Tessa Clark, Buckinghamshire, United Kingdom
At some point, within the course of helping mothers, you will probably experience a feeling of unease. It might be self-doubt in your own abilities or a more specific concern about the nursing dyad you are helping. So where should you turn for help in these situations?
Sometimes a mother might ask about something that we instantly know is outside our role of offering breastfeeding support. While it is a compliment that they trust us enough to ask, Leaders can confidently state that this issue falls outside our organization’s mission and move past it. But what if the mother is asking a complex breastfeeding question and you do not know the answer?
During the leadership application process, we practice active listening. This is a conscious skill, and a handy one to fall back on when you are feeling unsure. Try to reflect the mother’s feelings back to her. Using open-ended questions can help the mother explore her own questions. You can ask for more information about something she may have said, take notes to refer to later and let the mother know you will consult your resources and/or colleagues and get back to her.
It is important to remind ourselves that as Leaders, we are not expected to know everything about breastfeeding and all issues that might arise, just where to look for further information. Checking the latest edition of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, Breastfeeding Answers Made Simple or the LLLI website may provide the additional information needed.
Talk with another Leader
If you have a local co-Leader, this is a great first stop for most Leader concerns. Even if neither of you is sure of the answer to a mother’s question, you can often learn together—a problem shared is a problem halved!
Before sharing a mother’s situation with another Leader, be mindful of maintaining confidentiality and obtain permission from the mother to share her information.
Internationally, the structures of LLL Groups differ. If you do not have a local Leader to confer with, you may have a Leader who covers your LLL Area and who will be able to listen to your concerns. If you are unsure about this, please ask within your Area.
Professional Liaison Department
Sometimes a mother’s scenario might call for a greater understanding of medical information. If your area has one, consider contacting the Profesional Liaison Department.
Trusting your instincts is important. At times you may feel concerned that mother or baby need urgent medical help or that something doesn’t sound quite right. Your Professional Liaison Department will be able to support you in such a situation, but be sure to refer a mother back to her or her baby’s health professionals for medical checks whenever you have concerns. You may also want to talk the scenarios through with your Areas’ safeguarding representative if you have one. A safeguarding representative is someone who is the first point of contact when you have any welfare concerns about an individual. They will have had further training about guidelines to follow in such a situation.
Leaders’ social media groups
If you do not have a co-Leader to help problem solve a difficult query, social media via private Leaders’ forums can be a convenient way of reaching out for support. In LLL Great Britain, there is a vibrant and supportive national (secret) Leaders’ Facebook group. Leaders often post anonymously, with the mother’s permission, for ideas on difficult helping situations. It is wonderful to see so many minds connecting to help one mother, often with a side helping of Leader support too.
Internet search engines
If you haven’t found quite what you are looking for in your current published resources, you can also try searching online. There are a lot of breastfeeding websites however and as Leaders we must be careful to only share those that are “evidenced-based.” The LLLI website or your own country’s LLL website can be good starting points. La Leche League GB has many informational articles on a variety of common concerns.
If you have a relevant resource in a shareable written form, it can help to reinforce the key points of your conversation. Leaders, just like mothers, are often overwhelmed with information when in a crisis mode. Having something to refer to again and again later will not only save you time, but enable you both to return to the information as often as needed.
Moving on with LLLove
Sometimes, mothers might direct feelings of disappointment towards Leaders, or be uncomfortable reminders of Leaders own personal issues. It is okay to assert your own boundaries, meet your own needs and back away from the helping situation if you need to. Refer the mother to a co-Leader or the health professional responsible for their care.
Sometimes, unsettled feelings can arise when we have overstepped our role as a supporting person in a mother’s breastfeeding journey. It can be very easy to get invested in the mother’s breastfeeding experience, but this is not a sustainable way of supporting mothers. Only the mother is responsible for her own outcome. We can offer information and support, but ultimately it is the mother’s journey alone.
When we choose to be responsible to a mother, as opposed to being responsible for her, we enable the mother to make her own informed choices. This way our satisfaction within a helping situation can be separated from the individual experience of any mother. Many of us will feel this keenly when the lines blur in helping loved ones with breastfeeding issues.
Further development opportunities
You can organise or attend communication skills workshops in your Area to further explore your thoughts, feelings and reflections. Remember that sharing your experiences of a difficult helping situation in written form with Leader Today can be a great way to help other Leaders worldwide who might encounter similar situations.
When you are faced with a feeling of unease or self-doubt, do not underestimate the power of your presence in a mother’s breastfeeding journey. Allowing a mother the time and space to speak, and be listened to might be a rare gift for many mothers’ lives. Even if you feel you have exhausted all your resources and there is nothing more you can say or do for a mother, it is likely that you have helped by the simple act of doing what you do, listening with LLLove.
Tessa Clark lives with her husband and two children (one and three) in the United Kingdom. When she is not busy with her LLLGB roles, family life or work as a paediatric nurse, she is writing about and studying everything to do with human lactation.