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Circle of Support

Amanda Dunbar
Tyne & Wear, GB
From New Beginnings, Vol. 28 No. 3, 2009, pp. 22-23

I always knew I wanted to breastfeed. I believed that was the right thing to do. However, my first daughter's birth was difficult and afterward I struggled without any support. I had sore, cracked nipples and engorgement, and no one to help me with positioning and latching my baby on. My mother had been unable to breastfeed and she could not help either. I gave up after two weeks.

When my eldest son was born, the midwife said he was too cold. To warm him, my mother sat next to my bed and gave him a bottle of formula. I remember lying there thinking "Give me my baby back!" In spite of this start, we were able to establish breastfeeding this time without pain and engorgement. I even mastered lying down to feed. Unfortunately, no one told me that babies may feed every two hours and that sometimes babies feed a lot in the early evening. I ended up topping off with formula and stopped nursing altogether after several months.

The birth of my second son was a lot different. We were able to have skin-to-skin contact almost immediately and he nursed straight away. With each baby I nursed, breastfeeding went a little bit better, but I still didn't understand normal baby behavior. With no one to explain things, I did not think I had enough milk. We started topping off with formula and, once again, stopped breastfeeding prematurely. Based on what little I knew, my son seemed very slow to start solid food and this worried me terribly.

When my youngest daughter was born, she nursed straight away. Since this was my best start to breastfeeding, I was panicked when my health care practitioner told me my baby had lost lots of weight and that she would weigh her again in three days. Feeling a bit wobbly after this news, I started to visit a peer counselor program in our town. Alison, the peer counselor, explained that babies often lost a little weight after delivery. She also explained about the size of my baby's stomach and how small, frequent feedings are perfectly suited for a tiny tummy. I kept on going back to the group and found out the behaviors of my other children had been perfectly normal, too.

Some babies do not start eating solid food until they can sit unaided and put food to their mouths. Some babies are fussy in the evening. Others want several nursing sessions in a short amount of time, called "cluster feeding." All these are normal behaviors.

I never believed we could get to the recommended six months on breastmilk alone, but we did. I was trying to give my baby the "recommended" purees, but Molly did not take to these, just like her brother. She would either clamp her mouth shut or spit the food back at me, but I had plenty of breastmilk and she was content with that.

During this time, I was invited to train as a peer counselor. The course was empowering and enlightening. At first, I was really angry about all the misinformation I had been given in the past and how the lack of decent breastfeeding support made me feel as though I had failed at breastfeeding.

There was no La Leche League Group in our area but members of the LLL peer counselor team would come and visit us occasionally. When I went to an LLL enrichment day, I was amazed by the support and camaraderie and felt totally at home in a room of breastfeeding mothers. To quote Teresa Pitman, I had found my "tribe." See http://www.llli.org/NB/NBMarApr07p82.html

Alison, my peer counselor, and I soon both knew we wanted to become LLL Leaders. After finding out a little more about the process, we decided to go for it and pursue Leadership applications. We traveled about 25 minutes to the nearest LLL Group in Durham to attend four Series Meetings. It took me about eight months to complete my application. Shortly after becoming accredited, Alison and I set up an LLL Group in our hometown of Tyne and Wear and had our first Series Meeting in my living room. We had 12 mothers and their children attend.

We now hold two meetings a month in local children's centers. Over the last year more than 200 women have attended our LLL meetings. Our attendance has been so high that I often have to sit on the floor to make space for all of the mothers. I have done radio interviews and have been privileged to support so many women and their babies.

I nursed my youngest child for as long as she needed it and am very comfortable with the choices I have made, all thanks to LLL. My only regret is that I did not find La Leche League sooner.

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