Are you a fan of reality shows? Would you love to go to an exotic destination and participate in a survivor challenge? Even the latest craze for adults and kids alike (i.e. escape rooms) points to the fact that Americans simply love to confront the unknown, to prove to ourselves that by using our wits, we can tackle anything and overcome the odds.

Over Thanksgiving break, our family had the opportunity to go to an escape room. Upon first entering the room, I was quite daunted, not knowing what to expect. Viewing the hieroglyphics on the wall, we searched for a legend to understand the meaning. Observant skills were vital, noting what was the same or different (like wondering if the two red lanterns, plus a white one meant anything important). Since half of the family had already previously participated in an escape room, we were thankful for their level of expertise. As they guided us, we carefully went through the objects in the room from old books with torn pages to all types of clothing found in trunks, trying to figure out the patterns that could lead to lock combinations. In fact, it was ultimately the teamwork that allowed us to decipher additional hieroglyphic symbols, get more clues, open yet another chest, and find the keys to open the door to the next room with further signs and challenges.

While later contemplating how we worked through puzzling surroundings and sought ways to increase our success, I began to think about the journey toward success for a new breastfeeding mother. A type of breastfeeding escape room.

  1. Breastfeeding is an unfolding journey. Like the trepidation I felt as we talked about going to an escape room, some expectant mothers have heard horror stories about breastfeeding. So, even though they want what’s best for them and their baby, they fear they won’t be successful. Yet, while planning for the escape room, some novice family members, instead of fearing it, looked forward to the challenge and had confidence that they could be successful. These family members reminded me of the new moms I’ve served over the years that were the first in their family to breastfeed, but they viewed it as an adventure that would have inherent challenges that they would simply learn how to overcome.
  2. Within a reality show, the goal is to truly explore the lived experience, and the escape room was the same. In our case, we were pretending to be in Egypt and were stuck in a locked room, possibly a room in a pyramid where we might uncover hidden treasure. The same is true for learning to breastfeed. Whether you have a degree in law or accounting, there simply aren’t any college courses that prepare new moms for the reality of breastfeeding, or motherhood for that matter. So, while new moms educate themselves by reading books or watching videos on the topic, the only way to truly learn breastfeeding is to take the plunge, accept the challenge, and work through the process.
  3. Breastfeeding expands your horizons, taking you to an area you never experienced before, but even exotic destinations can have their drawbacks; problems to be overcome. Whether in an escape room or on a survivor show, the participants that recognize they will have a learning curve, become more comfortable with that process. Likewise, if a new mom gives themselves a couple of weeks to learn from the baby, investigating the hints and watching for clues, almost like a detective, she will become a student of her baby’s behaviors, and eventually, this will lead to more intuitive decision making in the realm of motherhood.
  4. Just as the escape room was much more manageable when working as a team, breastfeeding, though basically the mother’s job, is also more likely to be successful if the mother has a team surrounding her. Loving family and friends that attends to mom and her needs actually allows her to focus more on the baby’s needs.
  5. Having someone on our team that had already uncovered the secrets within a different escape room previously, definitely added to the comfort level of the novices in the group. So, if a new mother doesn’t know any family or friends that has breastfed before, she could always reach out to breastfeeding peer counselors (through the WIC program), community breastfeeding support (like La Leche League) or lactation consultants (usually hospital-based). Since it is always good to know your options, whether in an escape room or as a new breastfeeding mother, please note that under the new healthcare laws, most insurance providers cover in-home lactation visits, if additional expertise is needed.
  6. When in an escape room, your first goal is to work through the hints and clues to find the key to open the locked door and open the inner chamber. When breastfeeding a baby, your first major accomplishment is once the baby is back over their birth weight, showing they are successfully transferring the breastmilk at their feedings. But just as the first escape room only leads to another room with more clues to unravel, to successfully breastfeed over the long term, it also requires several tweaks along the way. One is what is fondly called a “lactation vacation;” giving yourself and the baby a weekend here and there to get in some extra feedings (cluster feeds), to build your supply to the next level as needed for the baby’s continued growth (often called “growth spurts”). While they can occur around 3 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months, and 6 months, a detective mom may discover even more ways to promote and protect breastfeeding becuase she is closely watching her infant for hints about the timing. So when a lactation vacation arrives, put up your feet, put in your favorite movies, grab your favorite snacks, and spend a lot of time just loving on your baby and allowing them to breastfeed as ofen as desired.
  7. Within the escape room, there was also a time sensitive aspect, for we only had one hour to figure out all of the hints and overcome the challenges and find the key. Did you know that when the breastfeeding relationship is being established, there is about a two-week timeframe in which to place your order for the baseline volume that your infant will need? This hormonal response during the first two weeks after birth allows the mother’s body to create just the right amount of milk for her infant, so whether the baby weighs six-pounds or ten-pounds, her milk production is appropriate. This is partially why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding pacifiers for the first several weeks (or until breastfeeding is well established), so the baby’s sucking response can build the correct amount for the infant. It is also why most lactation consultants don’t recommend that new mothers do additional breast pumping in the early days (unless there are extenuating circumstances), to avoid inadvertently telling the brain (hormonally) that there are twins or triplets, when in fact there is only one baby. So, in a way, exclusively breastfeeding your infant in the first couple of weeks (as long as their diaper logs show adequate transfer per day of life) is actually the “key” to promoting and protecting your breastfeeding relationship; to opening the next door.
  8. Overall, just as the escape room was both a mental challenge as well as a test of physical skill, endurance, and ingenuity, I believe that breastfeeding also has components of all of these. Because breastfeeding is an art, not just a science, it sometimes takes attentive determination to figure out the clues the infant is giving, since their language can be similar to hieroglyphics (hard to understand at times). But by keeping your eyes on the prize and focusing on the ultimate goal, the benefits for both mother and baby are amazing. And if the challenge is accepted and the adventure undertaken, the satisfaction and accomplishment that will be felt at the end, is a prize of its own.