Latest posts by BlackBirdEvolution (see all)
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If you are not a parent, you can’t begin to guess how often people “share” their opinions with you (read: talk to you about things you should or shouldn’t be doing because they are “trying to help”). This happens with everything imaginable, but I personally have experienced it more with breastfeeding than any other issue.
There are many organizations, the World Health Organization to name the most prominent, that abide by the mantra of “Breast is Best.” This is not only catchy but it emphasizes the nutritional power of breastmilk for babies. The argument could be made that this is leaps and bounds better than just a few decades ago when formula was heavily pushed, as more recent studies have shown that breast milk has many benefits.
I am not arguing the benefits of breast milk or the benefits of breastfeeding. My issue with this campaign actually has nothing to do with breast milk itself. It is that it shames the hell out of the individuals who cannot, or choose not to, breastfeed.
This, like everything else related to parenting is highly problematic in that it is all-or-nothing. It was decided that breast milk is better than formula and then suddenly everything is about breast milk. Guidelines are created, expectations are set, and practitioners begin to encourage this approach. More education is never a bad thing, but education that dismisses alternatives can hardly be considered comprehensive. The “Breast is Best” campaign runs the risk of completely dismissing the health and well-being of the parent who is expected to provide the milk.
We are doing more harm to the parents in our communities by only speaking of the value and the positive aspects of breast milk and never sharing the negative aspects. Breastfeeding is hard work. It demands a whole different level of attentiveness, of sharing your body long after you have delivered your child, of navigating any and all complications that may arise, from sore nipples to low supply to over-supply and everything in between. And if a breastfeeding parent needs to be away from the baby, the individual is then introduced into an entirely new set of pressures around pumping, often resulting in obsessing over ounces, adding pumping times to meet a child’s needs, and taking time away from self care to pump. And I swear, if I hear one more person say that breastfeeding is free, I might absolutely lose my mind. I’ve had to purchase four pumps (this is in addition to the pump I got through insurance) in my time feeding my two children. Not to mention supplies for the pump, bottles, milk bags for the freezer, sanitizing bags, a hands-free pumping bra, multiple kinds of nipple cream, and so on. It takes a tremendous amount of dedication, time, and money.
Breastfeeding should be a choice that involves free will, not a choice that is made because there is no other realistic option. That means continuing to provide free breast pumps (which for the moment is covered under the Affordable Care Act), actually providing paid leave, giving working parents time and space (and here’s the kicker: no guilt trips) to pump as often as needed during their work day, offering free lactation consultation and support around the clock, and free therapy and medication management if needed.
There is not only space to have rich conversations around the varieties and combinations of feeding options, but we have a responsibility to parents to do so. This would work to eradicate the shame of making a decision that is best for the baby because it is best for the family and not the other way around. The organization Fed is Best states: “The Fed is Best Foundation believes that babies should never go hungry and mothers should be supported in choosing clinically safe feeding options for their babies. Whether breast milk, formula, or a combination of both – #FedIsBest.” Simple and beautiful. A parent completely draining themselves to give their baby the “best option” is doing the opposite, despite the best of intentions. Providing breast milk but being a parent who is unable to be present or engaged due to the pressure and stress that comes with it cannot possibly be more beneficial than reconsidering feeding options. Suzanne Barston has a blog called Fearless Formula Feeder
and spoke to Clare Wilson about this very issue. She shared that more than half the people who comment on her blog have had postpartum depression in part because of the pressure to breastfeed.
It is examples like this that make it clear that in our society, women are considered less important than their children. I disagree. We cannot have healthy children who thrive if their parents are unable to care for themselves. Let’s have conversations about healthy development that realistically describe breastfeeding rather than glorify it. Let’s create a culture in which parents who are trying their best for their families are supported no matter what their choices in feeding are. We’re all in this together.