While reflecting on the subject of breastfeeding, I found myself flummoxed over why is it that this can be a such a polarizing issue? Is controversy over breastfeeding really a thing? I don’t get it. When it comes to breastfeeding vs formula and breastfeeding in public, what exactly is there to argue over?
Breastfeeding vs Formula Feeding
Clearly one issue is that some women feel pressured or judged for their decisions, and that part I understand. I don’t support telling a woman what she should do and no woman should feel bullied or attacked for her decision. With that said, I also strongly feel that simply stating or sharing an undisputable fact is not an attack. And, just the facts here, breast is best. There will always be an exception to the rule and certain instances of medical/health conditions where this may not stand true, but for the vast majority of babies, breast milk is simply unmatched and serves as the single best source of nutrition they could receive. If wishing every baby could be a breastfed baby makes me a “lactivist” then I’m fine with that! But please, know too that I am a lactivist whose children have also had plenty of formula. So clearly, I’m not here to judge any woman for formula-feeding or to make her feel bad about that choice. How could I, when I’ve made that same choice? But that’s exactly why I am such a passionate advocate for breastfeeding, as I’ve been on both ends of the Feeding Baby Spectrum (and up, down, and all in-between as well) and have experienced the ups and downs of each.
My particular push for advocacy is specifically for the woman who comes to the conclusion that nursing is not for her without first having a clear understanding of breastfeeding basics. There are certainly things I know now that as a first-time mom I was not aware. I have had many myths and preconceived notions dispelled with all that I have learned about breastfeeding along the way. So many women, particularly some young and/or first time moms, mistakenly believe that they really can’t breastfeed, that they don’t make enough milk, that it hurts, that it’s scary, or any other number of common myths. You just can’t know everything there is to know about breastfeeding from reading a manual; it would be information overload and most of it probably wouldn’t even apply to you.
I want to share with women who are new to this that there are many things about breastfeeding that you just won’t be able to grasp until you are experiencing it. But the one and only thing you really even need to know before you begin is this: for any and whatever issue you may face, know that it’s happened to someone else! And what’s more, that there is almost always a solution or fix! In the midst of postpartum hormones and the oft overwhelming life-changing adjustments to body, mind, home and family that new babies bring, it is beyond easy to get swallowed in dismay, frustration and even anger when breastfeeding problems arise. Even with supportive partners and relatives, nursing issues can be so discouraging and isolating that you feel no one else could ever possibly understand. But no matter what difficulty you are facing, there is a mother somewhere that has stood just where you stand and knows just how you feel in this moment. No matter how helpless or lost your specific situation may seem, there is hardly any breastfeeding hurdle that is unheard of or that is insurmountable. You can check reputable online sources such as http://www.kellymom.com or http://www.llli.org to search only for your specific issue, meet with a lactation consultant, or visit with a free and local breastfeeding mothers group for help. With my first baby, if I had known then the wealth of free information, advice, guidance and support I could have received whenever I encountered any issues, I may have made a more concerted effort to continue breastfeeding longer. And then again, maybe I wouldn’t have, but I at least would have had a better understanding of what info was/wasn’t true and a better knowledge base of what I could have done differently and what may have worked best for me. If at all possible, seek the answers, try the tips and suggestions, and at least give it a chance to work for you before bringing your breastfeeding journey to a close.
Breastfeeding in Public
This is an issue for some women, and understandably so. Prior to motherhood, most women aren’t in the habit of randomly whipping out their breasts in public. Truthfully, the exposure can feel a little odd and unsettling at first. With my first child, even when at home, I would cover up if there were male relatives around. But as with all things, comfort and ease come with time. I quickly got over the shyness in front of my family but continued to cover up in public well into nursing my second child. I was already over my own personal discomfort of being uncovered at this time. I suppose I just continued to cover up all the time because it felt like that’s what I was expected to do, as if from some unwritten but well-known mandate that society and the Public at Large required of me. Especially after reading so many Internet horror stories that ran the gamut of describing the receipt of glowering, piercing glares of disgust and disdain, up to being approached by random, angry passersby that loudly and publicly chastised mothers for being obscene, demanding that they cover up this instant or leave! Horrifying, scary stories these were! I just wanted to feed my child and didn’t want to have to go through any of that kind of drama, so I simply didn’t bother. It wasn’t until this third child that I finally had to ask myself why?
