As you know, I tend to post about whatever is going on at any given moment around here and right now, that something is: lactation. As any new mother knows, babies eat around the clock, sometimes every hour, sometimes every four. Regardless, your baby’s life develops into a pattern that looks something like this – eat, poop, sleep, poop, eat, poop,… (Hmmm, maybe this should be a post about poop!)
Anyways, back to the topic at hand. In the mom world, there are a number of “hot” debates. Stay at home moms vs. working moms, cloth vs. disposable diapers, attachment parenting vs. crying it out, and of course, there is breastfeeding vs. formula feeding. In my experience, almost ALL mothers want to do what is best for themselves and their babies and sometimes that results in breastfeeding and sometimes that results in formula feeding. While I consider myself an advocate for breastfeeding, I have a ton of friends who have formula fed and have happy, healthy kids and are wonderfully bonded to them, so I don’t mean for this post to be “preachy” at all. Instead, I wanted to comment on how our culture tends to sabotage mothers who are open to nursing, but who don’t necessarily have the wrap-around support system that I do.
With Parker, I exclusively breastfed him for 6 months before introducing solids and he went on to self-wean at 14 months. I plan to do the same thing with Lexi and I think that the reasons that I have been able to nurse successfully are two-fold: (1) I am surrounded by supportive people, and (2) breastfeeding has been completely normalized in my family. With that said, in my experience, our culture at large is generally not supportive of nursing and I find that somewhat sad because while there are countless benefits to nursing (health, cost, bonding, etc…), there are also hurdles to overcome like initial pain, engorgement, going up like 8 bra sizes(!!), which may make a mom want to throw in the towel (as well as her elephant sized nursing bra).
During the first crazy weeks with Parker, I relied heavily on my mother. While nursing is completely natural in the biological sense, the mechanics of it are not natural at all. Like most everything else with parenting, it is a learned behavior. I didn’t grow up in a big family and I was never around babies so for all intents and purposes, I had never seen anyone nurse a baby up close and personal. When the nurse handed Parker to me after birth and asked if I wanted to nurse him, I said yes and then I immediately asked for assistance. I honestly had no clue how to get the proper latch. I had seen pictures of what the proper latch looked like, but it’s an entirely different story trying to do it yourself. As soon as my mom arrived into town one week later, she was a constant source of encouragement. She calmed a lot of my uncertainties and assured me that yes, the baby was getting enough milk and that yes, the pain would lessen as both Parker and I got better at it. Without her confidence in me, I think it would have been much harder to stick with it, especially through that first painful month. I think part of her encouragement stemmed from her own experiences since she nursed both my brother and I for two years. If she had never nursed herself and had instead gently nudged me in the direction of bottle feeding with the best of intentions, I may have grasped that suggestion with both hands.
Even if you have a wonderful support system at home like I did, society at large is generally freaked out by nursing. You see, breasts are sexualized in this country and it sometimes makes people uncomfortable to (1) think of them as a tool for feeding, or (2) see a glimpse of them in public. Since I spent so much time in Greece throughout my life (where the human anatomy isn’t considered quite so scandalous), I don’t have the same level of modesty that someone might have who has spent their whole life in this country. While I am quite the discreet nurser, I can’t tell you the number of times that someone has grimaced at me when I was nursing my child at a restaurant or at the park. Thankfully, I can brush off their disapproval, but to a lot of mothers who are already self-conscious about it, that’s enough to drive them to the bathroom or to the car when they need to nurse. To me, that is absurd. Again, breastfeeding is normal. I hate that moms are made to feel bad about it. With as often as babies nurse, if you are driven to another room every time you need to feed your baby, you’re going to be spending the majority of the first year in isolation.
Another issue in our culture is maternity leave, or the lack thereof. I had the privilege of working from home for a year when Parker was an infant and thankfully, I have a very flexible schedule with Lexi so I don’t need to be away from her for more than 2 hours at a time. The majority of working moms in this country generally get 6 to 12 weeks of leave and then they have to go back to work full-time. To make matters worse, while some workplaces are mom-friendly, the majority of them don’t have a comfortable place for mothers to pump every few hours if they don’t happen to have a private office. Someone has to be incredibly committed to pumping when they go back to work to pull it off. To top it all off, pumping sucks! I have never felt like so much of a cow (literally) as I do when I’m pumping. While I’m willing to do it to make sure that Lexi has enough milk while I am gone, it is just not my favorite thing to do (it ranks somewhere behind changing the cat litter, but above getting a root canal). Mothers should be able to nurse their children properly for at least the first 6 months if they so choose.
Instead of infighting, I really wish that moms could join forces regardless of their parenting choices and work towards changing some of these cultural boundaries that might inhibit someone from breastfeeding even though they might be open to it. While there is indeed a small percentage of women who are physically unable to breastfeed, I can’t help but think that more women in general would do so if we didn’t make it so dang hard on them to nurse successfully and without shame. Anyways, that’s my 2 cents for today, I’ll get back to the regular shenanigans on the ‘morrow. Now please excuse me while I go change a poopy diaper.