The blogosphere has been lit up this past week due to the recent report in the Journal of Pediatrics, highlighted in this CNN article http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/04/05/breastfeeding.costs/?hpt=T2, which discusses the possible implications of not breastfeeding. One blog post that I found exceptional was The Feminist Breeder’s http://thefeministbreeder.com/when-it-comes-to-breastfeeding-we-cant-handle-the-truth/. In it, she points the finger at the severely lacking support system and misinformation in this country for women who attempt to breastfeed, causing many to turn to formula. What I found astounding was that even though she made it very clear that the current state of breastfeeding affairs is not the fault of the women who try and give up but the system and culture of the US, there were still quite a few women who voiced their displeasure with her post. A lot of the issues have to do with feelings of guilt that these women feel that yet another piece of research is saying what all of us with half a brain already knew…breast is best. I saw that a lot of women instead of embracing the Feminist Breeder’s point that a shift needs to happen within our maternity care system and the support available to new mothers wishing to breastfeed, they were trying to come up with anything to prove that her statement that MOST women are able to breastfeed with the right support wrong. From cancer diagnoses to antidepressant medications, women were trying to come up with all the different reasons women CAN’T breastfeed. I’m not saying that these issues would certainly add a whole other obstacle to breastfeeding but it seems like women are trying to find a way to agree with the mantra that our bodies are flawed by pointing to the very rare cases.
I have chronicled my own struggles with breastfeeding in spite of being pretty darn educated and how I overcame them even with a less than stellar Lactation Consultant (LC) experience. I feel pretty confident that I can not only empathize with those women that struggle in the beginning to breastfeed but also speak to the Feminist Breeder’s points in her post, which a lot of women, I think are still not getting. There were so many times in a very short period of time where I felt like giving up would have been so much easier on my self, my daughter, my husband and our family. I was even told by more than a few well-meaning people that said I had given it more than most women and there would be no shame in giving up or just giving formula until I worked it out. But instead of giving up I pushed through severe pain, extreme doubt and sought out the necessary support to ultimately succeed in my desire to breastfeed my daughter well past her first year of life and that was with four weeks where I only had one viable breast. Was it easy, absolutely not. Does this make me a better person/mom than those women that are overcome with the doubt and end up questioning whether they are doing the right thing for their babies, I don’t think so. I think it just indicates how stubborn I really am, but more to the point, it proves that even obstacles that seem insurmountable can be overcome.
Since the onslaught of the formula companies taking over the feeding of our newborns and infants, we are losing valuable resources that other countries have…a group of women in our immediate circle that have direct experience breastfeeding; a normalization of breastfeeding if you will. A friend of mine who gave birth to her children in Sweden over 30 years ago, told me that ‘you know, you just don’t hear about all the problems (not producing enough milk, being ‘unable’ to breastfeed, etc.) women have with breastfeeding that you hear in the US, women in Europe breastfeed and there’s very little discussion about it.’ This really got me thinking about the huge paradigm shift that must happen in this country in order for more women to be able to succeed in breastfeeding their children. Part of that paradigm is how women’s bodies are viewed (literally and figuratively). The Feminist Breeder points out that it is easy for women to believe a doctor, or who ever is telling them that they just can’t make enough milk because we as women have become accustomed to believing our bodies are flawed in some way.
I am truly baffled that in a country that supports a multi-billion dollar porn industry, the true repugnance that you hear and see when it comes to women breastfeeding. From stories of women being kicked out of retail stores or told to feed their babies in the restroom to nasty comments being made on public transportation when a breastfed baby, heaven forbid, gets hungry. I have even heard people refer to breastfeeding as disgusting. It seems that with the overload of nudity, sex and porn available to most Americans we have lost sight of what these breasts are really intended for, to nourish and sustain a growing baby, breasts are in fact, quite amazing when you think about it. A woman’s breasts produce the exact formula (pardon the pun) of nutrients her baby needs, adjusting the recipe as her baby grows and their needs change while also providing valuable antibodies that will protect her baby from illnesses and will boost their immunity more than any vaccine or over the counter remedy. So, I think the focus needs to be on how important women are to not only be able to grow a human being from a couple cells but to then be able to nourish that child completely for their first year of life and beyond if necessary. The paradigm shift needs to be within our culture of degrading women to believe that they are somehow less than or not valuable if their tits don’t stand up on their own, it needs to be within our men’s view of women’s bodies and what they are capable of and above all it needs to be within my fellow women’s minds and bodies. We need to take back the beauty, the miracle and incredible abilities we posses as our own and believe that our bodies are perfect the way they are and STOP believing the doctors, nurses and anyone else that tell us differently.
I think breastfeeding is a good analogy to parenting. In order to do it well, it takes educating yourself, putting forth the effort even when it isn’t a lot of fun and finding the necessary support when you need it. If someone chooses not to breastfeed for their own personal reasons in spite of all the common knowledge indicating its importance, they should feel comfortable with that decision and not require validation. For those that really tried and were made to feel like they couldn’t succeed, I truly am sorry, I hope you have made peace with it and can move on knowing that a lot of us were formula fed babies and turned out ok and whatever you gave your baby in those first few days/weeks/months were beneficial. But for those of you looking for an excuse to give up, I understand, I truly do, unfortunately the decision to give up is just that, a decision that you need to make based on all the information you have. Seek out the support you need be it through a lactation consultant (although, I highly recommend getting a recommendation from someone and lining this person up BEFORE you give birth), La Leche League International (www.llli.org) or other breastfeeding support group in your area, because I am here to tell you, you CAN do it, it DOES get easier and it is SO worth it!