School of Public Health

VOICE FROM THE FIELD: How to Nurture a Breastfeeding Mother

June 2017
Author: Malka Main

Idaho mother-of-four Sachi Woolstenhulme said her daughters were easier to breastfeed than her boys.

Breastfeeding was nothing like the picture Sachi Woolstenhulme had in her head before she gave birth. “It’ll be easy,” she thought. “It comes naturally.  That’s just what moms do.” Sachi imagined herself smiling down on a peacefully breastfeeding baby.

It was nothing like that.

When she first put her nipple in her son’s open, hungry mouth he wailed. Sachi looked down at him with sleepless eyes and growing despair and wondered why it wasn’t working. She tried again. He wouldn’t latch. He only cried harder.  Sachi looked up helplessly at the nurses. What do I do? How do I breastfeed? They nodded in sympathy and set down several little jars of baby formula, “just in case.”

This small act felt like a judgment, a pronouncement of an inevitability. Maybe she couldn’t do it, she thought. Sachi was a 19-year-old in her first year of college and these were healthcare professionals. “I was ready to give up,” she said. “I didn’t know if he was getting enough milk, I didn’t know what I was doing.”

It was Sachi’s mother who helped her get through that first week. “You need to stick this out,” she told her daughter. “It’s going to be okay, it’s just really stressful right now because you are trying to be a mom, too.”

Her mother was right. Sachi never reached for that formula. She kept bringing her crying boy to her breast and finally he latched. “I probably wasn’t still doing it like I should, because I had soreness and pain, but it got better,” said Sachi. “Because of my mom’s encouragement, I breastfed him for a year and half.”

A few years later, Sachi moved from Los Angeles to Idaho where she met and married her husband. She got a part-time job as a Breastfeeding Peer Counselor with the Women, Infant, and Children’s (WIC) Program and gave birth to three more children – girl, boy, girl. The girls were easy, she said, maybe their instincts were better, maybe it was something else.

The birth of Sachi’s second son shook her. He came out three weeks too soon with low blood sugar, jaundice, and a mouth too small to easily grip her nipple. This time the formula wasn’t just a wordless suggestion. The hospital staff insisted Sachi supplement. She insisted she would not. I want to breastfeed, she told them.  She was overwhelmed, now a mother of three, trying to nurse a reluctant newborn surrounded by nurses and doctors telling her not to.  But she had her mother and her husband and her supervisor at WIC. You can do this, they told her, you can breastfeed this baby. Sachi thought about her work and all those encouraging, supportive things she had told to so many other mothers.

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She did everything she could to keep up her milk supply – she laid hot washcloths on her chest, did manual breast compressions, she woke herself up every hour to scoop up her tiny boy and lay him skin-to-skin. His jaundice kept him so sleepy that even when he did manage to latch he would suck twice and fall asleep in her arms. She tickled his feet to wake him up and start the two-suck cycle over again, and again, until she felt he was nourished. Soon it started to get better. His blood sugar went up, his jaundice cleared, his latch stronger and more frequent. She breastfed him for more than 2 years, all through her fourth pregnancy, until her daughter was a month old.

Like her first daughter, Sachi’s second took to nursing right away. But she noticed something different at the hospital. When she told the nurses she wanted to breastfeed, they didn’t bring in that little jar of formula “just in case.” Instead they sent in a lactation specialist.  When she left the hospital, the nurses tucked breast pads into her to-go bag with instructions on how to get a breast pump. The hospital staff’s attitude toward breastfeeding had completely changed.

Sachi 's children learn to breastfeed (their dolls) by example

Sachi said she noticed a change outside the hospital too. When she was first nursing, a woman at a restaurant told her she was being inappropriate and sent the waiter to suggest Sachi breastfeed elsewhere, like maybe her car. “I was really embarrassed, I didn’t know what to say.”

But it didn’t stop her from feeding her babies when they needed to be fed and she prepared a speech for the next time she was confronted. But when a woman did come up to her at another restaurant a few years later she praised Sachi for nursing her baby at the table.

“It’s getting better, but it’s still pretty rough for moms trying to breastfeed in public,” said Sachi. “You immediately see the dirty looks, it is discouraging. It makes you feel terrible.”

Emotions can affect breastfeeding, explained Sachi. Nursing mothers need to hear that what they are doing is right. “It is so important to have that support from other people. Confidence is a big part of breastfeeding,” she said. “It can seriously make or break you.”