Providing Breastfeeding Support with the Beginner’s Mind

Providing Breastfeeding Support with the Beginner’s Mind

Categories: Leader Today, Uncategorized

Kelly Durbin, Austin,Texas, USA

For extra insight into breastfeeding support, I often read blogs, online forums, articles and books written by others in the lactation world. Gaining valuable knowledge and knowing that I do not have to “reinvent the wheel” when it comes to appropriately supporting others helps me to feel confident supporting parents with breastfeeding. But occasionally, I come across questionable information and advice.

Recently I read a breastfeeding blog written by a lactation support person. In it, she claimed that whenever she is helping a mother, she has the unique ability to see clearly what the issues are in only a few minutes, making breastfeeding support easy because there are no mysteries.

When I began supporting families with breastfeeding, I, too had a view that breastfeeding was straightforward and did not involve a lot of mystery. Having the right information would allow parents to make good decisions and set them on the proper path for success, right?

However, most of the time, providing breastfeeding support is not that easy or straightforward! After ten years of supporting families with breastfeeding, I have experienced a few epiphanies and insights but none more important than realizing that there is always some mystery and that there is not a single, “proper” path to reach  breastfeeding goals or for considering the experience a success.

As Leaders, we cannot know what circumstances lead to a mother’s breastfeeding issues or what was at the heart of her decision to seek support. We cannot know what factors are at work in her life, creating the need for breastfeeding information and support. We cannot assume to know any of this about any parent, even if the problem appears to be a straightforward issue.

An effective way to keep your breastfeeding support fresh and focused is by adopting the beginner’s mind, a concept found in Zen Buddhism. The attitude embodied within the beginner’s mind sounds at first to be the mark of a novice, but anyone from novice to expert can adopt the beginner’s mind. The beginner’s mind is an attitude of openness, a willingness to truly hear and see with curiosity instead of assuming anything or bringing in preconceived ideas.

With this attitude, you can choose to see each mother with fresh eyes, listen with fresh ears and remain open to the possibilities. Part of the beginner’s mind is inherent curiosity, which spurs conversation as you ask questions for clarity. This also helps to establish good rapport with parents. Adopting the beginner’s mind helps you provide your full attention to a person, focusing on her unique needs. Using the beginner’s mind also allows you to remain open to learning from parents and their situation while supporting them with the information and options they need.

Here are several ways to utilize the beginner’s mind when providing breastfeeding support:

  • Assume nothing about the situation, the breastfeeding issues or the mother’s background.
  • Approach all parents with an open mind, knowing that their situation is unique to them at this moment.
  • Adopt the use of genuine enquiry, focusing on effective questions.
  • Let go of having to be the expert. Think of your support as a conversation, not as instructions.
  • Let go of ideas about what parents “should” do. Instead, offer ideas and options that they might consider helpful.
  • Focus on the multitude of possibilities, not one single pathway for success.

There is always a bit of mystery in each breastfeeding journey. As you engage with mothers to reveal their story, the beginner’s mind attitude can be utilized to bring openness, creativity, and thoughtfulness into your interactions.

Kelly Durbin has been a Leader for about ten years in the United States with experience leading meetings in five different states across the country. She, her husband and their two daughters now live in Austin, Texas. Aside from providing volunteer breastfeeding support, Kelly also works as the Curriculum Development Coordinator for Childbirth International and is certified as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).