Mary openly nursed Jesus. Her unconditional love and care of her divine child has been depicted throughout history by every culture on Earth- Openly feeding the son of God, uncovered and unashamed.
Hera’s breast milk created the Milky Way while the demi-god Hercules was placed at her breast.
Isis nursed the pharaoh Horus, giving life, as well as promise of access to the afterlife while offering prosperity, hope and strength to Egypt through him.
Even earlier, Ishtar of Babylon is seen in countless sculptures nursing a child and is depicted as the divine mother, creatress and life giving force of the universe. Women pray to Ishtar and Inana during childbirth as the goddess of all things mother related for safe delivery, strength of mother and child. Even the war-raged goddess Kali of Hindu culture, as seen below, was calmed from destroying the world when Shiva appeared to her as a crying babe. She abandoned her dark and wrathful vengeance, reverted back into her mother form, Parvati, and breastfed Shiva in contentment saving the world from destruction.
Every ancient statue of a woman or Goddess has been an image of strength, life, nurturing, and power in cultures the world over for centuries by being shown with swelling, full breasts for giving milk and the swollen belly of a mother.
Breastfeeding is powerful. Breastfeeding has always.been.powerful.
Breastfeeding symbolizes strength, sustenance, and prosperity. Not just for one child, but for a society as a whole. We’ve known this since the dawn of time. Our ancestors knew it. Every tribal nation in the world, alongside millions of people from all cultures, walks of life and levels of education STILL know it. For thousands of years, the power of a woman was seen in her ability to take the Creator’s hand, nourishing life itself; the life of a child, humanity, and the universe. Breastfeeding was a divine gift. The world knew it.
And then, somehow… it forgot. It tried to convince women that in order to be powerful, they needed to shluff off this inconvenient task and get back to work. It tried to teach young girls, first, that being a wife and mother was only to serve their husbands and then later, that being a mother was degrading- giving up their individuality, saddling them down with unnecessary responsibility and taking away what made them special. It tried to turn physical nurturing into a hippy fad only for poor people and tree hugging granola moms.
But it didn’t work. We are still here and those who still listen to our instincts, know better.
The question we ask when looking at this sharp contrast between instinct and reality is, when did we forget and how did it happen? When did motherhood take a back seat to progress and when did breastfeeding begin to be seen as “optional”, unnecessary and a bothersome waste of time? It wasn’t so long ago that breastfeeding was seen as an ability that inspired awe, something to be revered and honored. Yet, in our new culture of “progress”, we see breastfeeding as demeaning, undermining, indecent, a waste of time and an unfortunate act that somehow takes power away from the woman.
Was it the introduction of a male-focused spirituality that moved away from mothers and goddesses as healers, protectors and nurturing forces of the universe? Many believe it and I hear the ring of truth in these ideas. Before we had mono-theistic/patriarchal societies, we had a world in which women, as well as men, were respected and valued for their contributions. One where women were powerful leaders, creators, nurturers, healers and crafters both in the Northern Hemisphere, AND the Southern. They led nations and clans, large and small the world over. Women were empresses and queens of incredible nations, warriors and generals, even and the action of breastfeeding was seen as a powerful symbol, both of submission to her leadership, and also proof that she was capable of sustaining life which was likened unto the Gods and therefore, a divine power.
Women in their kingdoms sought to emulate their goddess-like rulers, bearing children of their own and just as their divine ruler, nurturing them through their milk as nature, as the GODS intended. So was it the introduction of “Western” faith with a male god that led us to this? Although many would like to place the blame there, the theory that a male-centered theology is responsible for the decline in motherhood respect is absolutely busted once you read the Bible. In fact, the introduction of a patriarchal, spirituality/society did NOT in any way diminish the power of the mother or breast milk being seen as an awe-inspiring force of the Divine plan in action.
The power, divine action and reverence toward breastfeeding is seen throughout the Bible in both the old and new testaments and never once, (that I have found-and I have been looking for 3 years) has there been any reference to the act as shameful, degrading to a woman, inconsistent with God’s Plan, or meant to be done privately because it was somehow indecent. Modesty in the bible does not pertain to breastfeeding, as breastfeeding is done to nourish a child, not to be sexually flamboyant or promiscuous, so these two issues really can’t even be combined.
