Permission to Quit

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How many times have you been told by a nurse or another LC that your patient just needed permission to quit? I have heard this so often and have always had mixed feelings about the statement as well as the idea. First of all, why would a mother need my or your permission to quit breastfeeding? If this is something she wanted to do than surely I am not near the top of her list of people to consult. But, you might argue, that if she has been seeing me in the clinic and after we have built a nice relationship and I have been working hard to help her through a difficult time, you might feel she will feel a sense of regret, or that she has disappointed me if she quit. And yes, I can relate to that. Some mothers have emailed or called or come in and said, I am sorry, I just can’t go on—it hurts too much, or the baby’s not latching is tearing me up inside, etc. Working through the thoughts and feelings with the mother I hope helps her to see she is not letting me down. She is not letting anyone down—it’s not about that. She has tried her best and needs to move on. But is that asking for permission?

I have had a number of mothers who tell me they do not enjoy breastfeeding at all. They are doing it because their partners have asked them to, or their mothers want them to, or they know this is best for their baby, or they feel pressured by someone. You must know this is a very small percentage of the mothers I see as I tend to see a very committed population who have gone through hoops to see us at our clinic. And with mothers like that, we talk about why they felt the need to initiate breastfeeding in the first place and what would make it more enjoyable, easier, or less problematic. Again, permission? I don’t think so. A cry for help, more so.

And there are some mothers who have struggled through everything—non latching baby who then starts to bite when he does eventually latch; and then mother gets mastitis or an abscess; or a yeast infection, or all three! And the baby is fussy or gassy and is screaming all the time. And she perseveres and things don’t seem to get better and she is crying all the time and getting no sleep and she still perseveres…so, is she waiting for me to say “hey, it’s okay, it’s not working, you did your best, give him the bottle and you will both be happy and you will never look back”? Hmmmm…I have had a few mothers that have told me that after they quit they never did look back, but here, I must argue. And that’s because I have heard from many more that said, “You know, just when I was ready to throw it all in you/he/my mother/friend/LC were/was the only one helping me hold on. And a year later I can say we are happily breastfeeding”. Or the mother who says, I threw in the towel—I just couldn’t do it anymore. And I just wish I had had my husband, or mother or mother in-law, or friend, or LC, etc who would have said to me, “Hey’ it’s okay, we will find a way through this, here’s a plan, let’s take it hour by hour, baby steps”.

You see, who am I to give someone permission to do something that may affect her life and that of her baby forever? No matter what she has gone through or how much she looks to me for guidance it is not for me to say, “It’s okay to stop—you gave it your all”. For one, I don’t want that kind of responsibility!! And I can’t believe all the LCs, nurses, docs, doulas, midwives, LLLs who have told me they gave a mother permission to quit. Yikes! That’s playing around with some ethical stuff there I don’t feel is my place to do so. No, if a mother needs permission to quit breastfeeding then it is herself she needs to ask, and herself to whom she must grant such permission. And whatever her decision I will support her and help her to get through it the best I can.

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