Healing Breastfeeding Grief

Book review of Healing Breastfeeding Grief: How mothers feel and heal when breastfeeding does not go as hoped by Hilary Jacobson, 2016

The book Healing Breastfeeding Grief presents strategies to overcome painful emotions when breastfeeding doesn’t work out as hoped and a mother is grieving for its loss. Author Hilary Jacobson explains that breastfeeding grief is a form of complex grief and a challenging process to resolve:

When grief is entangled with emotions such as guilt, anger, blame, shame and remorse, the grief is more challenging to move through. The medical term for this is complicated grief or complex grief. Breastfeeding grief is a clear example of complicated grief, and untangling and resolving our emotions can be a challenge.

Although some parts of the book that relate to coping with breastfeeding grief may be useful to mothers, other sections have misleading information or stray into topics that are better covered elsewhere.

Part one

A five step plan underpins the book: building a support team, understanding the issues and reasons for breastfeeding struggles (consult an IBCLC lactation consultant), finding remedies, feeling and processing all the emotions surrounding the loss, and above all, focussing on loving the baby. The author explains the importance of being emotionally present to babies. Finding a resolution for regrets over the birth or breastfeeding relationship helps a mother to be truly “present” both emotionally and physically for her child.

How a mother feels, how we are within ourselves as we feed, love, hold and cuddle our baby, is also an essential form of nourishment that only we can give our baby.

The book reassures how breastfeeding is not the only way to bond with your little one, and that success at breastfeeding does not equate with success at being a mother.

Breastfeeding after birth is an opportune and unique time for bonding, but it is not the only opportunity or the only way to create deep bonding.

Part two

Part two of the book is dedicated to deep relaxation and positivity exercises which the author recommends for brain healing (healing grief). Suggestions discussed include:

  • Relaxation exercises, mindfulness practices, meditation, guided visualisations and transforming emotions.
  • Using the healing power of touch with your baby with skin-to-skin, massage, carrying, cuddling, safe co-sleeping, co-bathing, and relaxation.
  • Breast-nurturing for example feeding your baby at breast with a supplementary nursing system
  • Identifying what went wrong to cause breastfeeding difficulty e.g. discuss this with an IBCLC lactation consultant and make a plan for next time
  • Expressing your emotions, writing them down, or being creative
  • Reframing your story to look for positive aspects
  • Creating a positive future focus

Interviews and stories (part three)

Part three is a collection of advertisements for complementary and alternative practitioners for chiropractic, meditation, hypnotherapy, essential oils and more. I felt this section of the book would have been much more effective with an independent and impartial summary of alternative therapies and how they might help, rather than advertorials for specific therapists. The rationale for seeking alternative therapies is explained as follows:

Bringing ease to mom’s body (physically, neurologically, and emotionally) can help with relaxation, milk production, positional comfort, neck/ back tension, and can decrease body/ breast tenderness to name a few of the common benefits.

Cautions

Although the book contained some useful ideas to help with breastfeeding grief, and is full of good intent, there are a couple of important points that mothers reading it should be aware of:

#1 Homemade formula is not safe

The book makes a couple of references to the option of providing homemade formula for a baby. Industrially made formulas may not be perfect but attempting to copy breast milk by making a homemade formula could make your baby very sick. Maureen Minchin, Australian author and breastfeeding advocate, warns that homemade formulas do not come close to industrial versions and current homemade formulas in the public domain are of grave concern to those with any knowledge of infant nutrition and food safety:

No one can hope to mimic these complex foods by making homemade formulas. Yes, children will survive pretty much anything – but with consequences. This is a field in which a little knowledge misapplied could be a very dangerous thing.

For the latest information on the nutritional aspects of branded formulas in UK see the Infant Milks Overview from the First Steps Nutrition Trust or Types of Formula Milk (NHS website).

#2 Lip-tie is rare

Lip-tie is mentioned several times as a potential cause of breastfeeding difficulty and dental decay. Parents should be aware that a labial frenulum (membrane under the top lip) is normal anatomy in most cases and it is rare for an overly tight labial frenulum (lip-tie) to interfere with breastfeeding. There is currently insufficient evidence linking lip-tie with breastfeeding issues 1 2 and a discussion of this topic is beyond the scope of this book. I felt the practitioner statement that lip-tie causes dental caries because “milk collects in the pocket by the tie” was misleading and again, straying off topic in a book on healing breastfeeding grief. There are many possible causes for dental caries 3 but breast milk is not thought to be one of them, with or without a lip-tie.

#3 Medications compatible for breastfeeding

There is a reference that an IBCLC lactation consultant may be able to suggest an alternative medication if one is not compatible with breastfeeding. Suggesting medications is out of the scope of practice for an IBCLC lactation consultant. Discuss options with your health professional and see Medications and Breastfeeding for places to check on medication compatibility.

Summary

Healing Breastfeeding Grief has some useful information and covers an important topic. I like that the focus is on nurturing baby through plenty of close contact with mother. I applaud encouragement to find an IBCLC lactation consultant to help a mother unpick the issues that led to her struggles breastfeeding, so she can make peace with them and ease any ongoing issues. I do however have reservations about some of the claims and advertorials in the book which could damage its credibility, and I hope these might be addressed in a future edition.

Be sure to look for an IBCLC, as we have the rigorous education and certification that is needed to assess complex situations.

 

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