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I hear the breath catch in your throat, of course, it is you think! ⠀
But is it? I ask you.⠀
You’ve read it in all the online info you accessed for your own #breastfeeding journey. ⠀
You’ve read it in all the textbooks you used to study to help lactating parents. ⠀
Yet this diagnostic indictor (redness) doesn’t work for everyone. ⠀
For a large group of people, it’s unhelpful and even damaging to their health. ⠀
The reason why is ‘text book’ version of mastitis centres the experience of lighter skin tones. ⠀
When those supporting parents with feeding difficulties, focus on signs of redness to assess for mastitis, parents with darker skin tones are at a disadvantage. ⠀
More universal indicators of mastitis are heat, soreness, localised swelling that is often hard, & generally feeling unwell.⠀
Now you know, what other things might you need to double-check are universal?
Often on a Monday, my head thinks I need to start the week with a motivating post on social media. Usually this is more about the people I serve, than me. But this week, its also about me. I need to hear this message just as much as you.
How often is the negative self talk in our heads, so vile, that we wouldn’t dream of saying it out loud about another person? These are often echos of things said, or imagined, about you and your ability to parent.
The conversations with clients and friends I’ve had this last week broke my heart a little. For they couldn’t see how flipping hard they are working and the unrealistic expectations they are holding themselves up against.
I am the same. Do more, be more, keep going though the pain. This post is also;
- For the second time parent, who feels like they are doing worse this time around than the first.
- For the parent who questions their own goals.
- For the parent who wants to run away and hide.
I see you.
Please repeat after me.
You are a mother fracking rock star and things WILL get easier, you WILL feel like you’ve got a handle on things soon. Ask for the support you need and know other peoples negative comments are less about you, and more about their own pain and unmet needs.
Honestly, with 5 years to think about reaching my goal to become an IBCLC, this bit has
taken me by surprise!
I studied for hours on end on the many permutations of human lactation, but I didn’t consciously think about the world of business that I was joining!
A world of marketing, adverting and business ideas. This didn’t feature too heavily at all on my mind!
I know I am not alone in this, there are an ever growing number of women in business who are finding this all out by themselves.
But we don’t have to do this alone.
An IBCLC friend and I have teamed up to start a new Facebook group, for IBCLC’s to figure this stuff out together. Maybe one of us who understands Instagram, doesn’t get twitter, or someone has a local referral network set up but doesn’t get how to use Canva.
because supporting those in need whilst also navigating the world of business, doesn’t have to be a lonely place!
Note: This was written in 2016, printed in an LLL members publication. Current day, Tessa is a Lactation Consultant with many more stories to share about the time in between.
At the starting line, walking into my motherhood journey I held some strong values. They were informed by work as a healthcare professional, by my upbringing and society as a whole.
My daily role involved supporting breastfeeding mothers. I thought breastfeeding was nice but not all that important. I felt that sometimes breastfeeding was pushed upon some families, formula was a favorable alternative. I very naively believed babies should feed, sleep and fit in with parents existing lives.
The most important misconception that I held privately, was that breastfeeding was purely a means of providing nutrition. Sure I knew about the added benefits of bonding, antibodies etc, but I didn’t give them all them all that much value. Before I met my son, I cared about what got the points on his growth chart moving, and even less about how it happened.
You will already know, as a nature of where you are reading this, that breastfeeding must have shattered all of these values. When my son came along, my milk nurtured and help him grow but what I didn’t expect was for the mere process of breastfeeding to help me grow, heal and transform into the person I am today.
Our journey was hard and with my strongly held misconceptions I probably had a longer way to fall down the rabbit hole than most. I’d like to share with you our story of overconfidence, one very rare tongue tie complication and how I’ve re learnt everything I though I already knew.
Our story begins, as all of ours invariably do, with a pregnancy & birth. I had fought hard to have the birth of my choice, and when my son arrived into the world bottom first we were high on life. The medical professional in me reveled at how wonderful the first feed felt, how easy it all was and I had no qualms about giving him a bottle when his blood sugar dropped dangerously low.
Roll on the next feed and things began to change, the latch looked perfect to me and the few staff who chanced a glance our latch, but already something was very wrong as I was in toe curling pain. One midwife chuckled when I said it hurt more birth, for me this was true but this was the beginning of my divergence from the things I thought I knew, into the realms of the unknown.
Within a few hours I was resenting the formula bottles that were medically recommended but I was dreading the breastfeed before it as I was already suffering from bleeding nipples. I had seen this behaviour before in mums, and I was beginning to understand their pain both literally in the moment and figuratively as the HPA like me, with no first hand experience at breastfeeding just didn’t get it.
