When you are pregnant, there is no shortage of support. There are OB/Gyns, midwives, doulas, birthing centers, you name it. You may catch a lecture about baby care, but breastfeeding is usually sandwiched between “How to swaddle” and “Cosleeping – myths and facts.” Breastfeeding is rarely the focus. We are told the baby (and you) will just know how to do it. Then you have your baby.
Although you have made up your mind to breastfeed (as nearly 80% of new moms do) you are met with all kinds of surprises. You may have no milk, too much milk, nipple pain, breast pain, enormous melons for breasts, and a baby who just can’t seem to get it, even though it is supposed to be “natural” and “perfect.”
Who do you turn to? Your OB/Gyn seems like the obvious choice, but once the baby comes out, unless there is a complication with you, their work is over. They are the first to admit they know nothing about lactating breasts.
What about your pediatrician? They only seem to care about your baby’s weight gain, regardless of how you are feeding him/her. How often do they ask about the experience of feeding? The late nights, spitting up, endless crying. When do you think your pediatrician last saw an adult breast, let alone a lactating one?
If you are lucky, you work with a midwife or doula who shows interest in the mother/baby nursing pair, but they are not trained in breastfeeding either. Even lactation consultants, those with or without board certification, do not have a licensing board and often have no medical background at all. If their advice fails, or if they contradict each other, who do you turn to?
I am an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor. My specialty would seem the least likely to treat breastfeeding. Besides the fact that we learn nothing about breasts, or babies, including suck and swallow mechanisms of newborns, my specialty is made nearly entirely of men. Mention the word, “breast” to a male ENT and see his brow furrow into a look of horror. What about the dentists – those guys who show up with their shiny lasers and promise to fix the “problem”? They fix teeth, not bodies and babies and breasts. What can they offer in terms of your supply or mastitis? What do they do when their procedure doesn’t work?
The truth is there is no medical training for breastfeeding. Breastfeeding moms and babies are left in, what I call, the “magical space” – where it is okay for doctors to give you pure opinion and not fact, and it is okay to give advice based on personal bias, not research. There is plenty of published research about breastfeeding, but no one is bothering to learn it. In fact, there is so much to know, it really deserves its own specialty. Believe it or not, even though there are doctors for every other part of the body, there is no such thing as a breastfeeding doctor.
If you are experiencing breastfeeding challenges, Dr. Dahl offers breastfeeding support groups in New York City. Click the link to find out more.