I’m helping to train two women right now to become breastfeeding counselors. As well as discussing how to help other women with the numerous issues that may be a part of the normal course of breastfeeding, we talk a lot about listening skills. As I’ve been working with them, I found a reminder list that I made 7 years ago when I took on this role myself. The list simply consists of ideas for how to talk to mothers about their breastfeeding questions in a way that promotes continued dialogue, demonstrates respect, and employs good active listening.
Talking to mothers about their breastfeeding concerns…
“I hear you saying that….”
“You seem to be telling me that….”
“You seem to be feeling….”
“How do you…”
“What are you observing that makes you think…”
“Tell me more about…”
“How would you like to see this resolved…”
“Many mothers have found…” **This is my all-time favorite and hands-down most useful. I use it all the time. It is so handy.**
“How would you feel about…”
“For some families it works well to…”
“There are some suggestions I can give you for… that have been helpful for other mothers…”
“It sounds to me like you are doing a wonderful job as a mother”
“It sounds to me like your baby really responds to you”
“Your baby is so lucky that you want to/did give him the benefit of your milk”
With doctors/others’ opinions:
“How do you feel about those suggestions?”
“Some doctors take that approach, but research has shown….” (or, “we’ve noticed…” or, “reliable references indicate…” May also follow-up with, “Would you like me to send you a reference?”). **This is another one of my favorites, it doesn’t smack down the doctor and yet it gently and firmly provides you with a means of sharing alternate—correct—information.
Other good things to remember when listening to mothers:
Breastfeeding is not a by the book procedure—it is an intimate relationship with different dynamics from one nursing couple to the next. Individual mothers and babies respond differently to the same things. There are no hard and fast rules.
Our main message to each mother is how important she is to her baby and how breastfeeding can be a wonderful part of this. We want to help mothers feel good about being a mother, about meeting their babies’ needs in the way that feels best for them, and to trust their own instincts. We wish to leave mothers with a feeling of self-confidence and acceptance.
I See You
I often remind students in my human services classes that all people have a basic need to be both seen and heard. This doesn’t mean agreeing with everything someone else says and does, it means being present and witnessing them as they follow their own paths.
In a newsletter recently, I read an article called “I See You” by Sue Scott, a communication skills instructor. She explains that in South Africa, native peoples greet each other with an expression that literally means, “I see you.” The response is then, “I am here.” She observes, “what a powerful and beautiful gift it is to recognize another individuals in this way: ‘I see you.’ Acknowledgement, recognition, and respect all require focus on the other person…the word respect comes from the Latin word ‘respecere’ meaning ‘to look at again and again…’I see you’…seems to me to be the ultimate in respect.” Sue goes on to explain that when we truly SEE another mother—”when we truly hear her concerns—then we affirm her ability to mother her baby in her own best way.”
A little more than two years ago, I received the precious gift of being seen when a mother that I had previously helped with many breastfeeding questions called to ask me another question. We had become friends over the course of time since she’d had her first baby and I was in the process of my second miscarriage when she called with a question about her own pregnancy. I told her about the miscarriage, but said I felt like I could still talk with her about her question. We ended up then talking for a time about miscarriage and about cesarean birth, because we discover numerous surprising connections between the feelings and experiences of an unexpected outcome to our dreams for our pregnancies. She then said, “You know in that movie Avatar how they say, ‘I see you’?” I said yes, and she said, “I just wanted to let you know that I see you, Molly.” These words were such a gift to me. It was beautiful to hear them and I cried. I felt so seen. It was just what I needed and I hadn’t even known it. I will never forget that simple and yet extremely potent gift of acknowledgement from another woman.
A previous post about Listening Well Enough.