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When Breast May Not Be Best

July 5, 2017

I was asked privately about breastfeeding.

The new mother felt pressured to continue despite terrible pain. She wanted to stop. Her partner wanted her to continue as did the people from whom she sought support. She felt cornered and guilty, stuck and upset. She sought my opinion.

To be clear, I am not a physician, lactation consultant and certainly not a mother. However, as a social worker I have interviewed several thousand mothers wherein I always obtain developmental histories about their children – totally at least 5,000 developmental histories over the course of my career.

Those developmental histories include gathering information about conception, pregnancy, birth, pre-natal, peri-natal and post-natal care, feeding, sleep, physical, cognitive and language development, health, as well as family and social circumstances throughout.

My experience mirrors that as shown in the study of “Adverse Childhood Experiences” which is to say that fundamentally more important than anything else to the successful development of the child, is a peaceful developmental experience. The degree to which the parent, most notably the mother, is distressed she is distracted from the care and nurturing of the child and the degree to which the distress to which she is subject spreads and/or intensifies, the child is at increasing risk of a poor developmental, health, and mental health trajectory.

As per my experience, those mothers who themselves had adverse experiences at least from the time of preconception to the child becoming a toddler (unremitting conflict, abuse, drug/alcohol issues either in themselves or a near loved one; abandonment; serious medical or mental health crisis) had more difficulty parenting and co-parenting and had children who were more likely developmentally off a normal trajectory. Their children had more issues with sleep, feeding and behavior as well as more challenges with health, physical, cognitive and language development.

As important as breastfeeding is and there is no arguing that mother’s breast milk is best, the distress at times created over a dispute to breastfeed can be more detrimental to the mother’s emotional well-being, her confidence as a parent, the relationship between her and her partner and subsequently the child’s well-being than ceasing to breastfeed.

While there is no argument that breast is best, one must also consider the context in which these decisions occur and the impact of any decision upon the well-being of the mother and by extension the child.

The bottom line is that for some mothers, the decision or even ability to breastfeed is a challenge. When strategies to support breastfeeding have been tried and the mother seeks to cease, she is best to be supported in her decision. Guilt, shame and coercion have no place in supporting a new parent. We educate, inform and support.

By educating, informing and supporting we also maintain a relationship with the new mother through which we remain available to help should other issues arise. This is in the interest of the mother and her developing child.

The issue for this mother from my perspective was less breastfeeding and more feeling isolated, alone and unsupported.

The recommendation was for counseling with a neutral non-judgmental person to help her and her partner resolve conflict and find peace between themselves to limit the distress to which the child was exposed.

This baby sleeps better now.

For more information about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), please see the study on the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker. I have been trained in Collaborative Practice, mediation and peacemaking. I attend additional training regularly and provide training to others. Check out all my services and then call me if you need help with a personal issue, mental health concern, child behavior or relationship, divorce or separation issue. I am available in person and by Skype.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

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Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas and Georgina Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

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