Getting Emo about Kellymom - The importance of Mother to Mother Support
I gave birth to my second child in 2012. I was in the middle of finishing up a MS in Psychology and in the process of applying for another MS in Health Education and Behavior, feverishly studying for the GRE while nursing my newborn and finishing up my capstone project, and I stumbled upon the Kellymom Breastfeeding Support Group on Facebook.

DS2 was not nearly as wakeful as his older brother was at that age (and is still a better sleeper), but as all normal newborns do, he woke every 60-90 minutes to nurse around the clock. Having gone through this before, and having been raised in a family and moving in a social circle where breastfeeding is the norm, I just accepted this and found ways to occupy myself while I was up for the MOTN (middle of the night) feedings. When DS1 was little, back before I had mobile devices and WiFi, I read books and watched reruns of Roseanne, Designing Women, and sitcoms of similar ilk. With DS2 I now had the option to socialize on an iPad while he nursed to his heart's content.

I found that I had more frequent letdowns while reading about other mothers and their breastfeeding experiences, so I was soon addicted and visited there frequently. It was this group that helped me to find my way into the world of lactation support, and eventually helped me to uncover the pivotal focus on my advocacy work. Eventually, I was blessed to be asked to help admin the Facebook group and my experience offering support and guidance in that arena not only established a connection to a network of mamas that I can turn to for support but also served as a proving ground where my mettle as an admin and a breastfeeding lay supporter was tried and tested.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding in the first year of my children's lives were an exceptionally vulnerable time for me. Never before, or since, have I felt so exposed, nor have I had such a need for a tribe or like-minded mamas who could offer the type of commiseration and support that only those who are "in the trenches" with you can truly offer.

Invisible Motherhood

The realest parts of motherhood in the early days are often invisible, and this is not necessarily a new cultural artifact. Early Victorian Portraits show mothers bizarrely draped with fabric, or with their faces/heads scratched off the film. The reasons for this are still a matter of debate, but I think it reflects a certain quality of being the mother of an infant. It's a time when you are not you, your primary role - by virtue of the fact that without this shift, an infant's survival is at stake - becomes focused on helping this little being become big enough to survive "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune."

Those leaky wee small hours of the morning tinged with the smell of sour milk, the gritty reality of the very stark transition that we are called upon to make - these don't fit well into the photoshopped marketing images that are ubiquitous in our culture today.

Intention, social support and confidence are some of the primary indicators of breastfeeding success that have been defined in the existing literature base. This may be a pretty obvious conclusion, but isolation is one of the most frequently mentioned and long-remembered issue for new mothers in the North American cultural context. It follows that isolation + the transition that accompanies the introduction of a new member into the family who is tiny, helpless, and often subject to cultural expectations of behavior that are completely unrealistic = increased risk for postpartum depression, and early cessation of breastfeeding.

Let's face it, it's a messy time for new parents. If you just gave birth, you have bodily fluids coming out of all sorts of orifices, and you have an additional tiny human that is also spewing bodily fluids from all sorts of orifices onto you, and there's this crazy hormonal cascade happening that makes everything wonky. If you had a Cesarean, you're recovering from major surgery. If you gave birth vaginally, your vagina just exploded.

If you are introverted, you've got the double doozy of being exhausted by social interaction while being simultaneously exhausted by healing, lack of sleep, and life. So here comes the internet, which is criticized as being a factor in a society characterized by increasing alienation and disconnection. But when you are existing in this invisible sphere of new motherhood, it can be a welcome respite, a lifeline where you can connect with the dispersion that has become the modern new mama's tribe.

Mother to mother support fills a gap that can be critical to breastfeeding maintenance. The amount of lactation education that healthcare providers receive in their professional preparation is widely variable; program directors from pediatric residency program across the US reported the total hours of lactation education for residents ranging from 0.5-86 hours. There is also a surfeit of bad breastfeeding advice floating around out there.

Breastfeeding lay supporters are necessary for the less medically complicated breastfeeding issues. And we do this because we are passionate about helping other parents, because there sure ain't any monetary remuneration happening up in these parts. We use what happened to us in our breastfeeding and parenting relationships, to shape how we support others.


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