Has there ever been such a hot topic as breastfeeding? From states banning or unbanning it in public, to Instagram pictures of topless stars, we are seeing a trend lending itself to attacking the very ones being debated: the new mother and her sweet bundle of joy.
"Obviously, the only right thing to do is to personally attack this woman by passing judgment, giving her unwanted/unwarranted advice, and making her feel that we know better than she does about the choices she should make for her life and the life of her baby," said no sane and decent person ever.
So, in honor of all of us mamas out there, let’s take a calm and rational look at this breastfeeding conundrum, shall we? On a personal note, I’ve chosen to nurse my little man and have been doing so with a modicum of success for over 3 months now. I say this because, first of all, nursing is hard. We’re talking seriously difficult, here! When you see movies of a baby being born and the nurses setting the gooey little one on the mother’s chest for that first feeding, it looks so easy. The baby instinctively knows how to suck and finds his way to his mama’s breast as the woman on the big screen sighs with contentment. To this, I'm calling B.S. I mean, my six-year-old instinctively knows how to suck on a straw, yet she chokes religiously because she’s in a hurry to go play. And I, as a mother, instinctively want to protect my children from harm, and yet they still experience falls, scrapes, bruises, and scars. A baby is born with the intrinsic need to suck. And he does. But not well. At least not at first. And a mother’s breast is conditioned to produce milk after nine months of carrying her child inside of her. But she may not produce enough. She may not know which positions she and her baby are most comfortable nursing in, or she may simply recoil at the pain of having a small creature chomping at her tenders! I know for a fact that for the first month of breast-feeding my small one, hearing his little “NOM NOM NOM!” noises as he swiveled his head back and forth trying to latch onto any part of me that was closest to him resembled an episode of the walking dead.
That being said, I chose to breastfeed. And many women choose to bottle feed. It seems unnecessary to have to explain why one woman chooses one way while another woman chooses the other, because the fact of the matter is, it’s not really our business, is it? When we come right down to it, we are all women, juggling life. We have work schedules, health issues, modesty concerns, social/peer pressure, latching difficulties, and a million other factors that play into our decisions. And we don’t want to be the cause of making another loving mama feel “less than” for her choice to do what’s best for her and her family, do we? So, a quick word to the Booby Pushers and to the Bottle Feeders: Let’s all take a deep breath, that’s right. Now, relax. We’ll all make it through this article alive if we show a little love to one another, OK?
As you may have guessed, my biggest issue with the breastfeeding conundrum is the judgment surrounding it. I, myself, have wavered back and forth on certain areas of nursing, such as how many months to nurse, how to do it in public without betraying my own personal desire for modesty, and how to work through the pain when my baby literally sucked part of my nipple off (yes, this can happen, mamas, so beware!). And what I found to be most helpful during these personal dilemmas that I experienced was to have compassionate, understanding professionals and friends to confide in. During those difficult times, I was given amazing information on the many benefits of nursing (reducing the risk of breast cancer, the zero cost of nursing vs. the cost of formula, the healthy ingredients found in breast milk, etc.). This useful information, along with help from lactation consultants to correct poor latching, helped me with my decision to continue nursing, despite my desire to quit in those earlier weeks.
So, let’s take a look at a few of the hot topics related to the breast vs. bottle controversy.
1.) “Breastfeeding is beautiful!”
This person is probably the same one trying to convince women everywhere that childbirth is totally beautiful, as well. And we all know the truth to that, don’t we? It’s messy, bloody, sweaty, pukey, and downright painful! But God makes ugly things sometimes (I mean, you’ve seen testicles before, right?) but the end result is what’s beautiful. And that same end result, my baby, is the only part of breastfeeding that I personally consider beautiful, because Lord knows my breasts are lacking all sorts of beauty these days! Saggy or engorged, nothing covers these fleshy bags of milk better than an unattractive nursing bra. But that beautiful baby is there whether mama chooses breast or bottle, so let’s be careful to not make anyone feel less than beautiful.
2.) “Breastfeeding is natural.”