Occasionally, there is mention of infants eating honey, almonds and cream when a mother’s breast is not available… but never in replacement because it was somehow better and NEVER because feeding a child in public was somehow an inappropriate act. I mean, seriously- think about this… did the mothers, walking across the desert for 40 days stop, cover their babies with a cloth in 150 degree weather or excuse themselves to some far away sand dune while everyone else waited patiently for them so they could nurse privately? That’s just stupid. Of course they didn’t. They fed their babies when they cried, as nature intended and I could be very wrong about this, but I HIGHLY doubt anyone shamed a woman for doing so or questioned her godliness because she was feeding her child in front of other people. Beyond this, (because I admit this is all pure speculation…) there is, of course, one mother above all others, a mother who is depicted in sacred artwork in churches world wide, with her baby at her breast; the virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. Nursing her baby, the son of God…. openly, lovingly, without shame, Mary is depicted in religious works in every single culture Christianity has touched. Did she nurse openly? The Bible itself says nothing to indicate she did, but the millions of pieces of art across the world certainly, and literally, paint the picture as though she did.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I have never once heard anyone complain about the depictions of her nursing baby Jesus. I’ve never heard of any “good Christian” woman stomping over to a manager at a museum, a minister or a priest in a cathedral demanding “that indecent breast” gets covered before her son sees it. In fact, Mary is the model parent and it is she, whom we should set our example by according to many Christ followers.
A little anecdotal story to back this up; The Church was deeply concerned about the health of its people as the plague swept through Europe. They were concerned because it had become such a fad NOT to breastfeed babies, that they were staying smaller, longer. They were concerned this would weaken the population and make them more susceptible to disease. They sent out official statements to all villages across the land to encourage mothers to feed their own children, for the sake of their baby’s, and the entire population’s sake.
Other patriarchal, spiritual persuasions, even if enormously conservative by modern American standards, still offer a nursing mother the opportunity to nurse her baby, even openly when in the presence of family/friends. For example, Islamic law dictates a woman should breastfeed her baby for two years. When she is home, she does not hide the activity from children and while men and women are typically segregated anyway, the issue of modesty is rarely an issue. Feeding a baby is a sacred duty and even if they don’t do it in public, or if they do, they do so discretely, they ARE doing it.
Similarly, Jewish tradition places enormous value on breastfeeding and Rabbinic texts define the nursing period up through age five. Breastfeeding, in Jewish culture, is not only the process of nurturing and feeding a child, but also symbolic of passing along cultural values and spirituality. The Ben Ish Hai (An 18th century rabbi) even declared; while a woman is breastfeeding, her exposed breasts are not considered erotic. The function of the breasts, feeding a baby, trumps considerations of modesty.
So how did we get to this point?
Churches the world over showcase sacred art with the Virgin Mother openly feeding her infant. Ancient cultures literally EVERY WHERE have considered breastfeeding a powerful and divine ability that should be praised, honored and respected. Clearly, religion has nothing to do with any of this; the modern push to do away with breastfeeding.
So, where did all this mama milk hate come from? Well friends, after nearly four years of studying the history and changes made to child rearing in the last few centuries, I’ve tried to work out this puzzle.
I am not an historian, a mythology expert or a scientist, I’m just a mom who has observed certain aspects of our culture and world history. When viewed closely, the facts show a clear path that led to this modern way of thinking, putting personal preference above instinct and our inner nature. I spend a lot of my day thinking about it, I admit. Not just for my own back up when people ask me why I keep nursing my now, 3 1/2 year old, in addition to my 23 month old, but also for other moms who don’t get the respect and support they deserve. There are so many new mamas out there and for every one of them, there is at least one person or a company who would prey upon their insecurities and their ignorance. Like demons on our shoulders, they slip these worms of doubt into a new, or soon to be new mama with these questions of personal space, “me” time, low supply, poor health, and so many other false reasons to break the breastfeeding bond. A new, naive mother hears these questions of doubt, sees the compelling marketing, feels pressure from friends and family and alongside their own body issues, not only does she doubt her ability to nourish her baby, she also begins to wonder if it really is that big of a deal. She begins to see the flippant attitude of modern moms and takes a more apathetic approach, knowing her girlfriends and her husband will likely back her up if her choice is to be more selfish and less “into” breastfeeding (as though it is a hobby or some alternate lifestyle choice that they get to make). Some mamas stop nursing because the whole issue with others’ negativity begins to cause them to question their modesty and their virtue just because they want to feed their child as a human woman was designed. When it becomes offensive to people in church or loved ones who don’t understand, she is told to excuse herself into a back room or go home. Eventually, it just becomes easier and less taxing on her emotionally to not do it at all.
