I’ll start with this quote from a fun tv show I discovered on Hulu, The Mindy Project. The characters are obgyns and one of them at one point says “breastfeeding is a lot like baseball, the less you think about it the better you do.” It’s meant to be comedic but it actually really hit home for me. I know there are people who have various issues with their breastfeeding relationship and need some extra help, I truly do. But for so many of us it’s something that can just happen naturally if only we let it. By that I mean that our American culture is one where nobody is good enough as they are, especially not women. For example: if you breastfeed you’ve gotta pump and you’ve gotta pump a lot and if you give formula it’s gotta be organic and you’ve gotta tell everyone how hard you tried to breastfeed. Honestly, as mothers we truly don’t owe other people explanations for our choices about how we feed our children. That said, breastfeeding is one of the most natural and simple acts that a mother and child can share. It’s so natural that adoptive mothers can lactate if they put their child to their breast often enough. When you’re breastfeeding or trying to breastfeed or even thinking of breastfeeding you come across so many rules, regulations and butters.(People who say “Isupport breastfeeding but -”) It could be breastfeed but only until they’re one year old, breastfeed but don’t drink a single drop of caffeine, and so on. I’ve even known women who were convinced that they can’t do vigorous exercise or eat sushi while breastfeeding. Our culture makes it clear that “breast is best” and guilt trips parents who use formula; you would think that means we are completely supportive of breastfeeding mothers – turns out not so much. In the beginning of breastfeeding I got mostly positive responses from people but as my son got older the responses became more negative. He’ll be one year old next week and i’ve already been told by in-laws and family that I “can” wean now because it no longer has any nutritional value for him. Firstly it’s interesting that people phrase it as if they are giving me permission to wean and secondly it’s even more interesting that people think breastmilk magically loses all of it’s nutritional value when a child turns one. I know so many parents who give their child pedisure or vitamins because they’re picky toddler doesn’t eat enough food. While my son isn’t so fond of food himself and yet his iron levels are great and i’m not worried about giving him pedisure because breastmilk fills in all those things missing from his diet. I fail to see why anyone thinks I need their permission to continue or to stop breastfeeding. I feel pretty confident most of the time about my decision to continue breastfeeding as long as my son wants it but my confidence isn’t impenetrable and there are times that people’s negative comments really sting. My husband is incredibly supportive of breastfeeding without any “buts”. However, so many mothers don’t have a support person to keep them going when ignorant people spout hurtful comments at them. In fact on New Years Eve two nights ago, I was breastfeeding when the clock struck midnight. If this had happened six months ago I would have proudly proclaimed that for all to see on facebook. But I didn’t tell anyone because those comments have perhaps gotten to me a little more than I like to admit and I didn’t want to risk hearing rude comments about how my son still wakes up once or twice a night to nurse. As a sidenote; I’d like to highly recommend the documentary Breastmilk that is now on Netflix. I found it to be very educational, not overly biased, and also quite beautiful. (I have to admit I was hit with a bit of babyfever and tears at the end.) It shows pregnancy, extended breastfeeding, adoption, gay parents, parents of different races, etc. It’s very inclusive and I think it’s a must watch for anyone who has kids or may have kids one day. Below are some of the most common judgmental comments that breastfeeding mother hear and also some sources combating them;
They don’t need breastmilk after 1
Will a toddler continue to grow and meet milestones without breastmilk? Yes, of course! So many toddlers are healthy and happy without breastmilk. That does NOT mean breastmilk isn’t healthy and comforting for them. If a toddler wants breastmilk and a mother is comfortable giving it to them that’s great because that toddler is getting quite a bit of calories, vitamins, and antibodies. Plus there’s nothing wrong with nursing for comfort, feeling loved and content is incredibly important to a child’s welfare and breastfeeding isn’t the only way to make a child feel emotionally secure but it’s certainly and easy and natural way to do so. Sources on breastfeeding toddlers and older children:
