Although accurate breastfeeding information is essential when a woman asks for breastfeeding help, she is also looking for reassurance. The breastfeeding counselor must find a way to put the mother at ease and establish a feeling of rapport. She listens carefully to show that she is really interested in helping the mother. She asks questions to help to clarify the situation. She helps the mother identify her feelings to help her focus on what is important to her. She offers information, makes suggestions, and discusses options, helping the mother weigh the pros and cons. She puts her own feelings and experiences in the background and makes the mother the main focus.
Sometimes a mother calls with a specific breastfeeding question and needs straightforward information. But more often, when a mother calls she begins with a simple question that leads to a discussion of more general topics and complex feelings. Breastfeeding is more than just a method of feeding; it is also a way of caring for and comforting a baby. Breastfeeding often becomes an integral part of a mother’s relationship with her baby. So when questions about breastfeeding arise, it is not unusual for them to also involve a woman’s feelings about being a mother. Clarifying feelings allows the mother to distinguish her own feelings from the attitudes and opinions of those around her and helps her make decisions with which she will be most comfortable. With calls like this, active listening is a useful tool.
Using Active Listening
Active listening is a learned communication skill, an art. When using active listening, the listener puts herself in the background. She rephrases what the talker has said and attempts to put the talker’s unspoken feelings into words. This helps the listener better understand the talker and the talker better understand herself. This is not as easy as it may sound, because the natural reaction in ordinary conversations is for the listener to offer her own point of view, so active listening may take some practice. Sometimes active listening is all that is needed to help a mother clarify her feelings and solve the problem herself.
There are several aspects to active listening…
Rephrasing what the mother has said lets her know she is being heard and understood and encourages her to continue to talk and to share what is on her mind. It also reassures the breastfeeding counselor that she understands the mother correctly. Summary phrases might begin this way:
“Let me see if I am following you. You said…”
“You seem to be telling me that…”
“I hear you saying that…”
Identifying the mother’s feelings. By putting a mother’s feelings into words, we can help a mother identify her own feelings.
The following phrases can be used to reflect a mother’s feelings:
“You seem to be feeling…”
Accepting differences and responding without judging. Every mother has her own life experiences, beliefs, and parenting style. And mothers who call for breastfeeding help may come from a variety of racial, cultural, religious, and economic groups. It is not necessary to agree with the mother or approve of her choices in order to help her. Active listening can be used even if you do not agree with the mother. It is important that each mother feels free to say what she is thinking without fear of being criticized or judged.
For example, if a mother boasts that her three-week-old baby eats three bowls of cereal a day but wonders why her milk supply seems to be decreasing, it might be tempting to say, “You shouldn’t be giving him solids at this age.” However true this may be, such a remark would probably make the concerned mother feel criticized and guilty. These negative feelings would make her unable or unwilling to hear anything else that is said.
To really help this mother, it is necessary to recognize and reflect the mother’s anxiety. When the mother feels empathy and understanding, she will be more open to suggestion. “You’re worried that your milk supply seems to be decreasing. The breast needs to be stimulated often by baby’s sucking to maintain or increase milk production. You might consider reducing the solids as much as possible so the baby will nurse more and bring your supply back up again.” If the mother is at all receptive, that might be the time to give more specific suggestions on what else she can do to reestablish her milk supply.
- Putting the mother at ease is as important as offering accurate breastfeeding information.
- Questions about breastfeeding often involve more complex issues and feelings.
- Active listening differs from social listening.
- Rephrasing what the mother has said, identifying feelings, and responding without judging are all aspects of active listening.
|❶||Introduction – Using Active Listening|
|❸||Giving Information and Suggestions|
|❹||Respecting Differences Among Mothers|
|❺||Helping the Mother Working with Her Doctor|
|❻||When Breastfeeding Doesn’t Work Out|