I think about this, the many ways women are manipulated into thinking their breasts are for fun, not for food, that they are inappropriate, even when doing what they were designed for. How, as young girls entering puberty, we are taught that our breasts are sexual tools to be kept hidden and their true purpose is rarely even spoken of outside a very bland, medical video that explains reproduction in 6th grade science class. I think about how we’ve all been lied to about formula and how this perspective of “free choice” to feed our children however we feel like was literally invented by a marketing person from Nestle.
I think about the belief that we cannot do a single thing in this country that might offend someone else, yet it is perfectly acceptable to instill guilt and shame in mothers who want to nurse their babies. I think about how those who choose not to breastfeed because they don’t feel like it, demand respect for their personal choice and how we are not allowed to stop them and ask them to reconsider, for the sake of their baby’s health.
I think about how all those women who don’t want to do it get taken in by very clever marketing based on centuries of social/political opinion that we have adopted without even really understanding why they think this way in the first place.
I think about all of this and it makes me angry. Angry for the loss of a bond that is only gone because of selfishness. See, here is the reality; What we believed were our genuine concerns about society and breastfeeding in public, all this scapegoating of religion and modesty and feminist attitudes about women at work… it’s all lies. It’s all clever marketing scheme that has whittled its into the cornerstones of our lives, made its home there and now sits as truth.
These schemes have been creating opinions, traditions, and standards not at all unlike Coco-Cola’s Santa and Cadbury’s Easter bunny. They have created myths that the world seems to embrace as fact to the point where you really can’t tell where the truth ends and the myth begins. The lucky part, is when you dig into the reality of our breastfeeding history, you can clearly see how we got to this place- The place where mothers are forced to risk overheating a child under a hot cover on a park bench or shamed into public toilets in order to feed their children away from home, or simply not leave the house for a year.
The history of the degradation of breastfeeding and the decline of our truly compassionate and integrated lifestyles as human beings goes much farther back than I had expected. I really thought it was 19th century conservatism that started it and when I first started looking into it, I found much to support that. Then, I looked farther back and realized this was a much older issue.
So here goes…
Prior to the Middle Ages, in most Western cultures when society was in its infancy and groups of people collected in clans, small villages and farming communities, women nurtured babies themselves at the breast for many years, developing a bond through the act of nursing and simply being close to another person. They even traded babies between women, mothers, daughters, sisters, and each mother felt a duty and bond with every child. If one woman could not feed her child, surely another woman in the clan could, and did. It was expected, normal and just a way of life. There was an intrinsic and understood expression of nurturing that provided a sense of peace for growing children and these children would grow with an understanding that each member of their village had a hand in their making it to adulthood. This created strong bonds, strong families and strong warriors who were fiercely loyal to one another.
Once the Church was on the scene, it also supported the divine connection between mother and child as represented in the early church through Mary and an infant Jesus. It was well documented that the Church encouraged women to nurse their babies for the health and spiritual well being of the flock, as this represented the divine connection we had as human beings to God. Additionally, as has already been discussed, they did their best to push mothers to breastfeed more during the plague years.
In other areas of the world, it was less about love, compassion or divine connection. In the East, it was simply biologically logical and there was no question or reason to concern oneself with any other consideration. In fact, in China in the 12th century, a medical text on breastfeeding stated; “A child is born and one feeds milk to it one’s self, all of this is not discussed.” Meaning… it’s just a matter of fact and there’s not much else to say about it. No options, no “well, if you really don’t feel like it” and no, “but not in front of anyone else”… it just was what it was. black and white and that’s pretty much it.
Once we roll past the Middle Ages and clear political/social standards began to be laid down across the Western world, mothers of important status, good breeding and money began to shy away from the task of nursing their own babies. This was a direct result of two issues; 1- because of their desire to raise as many children as possible and 2, to not be saddled with the task of coddling a baby while they were tending to other duties of the household.
