Yesterday one of my buddies who is a passionate advocate of breastfeeding posted this article on Facebook. As always these types of articles are designed to bring about much discussion especially in places such as Facebook and other social media venues.
In my personal life most women I know have breast-fed at one point in time, including yours truly. Yet in my professional life the women I encounter rarely breastfeed; its something I thought about as one of my families just added their 5th child to the family. Yesterday I ran into the father and asked how Mama and the new baby were doing and he told me how many ounces of formula the new babe was taking…I admit for a brief second, I felt bad that this babe was not being breast-fed and then I promptly got over it.
In recent years there has been a huge push to get women to breastfeed and rightly so, it’s good for Mama and baby in many ways. There is no disputing the large body of data that supports the fact that by and large breastfeeding is the optimal way to provide nourishment to a baby. Yet as a fierce advocate of the poor, I think all the programs designed to get more Mamas nursing are not designed with the poor in mind. To be honest it can be hard enough to get middle class women to commit to breastfeeding babies, I was reminded of this fact yesterday as I sat waiting for the girl child while she took her weekly dance class and was chatting with the other Mamas.
Somehow the conversation turned to breastfeeding and for some reason many of the Mamas started getting apologetic over how they wanted to breastfeed, but couldn’t…it was one of those awkward moments. Especially because out of the group of at least 15 of us, it seemed only two of us had nursed any significant time, one Mama nursed to 8 months and yours truly who went several years. Let’s just say when I stated how long I had nursed all eyes turned to me and I got the look…any woman who has nursed a toddler in this country has generally had at least one of those encounters. But I shook it off.
The thing is after reading the article I mentioned earlier in this post combined with my discussion with the dance Mamas, it made me wonder while it’s great to get more Mama’s nursing are we doing damage to the Mamas themselves? No, hear me out. Unless I am in the company of a certain type of parent, one who for practical purposes I will refer to as an attachment parenting style Mama, it seems the breastfeeding conversation brings ups a great deal of tension and judgment. I have met Mamas who look down on women who choose not to nurse; I have met Mamas who look at those who nurse especially extended breast feeders as freaks. I had a woman yesterday who told me how her sister in law who had a homebirth is still nursing her 3 yo son and you know there is no nutritional value in that! All the other Mamas snickered as to imply the Mama nursing the 3 yo is getting some sort of cheap sexual thrill out of nursing her child. As a Mama who nursed a 3 yo, I spoke up and explained that there is still a nutritional aspect but at the same time it is an emotional tool and that there is nothing weird about it. I suspect I will not be invited to the Mama parties but its all good.
My point in sharing this is to say there is entirely too much judgment that goes on and it needs to stop. Instead let’s respect the choices that other mothers make with regards to how to feed their child. In the case of my client with 5 kids under 6, while I think it would be better to nurse after thinking about how I would handle things it makes a great deal of sense why she made the choice she did to use formula. Truthfully, my kids are almost 14 years apart, it was easier to get up every 2 hours to nurse when I had no other small kids to tend to, I was not facing poverty and lack of access to transportation, things that can make every day survival difficult much less adding in a newborn who needs to eat often.
For those who are passionate about wanting all women to nurse their babies, I suggest directing your energy towards change on a macro-level. Let’s create laws and practices that make it easier for women who work in places like stores and restaurants to have access and time to a safe clean space to pump milk. Let’s make access to lactation specialists and breast pumps available to all, even better let us offer each other real support rather than judgment and let’s share our real stories of our experiences. Breastfeeding is not always a beautiful thing, there were plenty of days I wanted to rip my fucking hair out yet I saw the value and continued. At almost 5, my girl still remembers and talks about when she grows up her babies will have bickey milk and she refers to breast milk.