FROM THE EXPERT: BREASTFEEDING WITH DISABILITIES
THERÉSE E. APRILE BRZEZINSKI, M.A.
Therése Aprile-Brzezinski is the Director of Planning and Public Policy for the Long Island Center for Independent Living, Inc. (LICIL), located in Levittown, Long Island, New York. She oversees the advancement of the organization’s Disability policy agenda with an emphasis on the development of public policy that promotes and protects civil rights, full community access and equal opportunity for people with disabilities.
What are some special challenges mothers with disabilities face regarding breastfeeding?
One of the greatest challenges is the absence of accurate information and consistent support on the issue. Often, breastfeeding is not even presented as an option for moms with disabilities because healthcare practitioners assume that the process would “be too much for her” to handle on top of existing disability related “issues.” Some have been known to rush to start baby on the bottle, even though mom has every intention to breastfeed. Such factors arise from outdated, but deeply embedded societal messages that insist that motherhood and disability are mutually exclusive. Moms with disabilities may be influenced by these misguided notions, so it is crucial to offer complete, accurate information and reassuring support. Provide mom with facts, good tools and resources, and give her room to decide. She will make the choice that’s best for herself and her baby.
What are some misconceptions disabled moms might have?
Moms with disabilities may tend to make a couple of common assumptions about breastfeeding: First, and understandably, women who take medications may think their breast milk would be harmful for baby, and therefore decide against breastfeeding. It is always worth a conversation with one’s physician to consider how particular drugs may affect breast milk. Many medications have little/ no effect on milk supply or baby’s well-being. Second, moms with disabilities may assume breastfeeding will require too much energy and fear that they may be unable to meet the physical demands involved. Yet, a chat with your physician, a knowledgeable lactation consultant, and perhaps a disabled mom who has breastfed may reveal that breastfeeding could help you conserve energy and even minimize physical demands. A creative approach to positioning baby and supporting the breast could help minimize the need to get up and down or otherwise move around. And that’s not to mention that on-the-spot availability of breast milk reduces the need to fuss with bottles and formula.
How can communities best support moms?
Communities that welcome moms with disabilities will make a difference for generations to come. That’s because moms who are invited and encouraged to participate in community life will raise children who grow up to enrich the future for everyone. When designing spaces, programs and events, do so with the intention of accommodating the greatest possible range of participants. Create ease of use for everyone by making spaces physically accessible and building flexibility into the policies and procedures that drive the activities and opportunities you offer. And don’t forget to include people with disabilities in the planning process. Their lived experience makes them an invaluable source of information and insight.
Anything else you would like to share?
Nothing quite compares to talking to someone who has “been there and done that.” So don’t miss opportunities to suggest and connect peer support to moms with disabilities. After all, who better to offer helpful tips, mom-hacks and nuggets of wisdom than someone who has lived a similar experience?
Resources for Moms with Disabilities:
? The Disabled Parenting Project— disabledparentiing.com
? Through the Looking Glass— throughthelookingglass.org
? Long Island Center for Independent Living, Inc. (LICIL) — LICIL.net
Via BFREE E-Newsletter — October 2018: Volume 2, Issue 4
(Cohen’s Children’s Medial Center/Northwell Health)