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How can we be positive lactivists and not judgmental?

1306 Views 20 Replies 16 Participants Last post by  Bethla
With all the threads that have turned so judgemental about women who do not breastfeed (or not long enough, or not exclusively), I wanted to start a new thread that will, hopefully, only contain positives. I am hoping that this can be a list of good ideas for encouraging more women to breastfeed. I hope that if I (or anyone else) suggests an idea someone thinks might be offensive or a turn off to someone who formula feeds, than speak up as positively as you can. I don't want to offend someone who's mind I am trying to change!

I think that any encouragement that a woman can get, especially for the efforts that she has already made, can go a long way towards making her feel good about breastfeeding. She may try harder for this or future children, and she may be an encouragement to others.

I will start with some things that I have done in the past:

When meeting a woman in the bookstore who saw me breastfeeding and said, "I could only stand it for 4 weeks." I said, "That's really terrific! You know, babies get such an advantage from the colostrum and antibodies in those first few weeks."

A good friend of mine said that she pumped exclusively for 6 weeks and then weaned. I said, "I really admire your persistance. I have pumped several times and it is such a learned skill."

What are some ideas for encouraging a woman who didn't breastfeed at all? A very delicate situation especially if you do not know the circumstances. I'm looking forward to a POSTIVE thread!
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I think LLL has really helped me frame my point of reference. A LLL Leader of mine pointed out (in privacy, of course, not in the middle of a meeting) that LLL's mission, and her job as a leader is to accept breastfeeding women where they are, and to help them with what THEY want help with. That means, if a mother calls wanting to wean her four week old, the leader is there to offer the support the mother needs, not the support the leader wants her to have, or the support the leader thinks the mother needs, does that make sense?

LLL Leaders are taught to put their personal biases aside and look directly at the problem at hand. Here is an example: My sil, who does breastfeed but ONLY breastfeeds until 12 months, and even then there is a lot of scheduling involved and other things I have not personally done with my babies, claims she could not eat chocolate as a nursing mother. Well, I thought that was the dumbest thing I had ever heard. I felt she just kind of, well, made it up. I have never had any diet restrictions while bfing, and although I have known many moms who have, I just thought she was full of it. If one of my own sisters, who parent much the same way I do, had said this, I would have believed them without a second thought. That was my personal bias.

Another thing about LLL Leaders, one philosophy point LLL is built on is that each mother knows her baby best. It is really, really easy to say that, but it is a whole other thing to actually BELIEVE it.

When we can let go and know each mother does know her baby best -- how can I even presume to think I could know better what is best for you baby? You carried him in your belly and have been with him every day since birth -- it would be small-minded of me to think I could know him better than you.

Another thing I think about is, as much as I love AP and subscribe to so much about it, I cannot say it is the best way for every family. Some parents are BETTER parents when thy parent the way that works for this respect I mean Ezzo, Ferber, and all the other "nasties" (I say) out there. Some babies will adjust to a schedule so mom can be a better mom herself. That just makes sense to me.

So, suspending judgement is the one I latch on to. It is too easy to judge, and too hard to not really know.
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I prefer to just set a good example by BF rather than saying anything about BF. Although if the other person brings the subject up, I'll certainly discuss it.

If anyone queries me nursing my 17 mo old, I always emphasise how great it is to still be nursing, you know it's so reassuring to give dd her daily dose of antibodies especially after she licked our front steps yesterday, eats wood chips in the park at every opportunity and enjoys chewing the soles of her outdoor shoes.

I'm not terribly judgemental anyway. I tend to sympathise a lot with women who gave up because I struggled so much at the start and I can understand others giving up.
Great thread...I *think* I did a good thing today at the mall but maybe I just confused the poor woman. We were walking through the mall (air conditioning....aaaaahhhh nice lol) and there was a woman nip on the bench and her dp was sitting there with her kind of sheltering her. It was so sweet. So I smiled as we went by and then hopped into the bookstore (which of course didn't have Mothering mag...rrrrrrrr) and bought a little "mini spa" kit. I walked back out and gave it to her saying "this is for doing the best thing for that little baby...thank you for breastfeeding" and then we just left. I am not very good at talking to people I don't know...I have been trying to work up the courage to join the food co-op for several months now!!
: I won't even call a pizza place to order a pizza!! Sheesh. But I just wanted to do something that showed I really appreciated what she was doing and that she wasn't alone. I hope I didn't come across as some crazy or something.

