Nursing mothers are a delicate species. There are rumors that the women from La Leche are a bit hard core, some might say crazy, but I'd describe them more as passionate about nursing. Breastmilk, as I've covered before, is insanely good for your child. It has tons of benefits, nursing is a major bonding experience, and it's way cheaper than formula. Nursing, as an experience, changes a mother. I must admit, I was temporarily insane for a few hours last week when I thought I might have to stop nursing abruptly. It happens to the best of us. Now let me give the rest of the world a little bit of insight into the mind of a nursing mother and how best not to set them off.
When I became pregnant, I was hopeful that nursing would take, I'd be able to produce enough milk, Ada would latch on, it wouldn't be too painful, yadda yadda. There are a ton of issues that go into the decision to nurse. It is a very personal choice, and one that is highly influenced by spouses, a woman's workplace, friends, peers. And in the US, it isn't as popular or widely accepted as it is in foreign countries since somewhere someone decided that potentially seeing a little boob exposed in public was a bad thing -- definitely wasn't a man making that decision.
Lucky for me, Ada took to nursing and it turns out I have good boobs. Which was shocking since everyone made fun of me for being small busted as a teenager and I've been a bit self conscious ever since then. Now I'm a temporary C cup and don't know what to do with them. But I digress...
If you know someone who is nursing, the first rule is to be supportive of her decision. If you are uncomfortable with her whipping out the boob in your presence, you can mention it to her in private or leave the room when she is feeding. Chances of you seeing actual boob are not likely, and if you do, consider it a free scene from an R rated movie and get over it. It's part of the miracle of life. You'll understand one day when you have kids and if you don't, then you're weird.
Second rule is not to ever suggest that she switch to formula unless it is something she really wants to do and your position is one of saying, "don't worry that you have to supplement with formula/stop nursing. Babies are brought up on formula all of the time and it doesn't make you a bad mom. The fact that you tried nursing is more than a lot of people and something you can be proud of." This follows rule number one by being supportive.
Rule number three is never suggest to a nursing mother that she stop nursing and bottle feed the breastmilk to the baby in order to break the mother/child bond so it is easier for others to take care of the baby. That's just stupid. Babies need their mothers. It is their time together and I don't believe you can spoil your child by nursing them.
Rule four, don't ever suggest a mother supplement formula for breastmilk in order to make the baby less gassy once they are a few months old. The baby should adjust to the mother's milk after about a month so if they are gassy, it isn't likely due to what the mom is eating.
Rule five, if you aren't an expert on nursing, or haven't at the very least experienced it yourself, don't ever tell a nursing mother what to do. Just don't.
Rule six, don't ever tell a mother they need to go to the bathroom to breastfeed unless you are going to provide them with a comfortable chair and sanitary conditions for them to nurse privately. No one should be banished to a dirty public restroom in order to not disturb the other patrons. That's crap.
Rule seven, be sensitive to a woman who is weaning her child off the boob. It is a very emotional time. I've got it in my head that I will nurse Ada for about a year. That seems to be a common goal for moms. Some make it a few weeks, some go for six months, I'm shooting for a year since that is when she can switch to whole cow's milk. Mooo. One of my main motivations is that I don't want to pay for formula since it is so expensive. The other reason, which I realized only after my milk supply was threatened, is that I really like our time spent nursing because I have an excuse to cuddle with Ada. And if someone else is holding her, I have an excuse to take her back anytime I want because "she needs to nurse". It's great.
Rule eight, encourage your workplace and stores you shop at to be mom friendly and provide amenities for nursing moms. It's difficult enough to nurse but even worse when you have to try to find somewhere you feel you can whip out your boob in order to get your kid to stop screaming in public. Just adjusting to motherhood is tough but once you add nursing, you're on a whole new level in the game of life.
I will say that mother's shouldn't nurse their children to sleep, or should at least try not to since it can be bad for their teeth in the long run and they can get ear infections too. But it is easier said than done and takes time to change that habit.
And a mini lesson in milk production. Even though your doctor/lactation consultant/friend's-mother's-grandfather's-dog-that-has-since-passed-away-and-been-reincarnated-as-a-fairy-godmother says that you can go on a birth control with estrogen, even if it is localized like the nuva ring, there is still a good chance it will decrease your milk production, especially if you are thin. And stress can dramatically lower your milk production. And when your child starts solids, your milk supply will drop. So when you start nursing, it is best if you can pump a little each day to store in the freezer for when/if your milk supply dwindles. And if it does, don't worry. It can, and likely will, come back. In my case, I thought I was done for since I only had 3 oz left. But then I stayed home with Ada for a day and nursed, pumped like crazy, de-stressed a bit, got off the estrogen birth control and things have been much better. And it really helps to reduce stress if you just go out and buy a formula you'd be willing to give your child mixed with some breastmilk in case you ever run out. Then you know that even if things go poorly with your supply, your child won't starve to death for lack of milk, even if it is formula -- which isn't a four letter word mind you. It's just really expensive. :)
And as an afterthought to all of this, be sure you have friends who have nursed that you can ask all kinds of questions. I asked several friends what to do the other day and I got three completely different answers. It was a great way for me to realize that it is my choice whether or not I nurse, for how long, how often, etc. One friend said "stop nursing if it is too much work, too stressful, not enjoyable, etc." Another said, "Don't worry, you can get your milk production back up. You don't have to give up yet if you don't want to, but it is okay if you do." And yet another said, "You can always do a combo of nursing and supplement your milk with formula until you decide to stop nursing or continue full force. Some women only nurse once or twice a day for months and give their babies formula or cow's milk for the rest of their feedings." All of which was great advice and made me feel that I didn't have to make a drastic decision to stop nursing right away.
Moral of the story: Don't mess with a nursing momma, be supportive of the ones you know, and never give them advice unless you know what you're talking about.