One Unhelpful Doctor

There’s been a lot of talk about breastfeeding out there on the internet, thanks to a recent study touting its benefits. It’s left me thinking about what this information means. How we should read it, and how it should impact our choices. The truth is that we’re all doing the best we can, and it’s not my place to question other moms or pass judgment. Really. But I do feel comfortable questioning the support system, or lack thereof, that new parents encounter.

Because of studies like this one, health authorities talk a lot about the benefits of breastfeeding and set targets for breastfeeding rates. But that doesn’t mean anything, if it’s not backed up with concrete action. As it is, our society often leaves new parents floundering. Sometimes, it even actively undermines their efforts.

When my daughter Hannah was 12 months old I took her to the doctor for a well-child visit, and before they checked anything else they weighed her. At first, the scale showed that she was 18 lbs 5oz. This was a little alarming, because at 9 months she’d weighed 19lbs 2oz. The doctor decided to re-weigh, and she clocked in at 18lbs 15oz. The only difference between the two weighs is that in the second she was wearing a (clean, disposable) diaper, which definitely did not weigh more than half a pound.

It seems pretty clear that the scale was not trustworthy. No other assessments were made – not head circumference, not height, no discussion of her developmental milestones. Yet, the doctor told me that I had to wean Hannah, because breastfeeding was causing her low weight gain. He said that cow’s milk is better for children over 1 year of age than breast milk. When I told him that I didn’t want to wean and Hannah refused cow’s milk, he said she would have to learn, because he wanted to see her gaining more.

I ended up finding a new doctor and following up with her. At 13 months Hannah had gained weight over her 9 and 12 month numbers. She was assessed to be a perfectly healthy, active little girl who was following her own growth pattern. The new doctor also kept track of her height, her physical and emotional development and other milestones. I didn’t wean Hannah, because breastfeeding was working for both of us and I was aware of recommendations from the Canadian Pediatric Society that breastfeeding continue to age 2.

I know that many people choose to wean before their baby’s first birthday, or shortly afterward. That’s fine. But it is also fine if you choose not to. A single weight check, especially one that seems so dubious, should not be enough to recommend weaning if the nursing pair isn’t ready. We need to evaluate more than one number to assess a child’s overall health and well-being. And we can’t have people like my first doctor actively undermining breastfeeding if we expect mothers to succeed at it.

I have heard similar stories from other mothers about their encounters with medical professionals. I have also heard stories about doctors and nurses who’ve gone above and beyond to help. I don’t want to trash the medical community – they work hard for their patients. But they are human, like everyone else, and they may or may not value breastfeeding. It may not be important to them. The issue is that if breastfeeding isn’t important to the professionals helping new mothers out, where can these mothers find support?

When I write about breastfeeding here, what I hope is that other people who are struggling may find help in my words. I hope that other moms who are breastfeeding their toddlers will know that they are not alone. I seek to join with others to support new parents instead of just paying lip service to how much we value families. New parents don’t need lip service – they need people to talk to when things aren’t going well, they need someone to help them understand what’s normal and what isn’t, and they need professionals who value their personal goals. Actually, they need those things no matter how they feed their babies.

Breastfeeding is important to me. But what is even more important is the health and happiness of mothers and babies. I just happen to believe that steps we take to promote breastfeeding, such as quality maternity leave and access to comprehensive support systems, are the same actions that promote the overall health and well-being of new families. That’s what we need more of. That’s what I hope will come out of studies like this one.

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  1. Yes! Yes! Yes!

    “that steps we take to promote breastfeeding, such as quality maternity leave and access to comprehensive support systems, are the same actions that promote the overall health and well-being of new families”
    .-= Tepary´s last post ..And the winner is…. =-.

  2. Unfortunately, based on my (admittedly anecdotal) experiences and those of people I know, doctors are almost the last people I would consult about breastfeeding matters. My sister’s friend had mastitis and had a walk-in clinic doc tell her to stop nursing immediately — HUH? Even my own doctor, who is generally very open-minded and an advocate for women’s issues, said I was waiting too long to introduce cereal for both babies. And advocating weaning based on one weighing? Pah! It’s annoying when the very people who are supposed to be knowledgeable about health matters are either uninformed or pushing their own agenda.
    .-= allison´s last post ..**************Seven Stupid Things Before Breakfast =-.

