Thursday, April 18, 2013

Breastfeeding is Biologically Normal So Why Do I Feel Like a Freak?

As always, I feel the need to point out that being pro-breastfeeding does not make me anti-formula.  I don't care if a woman immediately chooses to use formula with her newborn.  It's not my baby, it's not my choice.  I am pro-breastfeeding and I want every woman to be able to reach her breastfeeding goals - whatever those goals may be.

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I think it's safe to say that people tend to say stupid things when they are uniformed and/or uneducated.  Few things bring out the crazy-talk quite like things that make us feel threatened, judged, or inferior.  Take breastfeeding, for example. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends breastfeeding continue until AT LEAST 2-years of age.  Yeah, but we're Americans so we're supposed to thumb our noses at the rest of the world and do what we want to do, right?  Not so fast there, Cowboy. . .even the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends ONLY breastmilk until the infant reaches 6-months of age and breastmilk with solids until AT LEAST one-year of age.  Oh.

Does this mean you suck (heh!) if you didn't breastfeed that long?  No.  Does this mean you are the worst mom ever if you just plain didn't want to breastfeed.  Nope.  Does this mean you should be a judgemental douche toward women who do choose to nurse their children (their walking & possibly talking children - oh noes!) according to these guidelines.  Absolutely not! 

Unfortunately, I find that this very thing happens all too often.  I don't know what it is about information that is so damn threatening, but women frequently respond as if these recommendations are a personal attack.  That's a shame because they just might be a little less judgemental toward a mother who is breastfeeding outside of their own notion of when it is "appropriate" to feed a baby - infant or toddler.

I have a 16-month old and that child still breastfeeds several times every single day.  Some days more, some days less, but an average is 6 to 8 nursing sessions each day.  My baby eats table food and drinks from a cup. . .but my baby also still nurses straight from the tap and that's perfectly normal.

My husband has always supported me breastfeeding our children and am I thankful for that because I might not have stuck with it if I had a man-child at home whining about his babies on my breasts.  I have learned a lot about human lactation over the years so I had the education to succeed and, for that, I am thankful.  I also did not have any physical obstacles that might make breastfeeding particularly difficult and that makes me very fortunate.  I had a desire to breastfeed and I know why I'm doing it.  I'm secure in my decision to breastfeed outside of infancy. 

It's not like I'm some wild & crazy lactivist.  I don't whip my tits out and make a spectacle of myself when I'm nursing my baby.  I'm just a middle-aged suburban mother of two children.  So why is it that I'm always carrying on about breastfeeding? 

It's because even people who I know and love sometimes run their mouths and say things that are hurtful.  Things that make it sound like I'm some sort of weirdo, some fanatic, for feeding my child in the way my body was designed.  Breastfeeding is biologically normal, so why do people try to make me feel like such a freak?

As I already said, I'm secure in my decision so nothing anyone says is going to sway my decision to breastfeed my toddler.  Not all women are so comfortable.  Some women are only hanging on by a thread. . .they are just one nursing session away from giving up.  One dirty look, one snotty comment, one ill-informed opinion away from replacing their nipple with one of latex or silicone, replacing their own human breastmilk for their baby in favor of giving the babe cow milk. 

The very thought that these women might be discouraged from reaching their breastfeeding goals because someone else thinks it's strange, perverted, or "icky" is infuriating to me.  I nurse my baby anytime and anywhere because I wouldn't hesitate to do the same if he were being given a bottle and this has allowed me to hear some interesting comments.  Let's look at some utterly ridiculous statements I've heard about breastfeeding, shall we?  Buckle up, Buttercup, away we go!

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"Breastfeeding is a special moment between mother and child so it should be done in private."  Breastfeeding is eating.  Breast - FEEDING, get it?!  If you wouldn't eat your sandwich in private. . .no, if you wouldn't tell a bottle feeding mother to feed her baby in private, then you shouldn't say the same to a breastfeeding mother. 

"It's immodest to breastfeed in public."  Modesty is subjective and my personal comfort level may not be the same as yours.  Your sense of modesty does not trump my baby's right to eat.  Period.

"If they have teeth, they shouldn't be breastfeeding."  Breastfeeding is nurturing and nutritive so I don't understand why teeth matter in this arbitrary age cutoff.  Some babies are born with teeth. . .should they not be permitted to breastfeed?

"If they can ask for it, they're too old for it."  I find this interesting because usually we're excited that baby can finally communicate and we're eager to respond favorably so baby continues to communicate.  Why is nursing any different than baby asking for a cracker or a cup of water?  My baby has been able to open my nightgown, push aside my sleep bra, and latch on for a midnight snack since he was an infant.

"Are you going to use a cover?"  I have used a nursing cover and I find that they draw even more attention to what I'm doing.  That said, I don't prefer to make anyone around me uncomfortable so I do try to minimize any possibility of exposing my nipples. . .because that's the thing that freaks everyone out, right?  A nipple.  I can show cleavage, incredible amounts of cleavage, all day long and no one thinks anything about it.  A little nipple gets exposed and the entire world goes mad!

"I get that breastfeeding is natural.  Peeing is natural too so should we just start doing that in public too?"  Comparing breastfeeding in public to urination in public is comparing apples to oranges.  One has to do with eating/feeding/comforting a baby and the other has to do with the end result of eating/drinking.  The correct comparison would be:  if a woman can choose to publically feed her baby the way her body was designed to feed  her baby, then I should be able to eat in public.  Oh, wait. . .you can eat in public!  So can a breastfed baby.

"Adults can look away and be mature, but kids and teens might be weirded out by breastfeeding in public so you should be considerate and cover up."  I've heard and witnessed more nonsense from adults than from children when I've nursed my baby in public.  If anything, children seem curious about this way of feeding a baby.  Breastfeeding will never be considered normal (and it is biologically normal for mammals to breastfeed) if we continue to cover it up and hide it away. 

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I am aware that bottle feeding mothers (whether the bottle contains breastmilk or formula) also face judgement and that sucks too.  My children accepted bottles for such a short period that I have no idea what it's like to have a baby take one and feel the weight of militant milkers all up in my baby's meal.  That said, I can't think of a single instance in which a bottlefeeder was asked to leave an establishment or a public place because they were bottlefeeding their child.  This does happen to breastfeeding mothers and it is wrong.  Wrong, wrong, wrong. 

I am thankful that society will eventually think nothing of nursing an infant or toddler in public and I hope that my children's generation is the one that decides that shaming breastfeeding mothers is as backward and wrong as racial segregation.