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Mama Glow Doulas: Using Personal Breastfeeding Experiences to Support Clients

Daphne Thompson | August 23, 2020

There are so many reasons why we love our Mama Glow doulas and the work they’re doing to advance maternal health and preserve the birth experience for expectant parents. So many of our wonderful doulas were called to birth work after their own experiences with pregnancy, childbirth, and new parenthood. We admire that, for some, becoming a doula has helped heal the traumas of their negative experiences, so that they might channel that growth as powerful advocates and support systems for their clients.

Our doulas know that while breastfeeding and chest feeding is a beautiful bonding experience and important for baby’s health and development, it can be a source of stress in the postpartum period, and many of them have experienced the challenges new parents may face when learning to nurse their newborns first-hand.

Read on for 3 of our doulas’ personal stories from when they were breastfeeding their own babies, and how what they went through has impacted how they approach the breastfeeding journey as doulas today.

Andrea Tuitjen (London, UK)

For me breastfeeding in the very beginning was painful (cracked nipples and thrush, and that sort of fun) and I remember finding it physically intense and stressful, worrying every time if my baby would latch (not always the case) and feeling immense relief when he did. I’m grateful to say that I’ve know been breastfeeding my baby for 6.5 months, and am loving it, and hope to continue until he’s at least a 1 year old. Things that really helped me was actually combined feeding with formula in the very beginning, as a back-up so I’d know my baby would get nourished no matter what, which took the pressure off and allowed me to keep offering him the breast first. It also allowed me to take a break while my partner fed our son, soak my sore boobies in a hot bath or pump instead of feed directly if my nipples were really sore. I attended a breastfeeding cafe (big in the UK) which helped, and getting a proper feeding pillow to support positioning was a game changer! After about 4 weeks I was exclusively breastfeeding and that transition happened originally.

In terms of supporting clients, practically speaking support with positioning to help get the latch right, and on an emotional level just encouraging them to be easy and gentle on themselves and their baby (your both learning a new skill!), at some point you both get it, keep practicing and know that your experience and struggles are shared widely. Walk around the house with your boobs out if you can, as it helps sore nipples heal faster. If possible encourage their partner/friends/family to make them a nice spread of breastfeeding snacks and grab them a big bottle of water for every feed in the early days and to sit with them while they feed for support and encouragement (or give them space) if this is helpful. And, connecting clients with more specialist support if required (e.g. in the case of a suspected tongue tie, or other feeding complication, etc).

When it comes to making breastfeeding combinable and accessible for working mamas/lactating parents, I feel properly paid statutory maternity leave is a must (at least 6 months to a year). Alternatively, working mamas/lactating parents should be allowed pumping breaks and be offered a calm and comfortable place to do so. In an ideal world, employers would have high quality childcare facilities on their premises so parents have easy access to their babies during feeding times…and taking babies into workplaces becomes normalised where possible and safe, though, I believe we’ve got a whole lot of patriarchy to smash before that happens.

Michelle Smith (New York, NY)

If only I knew then what I know now…

Breastfeeding was short lived for my son. After giving birth I was very hard on myself to “snap back” and lose the baby weight that I didnt focus on properly nourishing my body for the sake of nourishing my child. I breastfed in tandem to formula, only to fully transition to formula after about 3 months.

My support for clients would come in the form of educating new parents of the benefits of breastfeeding for both them and baby, destigmatizing that breastfeeding needs to be covered up or only done in private, and encouraging that folks are gentle with themselves and the changes that parenthood brings both physically and mentally. There’s no rush to “get back” to who you were before. That person may no longer exist. Embrace the changes, and nurture and love up on you and your baby. Trust that your body will do exactly what it needs to do when it needs to do it.

Janisa Camille (Owings Mills, MD)

As a single mother, I thought breastfeeding wasn’t going to be too much of an option for me. Not because I was a single mother, but because being a single mother with having a job that didn’t offer maternity leave, along with just not having the proper knowledge or guidance I made the decision that I was not going to be breastfeeding. I figured breastfeeding takes time, energy and tons of commitment that I didn’t understand how I was going to be able to do and still work full time on my own. It didn’t really bother me emotionally or mentally at first because I had in my mind the whole pregnancy that this wasn’t going to be an option for me so I was prepared when my son came into this world.

My OBGYN never spoke to me about breastfeeding or even asked me about it. She wasn’t even present enough in my pregnancy to be at the birth. I wasn’t offered lactation classes, I honestly didn’t even know that was a thing. The doctor who delivered my son immediately gave him to my mother to bottle feed him without even asking or putting my son on me first so that we could have skin to skin at immediate contact.

Choosing not to breastfeed has left me with a bit of mom guilt because now my son has low iron and has to take supplements when I feel he could’ve gotten all of that plus more from his mother’s breast. My next child will be receiving all of this liquid gold I have to offer, God willing. Passion is an understatement on how I feel about supporting moms, and not just on breastfeeding but in all aspects of motherhood.

My birthing experience and lack of knowledge on the power and nutrition behind breastfeeding led me to the calling of becoming a birthworker supporting melanated births, and that’s how I want to service my community; being there to be able to give that support I didn’t have, to give that knowledge to single mothers that you can absolutely breast feed as a single mother regardless if you have to go back to work two weeks after you give birth. I want to be the support for others that I didn’t have from the healthcare system. Letting every single mother know she is not alone.

I never knew I had a horrible birthing experience and lack of support and guidance from my own doctor during my pregnancy because I had nothing to compare it to. Learning about the woman’s body, mind and soul during and after pregnancy in my mama glow classes, level one and two, made me realize how much I could have used a doula during my pregnancy as well as after during the postpartum stage. I would have been informed about so much and would have been able to feel comfortable with knowing that there is a way to be able to breastfeed as a single mother.

Have their stories inspired you to embark on the path to doula work yourself? Mama Glow runs a game-changing and deeply healing global doula training program. To enroll in an upcoming training program as well as register to attend our upcoming virtual events, webinars, and webinars, click here.

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