I didn’t start my breastfeeding journey with a head full of knowledge or a mind set on a particular aim. I dived in on a whim and a prayer. I went to several antenatal classes, but it was more from the angle of a newly pregnant mum many miles away from home trying to get a holistic glimpse on parenthood. I don’t think I thought of how the baby would be fed until I went to those classes. The choice to breastfeed for me started as a trial decision, if it works well if it doesn’t … two months into it and I wanted to quit, but thanks to the support I got from my sister, and Bambis, I carried on.
Through our journey and afterward I have come to learn a lot more about breastfeeding, its place in society and the importance of normalizing breastfeeding. Normalizing breastfeeding is a major public health campaign; the link between to health of a baby and well-being of the future adult makes it a very important topic. This write up will attempt to summarize my understanding of what it means to normalize breastfeeding:
- To normalize breastfeeding is to welcome the different identities, social, and religious lattices that exist inside the folds of motherhood. Each phase of motherhood has a way of highlighting our abilities and shortcomings, however, it doesn’t change who we are; contemplative people or social butterflies, naturist or non-naturist and so forth. Each mother ought to be supported to breastfeed in the manner that suits her, publicly or privately.
- To normalize breastfeeding is to acknowledge the effect a mother’s psychological well-being during pregnancy, baby blues and beyond has on breastfeeding. Everybody knows breastfeeding is a physical act; most do not know or acknowledge the emotional demands it places on the mother. The latter makes it twice as hard for a mother who has encountered or is encountering emotional issues to keep up long term breastfeeding. This is very important as we all know that a well-rested/balanced mother leads to a well-rested/balanced baby. (Rees, 2016)
- To normalize breastfeeding is to eliminate one of the many divides that can exist in motherhood and parenting as a whole: at some point in history, infant formula was introduced as a status symbol, a commodity afforded only by the working class/wealthy mother. This relegated the breastfeeding mother to the place of an uneducated/common/unemployed mother (Nathoo & Ostry, 2009). The tides are slowly turning, but I fear it brings with it an alternate divide; nature mother vs. synthetic mother, confident mother vs. non-confident mother. These labels do more harm than good for the breastfeeding cause. The choice on how a baby is fed should be made with the optimal well-being of baby as the focus point. This in no way implies that moms wellbeing isn’t important (see point two), but if ever there was a relationship that demanded and tugged at the heartstrings of sacrifice motherhood is at the apex of such. This is a lesson that I am as yet learning.
- To normalize breastfeeding is to accept that while the use of infant formula might not be an immoral act, the misuse or marketing of it might be considered unethical. This ranges from the aggressive marketing of formula to mothers in countries with poor sanitary conditions and limited access to clean water, to the distribution of formula samples to new mothers as they leave the hospital in developed countries. This has been proven to derail the breastfeeding journey for most mothers. (Bai, 2013) This point is very important to my breastfeeding journey as the first and the only bottle of formula my daughter had was a free sample from the hospital, thankfully she rejected it, I imagine if she hadn’t and I didn’t have the support network I had in place, I would probably have quit breastfeeding on another bad day.
- To normalize breastfeeding is not to sexualize or to desexualize the breasts or nursing mother. Through the decades organizations standing on the back of a patriarchal society have made a sex symbol out of the woman’s breast; a tool for selling cars, luring the opposite sex and bolstering your feminine nature. On the other hand, several artworks, campaign groups, and activists have tried to desexualize the breast; I fear both sides haven’t done the nursing mother much good. She worries about feeding in public, she worries about their sexual appeal (which is changed more by pregnancy and less by breastfeeding), she worries about her own personal image, and for some, she worries about her modesty (see point 1). But at the end of the day, she just wants to feed her child in peace and sincerely she doesn’t care if they are sexual or not, those things are secondary. The breast is both a sexual and nurturing organ, it was designed to carry out both roles, and they are not mutually exclusive.
- To normalize breastfeeding is to accept the previous methods of feeding in the past and align with the present research. This is especially important for people in the medical field, it is true that at some point in history formula was branded the perfect solution for feeding an infant (several reasons have being proffered as to how formula came to be so dominant: some attribute it to an increase in mothers joining the workforce making it necessary for a child-minder to have a ready supply of food, it has also being linked to the industrialization of milk production while others believe it was probably due to a need to have children grow up faster after the war, as breast milk was thought to be insufficient for quick growth), however present research refutes that claim. It is important that medical professionals embrace breastfeeding in its entity, as this will enable them to make sound decisions on how best to support a mother without feeling cajoled to say keep trying even when they can see whatever form of feeding isn’t helping mother or baby. The pressure shouldn’t be to promote either formula or breastfeeding, the demand should be to handle each case individually with the best outcome for both mother and baby in view, regardless of how they were fed or how they fed their own children.
- To normalize breastfeeding is to acknowledge the true history of breastfeeding and infant substitutes: finally, we must acknowledge that infant substitutes have always existed in the past, however, the ratio of children who needed it as against those who were breastfed either by their mothers or a wet nurse were few. Babies were fed using different instruments and substitutes including terracotta pots, donkey’s milk, pap, and soaked bread (Dailey, 2014). Formula probably became popular as it was the one substitute which could be transported around the world, had more sterilized equipment, and thus had a lower probability of causing food poisoning when compared to others.
To normalize breastfeeding is to start baby on the best diet known to man.
Sorry for the mix-up, scheduled the post wrongly and had to repost it again. Breastfeeding week starts on the 18th of this month, I hope we all join in to celebrate it, if you’re new here (i.e. to livehomeandaway) I hope you find this part of my life as interesting as the rest.
Love and light.