  3. Naomi Ruth Peters says:

    ur smrt

  4. It frustrates me when some doctors/nurses don’t support a parents beliefs, espeically when the CPS and AAP mention that it’s okay to breastfeed longer. I think there should be more LC’s available. I know mine was a life saver when I was stressing out about my supply.

    I’m glad you found a new doctor.
    .-= Sara´s last post ..Feeling empty =-.

  5. I am so glad you posted about this Amber, as it’s been on my mind a lot lately. We had the same “problem” with our son at his 1-year check up: he had fallen off his growth line and the health nurses absolutely freaked out, which made me freak out. Although he was perfectly healthy and active–really active!–and meeting all his other milestones, they wanted us to see all sorts of specialists about his health and diet. Of course, we needed a referral from our pediatrician, and we went to see her, she refused, saying that our son was perfectly healthy and growth lines are only one measure of a child’s health, and all you had to do was spend five minutes with our child to see that he was totally thriving, just small–like his exceptionally petite parents.
    Such sensible advice, I thought, and yet we all get caught up in statistics at times and ignore the whole child right before our eyes.
    .-= Sarah´s last post ..Favorite things: BALLS! =-.

  6. I had some good help and some not so good help from my health care providers – it turned out to be good enough though. I definately noticed that calling my local health centre and asking for help latching on my newborn got results, but calling them to help with a nursing strike with my one-year old just got me puzzled “and why are you not looking at this as a splendid opportunity to wean?” responses. That’s where the internet came in handy though, and the stories and experiences and advice of other women.
    .-= Betsy´s last post ..VII – Happily Ever After The End Part, or LUCKY =-.

  7. Amber, you are wonderful and I have so much respect for you and your approach.

    I totally 100% agree with you, there needs to be more support. I am trying to look at these studies as a way to encourage the political will to get governments to change their policies and provide that support rather than a guilt trip.

    But, I am going to share my however here, because I feel like I keep saying it and no one is listening. I get the sense that, well you may not agree with me, you might hear my point (and really I think I just want to be heard).

    I feel that studies like these, while they may help change societies perception and governments actions (both of which are needed), they also put a lot of stress on new Mom’s. When we paint the alternative to breastfeeding as very risky and harmful, we set Mom’s up to struggle, because they stress about the possibility of needing to turn to the alternative. All that stress isn’t good for milk production, the establishment of a good nursing relationship, the mother’s mental health or bond with their child. In some cases, like mine, I also feel that it would have been healthier for my child if I had stopped nursing sooner, as she was really not gaining any weight. But I had read the studies and heard about the risks, and I was scared. And stressed out. I am sure this wasn’t the only issue for me, but I do think it was a part of it. And I have connected with a lot of Mom’s who also feel that the pressure to breastfeed made it more difficult for them to succeed.

    The other issue I see is that there are a lot of women out there who would take up the cause of changing some of these policies and societal issues, if we didn’t feel so alienated by the discussion. The truth is that the majority of women in the US and just under half the women in Canada are using formula by the time their baby is 6 months old. Many of us want to champion the cause of better support for breastfeeding and better policies (like maternity leave) so that other Mom’s have a fighting chance at making breastfeeding successful. And to your point, these policies are good for all mothers and parents, not just breastfeeding ones. But it is hard to champion a cause when the champions tell us we have harmed/ are hurting our babies.

    As I say, this is not directed at you. You have been nothing but supportive and non-judgmental on this issue. I just wish this message would be heard. I believe that part of supporting Mothers to make breastfeeding successful is also considering the impact that all this pressure puts on us.
    .-= Kathleen (amoment2think)´s last post ..ControverSunday: Pacifiers and other comforts =-.

    • I think that we really all just want to be heard. There was a point, when my first child was a week old, when I gave up on breastfeeding. I sobbed to my midwife about how I couldn’t do this, and I sort of wanted her to say, “There, there, you don’t have to.” Instead, she suggested I try nipple shields, which ended up helping immensely and seeing me through

      If my midwife hadn’t suggested the nipple shields that night, I think the odds I wouldn’t have made it are pretty high. Better than 50%, anyway. And I can see that I would have felt tremendous guilt about that. I would have cringed when I read about how breastfeeding saves lives, because the corollary is that formula is harmful. But I would have been the same person, with the same parenting style and values.

      Here’s my point – we are all just doing the best we can, and as breastfeeding advocates we need to remember that people who aren’t breastfeeding may still value breastfeeding immensely. They may have wanted to succeed. They may have fought tooth and nail to succeed. So I try to be clear that my motives are to support moms and families as best I can, not to condemn others who had a different outcome.

