Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Counseling the nursing mother with Compassion and Empathy

Compassion is something I firmly and strongly believe in. I believe that we as humans, each have the ability to manifest such a trait. Compassion is not something we're born with, nor do we awake to find we've become compassionate. Taking such an attribute and applying it in our 'job life' does much good too. Compassion and empathy can drive a birth advocate to search long and hard for answers to her clients' questions. Compassion and empathy also recognize limits in others. They mean knowing when to step in and when to step back. As a childbirth educator in training with Childbirth International, we are taught to be empathetic in our listening and with our actions. So how does one discern a pregnant or nursing client's questions, as to how we should answer?

As one of Jehovah's Witnesses, I , along with nearly 7 million other people are enrolled in a theocratic ministry school that helps us develop as public speakers. Last night, at our weekly meetings, a part was discussed entitled "Know How You Ought to Answer". Although the points that were presented were applied to the preaching work Jehovah's Witnesses do, the principles and the points may well be applied when counseling a breastfeeding mother for example. Let's take a look at what we can learn.

Before you respond, consider

Why the question was asked/statement was made

"I'm not even going to try to breastfeed when my baby is born!" 

Because of being confronted today with so many negative opinions and wrong understandings regarding breastfeeding,  the first thought that may or may not pop up in your mind is "negate your baby of the health benefits of breastfeeding, shame on you!" However, when you examine perhaps why such a question or statement was made, can give you an idea of what to say to such a thought. Here's an example

LC : (thinks to self) negative perception of breastfeeding? Prior experience a bad one? Lacking information or support?
LC: (to mom) may I ask how you came to that decision before the birth of your baby?
Mom : My sister tried to breastfeed her baby when it was born, but she didn't have enough milk. My mom and grandmother all saw the signs of insufficient milk supply, crying, fussiness at the breast, constantly wanting to nurse! I mean, some of my cousins tried to breastfeed too, but ended up supplementing with formula, it must run in our family, so I'm not even gonna set myself up for that frustration!
LC: Oh I see ( continues discussion)

A little insight and discernment goes a long way. When a pregnant mom expresses such a view or thought on breastfeeding, your response can pave the way to break down possible barriers and misconceptions in other moms-to-be that are present as well.

What foundation needs to be laid so that the answer will be properly understood

"Do you have any tips on how to get my 2-month-old to sleep through the night already?!"

Obviously this new mom is probably experiencing an array of feelings and emotions. She has to contend with sleep deprivation, on demand and frequent nighttime nursings, hormonal fluctuations, and the ubiquitous yet erroneous viewpoint of when a baby should actually be sleeping through the night. You may or may not get aggravated at her persistence in her newborns 'inability' to sleep a full 6 hours or more at night. Before being able to provide any answers for this mom you must ask some questions to lay the proper foundation so that your answer and suggestions may be understood and increase the likeliness the mom will follow what you propone.

LC: I can understand how hard it is to get a good night's sleep with a young baby. The lack of sleep really takes a toll on you! Let me ask you some questions. Where does the baby sleep, in your room, in another room, or beside you in your bed? When the baby naps during the day, do you force yourself to nap along, or do you seize the opportunity and do some chores?
Mom: The baby sleeps in my room but in her crib, when she wakes for one of her many many night feedings, I get her bring her into my bed and when she's done I put her back. In the day, when she sleeps, I run and do things around the house and sometimes peruse the internet.
LC: Ok. Well, rest assured that a baby as young as yours is supposed to wake up frequently at night to nurse. They need the extra calories that nighttime nursings provide to grow, and to establish and keep up a copious supply in the beginning. Babies also wake often at night for other reasons, and should not be forced to sleep for longer than he/she possibly can.
LC: I do have some tips to make it easier for the time being though...
Mom: Sure, right now I'll take anything I can get
LC: (goes on to explain how much easier it is to bed-share and nurse baby. Provides insight into how it may be better to sleep,nap or just rest while the baby sleeps in the day as opposed to engaging in tiresome chores.)