Do not fear reader, I was prepaid in part for issues breastfeeding and I had my handy nipple Shields ready to go. I was astonished over the derision with which this decision was met and one year on, disappointed no one looked for a tongue tie at this point. The shields didn’t fix the pain completely but I was breastfeeding and already this was becoming very important to me.
When we left the hospital for home, I vowed to defy my colleagues and my own training and not give anymore formula. Ringing in my heart was a feeling that bottle feeding wasn’t right for us and the same stubborn streak that lead me to my less common birth choice, set in. From that moment on, my commitment to succeeding in breastfeeding was absolute.
The first few weeks were filled with hourly feeds, much to my annoyance. I had previously been a strong believer in routine and I was still experiencing a lot of pain. But the latch was great, my son gained weight and on the paper it all looked great.
I was already learning that the things I had said to breastfeeding mothers over the years were not always helpful! Advice like, oh it shouldn’t hurt, although not necessarily inaccurate, wasn’t actually helpful to women like me. I voed next to never utter it again.
My tiny son and I spent the next few weeks bouncing around the varying breastfeeding clinics in our area, I was accumulating much advice which reaffirmed my own training but something still wasn’t right. I watched the plotted dots on his weight chart go up but along with the pain, something still didn’t feel right.
One day, between one of our many visits, my grandmother reminded me about our relative, who only a few months ago had had a tongue tie ‘snipped’. It was like a light bulb had been turned on in my head. Training I had received a year before reminded me of the symptoms & they fit! Amongst all of the professionals we had seen, not one had really listened or looked. I was embarrassed as I too had missed the very obvious signs!
The next part of our story is much like many others, a delay in diagnosis, a long wait for the procedure and eventually we decided to abandon the health service I worked for and paid to see a Lactation consultant who was able to do the division herself.
This was the best money of all that I spent on my new baby. The support I received was fantastic but unfortunately for us, we had to see her a lot over the next few months
Anyone who has witnessed the procedure done will know it’s hard to watch. For me at this point in my mothering journey it was clinical. It needed to be done. The next few weeks where better, my son started jumping the centiles on his growth chart and I was exultant at the start of less stressful nursing. It didn’t last but this is the point in my story where I found my first breastfeeding gru and my way into LLL.
I met this lady in a children’s centre and I bombarded her with so many questions that she gave me her number, the womanly art of breastfeeding and invited me to what would be turn out to be my soul food, LLL. She also gave me a nudge to go back to the lactation consultant and I was devastated to be told I had mastitis, and that he needed his tongue tie divided again.
My son was one of a very few unlucky babies, whose tongue tie grew back. Not just the once either as he still has one. This one is very stretchy and is of the grade they say doesn’t necessarily need dividing.
The second time around I struggled to even stay in the room with my son during the procedure. Breastfeeding had wound us together so inexorably, that his discomfort was also mine. I couldn’t bare his distress but I knew his full potential wasn’t being met with his tongue so restricted and my recurrent Mastitis was due to the unlucky combo of oversupply and his tongue tie.
With the mother to mother support I was receiving in LLL meetings, I was beginning to feel the way into my new mind and body. I deleted that app that let me see charts with feeding statistics and crucially I began to let go of any illusions I had of control over my baby’s needs.
Around this time too, my sons latch changed and I began to experience pain free breastfeeding. This was the best feeling in the world and I finally got it. I got what this breastfeeding was about. Why my colleagues who pushed parents so hard, even bothered. They would have seen in them the potential to be here, where I am, and what a wonderful place it is to be.
Through the magical process of reflecting within the chapter meetings, I realised that I learnt first hand that each person who offers support offers one piece of the puzzle. Its then down to us, as mothers to follow our instincts and find the pieces that fit into our family.
I said this before as a healthcare professional, but my understanding of this now is so much deeper. It underpins our entire journey, not just in breastfeeding.
I am no means at the end of my breastfeeding journey and my toddler does still very much love his ‘do do’ with mummy, but I am at a close with the baby chapter in our lives. Gone are the values I held at the beginning of our journey.
Now as I move into the next chapter of my professional life, I take my quiet objections to some of the misconceptions my colleagues hold. I hope to help more mothers discover the magic and in the process spread a little more LLLove.
Last week, I was talking with a friend and human I admire, about their internal wobbles surrounding sitting the Lactation Consultant exam. As I only sat the exam in October 2019, I remember these feelings well, right here, in the pit of my stomach.
During our chat, the title of the blog appeared in my brain. I told her, this is literally a job we have given ourselves.
Both of us have come from the voluntary sector, intending to help families within their own homes, under our own names. That means, there is no external validation available via a job interview or offer letter of a job.
We are literately crafting our own jobs, and then giving them to ourselves. Its no wonder then, that even at the different stages we are in, impostor syndrome strikes us both daily.