      Just as I cannot make sure that every medical professional gives good information, I can’t make sure that every breastfeeding advocate is sensitive to the pain of others. I wish I could. The best I can do is to try to be sensitive myself, and clear about what I’m saying and why. And I hope that my voice will be heard, and your voice will be heard. We all deserve that.

  8. Good for you to sticking with your guns! It is your choice to continue breastfeeding and if you feel that it is not harming your child, you know best. There are still doctors out there who do not support breastfeeding, which is sad and frustrating.

  9. I hear you…at 32 mths my son weighs (barely) 25 lbs, yes he is still nursing, yes he drinks cows milk and yes he eats solid food. I do my best to feed him well and encourage him to eat/drink as much as he wants; but this is his weight and there isn’t much to be done about it. I’ve been dealing with the “low weight gain/failure to thrive” label from the time he was six weeks old.

    Luckily, our family doctor and all the nurses we have encountered have not once suggested that weaning was the answer to the low weight gain, instead I learned about breast compressions and attended some LLL meetings. The only people to suggest weaning and/or supplementing have been friends or family.

    I admit to actively encouraging my son (who is closing in on age 3) to wean, but it is time for both of us. When I decided to have a baby I accepted that I would do my absolute best for that baby. Frankly, nursing wasn’t a consideration, I didn’t consider any alternative. Cloth diapers I considered and it wasn’t for us, co-sleeping we didn’t consider but it is a norm in my family and I just assumed we would do it too and we do still have our son in our bed most of the time, baby wearing is also something else we did because a lot of times it is way easier than a stroller.

    Wow, I’m rambling now…anyhow, parents are faced with millions of choices (hudreds in a single day) and I just think we all need to do what is best for our individual situations, while taking the facts into consideration.
    .-= Tara´s last post ..TaraCain: Why have I been sitting here on s stopped train for over 5 minutes…so going to be late for work! (@ Holdom Skytrain Station) =-.

  10. My hope with the recent study released is not that we put more stress on new mothers (God knows we’re already afflicted with massive amounts of guilt for every decision or non-decision we make!) but rather that it would put some focus on fathers and support systems and ESPECIALLY the medical community, as you wrote.

    I spent 8 years in the States and the contrast between our medical system and theirs is shocking. So from my perspective, the support and resources I received from the medical community here was incredibly pro-mother, pro-breastfeeding etc. There is always room for improvement but overall, my experience was fairly positive.
    .-= Sarah@EmergingMummy´s last post ..In which these are the days… =-.

  11. Thanks for this Amber.

    Breastfeeding can be such a complex issue, especially when emotions get involved. This was a great post.
    .-= Capital Mom´s last post ..Birthday party =-.

  12. That’s what made me so angry when my youngest was in the hospital and they pushed formula to deal with the jaundice. I had two older ones, so I knew how to fight it, but someone without that confidence would have given up before she even began.
    .-= Emily R´s last post ..Anyone who says differently is selling something =-.

  13. I had great breastfeeding support at the hospital – the nurses went out of their way to help me with latch, holds, and advice in the days after my emergency c-section. I seemed to have a problem with supply, though, and when I left the hospital I was referred to a Vancouver MD who’s a “breastfeeding specialist”. Being 100% committed to breastfeeding, I was grateful to have the support I needed. Unfortunately the “specialist” and her methods were so brutal, (yes brutal, I left her office with bruise marks where she had touched me) that I went home from the visit in tears and dreading the moment my son woke up and I’d have to try and feed him again. Fortunately that afternoon was the in-home community nurse visit and she talked me off the ledge. A few days later my milk came in and we had a successful bfing relationship for as long as my son wanted to.

    What horrified me most about the “specialist” visit was that I noticed on the office wall as we were leaving that hers was a teaching practice affiliated with UBC. Those completely unhelpful methods are being passed on to a whole new generation of doctors. Ack.
    .-= Alexis´s last post ..Food Revolution Fridays – Blueberry Pie Edition =-.

  14. Preach it, Amber! We need more breastfeeding models and advocates – for the children’s sake.
    .-= Trece´s last post ..Top Ten Reasons Why I Am Enough =-.

  15. ugh. A woman in my infant group added formula with her first baby (doctor’s orders), and flat out refused the second time round. Her little girl (second born) was absolutely skin and bones at 4 months. By six months, when she was able to add some solids, she started to pick up and now she’s 9-months and a wonderful strong healthy girl. I feel so proud of her for doing what she knew was right.

