World Breastfeeding Week!
In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, I thought I’d illustrate the many sincere reasons why we so desperately need such a week to promote awareness.
My knowledge that others clearly need some enlightenment in the breastfeeding department began as soon as I aquired the Internet. I had read many books about the benefits of breastfeeding & it was such a natural, easy notion that bottle-feeding never occured to me, but I had no idea how controversial the topic is until I got a computer for school & started exploring the World Wide Web & its plethora of opinions.
It started innocently enough– I joined a pro-breastfeeding group online because I was interested in the stories & the support. There I found what I had been looking for, but I also found a lot of misinformation & what seemed to be rage directed toward breastfeeding mothers. I read that breastfeeding is gross & lactating women shouldn’t leave their homes, I read that breastfeeding women who nurse in public are sexual exhibitionists, I read that breastfeeding is ok– as long as you’re covered up!, I read that breastfeeding is fine but not after six months, I read that many women “can’t” breastfeed, I read that formula is just as good, & a whole host of other incorrect statements.
The more misinformation I read, & the more I learned about the incredible value of breastfeeding, the more “militant” I became about spreading information & supporting breastfeeding women.
I learned through my own experience that breastfeeding in public is not only important for societal reasons, but necessary for the health of a child. When my son was just a couple weeks old, I went grocery shopping while wearing him in his sling. I had fed him before we left, but as we meandered through the store, he started to cry. I knew he was hungry again, so I looked for a place to breastfeed (I wasn’t yet adept enough at using the sling that I could easily employ it to nurse him comfortably). The only option was a bench by the main door of the store, which was surrounded by shoppers & cash registers & old dudes sittin’ around. I left my cart with all of my belongings in an aisle & I decided to hide in the bathroom. The stalls were tiny & absolutely filthy; I had to straddle the nasty toilet seat while balancing my newborn on my knee so I could adust my shirt & bra to latch him on properly. I had visions of dropping him the entire time & the whole experience was disgusting & degrading. I didn’t know yet that my right to breastfeed & my son’s right to eat normally in a safe & comfortable environment was fully protected by the law.
You see, the government recognizes my son’s needs more than the delicate sensitivities of passers-by who might not want to see the same amount of flesh (or less) that is revealed by a low-cut shirt, but with a baby attached.
If I didn’t happen to be an extremely strong-willed woman with a passionate desire to do what is best for my child & for the world, I may have switched to formula because it is easier in public. I may have decided that the hassle of breastfeeding in a repulsive bathroom stall was too much, or that people leering at me made me uncomfortable, & I might have quit breastfeeding forever. But with the recent report that breastfeeding can save almost 1,000 lives in a year in the U.S. alone (http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/04/05/breastfeeding.costs/index.html?iref=allsearch), it is clear that education about breastmilk is important, but sensitivity & support for the mothers on the other end of the breast is equally crucial.
I have often heard the question “why not just pump milk for a bottle?” in regards to breastfeeding in public. I have previously explained how very possible it is to need to breastfeed in public; it is also often impossible to pump milk. I was unable to pump more than a half ounce after several hours of trying, so simply pumping milk for a bottle to avoid offending others with my breast was not possible. In addition to this difficulty, it has been proven that it is not only the breastmilk that is beneficial for the baby, but the physical closeness & warmth is excellent for a growing child. The act of breastfeeding releases hormones in a mother that assist bonding with the baby.
I have also heard the demand “cover up, for decency’s sake!” when discussing public breastfeeding. I understand that the sight of a nipple may surprise some people, especially in the U.S. where we sexualize women to the point of shaming them. I learned, as soon as my son was strong enough to move his limbs, that keeping him under a blanket would be no easy task. I tried several times, but he managed to either pull it off or get so upset that he was unable to nurse at all, so I stopped trying. It has become very clear to me that people who do not wish to see the act of breastfeeding can look away.
The fact that breastfeeding saves lives, yet less than 15% of women in the U.S. make it to the bare minimum recommendation of 6 months, tells us that we absolutely need to normalize breastfeeding instead of demanding that women use synthetic devices to feed their children, or hide them under blankets. More paramount than insisting that women be ashamed of their bodies is making the act of nursing standard so that future generations will embrace this normal way of feeding & stop employing sub-standard methods.