After weeks of being shut-in following a rough C-section recovery, I was so ready to venture out of the house. Our very first outing was just to a local park but it was a beautiful day and we stayed for several hours so at some point, naturally, Baby eventually needed to eat. I found a bench, put on my cover, and attempted to feed but he was having none of it. He hated the cover. And, it was hot. Oh, how he fussed and wriggled and cried. We just could not get comfortable and so finally I just took the damn thing off. In an instant, we were cooled and he was happily latched and eating. And the sky didn’t fall. No one said a word to me or even glanced my way. The sun continued to shine. Birds chirped. Kids played. Life went on. And I’ve never, ever worn that cover again.
I’ve nursed uncovered a lot in public since then and I have to say, it’s a really freeing experience. And what’s more, I’ve also not received any negative feedback. I haven’t had anyone stare at me disapprovingly or hurl any scathing remarks my way. Indeed quite the opposite, I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised at the number of warm smiles I’ve received and people who have openly approached and commended me for nursing, including a man who struck up a conversation with me about the travails of his newly breastfeeding wife! I credit that encouragement and kindness from strangers as the reason why I have become more confident and emboldened with my public nursing and in my posting of breastfeeding pics on social media. I’ve nursed openly in restaurants and while sandwiched in the center seat of a crowded airplane between two burly men. Neither of them batted an eye. I’ve nursed in front of both children and other women’s husbands and am pleased to report back that I’ve succeeded in neither permanently scarring any kids for life nor in seducing any man to immorality or divorce.
Honestly, all the positive feedback I have received (and I count the overwhelming disinterest and plain old outright ignoring of me and baby from others as part of that “positive feedback”) sometimes leaves me wondering if perhaps this idea that ‘nursing in public is scary’ has maybe been just a wee bit overblown, perhaps (unwittingly) even by us moms ourselves. And that’s not at all to discredit anyone’s truthful account of just such an experience; I don’t doubt for a moment that this type of ignorance and disrespect has certainly happened at some point, in some form, to someone somewhere. But perhaps, as with any story, even one grained in truth, it is shared, stretched, changed, and altered time and again, growing bigger and scarier with each re-telling, until people genuinely start to believe that this type of thing happens all the time, to everyone everywhere. And so now this is the type of negative public response one becomes conditioned to expect to receive. And when one expects it, that would automatically put one on the defensive. Couple this with the anxiety, guilt, doubt, and fatigue that overwhelmingly plague many new mothers and its no wonder that one could project such possible paranoia onto one’s self. Like when you walk into a party alone and, burning with embarrassment, immediately shrink into yourself thinking “oh my God everyone is staring at me.” When truthfully, they’re really not.
Bu even if negative feedback is imagined, it’s certainly not hard to understand why women would still perceive the situation as such. No matter if you receive a thousand compliments, it’s always going to stick with you more the one derisive comment from the troll who declares you are being offensive. And we all know there are no shortage of Internet trolls that write just these types of inflammatory anti-breastfeeding comments for no other reason than to rile the masses. And unfortunately, for many readers, those comments are not so easy to simply dismiss and ignore without internalizing and taking to heart. It also sure doesn’t help societal norms much when social media platforms (I’m talking to you, Instagram) routinely delete breastfeeding pictures because they go ‘against the community guidelines’. *Sigh*. That anyone can look at a child being nourished and see nudity, pornography, and perversion is simply sad.
My feeling and hope, however, is that these small-minded and misguided people are in the minority and that their negative mindsets may soon be nonexistent with the movement to #normalizebreastfeeding. I will do my part by continuing to nourish my child whenever and wherever we have the need, and by supporting all women to feel safe and empowered to do the same, if they so choose.