As a middle/upper class, noble or royal woman’s duties became more important for socioeconomic status, the wealthier families who could afford to, sought out solutions to take the burden of feeding a baby off the mother’s shoulders and even eventually, out of the house altogether. Wet Nurses, or, nurse maids, were employed to manage that task for the mother who had other things to attend to for her household. Soon, nurse maids were common in most every noble and royal house and it seemed only country mothers (peasants) continued to nurse their own children for an average of 2-4 years. I imagine if the mothers of this era were anything like the mothers today, conversation around the knitting circle might have looked like this;
“So, Helena, have your heard anything from your wet nurse about little ones in a while? Who do you use again? I’m in desperate need for a new one before little Alexander arrives, I just KNOW George will want another baby before Christmas and our last nursemaid is no longer producing.”
“Oh, I use Mable from down in the glen, I send my handmaiden down to check in on her every few months… she’s the very best nursemaid, hardly any of her charges die. She is of good stock and produces quality milk, all the best nobles use her.”
Hmm…y’think? Maybe not…
Many scholars of this era have written about the connection between themselves and their wet nurses and remember breastfeeding as toddlers, writing about the love and devotion their nursemaids showed them. Some women of nobility, mostly the royals, sent their babies off to live with a wet nurse for 2-3 years because they simply did not have the time to tend to a young child’s needs, especially if she were a member of court. In just a few short years, this trend took hold throughout civilized Europe.
By the Elizabethan period, upper class, noble and royal women simply did not nurse their babies. This was because it delayed pregnancy and anyone of the higher classes had a duty to produce as many heirs as possible to secure the line.
Many children ensured a family could maintain influence through numbers at court. Simply put, the more of them there were, the more powerful the family would (hopefully) become… and the more of them there were to start with, even if a few died, they still had a fighting chance.
When nobles used milk substitutes such as animal’s milk, bread and milk mixtures or other concoctions, a child rarely survived and if it did, it was continuously in danger of disease and malnutrition. Because lower classes were the only ones who consistently nursed their own children for multiple years, they were far stronger, healthier people, more resilient overall.
So as we can see, the whole evolution of anti-breastfeeding as a cultural norm began literally hundreds of years ago and, it would seem, was entirely for greed, power and social position.
By the mid-1800’s, the numbers of breastfeeding mothers were a small average and almost entirely made up of lower economic/social class families. As humanity often did, it looked toward its leaders for an example and when none of the nobles were engaging in the practice of breastfeeding their own children, others followed their example. To support that example, breast milk alternatives began surfacing and the company, Nestle was at the forefront of this movement as early as the 1860’s with their invention of “formula”.
As time went on into the Victorian era and early 20th century, upper social classes did away with the practice of nursing their own children as often as they could and left it to the lower, “unfortunate” classes. As necklines went up, sexualization of the female body increased and alternate methods of feeding infants became more popular. I’ve talked a little about the psychology of the Victorian era and how this played substantially into the social standards regarding breasts, but just to recap some of my earlier entries, here is the excerpt from a previous blog to explain one of the ways this was accomplished: “In the height of his fame, Doctor Sigmund Freud decided to announce that he believed infants received sexual pleasure from the action of suckling. This notion horrified the civilized society women so deeply, they began shying away from breastfeeding and began instead, to prop their babies up in small chairs, handing them bottles at arm’s length to avoid any physical contact, lest they become an aid to an unpleasant and yet (according to Freud), unavoidable incestuous reaction from the child. He explained the action of breastfeeding would cause a boy to grow up with an inappropriate attachment to his mother and to all women and the only way to avoid this was to cease all unnecessary contact between mother and child. Conveniently, breast pumps were invented in the 1850’s, so a woman could “safely” express her milk and provide it to the baby without the nasty business of infant sexual arousal becoming an issue and many women chose this route from the get go. This myth of infant arousal, however ridiculous it may seem to us today, coupled with a strange fad of feeding babies the milk of a cow instead of their mother’s milk, caused women all over the globe to discontinue the act of nursing their own babies and to shun any activity that openly displayed it.” (you can read this original blog here:https://thecautiousmom.com/2013/03/29/more-on-breastfeeding-history-the-victorians/)
Formula was in wide circulation by WWI and all but solidified the anti-breastfeeding notion because the nursing alternative was being pushed by men in lab coats telling women to not worry their fragile minds with such nonsense as science, to just trust them that their’s was a better choice than a mother’s own milk.
