? If you are the happy grandma of a breastfed baby what would you like the less than happy grandmas of breastfed babies to know about how to develop their own relationship with those babies? If you prefer to post anonymously that's fine. I'm not interested in stirring up flames in an already volatile relationship with your baby's grandma by having you post personally revealing information on-line. I'm simply interested in some input that will perhaps help me craft something that might help bring some peace to the situation for other moms.


At 8:52 AM, Blogger Karen said...

Both my mom and my MIL breastfed all their children. I however, was the only one not breastfed because I had trouble sucking, and by the time they realized that, my mom was dry. I asked her about it recently and she said there just weren't the resources available then that there are now. So, my thought is let grandmothers know how to overcome obstacles in breastfeeding, such as a baby needing to learn to suck, or even about pumping and bottlefeeding (which I know isn't as good as nursing, but is still much better than formula). Then they can see all the different ways that they can support their children in breastfeeding.

At 9:14 AM, Blogger Liz said...

That certainly is a good suggestion as far as the moms who tried to breastfeed and had difficulty. I actually find that those grandmas are much easier to deal with than the ones who, because breastfeeding was so much less popular then, didn't even consider breastfeeding. Some of them are really resentful of their grandbabies being fed any differently than their own babies.

However you're absolutely right about more help being available now. LLL was around at that point, but even LLL Leaders didn't always have the answers to babies with sucking problems. Even now some lactation consultants are far less skilled in dealing with severe problems in this area than others. The good news is that if we don't know the answer ourselves there's now a wonderful network of people to get in touch with who might.

For someone like your mom, I'll bet that not being able to breastfeed you was a source of sorrow and that it probably makes her more intent on being supportive of her own daughters than otherwise. I know that the fact that I was never able to have a natural delivery made me much more determined that my daughter would have the best shot at it that she could (thankfully that's what happened a totally unmedicated birth of an 8 and 1/2 pound LW).

The type of grandma I'm more thinking about perhaps reminds me of something Kimberly Hahn once mentioned a friend of hers who worked in a crisis pregnancy center as saying that young girls are having babies because their mothers won't. I think that for some of these grandmas the new baby is a chance to mother again without the inconvenience of pregnancy. They have a hard time seeing their children as parents, and feel that they ought to be able to feed the baby, keep it for a weekend etc. I'm trying to reach that grandma too, to show her how loving her grandchild may mean letting go of some of her own expectations and learning about a whole different way of baby feeding.


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