How to explain your position in a way that shows regard for matters that deeply concern the other person

"Breastfeeding is obscene and should only be done in the privacy of your home!" /

" You think because you breastfed your baby that he's gonna be smarter or have less chances of being obese or overweight later in life?! Look at my son, he was fed only formula and he's still alive and kicking"

Obviously the first statement has some deeply ingrained issues that has never been addressed before by the statement-maker. Once again, because of usually hearing negative things about breastfeeding such as the above mentioned, you may feel like pouncing on the person with a " OH and that beer commercial full of scantily clad women in bikinies with their breasts all over the place you drool at isn't?! Mind your own damn business and stop staring so hard, that's your problem moron!"

The second statement may come from a mother or a grandmother who feels that her choice of formula feeding her babies (whether it was informed or not) is being attacked and she's being criticized for being a 'bad mother'. Even if you said absolutely nothing near that, her own conscience may be guilt ridden for whatever reason. Women (or men for that matter) usually make the second statement simply due to ignorance on what we now know as scientific evidence about the benefits of breastfeeding. Is the person in a frame of mind to hear what the truth is? Is she just upset because she wrongly assumed you were looking down on her because she did not breastfeed? Most importantly, is she in the position that she may have more children and thus the opportunity to choose to try and breastfeed again? All these things should be taken into consideration, because, as I have said before, tactlessness does not increase the value of honesty. When you express any opinion with little or no regard for the other person's feelings, it shuts them down. They may even go so far as get offended to an extreme degree. If it is a pregnant mom who is on the fence as to her decision, being blunt or rough in your speech may even lead her to make an uninformed decision based solely on your reaction. Of course everyone is in charge of their own feelings and must stand behind their own choices, but can we make a little more room for speech that dignifies even when the opinion is in stark contrast to ours?

Nursing mother on first statement: Perhaps you were not raised seeing any of your siblings or relatives being breastfed. Perhaps you've come to be desensitized to the real purpose of the female breast : a source of nutrition. Do you think it would be fair or reasonable for me or any other mother to sit in my home for 6 months or more until my baby gets something besides my milk?

Nursing mother on second statement : If what I said or did led you to believe that I think you're inferior to me or a bad mother because of having formula fed your baby, I'm sorry. I don't know the reason exactly why you chose not to breastfeed, but I think and know that breast milk is very good for babies! They thrive on it! Perhaps you just need someone to talk or vent to? I'll listen to you impartially

How to express yourself kindly and with conviction

" Listen, all this fuss about formula is ridiculous. Formula keeps babies alive, just like breast milk does! It's not an inferior choice, it's just from a different mammal"

Ok, not going any further, this person has no sense or any knowledge for that matter of the 'proof' we now have on black and white about the pantheon of benefits where breastfeeding is concerned (do we really need proof to actually know it?!) If this person is a mother or mother-to-be expressing her very erroneous opinion amidst of other women who have yet to make a choice in regards to breastfeeding, you may want to refute these claims. In a kind but firm manner, you should rebut and list the proven benefits. Provide the mothers with (if possible) links to websites or certain books that they themselves can go and 'hunt' down the truth (these kind of moms get a long way)

LC: Is there a reason you think that way?
Mom: All this fluff about formula bad, formula evil, is non sense! Look at me, I'm alive, all my brothers and sisters are alive
LC: I understand your point of view. While babies who are fed formula don't typically die because of that (when it is properly mixed), in developing countries, the risk of dying related to formula feeding is very real and serious. Are you familiar with the most current and up-to-date information on why breastfeeding for as long as possible is advantageous and to be encouraged?  (goes on to list the benefits)

When we employ active listening skills, convey respect, and when most advantageous and appropriate, set the record straight all the while being empathetic and compassionate we may gain and extra listening ear or two simply for conveying such traits. Isn't that what any consultant wants?

The above noted points of consideration were taken from "Benefit from the Theocratic Ministry School" book published by Jehovah's Witnesses

All Images Courtesy : Google Images

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