By the 1950’s, breastfeeding was seen as an animalistic act, something degrading, disgusting and only for those who could not afford some other, more civilized option. Women wanted formula instead because it gave them more time at home to tend to the husband’s needs and her household. She was depicted in posters holding a baby with a bottle of formula while cooking at the stove to show how much easier it was to get work done when not breastfeeding. This is why I personally always find it incredibly funny that the modern feminist considers breastfeeding degrading… when it was exactly the mentality they fight against that demonized the act of nursing in the first place!
During the mid-20th century, things began to turn around. Organizations and movements began popping up across the globe, asking people to consider a more natural way of life. La Leche League was started in the 1950’s when the breastfeeding percentage was as low as 20% in America. That means, only 20% of ALL AMERICAN WOMEN were nursing their own babies. La Leche League established themselves all across the country, taking on a forward momentum across the globe, traveling on the wave of the sexual revolution. They put a spotlight on women’s rights- the right to feed one’s OWN children and not to buy into the false claims that formula created in a lab was better than a woman’s own body. They worked to educate women about the power of their choice, the power of their body and why they must take that power back by feeding their own children. They helped young women who were not even mothers yet, to understand the importance of feeding their own babies and how, as a culture of feminists, it was VITAL that they take that control back and refuse to settle for second best at the suggestion of a man in a lab coat. Without their help in those early years, I’m not sure what breastfeeding in America would look like today, or if we would even be having this conversation at all!
So now that we know a little about the history, I’ll just break it down with my opinion.
In the beginning… Humans, mammals (as named because of our MAMMary glands because we produce MILK), breastfed our babies for thousands of years. As we developed societies, breastfeeding was normal, empowering and not shameful whatsoever. From the ancient Christ followers, to the Celtic, Viking and tribal nations across the globe, it was done openly by good, godly, respected women, surrounded by communities of people who never considered it to be linked to sexuality or any shameful act that disrespected her as a modest woman. Feeding a child was NOT the same thing as displaying a breast for sexual attention and the two were not confused for literally thousands of years in our human history.
Things got muddy because of class wars, corporate greed, male chauvinist sentiments that caused women to believe their bodies were weak and therefore, could not sustain the food supply for a baby. It had absolutely nothing, literally- NOTHING to do with modesty. Modesty and godliness was something that played into the social standard of covering while nursing MUCH later in history and was done so to demean and undermine the value of the process and the mother herself, who would dare to reject the “proper” and “better” way to feed her child, through formula.
Okay so… that’s super fun, right? Aren’t you so glad to discover your opinions on modesty actually came from a nobleman’s desire to breed his wife as many times as possible for his power at court and a few scientists in the 1950’s who wanted to shame women into buying their products? Good times all around. It’s good to know our perspective about being “godly” by not nursing in public, that perspective that causes some to look down on women who do it and to encourage them to “just go tuck yourself into a back room, dear” in order to be polite… that actually started, not with God- because God sees nothing but beauty in the act- but when women were being used as objects for status, told they were coddling their children and wasting time when they should be busy doing more for the household.
It’s awesome to find out that while you thought you were being all progressive and feminist by NOT breastfeeding that you were actually fulfilling the exact anti-feminist attitude that helped to create that perspective, isn’t it?
So now that you know about the history, who are the people fighting against the breastfeeding movement today?
One observation I continually see, is that there seems to only be a handful of camps in the anti-breastfeeding world and all others spring from these core groups. Each of these groups not only have an especially harsh stance on public nursing without a cover, but also just breastfeeding in general, regardless of covered, at home, or not covered.
