Postpartum Doula Training: When Your Client Wants to Quit Breastfeeding

breastfeeding postpartum doula postpartum doula training Jun 22, 2021
When your postpartum doula client wants to quit breastfeeding, there are a lot of variables to consider. I'm going to back it up.
First of all, you've got to have clear communication.  Ideally, you're observing.
Hypothetically, this is somebody you've been working with for a couple of days or so. The baby is say less than a month old so it's early on in the breastfeeding relationship.
She's talking about quitting breastfeeding. She made the decision to breastfeed while she was pregnant. Maybe there have been some challenges. Again, there's a lot of different variables here but I always want to know why. What else is going in that could trigger this desire?  Why would someone want to quit breastfeeding?

You, the postpartum doula,  want to really hone in on what to ask so you have a better sense of what's going on. There  are times where you have been observing and you get a sense of something.

I want to give you an example of a client I worked with years ago with twins who had said she wanted to breastfeed.  I think they were in the hospital a couple extra days.  I came when they got home. There was family around. What I remember distinctly is that I had to sit my client down and ask her, "Do you want to breastfeed?"  I was getting mixed messages and I didn't know what my role was with these beautiful newborn babies and this new mother and family. She was on a pumping schedule per the IBCLC, and it was a regiment that I was totally willing to follow and help her with.  Yet, every time I would tell her it was time to pump she would say,  "Why don't you just feed them this time and I'll pump later."
There was this kind of communication going on where she said she wanted to breastfeed but she wasn't doing what what I knew she needed to do to keep up her supply. I didn't want to push it on her either. Her sister pulled me aside and asked me what I could do to help the breastfeeding.  I discovered that her sister and her husband were really pushing the breastfeeding; they really wanted her to breastfeed and were so supportive. Yet the mother was not in the game.  Her head wasn't in the game.
She was exhausted, and she had twins.  There was a lot going on.  As much as postpartum doulas and all doulas birth workers are advocates for breastfeeding, and we know the facts about formula, not everyone breastfeeds.
Consider what your client wants. What are her wishes?  What are you hearing? What are you observing?
If you're not sure, it's okay to ask questions and it's okay to simply ask,  "Do you really want to breastfeed?"

As a postpartum doula, it can be challenging because we really want to give it our all but it's not about us. It's about the client and what they want.

 So when your client wants to quit breastfeeding:

  • You may have to ask more questions and figure out what's going on. 
  • Maybe it's a sleep issue and not even a breastfeeding issue.
  • Perhaps she's getting pushed and pushed and she just really doesn't want to do it. 
  • There could be some challenges and some hurdles you're unaware of and she's really having a hard time. Maybe you know you can overcome that with her.
  • There could be an anomaly with the actual nipples;  they're inverted or there's something else going on there.
There there are many things that could be happening.  As a postpartum doula, it's important to stay within your scope of practice and your knowledge of the problem or solution. When I first started I didn't know a lot about breastfeeding. I was a new doula. I remember a client with cracked and bleeding nipples day three on a job. I remembered some stuff I learned and I provided emotional support. I called in some help.
You're going to learn as you go. Don't be afraid to ask for support. Your resources are very important There's a lot to know about breastfeeding.  Some people go to school for years.
I have my CLC which is certified lactation counselor, but I only recently got that. There's always more to know. It's okay to say you don't know but you'll find out.
Hopefully you're meeting with somebody before they have the baby and you're finding out what they know and what they want to know more about. It's all about your clients wishes.  You can over educate and you can under educate.  You can say and do all you want but at the end of the day you want to know how can you help your client and family and partners achieve what they want.  A postpartum doula helps them tune in to their own intuition.
I believe that's what's missing a lot of times. When your client wants to quit breastfeeding  you may be thinking on your feet because perhaps you were never presented with this challenge before.  This is a new client and you're a new postpartum doula.  You've got to learn to trust your own instincts, and be resourceful.  Of course, for me, it's sad when someone does want to quit and I have to help them quit.
How do you help someone quit breastfeeding?  Everything you're taught says support, promote, and protect breastfeeding.  I get it. However, if your client truly doesn't want to breastfeed then how can you help her to stop? It  should be gradual. There may need to be just a little bit of pumping involved; not for milk supply but just to alleviate discomfort.
Some people still use cabbage leaves. I suggest you look that up.  There has been a a lot of back and forth with that. Some say  it can help dry up the supply. I believe there are some teas, and there are many other ways.  I'm not going to address that here. It's a good idea to know how you can help somebody quit. There are multiple ways to do it and it depends on where is the supply and demand are at the moment of quitting.  Maybe the supply has already diminished so much that she's ready to quit because she's not seeing any milk. You could certainly help amp up the supply but if that's not what she wants you don't want to do that. 
It's important to know your role so you're clear on what's needed from you, so you can provide the best support as a postpartum doula. 

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