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Breastfeeding is not the point of mothering

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I heard a quote recently that “Breastfeeding is part of mothering, not the point of mothering”.  And I thought back on all of the mothers I have worked with over the years who desperately wanted to breastfeed but were running into problems; some easy to resolve, others seemingly unsurmountable complications.  There have been mothers who endured sore nipples for months, breastfeeding/pumping/cup feeding around the clock, or repeated bouts of thrush or mastitis.  Hero’s? Yes!

I have, at times, given a mother “permission” to supplement or to stop.  Some have gratefully accepted the out, and others have done so with overwhelming guilt and sadness.  Some have hung in there despite the problems.  It seems some mothers have gotten the message that it is imperative to breastfeed.  Exclusively breastfeed; supplement at your baby’s peril.   Breastmilk is magic, to be sure.  However, pushing moms to the edge is not part of mothering, and it is not the point of lactation consulting.  Suggesting alternatives until we come upon the one that fits for this mom and baby is the point of lactation consulting.

We have a breastfeeding dyad here.  Both must benefit physically and emotionally.  What can we each do to prevent the kind of difficulties that get moms into those unsurmountable complications to start with?  And what can we do to resolve them quickly?  That is the point of lactation consulting.

Breastfeeding is a (REWARDING) part of mothering but, not the point of mothering!

Vergie Hughes has a long history of experience in Maternal Child Health including labor and delivery, post-partum and pediatrics, and for the past 25 years she has been involved in lactation management. Ms. Hughes has a BSN from Pacific Lutheran University and a MS from Georgetown University. She has been a board certified lactation consultant since 1985. At Georgetown University Hospital, she was the director of the Human Milk Bank. She created and developed the National Capitol Lactation Center and the one week Lactation Consultant Training Program. This course has trained more than 4,000 Lactation Consultants since its inception in 1990.

She has been a private practice lactation consultant and business owner, and operated her own lactation center, Washington’s Families First. Lactation Education Resources On-Line is her website, offering training to professionals and information to parents as well. Ms. Hughes has served on the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners and has served on the IBLCE exam writing committee. Her first love is teaching and that is exemplified by the creativity of the courses she has developed. A series of courses “The In-patient Breastfeeding Specialist,” "The Out-patient Breastfeeding Specialist” and “The NICU Breastfeeding Specialist” are all designed to advance the lactation management skills of nurses at the bedside. She regularly teaches skills to labor and delivery nurses and just recently developed the course “Towards Exclusive Breastfeeding.”

Ms. Hughes is the program director and content manager for all of the on-line Lactation Education Resources courses. Ms. Hughes was recently honored with a “lifetime achievement award” as Fellow of the International Lactation Consultant Association (FILCA).


  • Anne Risch
    Anne Risch Friday, 03 April 2015

    I think that the key here is that " mothers have gotten the message that it is imperative to breastfeed".

    I feel that this is what pushes women to the "edge" that Ms. Hughes refers to in this article. This, as well as the impression that every women can breastfeed as long as they get enough help and try hard enough.

    If women had accurate, unbiased, evidence based information on the risks and the benefits as well as a head's up that breastfeeding success is not a given, they may not reach the "edge"

    Breastfeeding success as really not as imperative for children's long term health and well being as women are lead to believe. Most recent research does not find that breastfeeding can prevent chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, asthma, allergies, IBD and celiac disease. The research on IQ and breastfeeding is mixed at best. And at best 5% (I think the number is more like 15%) of women are not able to exclusively breastfeed, and a larger percentage are not able to without significant difficulty.

    If we want to keep women from the "edge", we need to do a better job of giving women better information prenatally so they are not set up for guilt and a sense of failure if they do not reach their breastfeeding goals.

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