First, the ultra-conservatives. They believe breastfeeding is indecent, relying on ideals set by their religious doctrine to support their disgust for the “immodest” behavior of feeding a child from one’s breast where others can see it- even if a cover is used. They judge harshly and believe they are entitled to “teach” a new mother what is appropriate by walking up to them anywhere they are and tell them that what they’re doing is indecent. Or sometimes, they just shake their fingers at them from across the room and tell their friends how vulgar it is in not so hushed voices in order to make the mother feel judged. I know many mothers who read this blog are conservative. Please understand- I am not talking about the kind, tolerant and loving people who are ACTUALLY Christ-like, who cover themselves when nursing because it makes THEM feel more comfortable, but don’t judge others for NOT doing it. I’m talking about the ones that will see a mother covered OR uncovered, roll their eyes, do the “for shame” glance down their nose and think they have a right to say something to shame the mother for doing something “private” out in the open. These women hide behind religion while judging others and they truly believe they are better at being human because of it.
Second, is the atheist/new age and veeeeery far, left wing culture who thrives on concepts of feminism. I see these women all the time and it saddens me every time. They see breastfeeding as being locked down in some kind of archetypal “repressed female” position of weakness only able to perform base, animalistic tasks. They see a mother feeding her child and react with disgust. They know that they, the accomplished career-driven and independent woman, simply has better things to do. Many of the women in this camp don’t want children to begin with anyway, and prefer not to be friends with people who have babies, yet have NO issue judging every aspect of parenting as though they know first hand. If they do have children of their own, they were bottle fed, raised with arms-length parenting practices, sleep training and grew up in a day care so mom could return to her REAL job and focus on her goals. Oh how I WISH this were just a nasty opinion, but this is the reality of many women, and men, in this culture. It always surprises me, too when many of them are in the Wiccian or, Goddess religion culture because they will pray to the “Mother” and then outwardly deny her gifts as manifested in motherhood.
Next, is what I call the “squeemish” types. These are the folks who are disgusted by the human body in any capacity and can’t handle the reality of anything that comes out of any place in our bodies. They will literally throw up at the sight of poop or blood, will want to wear a gas mask and rubber gloves around a child with a runny nose and absolutely detest when Facebook friends post about their children’s potty training successes or diaper explosions. These people are both men and women and quick to voice their opinion without shame to comment with a, “gross” or, “eeewww, why are you doing that where I can see??”
Last; the “forever 12 year olds”. These special individuals are the wise-cracking, perpetually pre-teen acting, immature fart joke and “heeheehee… boobs” folks who watched too much Bevis and Butthead in their high school days and somehow, never mentally made it past those years. They get uncomfortable at the sight of ANY amount of boob because it instantly arouses them and they have no self control. Not only that, but they believe that’s okay to be vocal and demeaning. They shouldn’t have to HAVE self control- YOU, mama, should just cover up and not subject them to an uncomfortable situation! The presence of an infant in combination with that corner of exposed tissue creates confusion in their brains, makes them feel guilty for their sexual thoughts and they blame the mother for exposing them to that experience. They only want to see boobs if it’s bringing them pleasure, but if it’s for the act of feeding a child, they want nothing to do with it and it makes them sick, even angry and they lash out.
Pretty much every single person who is anti-breastfeeding that I have personally encountered, can fit into one of these categories.
What all camps have in common, is a distaste for public breastfeeding and a belief that they are entitled to vocalize their intolerance for those who embrace it and/or do it openly. They also all demand respect for their choice NOT to do it and not to support it, while respecting NO one else’s perspectives.
I’ve witnessed crushed wives who’s husbands force their opinions upon them, demanding compliance, bottle feeding and night weaning as soon as possible, leaving mama heartbroken, feeling like she has to choose between her baby’s health or her husband’s love. These men use manipulation and shame to get their way, demanding, “Well, I should be allowed to feed the baby, too!”- talking about how it’s so unfair that the baby has such a strong bond with mom because of the milk and he’s left with nothing but baths and diaper changes. He refuses to allow mama to nurse in public, usually with some sort of “they’re mine no one else needs to see them” mentality that degrades a woman and throws her back in time to when she was nothing more than property.