I think that compassion and caring go a long way and really *stick* with a person. Breastfeeding issues have just become so important to me since Owen was born and I am realizing what I missed with my first son (bf till 3 months).
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I try to talk to anyone that will listen about breastfeeding, and why I do it. I am also thinking of becoming a lactation consultant when Emily is a little bit older. I want to specialize in special needs babies (premies, multiples, cleft palates, and other babies that have feeding issues). These are the babies that really, really need that extra help and support, and there is virtually none out there.

Sometimes just getting a pat (real or virtual) on the back is all that I need to make the day bearable. When it became clear I would need to pump for Emily, I made a concerted effort to surround myself with support IRL and online. That support has gotten me through some really hard times. If I can give that back to someone, I will.

I do not advocate actively about bfing to non-bfers. When I was still nursing, I would just do so in front of them openly and let them draw their own conclusions. If they had another kid and wanted to bf, they knew they could come to me for info and support.

I completely support LLL's insistence that Leaders accpet the mother where she is. If she is only partly bfing, using pacifiers, over-using a carseat, etc., never make judgemental comments. Offer your information gently and respectfully. She gets to define bfing success for herself. This may mean only a few weeks of bfing, which is far from ideal, but it is of course, her choice to make.

You can always tell a Leader by the catch-phrase, "some mothers have found... xyz works for them." Never say, "you should," but "I would suggest," or "one thing to try is..."
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I try to kindly share information that I have in as non-pushy a manner as possible.

I have a friend who recently have birth and already planned to breastfeed, so I didn't need to convince her or anything. But I lent her my copy of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and also recommended that she watch some breastfeeding videos or attent LLL meetings before having the baby.

I knew a friend of a friend who was struggling with breastfeeding (thought she had supply issues), so I sent her a bunch of links from and other sites about how to tell if there really were supply issues and what could be done about it.

I think some people really need education. I wish that those breastfeeding ads would FINALLY take off.
(Sorry, off topic, but I really wish that the word would get OUT THERE in a more public way. My personal public service announcement is NIP whenever possible.)
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Something that works for me is to ask open, non-leading, non-judgmental questions. I learned about this practice when we did pregnancy/birth interviews for one of my Child Development classes. I was amazed at how well it works. It's actually shocking how much more information and understanding you can get by just changing how you ask. It takes some practice and it sounds "funny" at first but works, IME. Unfortunately, I'm having a hard time thinking of any examples ~ Sorry. If you could give me a hypothetical conversation, I could maybe make a list of questions.

I also think it helps to find common ground. I really have a hard time believing that someone is going to change because of anything someone they don't like says to them. I imagine that being kind, friendly and supportive allows your message to get through to the person.

I loved what you all have said of the LLL philosophy towards activism. That is wonderful to hear! Perhaps even a thread about the LLL methods would be helpful for people who want to be activists but are bogged down with being judgmental. Honestly, I don't get how people embrace their judgmental tendencies. I have never met a "professional" activist for the welfare of families who is in the least bit judgmental. I definitely prefer to take my cue from them.

Listen and Support Holistically! Take the conversation to another level. Avoid forming opinions or jumping to conclusions. Assume that you can learn something too. Have open-ended goals.

Good thread!
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You bring up a good point, Maria. I speak differently to someone that I know is already breastfeeding or is planning to breastfeed.

I have a good friend who was unable to nurse her first, so she pumped for 13 months (she's the person IRL that I take most of my inspiration from). When she had her second, she was very nervous that nursing wouldn't work out again. She knew she could pump for her if it didn't work, but didn't want to go that route again if she could avoid it.

Because of our conversations we have had about breastfeeding and nursing in general, I was the one she called when her 2nd daughter was 1 week old, and she had concerns about her getting enough. She was hormonal and unable to measure how much her baby was drinking, and was insecure about it.

