What's it going to take to get breastfeeding out of the headlines and back into society as a normal way to feed our children?
Once again, we're all in a bunch about breastfeeding. It's all over magazine covers, news stations, Facebook and beyond. I've been trying to keep my big mouth shut because seriously, haven't we already covered this? Apparently, however, we still have issues with the girls that need to be hashed out and we still need to make a big deal about breastfeeding in public, breastfeeding in uniform, breastfeeding a preschooler and breastfeeding with a cookie.
You might ask, what exactly is the problem with people having different breastfeeding styles? There isn't one. I think breastfeeding is enjoying spotlight attention because it's titillating. It keeps the news sexy and continues a manufactured battle the media likes to call the breastfeeding wars. I have a suggestion. What if we just quit playing along? What if we normalize breastfeeding in all its' variations? What if instead of treating breastfeeding as a trendy fad that's either brave or brazen (to quote NPR's headline), we think of it as bonding and breakfast? What if instead of pigeonholing women into narrow categories and criticizing any who have a different vision than our own, we said, "That's cool," and left it at that?
Humans are mammals. We've been breastfeeding ever since Eve had babies. We're also sexual beings and women and men have both enjoyed breasts ever since Adam and Eve discovered that part of her anatomy. Headlines and news stories seem to think this creates a dichotomy, as if we must choose one role and choose whether our breasts are going to be utilitarian or sexual. But most people and lots of body parts have more than one purpose. We dance and walk with our feet, breathe and smell with our noses, see and cry with our eyes.
We've been struggling for a long time with the reality that women are mothers, soldiers, workers, employers and sexual beings, plus a whole lot more. That's why we're so often depicted as either Madonna or as a Madonna – either sinner or saint. But no woman is that black or white, only one thing or the other. We're all shades of grey (No, not that Shades of Grey, but then again...why not?). We're multifaceted people who work, play, nurture, nourish and enjoy ourselves. News stories, however, are written in black and white.
There are 4 million babies born every year in the US to 8 million parents, from all different cultures. If some women decide they only want to breastfeed for a few months and others want to go the distance – that's cool. If some want to lift their shirts in public and give their babies a snack – that's cool. If some want to feed their babies at a restaurant, in church, at the park, in the mall – that's cool. They're just breastfeeding, just like women all over the world have done forever.
Here's the flip side of the story – a news report from the Centers for Disease Control says only about half of American mothers intend to breastfeed exclusively for the first three months of their baby's life, but of those, only a third actually make it to the three-month mark. The other two-thirds (TWO THIRDS!!!) quit early because it's too darn hard.
This is the big deal the news media should be talking about. It should be all over the news that most American women don't get paid for maternity leave and have to go back to work after only six to twelve weeks. Unless they can nurse or pump in privacy at work, of course they're going to quit. They should be reporting on the pressure women receive to give their baby "just a little formula" because they're told they won't make enough milk instead of giving them support so they can make all their baby needs. They should be talking about how to support women to get past sore nipples and engorgement. The real dichotomy is that we tell women that good mothers breastfeed their babies, but don't help them do that. That's the real breastfeeding battle.
What's it going to take to get breastfeeding out of the headlines and back into society as a normal way to feed our children? Since everyone agrees it gives our children the best advantage, how about if we make it a priority and provide mothers all the support they need. How about if we promote breastfeeding as normal in all kinds of situations (yes, even in uniform, even preschoolers)? Let's stop making women out to be freaks if they breastfeed with a different style than our own. Because, if mother nature really intended for us to use our breasts for only one purpose, for only so long and only under specific conditions and circumstances, then she wouldn't have made them so much fun and so beautiful. She would only let the milk flow for a specific length of time and she would have stamped a "best used by date" on them. Since she didn't, let's just figure she's saying, "That's cool."
Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Ore., with her husband and five children. Got a question for Jeanne? Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org and it may be answered in a future blog post.
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