Women with this anti-breastfeeding mentality typically care more about themselves, their personal space and careers more than they do their child’s needs. They rely upon society’s acceptance of alternative feeding methods to justify their selfishness with statements like, “millions of women feed their babies with formula I’m not doing anything wrong” or, “I was just so tired… I couldn’t stand it anymore” as though their excuse trumps their child’s needs. These women seek justification and solidarity in other women who have also given up nursing because they would rather go on a detox diet or have girls nights out again or just sleep and are grateful to let someone else take care of it. Even if they did nurse for a while, these are the women who hated it and longed for the day when their bodies were THEIR OWN again, eventually resenting their children for being so damn demanding and ultimately, typically, force the weaning process early for fear they would begin to hate their own children for being so clingy and needy. I’ve seen these people, their friends and family, encourage them to break the ties and back that idea up with stories about how too much breastfeeding makes lazy, entitled children and tell old wives tales that have absolutely no basis in reality such as, breastfeeding too long will delay their speech, cause behavior problems, cause tooth decay, prevent them from wanting to eat food, will stunt their growth, and many, many others, as back up for their choices to leave breastfeeding behind.
I’ve heard grandmothers demanding they are owed special visits, alone without mom, including overnight stays as early as a few months old. I hear them laying guilt on thick to convince new moms and dads that they should forget about breastfeeding so that grandma can have her baby time and a sleep over and all with a “don’t deny me what I’m owed” sort of attitude that literally bullies a new mom into compliance, especially if it is the mother-in-law who does it. Mom doesn’t want to upset her, so she gives in, and slowly but surely, that breastfeeding bond is undermined by the unnecessary introduction of bottles.
For every one of these people I have to wonder, if just one person had been willing to approach these moms and dads with real answers, with real information from the beginning, during pregnancy or in the hospital, would things be different? If either of them had been raised with a positive perspective of breastfeeding, if they had grown up around it and understood it as a necessary and wonderful thing, if they had a solid understanding of why it was so important, would they have given up so soon? Would they have given into the pressure of loved ones to stop? I have to believe the answer is no.
Now, the big question after all this history and analyzing personality types comes with the reality that it’s all very well and good to know these things, but what’s the point if we don’t act upon it? So, what can we do? What can the average person do against over 500 years of global history and culture? Well, how about this…
How about we all start encouraging each other to feed our babies naturally. Even if we didn’t do it ourselves, let’s recognize that it SHOULD be the way to go. How about we take a stand to share that with others- the reality that if you CAN breastfeed, you really aught to. How about we make the commitment to teach our own children how important it is. How about we stop hiding babies behind curtains, stop shooing children out of the room when a baby gets hungry and start teaching the reality of being a human being to our little humans and by doing so, teach them how to respect that humanity by understanding what breasts are actually for. How about we stop feeding women the lie that they have to choose between having a career and being a nursing mom- that in order to be successful in business that they must put the job first, deny their children the best nourishment possible. Let’s stop lying to ourselves and one another and just be honest about the reality that formula is not, never has been and never will be as good as breast milk and no amount of justification will make it so. How about we start supporting and encouraging mom to continue nursing, even if she has to return to work and then give her the tools to do so, graciously- to pump at work and take the necessary breaks to do so and store her milk safely, with her dignity still intact at the end of each day. How about we stop being so selfish and stop encouraging people to be selfish at the expense of a child, just because they can’t speak for themselves.
Can we do that? Could we at least try?
Okay, if that’s still a little too much to ask, how about this; As this is the first day of Breastfeeding Awareness Month and the first day of World Breastfeeding Week, I am asking all the mamas, daddys, sisters, grandmamas, aunts and everyone else who reads this blog to find a breastfeeding mom and just tell her “thank you”. Tell her that you see what she is doing, that you know how hard it can be and that you respect her for it. Just walk over, even if you don’t know her… and tell her, thank you for being one of the strong women who feed their babies this way. Tell her thank you for being willing to set an example to her family and all who see her. Thank you for showing all of us what being a mother looks like. Thank you for being willing to be a mother anywhere, not just behind closed doors. Tell her thank you for this lesson. Thank you for not settling for the easy road. Thank you, on behalf of that precious baby/infant/toddler, for giving them the best chance possible at an amazing future by doing all she can, giving so much of herself and taking the time, even when it isn’t convenient, when it’s hard and she would rather not have to, when it would be SO MUCH easier and completely, socially acceptable, not to do it. Tell her thank you, for not giving up.
I guarantee you, if you don’t make her cry on the spot, you will absolutely make her day a more beautiful one. It could just be the extra push she needs to keep going another day, another week, maybe even another year. I thank YOU in advance for this, for helping to put an end to 500 years of the anti-breastfeeding culture.