I read an article recently arguing that breastfeeding shouldn't need any interventions to be "successful"... and that products, companies and advice that intervene with the natural process of lactation are actually doing more harm than they are doing good.
I'll be honest; I didn't much care for the article.
Although I can appreciate the good intentions of the author, this notion of "all or nothing breastfeeding" is surely not great for the cause. Because there is no singular "perfect" breastfeeding model; every breastfeeding journey is different. In truth, the idea of "success" in relation to nursing is defined by only two people: mother and child.
A friend of mine has been exclusively pumping for her daughter for over four years. Without pumps, sterilizers and bottles, this particular breastfeeding relationship wouldn't have left the ground.
Another mother I know relied upon nipple shields for the first three months of her breastfeeding journey; not a "textbook" start by any means, but one that has seen their nursing relationship blossom over the last nine months.
And I can honestly say that without what my daughter refers to as her "choccy cream," my nipples would have been shredded years ago. I actually feel like sending bouquets of flowers to Earth Mama for salvaging both my nipples and my sanity in the face of a 6-month bout of cracks and bleeding, due to a gruesome combination of an undiagnosed tongue-tie and a teething toddler.
All of this "stuff," this paraphernalia, these extras... they are in no way a hindrance.
Mamas, let me say this: you are in no way a failure if you need help with breastfeeding, whether that help comes in the form of a lactation consultant, a breast pump or a pot of magical cream.
Nor are you a failure if you don't instantly take to breastfeeding. I visited a friend when her daughter was 3 weeks old. She answered the door with the phone in one hand and her nursing baby in the other. To me, at the time, she may as well have been levitating.
Because it took me months and months to figure out the "art" of breastfeeding my daughter. With my own specific nipples and her own specific mouth shape. It took me a long time to understand and accept that lactation is not a one-size-fits-all model. It is not "all or nothing."
And these products, all of this "stuff"... they give mothers the confidence to keep on trying. They give mothers relief from cracks and bleeding. They soothe both worries and pain.
I understand that the idea of needing "stuff" contradicts the idea that breastfeeding is an easy and natural process that mothers naturally fall into. But surely this contradiction is a good thing... because for the vast majority, breastfeeding is hard.
I was in absolute shock when my nursing experience started off so incredibly badly; I felt a failure and my lactation consultant didn't think I'd last a week...
And here I am, three and a half years later... still nursing a tongue-tied preschooler. With a semi-inverted nipple on one side and a breast well-accustomed to mastitis on the other. Here I am, on the other side of countless blocked ducts and cuts that would make your eyes water.
Here I am, simply thankful that there is help available... help in the form of information, communities and "stuff" for the tired and worried mama at 3:00 a.m., awake in the midst of the darkness once known as Night.
So it is with pride that I answer my friends, when they ask me about the cute little tub that I carry around with me at all times...
"Oh, this? This is my nipple balm. This is the tub of magic that saved my nipples."
This post originally appeared on Mama Bean Parenting.