On the flip side, when I found out about Emily's cleft palate and that she would be unable to nurse, this was the friend I called for help, advice and support for pumping. It's a give and take relationship. We were both there for each other when we needed help.

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I am glad to see this thread because I was just going to ask about this. I work at a fabric store and there have been a couple of times when breastfeeding has come up in conversations with customers and I just don't know what to say when for instance one customer said "I tried it for 6 weeks and I just couldn't produce enough milk she wanted to eat all the time" All I can do is smile.

Then last night there was a younger pregnant woman in and she said she is going to breastfeed for 6 months then switch to formula.


I had never heard of it and I just didn't know what to say so I just smiled. Now I am kicking myself in the butt! Maybe she was just uninformed and one of those people who was told that breastmilk only works for 6 months.

So I would really like to know what to say in these situations that would make a positive impact on these people.
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This is a wonderful thread, I feel I have learned so much from it already. I love LLL's philiosophy and I'm glad the poster shared it. I have been struggling with how to be a good lactivist and realizing *how* to support people effictivly is huge. I compare it to religious people who try to save me and those who simply lead by example and are there with open arms when someone comes seeking counsel/advice. I know bfing and religion are different, but the goals of those who feel strongly on the matter are the same.

I am a moderator on a mainstream feeding board and I think I need to take a new approach. I have only given the advice being asked of me, except once. A woman asked how to wean her 5 week old, and I simply reccomended that she not

I don't have a lot to add, I just appreciate everyones input!
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It has really made my day to read all of this positive energy!

for the woman who said that she was only planning to nurse for 6 months, I would say, "But at 6 months is when it really gets easy!"

For the woman who said she didn't have enough milk at 6 weeks, "Good for you for doing it as long as you did. I was only able to nurse my son for 16 months by supplementing with formula about half the time." (This is true for me.)

It's good to read about the philosophy of LLL. I really don't know anything about them and never felt like I would fit in with them since I supplement with formula. I have until recently felt so insecure about the supplementing that I didn't want to take the chance of being judged.

Keep it coming!
I know bfing and religion are different, but the goals of those who feel strongly on the matter are the same.
This is a good way to look at it. I am not Christian and nothing infuriates me more when people try to convert me, tell me my ways are wrong, I'm going to hell, etc. All it does it make me stick to my spirituality more than wanting to be overbearing, arrogent and pushy as they are.

Judging people for their way of feeding is not going to win them over.

Some people find LLL groups to be pushy, some find the opposite. I have never been to one as there isn't one here, the closest is 2.5 hours away. I know some people are turned off of LLL because of the way some groups are. One person talks to another and next thing you know you hear of people talking how pushy bf'ers are.

Yesterday I was guilty of it myself, I did it silently and then felt ashamed when I realized the true situation. There was a mom in the line up at McDonalds feeding a newborn with a bottle. My first thought was she should be breastfeeding. I did catch myself right after that and told myself for all I know that is breastmilk in that bottle. There was lady between us, they weren't together but they knew each other. The other lady mentioned that she didn't know the woman with the baby had been pregnant. The lady laughed and said she was babysitting for a friend.

With strangers I think this happens alot more than we would like to think, especially in the US with the 4-6week mat leave. You see a woman bottle feeding and automatically assume it's formula, you then go on to assume that the woman is the baby's mother. Of course there are cases where it is formula and the mom. Perhaps the woman is on medications and can't bf'd because of them. Perhaps she had breastcancer & a masectomy. We just don't know the situation and it is unfair of us to judge people because of it.

