I’m not writing much these days, and I’d apologize, but I feel like I do better with the things I actually have to say than if I were just trying to crank something out once a day or once a week that my heart wasn’t into. This topic has come up several times in the last few days, and I’m so sick of the crap I hear about this from the naysayers. “It’s about respecting the people around you.” “Have some common courtesy for other people.” “I shouldn’t have to see THAT.” “Modesty is key.” And the rhetoric used to describe breastfeeding: “whip ‘em out,” “bare it all,” “flash everyone.”
I’ve tried. I cannot whip anything with my breasts. They just don’t do that.
I used to feel like breastfeeding was private. I used to think it needed to be done behind a closed door or under a blanket and that accidentally showing nipple was a social faux pas of epic proportions. I don’t feel that way anymore. Here is a list of the reasons why:
8. Breastfeeding can be hard. It isn’t always hard, but it really can be. It can be painful. It can be difficult. It can involve sleepless nights, hours of discussions with lactation consultants, doctors visits and even surgery to make it work. And even if it doesn’t involve all of those things, it can be hard. There is no reason to make it harder. If a mama has fought the battle and is making it work, you are not entitled to tell her she is doing it wrong. If you can’t seem to keep the criticism to yourself, go be somewhere else where she is not.
7. I’ve had children. I had one who was fine with a cover, who took bottles of pumped breastmilk and who slept through the night at 4 months. Then I had 3 more who wouldn’t. Not all children are the same. Just because I managed to birth one child who was willing to bend to other people’s expectations, doesn’t mean that all of mine will, nor does it mean that all of everyone’s will. Even if you had 20 kids who you managed to press into that mold, that’s still a very small sample. If you can make several thousand kids do it, then come talk to me about your secret. Even still though, several thousand other kids doesn’t make it the right choice for MY kid.
6. I can’t stay home or feed the baby before going out every time. To avoid offending your delicate eyes that have never seen human mammary tissue before? Sorry, no. I have a family to feed and children who have to get to activities. I’m responsible for the bills in my home. I don’t have all day to not go out. And even if I didn’t have all of those things to take care of, why should I have to stay home, just because I’m a lactating woman? Seriously? Is this some sort of lactation chhaupadi? And as far as feeding the baby before I go out, babies are notorious for wanting to be fed when they want to be fed, even if they were just fed, even if they shouldn’t be hungry again so soon, even if you went to your witch doctor to get an amulet that ensures your child is never hungry when you are out in public. Your amulet will fail. The baby’s gotta eat.
5. Not all babies can figure out how to take a bottle. You know how not all babies can figure out how to properly latch on? Same problem but on a different nipple. They might get angry, feel like they’re drowning or it might simply be not as comforting as suckling, so they may never take a bottle. They may get uncomfortable gas. They might just scream at you because they get so frustrated and hungry. I’ve had 3 such. If it were a necessity because I was no longer around, they might have eventually gotten it, but for me, a work-at-home mom, to pump just so I could bring bottles with me when I go out in public, so that other people could be comfortable? When all I have to do is lift up my shirt? How does that make any sense at all? My conclusion is that it doesn’t. Baby’s right to eat comfortably and mom’s right to convenience at home and in public trump anyone else’s right not to see a nipple flash from time to time, directly correlated with breastfeeding. Being a mom is hard enough. Please, for the love of all that is good and holy, don’t place ridiculous cultural conditions on it that make it even harder.
4. In the same vein and for all the same reasons as pumping and bringing a bottle, using a cover. No. There is no reason to tell moms they have to use a cover. If they are more comfortable using one, that’s fine, but not all moms are, not all babies will eat with a cover over them and no one should be pressing more or other ridiculous cultural expectations on a mom. Being a mom is hard enough.
3. The top 4 reasons why women stop breastfeeding all stem from a lack of support. This speaks specifically about the top four reasons moms stop breastfeeding. #3 is discomfort nursing in public. I’ve said twice now, in a comment and in an email, that while we can’t be everyone’s lactation consultant, pediatrician or employer, we can all be supportive of moms who nurse in public. Say something nice, or say nothing at all. If you can’t be kind, look or walk away. You have options about dealing with the situation. The nursing mom, really, does not. She’s just trying to deal with a hungry, tired or otherwise upset kid.
2. Infant nutrition is the single most important public health issue. Period. It directly affects nearly every other issue. The way babies are fed as infants directly impacts them as children and adults. Rates of asthma, allergies, ear infections, obesity and general health are all directly impacted by the way children are fed as infants, not to mention how it helps with cancer rates for mothers and children. Babies deserve a start at life that is, at the very least, the way nature intended. Formula is sub-par, a last resort, and usually what mothers switch to because they don’t have the support they need to keep breastfeeding to their own goals, or the goals that public health agencies have set. The AAP says 6 months at the least, but much better a year. The WHO says 2 years. The CDC says some 77% of infants are breastfed at birth, but the rate decreases to less than 50% at 6 months and only slightly better than 25% at a year. Every drop of breastmilk is precious. If we’re serious about addressing public health in this country, we need to be serious about addressing public health. That means supporting moms who are nursing. They are the ones who are ensuring the next generation has lower instances of chronic and short-term illness. They are also the ones who will be less likely to need help with health care bills addressing women’s cancers and osteoporosis in the next 30+ years. Show some respect. They are decreasing your health care tax burden coming and going.
1. I don’t care anymore. Baby’s gotta eat. I shouldn’t hide that. Our culture shames women who don’t behave “appropriately.” If it’s not slut shaming, it’s mother shaming. Eva and Ave. We don’t mind breasts that are provocatively tucked into bras or bikini tops, or extensive cleavage in a shirt, but we mind breasts that are feeding an infant? Why the double standard? Viewing breasts as exclusively sexual is a cultural phenomenon, and it’s one that we can easily take charge of and change. If you see a nursing mother being harassed, stand up for her. Thank nursing mothers for nursing in public and helping normalize it. They are engaged in a cultural revolution, simply while sticking a nipple in a kid’s mouth. Above all, if you can’t say something positive, keep your mouth shut and walk away. Even on the internet. It’s not ok to reduce a woman to her breasts for any reason, even if she’s lactating. The baby’s gotta eat and being a parent is hard enough without being shamed. With it, it is well nigh impossible. Is it any wonder the rates of post partum depression we experience in our culture? 1 in 7 mothers.
We can and we must do better for this generation of nursing moms and for the next.