Recently, at the end of a breastfeeding education session that I was facilitating, I was approached by a lovely pregnant Mama and her partner, well into the last trimester of pregnancy, and preparing in earnest for the arrival of their baby.
She’d approached me to ask about the World Health Organisation’s recommendation of exclusively breastfeeding for 6 months, and mentioned that she couldn’t imagine breastfeeding for that long – in fact, she felt quite overwhelmed by the idea.
She told me that she was terrified of failing – to the point that she felt perhaps she’d be better off not to even try.
My response to her was this:
If you decide to breastfeed, and you try, even once, then it is absolutely impossible to fail. Regardless of if your baby latches at the breast just once, or if you feed for twelve months straight. No matter if you choose to finger feed it colostrum, then express your milk and bottle feed, or if you choose to mix feed from the start. You might switch to formula down the track for any of a myriad of reasons, or you might seek out donor breastmilk.
However, if you make the decision that you want to try to breastfeed, and your baby then goes onto receive your breastmilk, then you’ve already succeeded.
One feed or two hundred feeds.
Well done, you.
You see, she (like many other nervous mums-to-be) was finding herself all caught up in the “shoulds” and trying to figure out how that would fit in with her “coulds”.
So I asked her how she would feel about just tackling one feed at time. Maybe a day. Maybe a week.
She thought she could do that.
So I suggested something else, which is probably not common practice, but something I think I would have found really useful when I was in the early weeks of breastfeeding:
A star chart.
Now bear with me, because I know it sounds awfully infantile, BUT my theory is this:
My experience of new mothers (myself included) is that they like to be able to measure things. They like to be able to see the results of what they’re doing. They like to keep track of where they’re up to.
By adding a simple star to a piece of paper, there is a visual representation of a breastmilk feed, completed. Another intense dose of immunity, another moment of bonding, another full belly, and another burst of oxytocin and prolactin.
It’s not a reward system as such, unless of course, they choose to use it as one. But I find the idea particularly useful for the times when breastfeeding just feels really hard, or when a mother chooses or is forced to STOP breastfeeding for whatever reason, and she can look back at those stars and be really fucking proud of herself for those occasions where she WAS able to give her baby breastmilk, and celebrating that success, rather than focussing on what she may otherwise perceive as a failure.
Sometimes, seeing how far you’ve come can propel you to keep going. And other times, it allows you the grace to be proud of yourself for what you did, while you move onto a new phase in your parenting journey.
Parenting is stressful enough without being bogged down by thoughts of failure.
If you’re willing to try, you’ve already succeeded.
Gold stars all round.