I think it's easier to talk to people you know and try to influence(rather than change) them than it is strangers. I can talk friends and family about their choices because I know more of the situation. I am getting better at talking to people I don't know. I have a table in the farmers market twice a month and when woman comes up and starts looking at the breastpads I ask them if they are bf'ing(or planning on). Obviously if they are then it's easy to talk to them and I tell them that I'm certifying to be a Lactation Counsellor. I give them my card and tell them they can call with any questions or concerns they may have. If they say they aren't or are thinking about it I try to ask non-judgemental questions but at the same time I am wondering if I ask questions, am I pushing. If a woman says she tried bf'ing but couldn't I will ask what the issues were and whether they had tried this or that just to get more info. I have no idea what to say to the ones who say they do not want to bf'd at all. Sometimes I will tell my story on how I am uncomfortable with it because I have issues with my breasts yet with my first I had to bf'd because I could not afford formula. How I planned on 6months at the latest but went 9 by then I couldn't see the point in weaning to formula just to wean to milk in 3months. I will then mention how by the time my 3rd came along I bf'd her until she was 16months. Sometimes I will skip straight to my 3rd and mention that due to her reflux and protein intolerance problems she could not handle any formulas out there except the super expensive ones. The stronger they are against bf'ing the more I skip straight to the reflux ones. I will also mention to those who say that the baby was eating all the time and they stopped by 4-6weeks about how my sister was the same way and I kept telling her to wait it out 2 weeks and he'd be going longer between feeds. 4.5months and no formula.

I have ff'd and bf'd and I have no idea if these are judgemental or not. I never ever tell people that my bf'd babies were slow weight gain or labelled failure to thrive except to militant bf'd I will casually mention my sisters baby though. At 4.5months he's bigger than Nadia was at 1 year(16lbs). He was 5lbs 14oz at birth.
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Corr, you should go to a LLL Meeting. I actually took my best friend to her first LLL Meeting because she had to wean him at 3 months (due to a lupus flare-up), and we could not get him to take a bottle. What happened instead was a Leader offered to look up the medication my friend's doctor said was incompatible with breastfeeding. A couple of hours later, after we were home, we got a call from our Leader and she said she had phoned an Area Professional Liason (usually IBCLC or RN or DR. who is also a Leader) and they looked it up, and surprise, surprise, it was totally compatible with breastfeeding. My friend gave up on the idea of weaning and started taking her meds. A month or so later her insurance changed and she had to switch rhumatologists. The first words out of her new rhum's mouth were, "He told you could'nt breastfeed? That medication is safe for breastfeeding mothers." So we all got warm fuzzies for LLL and its huge body of information and resources

So, digression aside, you should go to a LLL Meeting! Here is a list of Georgia groups:

And I don't know if you know, but LLL also offers online chats and meetings. There is even one today. Here is that link: I like to go to the Round Robin meetings, but they all are great. And for any LLL Leaders out there (LLL Leaders are encouraged not to out themselves as Leaders on public message boards) I believe you can attend also and just let another Leader know through a private message that you are a Leader.
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I have been thinking about this so much lately and appreciate everyone's thoughtful responses here. I've realized that I feel comfortable promoting breastfeeding only if my audience has not reached their own decision yet. That's not so clear, here are some examples:
* Among friends who have not yet had babies, I talk matter-of-factly about the convenience and pleasure of bf'ing.
* A friend with a 1-month-old is having supply issues, and I talked to her about things to try in addition to pumping, like mother's milk tea.
* Another friend with a 1-month-old has starting giving supplemental bottles at night. Even though I know this will likely jeopardize her supply, I have focused on talking to her about the positives of continued nursing.
* A relative decided to wean at 2 months because she wanted to lose the rest of her pregnancy weight. When we talked on the phone about it, I acted all sympathetic although I was pretty snarky about it afterward. And this happened a year ago and I still feel a little snarky. But it did not feel right making her justify all of the nuances of her decision to me.

Kinipela79, I think you did a great thing at the mall!
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OK. Leaders at meetings are not supposed to talk about how long they bfed. They must bf for at least a yr to qualify to be eligible for Leadership, other than that, "boasting" about length of time can start a thread of one-ups-woman-ship at a mtg.

So most Leaders will not (should not!) tell about their personal exp much. Just in passing, yes, mine had tongue tie, or I had a c-sec, but not go into detail. This is hard to do. Leaders let the mom talk. Leaders ask a lot of questions. Sometimes (usually) the women's first question is not her real question, ever notice that?

situation #1:

"I tried it for 6 weeks and I just couldn't produce enough milk. She wanted to eat all the time."

Would depend on how much time we had and the mom's attitude. I would make sympathetic noises, then say, Yes, newborns do eat often, don't they? It can be so overwhelming. (Let her respond, then say,) I was told this is normal and temporary, 6 week growth spurts, blahdeblah.