  16. It’s good that you trusted your instincts and got a second opinion. Good too that you had the option of switching doctors! In this town getting a doctor that you can call your own can take 2 years or more. And getting one that seems to know your case is next to impossible! I lived in this town 7 years before I got a doctor, I was 3 months pregnant with my first before I found a family practitioner that had a space. Thankfully once I was in their office, I was golden, even when my doctor left for stress leave before my due date, at least she had another doctor in the office that I was trusting to deliver my baby.
    .-= *pol´s last post ..I am a pushover. =-.

  17. Great post Amber. I have breastfed my daughter Annabelle for 3 years now and I learned early on to trust my instincts over what I was being advised by this or that academy. I hate that I even have to say that I practice extended breastfeeding with my child (though we do look sort of odd since I nurse my preschooler and my infant is taking a bottle).

    Anyway, I think it comes down to individual choice and education. I wish more hospitals and main stream media coverage would encourage mothers to breastfeed for as long as they want.

  18. Makes me wonder if this unhelpful doctor was older? I can’t imagine a younger doctor saying that cow’s milk is actually better. Regardless of what mothers choose to do, I would hope their doctors have better information now.
    .-= Laura´s last post ..Robert Is No Edward =-.

  19. Jasie VanGesen says:

    this post gets a BIG FAT HUUUUUUUUUUUGE amen from me.

  20. Exactly!! I experienced the same thing: at 3 months when my son’s (then) pediatrician mentioned the possibility of “breastfeeding jaundice,” she immediately advised me to quit nursing and put him on formula “to get rid of the jaundice.” Not only did she not bother to test, but her advice was outdated. Thankfully, I went home and did my own research, then I found another pediatrician who told me a) my son was just fine; but b) I should keep nursing regardless (if anyone is interested in the research on using formula to fight “breastfeeding jaundice,” I’d be happy to find it again).
    One unhelpful medical professional or misinformed LC can ruin a woman’s breastfeeding efforts. Support is VITAL.
    .-= Dionna @ Code Name: Mama´s last post ..How We Came to Unschooling =-.

  21. Sometimes I wonder whether we aren’t just chocking under an impressive wealth of information, and whether we shouldn’t learn to trust our instinct a little bit more.
    .-= Francesca´s last post ..Corner View ~ thank you Jane! =-.

  22. The media is full of breastfeeding studies and stories and awesome posts this week. And *I* am in the middle of a Blog carnival. What’s a breastfeeding blogger girl to do? I’ve got it! Round em’ up. Prepare to be linked to Amber! Sometime in the near but unknown future. Great post!
    .-= Melodie´s last post ..The Skinny on Being Skinny =-.

  23. I wrote about my feelings on this last year – the way in which our perception of our situation changes depending on the circumstances we lived through. I formula fed,and I breastfed. I was annoyed with lactivists, then I became one. The way I felt about my situation changed with my new knowledge base. With my second son, I went through something similar to you – it was hard, and I really hoped people would give me the permission to throw in the towel, but that time I had people around me (on the internets) who weren’t afraid to give me the tough support – and I thank goodness for that all the time. They reached down and pulled me out of the trenches when I felt like I couldn’t go on, and my son and I experience a nursing relationship that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.

    It’s really hard to see the good intentions in people when they’re not saying what we want them to, but it would be really helpful to check our perceptions before we get mad at the people trying to help us. I’ve been guilty of it – I still am guilty of it at times, but I’m trying to do better.
    .-= TheFeministBreeder´s last post ..Forget Everything I Said About Breastfeeding… =-.

  24. You’re making me want to revisit this issue… it’s frustrating (as a public health scientist) when medical providers don’t follow best practices. Is presenting breastfeeding as a “choice” a best practice? And, if not, what other ways can we give the message that breastfeeding or using formula are not inter-changeable and equal in their outcomes?

    How do Canadian bfing rates compare to those of the States? I’m assuming much higher due to the (relatively speaking) generous maternity benefits and health care model. The State I live in has the lowest breastfeeding rate of any State in the entire U.S. Less than half of women even initiate it at birth!
    .-= Cold Spaghetti´s last post ..New Twist on my sneezing. =-.

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  1. […] fluid infection, for instance, falls under the heading of ’scary but not helpful’. My negative experience with my family doctor, on the other hand, might be useful to a […]

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