Time has flown..
So its been a while since I have released a blog as honestly, since becoming and IBCLC, I have been a little over whelmed with all the things. Impostor Syndrome has hit hard and my writing has mostly been too personal to share.
I realise now, all the time I had waiting for the IBCLC results, I could have been doing some of the things I am doing now. But I did not. Because a small part of me expected failure.
Thursday is admin time
This brings us to the present, where I am sat, in my favorite spot in the local University Library, designing my own customized paperwork, & it strikes me how this is my favorite time of the week and I wanted to share it with you.
There is a serious lack of support out there for new Lactation Consultants within the UK.
I honestly didn’t realise the realities of giving my self and job and not having daily company of coworkers and seniors to look to for examples and guidance.
In the USA there is lots of support but many, like me, find their brains zoning about when this talks about insurance pay outs an regulations that don’t translate into UK law.
This got me thinking about the people who send me messages, have you got a second Tessa?
Out of habit, and often friendship, its a yes, let me get the kids distracted and ill call you.
I started tracking these calls, making notes and what I see is no surprise to me. These people not only benefit from being listened to, just like the parents they support, but they need it. not just once, but often. I speak to approx 2 people a week who want this from me, and I seek it from others just as often!
We don’t need a spangly, industry leading experts to have their feelings and concerns heard. We don’t even need someone in the same exact industry, but what we do need is someone a step or two ahead of us in the same journey.
Someone who gets the whole package, of being your own boss.
If you want to know more of the when, how and why you might want to, check out this link from an NHS trust (direct PDF download).
Here are some tried and tested tips for you..
Get the oxytocin flowing
stroke, relax, time your time and roll fingers towards the nipple. Light touch, like a stoke, not like a hard massage, is what helps the hormones trigger the milk to flow. Sometimes experimenting in the shower helps, or a warm relaxing bath.
You can collect the drops on a clean surface like a tea spoon! Then transfer in small amounts to syringes if keeping.
You can freeze these with a label showing date & your name. If later used within a hospital setting, this very helpful to all.
Take your time
It’s not a race, take your time working out what works and doesn’t for you.
What you get during these sessions, is not an indicator of your future milk supply.
A skill in your tool kit
Many a parent struggles with the technical side of this, it is a skill. Practicing this now means if you are engorged, you already have the technique down. Feel like mastitis is coming on? You already know just how and where to stoke and massage to get your milk flowing.
You got this 😉
You are the holder of the puzzle pieces.
I got all emotional last time I taught an introduction to #slings #workshop with @villagemidwife.
Talking about these puzzle pieces, made me well up with emotion, remembering one of the times I #knew I meant for this work.
As I passed around a box of puzzle prices, explained how you as the parent are gathering them all. This was my gift to them to remind them.
At the same time, in my head, I remembered meeting a parent for the second time, who told me I had changed the course of her breastfeeding journey. She said, I am here 6 months on, though all our trauma, because of this idea you gave us. I had forgotten I’d even said it, but the awe of the rippless of parent to parent support caught me in that moment.
Now I share it with you too.
Many supporters and loved ones will offer you support and advice. They offer you pieces of their puzzles, only YOU will know which pieces of puzzle you are offered, actually fit.
Some won’t. That’s ok. But please keep searching until your instincts are quiet again. They are powerful and will lead you. Keep asking new people until all feels well.
In case you need reminding, YOU GOT THIS
Update March 2020 – many of these organisations will have an online offering, do still get in touch whilst physical groups are closed
NHS please ask your midwife/health visitor for the most up to date clinics. The flyers on this link are nessiasrily the most up to date. I will upload more as I get them 🙂
Run by Breastfeeding Counselors (free)
Weekly drop in alongside HV weigh in clinic(BFN, Maidenhead)
Run by IBCLC’s (free)
Tongue tie assessment appointments
Luci Lishman (Chiltern Partnership, Princes Risborough)
Thursday, Weekly drop in
Julie Carden (Carmenta Life, Berkhamsted)
Weekly drop in
Sarah March (Lotus Midwife, Eaton)
Monthly drop in
Tessa Clark (Beyond Babyhood, High Wycombe)
Parenting support groups (free)
Run by bump & baby businesses
The Positive Birth Group
Volunteers (PBM, High Wycombe Birth Centre)
The No Sleep Club
run by a midwife (Prestwood near Great Missingdon – The Village Midwife)
also a WhatsApp group
run by hypnobirthing teacher & Pilates teacher (Amersham – Local partnership)
Sling & Cloth Nappy Libraries
Trained babywearing consultants – (Across bucks )
NCT Bumps & babies
Run by an Antenatal teacher – Hazlemere
👇Being edited 👇
I’m adding new bits here that might not look so pretty 🙂