First, you offer empathy. Let the mom fully express her feelings and validate them. Then when she has vented, and not before, offer information.

situation #2:

"A younger pregnant woman said she is going to breastfeed for 6 months then switch to formula."

I guess I would congratulate her for planning to bf, then, looking confused, ask her why she planned to switch ABM at 6 mos. See what she said, let her express herself, then share info (if she seemed at all interested), like the AAPs rec to bf for at least a year. Or add a simple benefit like, how you are so afraid of ear infections. Just try to keep it simple, don't preach, let her have a give and take conversation.

If she is quite young, she may not have done much research outside of what her mom has told her, outmoded, ABM centered advice. Older, more educated moms are more likely to be aware of bfing benefits and more likely to successfuly bf.
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That's so funny, Darylll, because I went with a friend to teach the breastfeeding portion of a childbirth education series. My friend is a CLE and will sit for the IBLCE (is that right?) exam in July. She told all the moms I still had a 2.5 year old who nurses. I felt really put on the spot, and I even explained to the parents-to-be that it was not a contest, etc. Afterwards I explained to my friend why it made me so uncomfortable. I told her I don't like to talk about my personal situation unless it is very relavant...not just in passing or to seem boastful.
Talking about nursing past 12 months when a new mom is struggling and taking it day by day can be very undermining, I think.
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I always try to remember that I do not know another woman's experiences.

I have 3 dd's and my first 2 were only nursed for a couple of weeks each, so when I made it to 4 weeks, then 6 weeks etc with my third dd, that was breasfeeding success for me! She is now 10 mos old and still plans to stop anytime soon. If for some reason I had stopped breastfeeding at 6 weeks, I would rather have had someone praise my efforts than berate me for stopping so soon. Like I said before, by 6 weeks I already felt I had succeeded in breastfeeding.

I have spoken to many woman who quit after a few weeks with their firsts and are pregnant with another child. They talk about how they felt those first couple of weeks of breastfeeding and the weeks after they quit and I know exactly how they were feeling, and the worries they have about nursing the next baby. I know they do not need me making them feel even worse about themselves, or creating more stress about nursing the next child. I can however, lead them to 'good' breastfeeding resources on and offline, and I can be there for them when they need help, when they succeed AND even if they quit. Who knows....maybe they will want to try again with their 3rd or 4th etc and make it a success!
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I tend to either congratulate the woman if she's just informed me that she nursed for x amount of time, or if she expresses that she tried and it didn't work, I offer sympathy and support if she should need it in the future.

I've lent books to friends. I've looked up info on mastitis for one friend...

At Borders a few weeks back, I was talking to a mom while DD played (sort of) with her baby. She mentioned that she'd gotten mastitis at 6 months and weaned. I though about for a second, then took the plunge and asked "you know you don't have to wean for that?" She said that that's what they (doc and nurses) had told her too, but she decided to anyway. I nodded, and we moved on with the conversation. She made an informed decision and that's all one can expect IMO.

I've talked up breastfeeding in general terms if/when the topic has arrisen with men too, information has a way of getting to spouses, so I make sure I'm accurate with guys too. DH has even talked about breastfeeding with another dad at his work. That guy had noticed that "as soon as {his wife} weaned, the illnesses start."
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one of the things that i do that i feel is very important (for those who are comfortable) is NIP. wherever, whenever, no matter how old the baby. the more people are exposed to breastfeeding, the more normal it will seem. if anyone ever wanted to ask me any questions, i would answer them as truthfully and as non-judgmentally as i could.

whenever someone i know or an acquaintance (or sometimes an acquaintance of an acquaintance!) is pregnant, me or dh always ask them if they will be breastfeeding. i always offer my help if they want it, tell them about LLL, give them a bit of advie about how hard it can be at first, but how it gets so much better and is so worth the work. i always offer to lend them any books they might need.

i am also on the Baby Friendly Initiative Committee for my community, trying to get our hospital and community health services eligible for Baby Friendly status. we have a LONG way to go. but hopefully i will be at least a small help in getting more babies breastfed in our city. if your hospital isn't Baby Friendly, talk to the resident LC or maternity care to see if there is a committee you can help out, or suggest they start one.
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