What if instead we focused on how easy breastfeeding is for most women and how in this day and age, most people think it's normal.
It's World Breastfeeding Week and we're going all post-crazy about it. You'll find all kinds of stories about why breastfeeding is important, how to solve breastfeeding problems and stories of women who prevailed against all odds and were able to nurse their babies anyways. The people who sponsor WBW (at the United Nations) pick a different theme every year and this year it's all about providing breastfeeding women support.
I think support is really important but what if we did something really different. What if we quit giving the breastfeeding problems some women experience so much attention and blog space? What if instead of talking about all the ways women aren't supported and how many women quit nursing before six months or a year, and the cracked nipples, inverted nipples, babies who don't want to latch, nursing mothers kicked out of church and all that, what if we focused on how easy breastfeeding really is for most women and how in this day and age, most people think it's normal.
Now, don't get me wrong. I know plenty of women have problems breastfeeding and for that I'm grateful lactation specialists are lined up to help. I'm all for making lactation assistance even easier to access. But by focusing so intently on breastfeeding problems and negative outcomes and statistics, I wonder if we aren't creating problems and freaking some potential breastfeeders out. If we focused on how normal and easy and rewarding it is for most women, we might find that more women decide breastfeeding isn't such a daunting and ominous challenge and chore after all and they just might give it a try.
I've known thousands of patients, friends, sisters, aunts, grandmothers and coworkers who've been able to nurse well right from the get-go. They latch that baby on no problem, get through the early sore-nipple days, move on to the up-all-night nursing stage, conquer their baby's growth spurts by magically making more milk and even go back to work and are able to pump and continue breastfeeding. Their families and partners just assume Mom will breastfeed so they are on-board from the beginning. All their friends and all the ladies at church, the gym and at preschool breastfeed and none of them had any insurmountable problems. All their co-workers breastfed and their employers didn't think it was a big deal.
Even women with complications seem to get over them fairly easily and are able to nurse well. I've known hundreds of women with inverted nipples and flat chests who've breastfed just as well as women with super-pointy nipples and large breasts. Young mothers – no problem. Older mothers – champion nurses. Sure, cracked nipples hurt a bit, but with a few minor adjustments and supplies available at the drug store, they're good to go. I even had a patient once who was born without arms and used her feet to hold her baby to her breast and get her latched on. Seriously, most of the time, breastfeeding is that easy.
The thing is this: When most of what you hear, read and see about breastfeeding is that it's fraught with trouble, it's going to be hard for some women to sign on and go for it. When all you hear is that it's a big freaking hassle when you go back to work, some women are going to say, fuggetaboutit. Yes, some women do have breastfeeding problems, but honest-to-god, ladies, most don't.
For most women the world over, it's easy, snuggly, inexpensive, convenient, comfortable, sweet, efficient and lovely. When it's time to go back to work, most women say pumping is easy, quick and no big deal. Once bosses understand that it's really not such a time-sucking problem after all, more will find ways to be supportive. I know a guy who cleaned out a broom cupboard at his office, painted and decorated it, put in a space heater, a mini-fridge and a rocker and turned it into his company's nursing room. Let's start focusing on stories like that, shall we?
Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and five children. Got a question for Jeanne? E-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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