In a perfect world, all medical care providers would be most concerned with what is best for mother and baby in their particular circumstances. They would offer objective advice and evidence-based research. Compassion and kindness would be icing on the cake, and par for the course. Worrying that your care provider does not support breastfeeding would not even be a concern!
Unfortunately, we all have our biases. Doctors (and nurses, and midwives, etc), like all the rest of us, sometimes let their personal experiences and opinions inform their priorities when deciding how to counsel a patient. Your care provider may be a wonderful source of information and care in many other areas, but if breastfeeding is important to you and not to them, you may want to seek support elsewhere.
Beyond coming right out and asking your care provider’s opinion of breastfeeding (and trusting that their answer isn’t just lip service), how can you tell if they will truly encourage you when nursing becomes difficult? They may not even realize that they have a negative perception of breastfeeding (or an overly-positive view of other options), but as you get to know them it may become apparent that you are not on the same page.
5 Signs That Your Care Provider Does Not Support Breastfeeding
Here are 5 things to watch for (note that I’m using the masculine pronoun simply as a standard – having a female care provider does not guarantee like-mindedness (or open-mindedness either).
1. If he tells you not to be too hopeful about your future breastfeeding experience while you are pregnant, or pressures you to have formula on hand, he likely expects you to “fail.” It may be that this care provider doesn’t believe that the biological norm is important. He may even see man-made (manufactured) infant food as superior. It is also possible that he is not confident in his ability to help you through difficulties and doesn’t want you to hope too much in him. Encouraging you to prepare yourself for potential trials is understandable, but be on guard if his attitude toward breastfeeding is generally discouraging.
2. If he frowns on rooming-in with your newborn, suggests the nursery, or doesn’t allow skin to skin and breastfeeding within the first hour of birth, he likely doesn’t understand how important those early hours are. There are certainly instances where mother and baby need to be separated for a while after birth, but every effort should be made to keep them together – or get them back together quickly regardless of feeding choices. Unfortunately, since bottle feeding has been the norm in recent generations, many care providers see that early bonding and nursing time as a matter of preference and may even value the mother’s “rest” over time spent with the new baby.
3. If your care provider seems annoyed by your questions or scoffs at your opinions and concerns, he may not be supportive of you in general and won’t be the best help with breastfeeding. It’s very important that he is willing to take the time to answer your questions without making you feel silly for asking them. I remember feeling like the thousands of pages I read about breastfeeding during pregnancy just didn’t translate at all to my actual experiences because breastfeeding issues are so individual. Having a kind and wise care provider to talk with was invaluable.
4. If he tells you there is no value to breastfeeding after a certain point (6 months, 1 year, etc) then you cannot trust that he has done research into breastfeeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a minimum of 1 year, and the World Health Organization recommends at least two. The benefits of breastfeeding have no expiration.
5. If he encourages early bottle feeding or even weaning before discussing alternative support then he does not value breastfeeding as the best for baby in most circumstances. And while there are times when it is very important to seek advice about alternatives to breastfeeding and you want a care provider knowledgeable about them, look for someone who suggests those alternatives as a last resort or only if it’s what YOU want. Supplementing at the breast, cup feeding, increasing supply, etc. should all be discussed thoroughly before decisions are made.
If you and your doctor have a good rapport, it may be worthwhile to candidly tell him or her that you feel unsupported and give specific examples of unhelpful or biased advice. You could be an instrument of change in their lives if you are respectful and they are ready to hear what you have to say. However, do not hesitate to seek help (either additional help or alternative care) elsewhere if you feel pressured to make choices you aren’t comfortable with based on your own breastfeeding research. Your baby’s health and happiness are worth more than not upsetting your medical “authority.”