Of course it is; there’s no question about it. We are beautifully designed to do some utterly amazing things! Although something being natural isn’t the sole factor on whether or not a woman chooses to nurse or not. Eating organically is natural and has many benefits. However, there’s something about Ben and Jerry’s and a big ole scoop of mac and cheese that gets me going more than a bag of organically grown carrots. I can tell myself that it’s natural, but my taste buds sometimes literally scream for processed foods. And honestly, I’m ok with that. Most the things we engage in throughout our days are anything but natural, from cell phones to microwaves to wearing make-up. And yet we aren’t quick to point fingers at people for using these items, so why should we get so upset when we see a woman lovingly feeding her newborn with a bottle?
3.) “Breastfeeding shouldn't be hidden."
I have the right to do it wherever I want, whenever I want.” This seems to be one of the biggest debates regarding nursing these days. Even women who have chosen to nurse are being attacked by other nursing women for not being “open enough” about it! (I’m calling a spade a spade, here. These women are in desperate need of a hobby.) It’s important to keep in mind that plenty of things are natural, but many women choose to do them in private, nursing being one of them. (Other things done in private include, but are not limited to: moving your bowels, showering, and sex. Yet, I don’t see many people debating these acts of privacy. Thank God!) For many of us, it’s hard to wrap our minds around it being taboo to pull out your boobs in public one day, and yet you’re supposed to do so the next day with righteous inhibition just because a baby is attached to the other end. Not to mention the issue of exposing, not only one’s breast, but one’s side and stomach… areas that a woman may feel less than confident about in the weeks and months following her delivery. Ladies, if we truly loved one another, we would spend more time encouraging others to feel beautiful, united, and confident instead of forcing our own agendas and confidence onto them. Something that I have found helpful is to do this: out of courtesy to those in my life, I will ask them if they mind if I nurse openly in front of them. If they seem uncomfortable with this notion, I will wear my shawl or simply go to another room. I could get a chip on my shoulder and act like they've truly offended me, or I could recognize that their level of comfort may be different than mine. Likewise, if a woman decides to nurse around me, I try to assure her that she can be free to do this in any way that is comfortable for her and her baby. She can be open, covered, or I can set her up in the next room if she prefers. Heck, I’ll even sit outside the closed door and talk loudly just to keep her company if that’s what she needs. Because it’s not just about me in the world. It’s about us. And wouldn’t it be amazing if we could all be just a bit more flexible?
4.) “Breastfeeding in public is appalling.”
Ah, the other side of the spectrum. We women sure do like our extremes, don’t we? Please keep in mind that one person’s idea of appalling may not necessarily be another person’s idea of it. For instance, I personally find it appalling when I see someone’s 5-year-old pick his nose and smear it on a restaurant table at which I may be blessed to sit next. And strangely enough, it is probably that 5-year-old’s mother that is calling breastfeeding appalling in the first place. Now, I’m not saying we should all sit around Times Square with our knockers blowing in the breeze. But it could be beneficial for all womankind if we took into account that what is truly appalling is the lack of places where a mother can feed her baby more discreetly. Some women may be awesome enough come prepared with their pop-up tent and lazy-boy recliner, complete with a built in nursing pillow, but for the average Janes out there, I’m pretty sure we can agree that this is just a touch impractical. A touch. In my opinion a woman refusing to feed her hungry baby because there isn't an appropriate location for it far more appalling than one who chose to feed him as kindly and respectfully as possible for her current surroundings. Let’s keep some perspective, shall we, ladies? Starvation is far worse than public nursing, and I’m pretty sure that’s something that we all can agree on!
5.) “Breastfeeding should only be done until the baby is no longer considered a newborn or you’ll be seen as ‘That Woman Who Is Nursing A Full Grown Man’.”
Yep. That’s actually out there. We’ve all seen the magazine cover donning the rather large child dressed in his school clothes, latched on to his mom’s ta-ta while smiling for the camera. And yes, perhaps a little judgment is necessary when we’re still nursing children who could legitimately down a porter house steak in one sitting. Just saying. However, the slippery slope is evident when a woman admits to nursing her nine-month old baby and she sees the faint hint of disgust on the other person’s face. If we realized how many walls we put up with our glances and turned up noses, if we knew how many eyes we caused to fill with tears or hearts we caused to feel shame or bitterness.
What if, just for a second, we let mamas be mamas? Wouldn’t the world be a sweeter place? A freer place? Being milk-producing snobs or boob-shamers is like penis measuring…. It’s in poor taste and, frankly, kinda ugly. Instead, let’s remember to encourage fellow mamas out there and help them to be the best kind of mother she chooses to be!