It Takes a Village – Part Three: Feeding Your Baby

This is part three of my blog series, “It Takes A Village: Support in Parenting.” Click these links to read part one or part two.

Feeding Your Baby

Afternoon breastfeeding session, Holistic Living with KristyThere are few parenting issues more emotional than whether or not to breastfeed your baby. As this article by Best for Babes website so clearly states:

We understand that breastfeeding is a really loaded subject. How could it not be when it’s touted as “the best” but moms are routinely given poor breastfeeding care and advice and scant societal support? They wrestle (often alone) with whether to start or stop nursing, and most have bad experiences along the way leading to guilt, blame, anger, regret and unpleasant memories.

Society’s Mixed Message

Holistic Living with Kristy In addition to the passionate emotions on both sides of the “breastmilk vs. formula” argument, our culture also sends many mixed messages to new parents about breastfeeding. Many have heard the slogan “Breast is best” from doctors, nurses, or possibly even friends… yet there is so little support for women in achieving their breastfeeding goals. As if it weren’t bad enough that medical professionals receive so little training in lactation (leading to little support and/or bad advice), childcare providers may not support breastfeeding mothers or know how to properly handle breastmilk, and employers sometimes restrict a new mother’s ability to pump while away from baby. In addition, our modern, Western culture tends to view breasts as solely for sexual gratification, leading to an expectation to keep them hidden from public view, even while breastfeeding. Many women are afraid to nurse in public or shamed by friends or family not to breastfeed anywhere but a private bedroom. Partners struggling with the time and attention new mothers give their babies may pressure moms to “just let me give him a bottle” so they don’t feel left out. To top it all off, formula companies interested in profits over infant outcomes use marketing techniques that continually undermine a woman’s breastfeeding goals—from sending home free samples to offering hotlines that masquerade as breastfeeding support resources—even during pregnancy. [For more on societal barriers to breastfeeding goals, click here and here.]

The Mommy Wars & “Extended” or Full-Term Breastfeeding

Holistic Living with KristySo, given all these hurdles to breastfeeding success, it’s no wonder the U.S. ranks last in breastfeeding support… though I didn’t need a study or website to tell me this. I know it. I’ve lived it, through my personal experience of nursing two babies. I know how families are continually pressured to stop breastfeeding infants as early as 4 months throughout their first years of life. And did you notice I said “years”? Not year… because “extended” breastfeeding, or “full-term breastfeeding” as I prefer to call it, is not a cultural norm in the U.S.—despite continued recommendations from the World Health Organization, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and other organizations that babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months and continue breastfeeding (while offering other foods) through the age of 1, 2, or beyond. And, of course, the media makes this worse. In our “sex sells” culture, female breasts are continually sensationalized, the flames of the “mommy wars” are always being fanned, and opinions about what’s “right” or what women “should” be doing abound. Remember when Time magazine’s “Are You Mom Enough?” article came out last May? The headline, and everyone’s opinion about it, was everywhere.

Making Peace

So, what’s a modern mama to do? As if the case with most things, we are usually our own worst parenting critics. Judgment, shame, and guilt abound… and I wonder if the most judgmental of folks aren’t just trying to mask their own lack of confidence in their parenting decisions. No way to be a perfect mother ~ Jill Churchill Whether you breastfeed or exclusively pump, work outside the home or not, do the public/private school or homeschool thing… we must remember that most parents genuinely want to do the best for their children and are trying their hardest to make that possible. And, to do that, we must first make peace with our own decisions—and mistakes. No one is perfect… none of us are “Supermom” … we all make mistakes. And, in fact, I believe one of the best things we can provide for children is the lesson that it’s not about avoiding mistakes but learning from those that are made.

Holistic Living with Kristy

The Importance of Support

I don’t think I could say it any better than Jessica in this article, “When will we walk the talk,” from The Leaky Boob:

Holistic Living with KristyAll of us need support. Even if we think we don’t, even if the attitudes and opinions of others aren’t something we feel impact us, the truth is whatever it is we set out to do we are more likely to succeed when we have support.

While she goes on to discuss the ways in which society undermines women’s desires to breastfeed, the individual support of family and friends, employers and partners makes a difference. As a new mom, I was lucky enough to have an employer that fully supported my breastfeeding relationship with my son, even giving me time off to run to buy new pump parts the day mine broke during a pump break. I have a family that has always supported my nursing my children for as long as I felt comfortable, despite my dad’s discomfort at seeing his only daughter’s naked breast and my mom’s initial “breastfeeding past a year is perverse” comment. And even my in-laws have been supportive, helping us out with childcare despite my daughter’s refusal to drink from a bottle.

I also have a husband who has been beyond supportive. From holding my hand during the first difficult weeks (and crying spells) of nursing my son to when my supply tanked and I had to work tirelessly to bring it back… from washing pump parts every night after work while I put our son to bed to not even blinking an eye whenever and wherever I needed to breastfeed in public… from sharing our already cramped bed with both our babies during night feedings to helping me night-wean them both when they were ready. And, yet, my breastfeeding journey was far from easy. I simply cannot imagine how difficult it must be for women whose employers deny time to pump, whose husbands guilt them into letting them bottle feed, or whose extended families sneak formula to their babies behind their backs. If you are one of these women, please reach out to organizations that can help support you in your breastfeeding goals. If you know one of these women, please, please,please be there with encouraging words and moral support when she needs them.

Additional Resources

Fortunately, there are many online resources where pregnant and breastfeeding women can reach out for support when needed. Below are links to some of my favorite articles and organizations that you may find helpful:

Join the Conversation

Tell us what your experience was like. When and how did you reach your decision to breastfeed or bottle feed? How long did you (or do you plan on) breastfeeding? What kind of support did you have, and what kind did you wish you had but lacked? Do you have any resources or links that you would like to share? We look forward to hearing from you.

 

A version of this article originally appeared on Belly Sprout’s Blog.

*Comments on this site are moderated because we value supportive, encouraging interactions. When disagreeing with someone it is to be done respectfully and without ridicule, name calling, or bashing. Readers are welcome to agree to disagree with civility and respect. Tone can be difficult to discern in text only forms but we aim for polite exchanges that value people over being right, relationships over opinions, and support over superiority and judgment. We ask that you aim to keep your comments in the spirit of these values. Interactions that do not reflect these values will not be approved. Please consider how you could share your opinion without being harsh and critical of those that do not agree with you and if you find that impossible then please refrain from commenting at all.

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