Don’t Nurse Them to Sleep: As adults we all have our ideal sleeping situation, I’m a fan of sleeping on my stomach with my hand under my pillow and a fan on for white noise. Sure I can fall asleep in other situations if I need to but that’s my first choice. So why do we think that babies who nurse themselves to sleep will never be able to sleep in any other situation? I can’t even begin to tell you how many books and articles i’ve seen talking about the importance of babies learning to self soothe by not nursing to sleep. My son can fall asleep in many different ways, sure nursing to sleep is his favorite but when push comes to shove he’ll pass out in daddy’s arms, in the car, while playing in bed, etc. Nature gave us a way to feed and soothe our babies at the same time… why wouldn’t we use it? Our kids will grow up and sleep in their own beds and live in their own houses one day rather we nurse them to sleep right now or not. So chill people, chill. Sources on nursing babies to sleep: http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/health-concerns/sleep-problems/faqs-about-sleep-problems/nursing-baby-sleep-child-care
Don’t Get Tattoos, Piercings, or Dye Your Hair: I have seen more than one snarky passive aggressive status aimed at myself or another mom for getting some sort of body modification while breastfeeding. It’s beyond me why these people even think it’s their business to be concerned about what breastfeeding mothers are doing with their bodies but often times breastfeeding mothers can be confused and torn by this so it’s something I really want to address. As far as tattoos go, the ink will not flow through your blood stream, get into your milk supply and poison your child – it just won’t. The concern with getting a tattoo is that you would get some sort of disease from an unclean needle like HIV or the many others that you could get. However I would sincerely hope that anyone getting a tattoo, especially if they are a mother, is going to a clean and professional shop where that is not a concern. The same goes for piercings. When it comes to dying your hair, again the dye isn’t going to poison your breastmilk but do be careful about dying your hair around your child because the fumes can be rather strong. I think it’s better to go to a salon or to have someone else watching your kiddo while you dye your hair. If you don’t feel comfortable getting body modifications while breastfeeding, that’s totally cool but it’s not your place to be harassing moms who chose to do a little something for themselves in the form of a body mod. Sources: http://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/949.aspx?CategoryID=54 http://themilkmeg.com/tattoos-and-breastfeeding-is-it-safe-what-are-the-risks/ http://www.safepiercing.org/piercing/faq/#breastfeeding
Don’t Drink and Nurse/Pump and Dump: Everytime I watch a movie or show where they talk about pumping and dumping because they had a couple drinks I literally cringe and my husband will even correct the on screen person at this point. I don’t know why people still think they need to pump and dump if they drink but that phrase is like nails on a chalkboard for me. There are a lot of sciency articles about how much alcohol gets into breastmilk when you drink and you can read them on your own. I’m not really into drinking but moms don’t need to feel guilty for having a glass of wine.
Sources: http://www.llli.org/faq/alcohol.html http://www.nbci.ca/index.php?option=com_content&id=27%3Amyths-of-breastfeeding&Itemid=17&limitstart=1 https://www.facebook.com/DrJackNewman/posts/422431411241244?fref=nf
Don’t Nurse in Public (Or Use a Cover): Not nursing at all in public is a pretty unrealisitic idea unless you plan on never taking your child out of the house ever. Some babies don’t take bottles, especially a bottle from their mom when the breasts they want are right there. Even if they do take a bottle, it’s already hard to pack up everything a baby needs without adding the stress of transporting breastmilk with it. Using a cover may sound great in theory but it makes it pretty hard to see if the baby is latching right when they’re newborns and as they get older they’ll learn to yank the cover off because it’s too hot, they want to look around, or they just think it’s funny how upset you get when they pull it off. Honestly, you can be fairly discreet without a cover. On top of that… we are FEEDING a baby not doing a strip tease. It’s not sexual, inappropriate, or unsanitary to nurse your child in public. It doesn’t matter if you’re at a park where kids are around or at a restaurant where people are eating either way you’re just feeding your baby. I have absolutely no patience for people who make breastfeeding moms feel bad for feeding their babies just because they aren’t used to breastfeeding and therefore are embarrassed and confused about seeing it. Maybe if more people saw breastfeeding when they were kids we wouldn’t have this issue. Trust me, the mother sitting there trying to keep her baby from unlatching and showing her nipple is not doing it for some sort of sick pleasure or to turn you on, she just wants to feed her child and keep them calm.
If society supported breastfeeding mothers more by respecting that we all do things a little differently instead of spouting out opinions and made up facts maybe more women would be able to successfully breastfeed and enjoy this fleeting period of time. If you don’t breastfeed because it wasn’t right for your family there’s no reason to feel guilty or defend yourself either, we haven’t walked in your shoes. I believe making mothers feel guilty for not breastfeeding or for breaking certain “rules” while breastfeeding is just making is harder for women to breastfeed. Guilt breaks down our confidence in our parenting decisions, it doesn’t help to get through hard times.