Wednesday, 12 October 2011

The truth about breastfeeding

Image from here
There has been a lot of chatter about breastfeeding all over the blogosphere since the Slap aired last week. In particular the boy in the mini series who, at the age of four, is still being breastfed has caused the biggest uproar.

In all honesty I could not care less what others do to nourish their children, nor how long they do it for. But I do think that we as a nation are kidding ourselves if we think we are promoting breastfeeding.

Firstly, my personal experiences with the nursing fraternity were less than encouraging. When Nugget was born and my over-supply issues were discovered, the lactation consultant was busily encouraging me to breastfeed, while several nurses suggested that I 'just give him/her a bottle' so I could have a sleep. Um, what exactly is formula made of if you are so confident that it is going to help my child sleep?

On one occasion while Doo Dah was partying under the big lights in the Special Care Nursery (for jaundice), I wasn't woken for one of his feeds. I woke spontaneously after about 5 hours in a pile of milk with exploding bosoms (they joys!).

When I was finally transported to visit him upstairs in the nursery, I entered to find him being fed formula from a bottle. Despite the large sign on his cot that read: "Mum has enough milk to feed an army. Please call ANY time for feeds". I *certainly* wasn't feeling the breastfeeding support from that particular nurse.

And with the twins, it was assumed that they would be bottle fed. The hospital wasn't even equipped with a twin feeding pillow or an armchair big enough to accommodate me, my pillow (that a dear friend secured from Ebay for me) and my two babies.

Secondly we need to pull up our socks with this whole 'discreteness' debate. Due to the over-sexualisation of the breast, women are not permitted to breastfeed in public. I mean, legally they can, but they are made to feel uncomfortable. Men walk away, women look in the opposite direction, and God help you if you should accidentally expose a nipple or squirt milk. Egad!

You don't see women with bottle fed babies slinking off to the 'feeding room' of the shopping centre to slip their child a bottle. You don't see their companions looking like they would rather be sucked up into the earth's crust than have to endure you feeding your child.

The effect of this is two-fold. Those who do breastfeed in public places are stared at by all and sundry, and feel the need to find ridiculous ways to cover up, making the 'supplies' of breastfeeding yet another expense for the new parents.

In addition, by covering up breast feeding, younger generations are not exposed (excuse the pun) to this ancient art form. They don't get a sense of what it is like, or the opportunity to ask questions about it.

The best way to 'normalise' breastfeeding is to have it central to culture. Children, teenagers, young adults, all need to see that breastfeeding is the natural feeding option, that many are doing it. They need to learn about it. They need to understand how it works.

Breastfeeding is hard bloody work in the early days so women need to want to breastfeed to succeed at it. Women need to expect to breastfeed. They need to see that it is possible and the best way to do that is to allow it to be part of the world around them.

Lastly, the issue of extended breast feeding needs to be addressed if we are truly promoting breastfeeding. Some people seem to tolerate babies breastfeeding, but the notion of a toddler, or God help us, a pre-schooler or school age child breastfeeding is far from tolerable.

Like all things in the parenting realm; to each their own. WHO recommends breastfeeding until the age of two (I have never gotten that far). There are lots of reasons why women don't feed for that long and, equally, many reasons why a women may choose to feed beyond that. Digestive issues/allergies in the child, unsettled home life, moving continents, financial constraints, bonding, to name a just a few.

Why are we so judgie about extended breast feeding? Women who breastfeed beyond the "culturally acceptable one year old child" stage, need to be given the liberty to do so. Because they want to. Because their child wants to. Because they can.

So you can see, that in my way of thinking, we are far from being a culture that promotes breastfeeding. There are too many prejudices for it to be integral in our culture, and we are given too many mixed messages (from as early as the birth of our child).

What are your thoughts on the attitude of society to breastfeeding?

35 comments:

Amba @ Team Mummy said...

I think this is a great post but its also important to remember that not always is the womans situation (or feelings, thoughts etc) responsible for a nursing relationship. For example my son is nearly 1 and has always been a great breastfeeder, then a couple of weeks ago decided he was done. Just like that. Self weaned. I think thats a big issue once you get to the 12 month and beyond mark for a lot of mums.

As for the rest of it, I think I was VERY lucky I never felt any pressure or judgment when breastfeeding in public, with my first I did. Not by anything anyone did or said, I was just 19 and a bit self consious, but I had my son at 21 with a bit of experience under my belt and confidently fed him everywhere and anywhere! I do have a very pro-breastfeeding family though that helped my situation quite a lot, for example I would say 'I'll just go into another room and give him a quick feed' and my MIL would say 'dont be silly, you feed him right here'.

I feel for other women who feel the same awkwardness etc that I felt first time around, its a shame society is so focused on sexuallising breasts. I would encourage all nursing mothers to feed anywhere they feel ok to do so.
:) thanks for a great read and sorry for the long comment .

Jen R said...

Funny you blogged about this today was out having lunch at a garden centre today, beautiful girly place with real linen tablecloths, proper china tea cups and only women dining. A new Mum with baby only about 2 weeks old out with her Mum and others felt the need to totally cover up her baby and chest whilst feeding ?? dont get it!!

•´.¸¸.•¨¯`♥.Trish.♥´¯¨•.¸¸.´• said...

Well said and very balanced. I didn't see the slap but I wish I did.

It is sad that BF in society is been denigrated to just for babies.

I breastfeed my twin boys till they were 4 yrs and 3 months ...I stopped one yr ago on 10.10.10.
I didn't give a hoot who thought it was extreme extended BFing.

I knew a few others doing it too but one was embarrassed about it.

My family didn't "say" much except for my father in law once - don't go for the record ...maybe that spurred me on.

It was my choice to stop, they still ask for milky !

Posie Patchwork said...

Oh wow, you have so many different things going on here. I didn't see The Slap, i'm a bit behind like that. Me, well, i could have fed an Army like you, but my babies were with me from delivery in hospital, no nurse to decide on breastfeeding or not, the babies let me know.
I remember with my first, the midwife saying "ah, big boobs but a baby with a big mouth" so apparently we were a match made in breastfeeding heaven. She has great attachment, "Special K lips" & away we went, for 18 months. I took a month off, then got pregnant again.
Second time around, twins, i assumed i would breastfeed - OMG, how many people said i wouldn't or couldn't, again, great attachment & the football position (i did bump their heads a few times in front of me, sorry darlings) & fed them for 18 months too - even better, full time mummy so no expressing, yes!! Took a month off, then pregnant again.
So last time, my body finally got it, oh, just one baby, i fed him for 2 years as he was my last baby & he showed zero signs of ever wanting to stop. By 2 (it was my 31st birthday & i thought, no, it's over) & he had started unbuttoning my tops, sticking his hands down my top, it was getting a bit 'handsy' in public. Plus he could do pour himself a drink by this stage . . . so we were done. Then end of breast feeding & we were all happy.
I was lucky, not even a red nipple in all those years of feeding, i know i was very lucky!!
As for breastfeeding in public, i didn't hide away, i was discreet with my Tshirts & just went years without wearing a dress. I didn't care, often people would chat to me & not realise i was even feeding. My last 3 were also super feeders, so fast, it was brilliant. I never twin fed in public though, just one at a time & they never cried, so patience was my blessing.
I still can't believe they gave your baby a bottle?? Who makes those decisions?? I know the service i had at Darwin Private was amazing, they're never busy, it made a difference. Oh those were the days. I think 2 is a good age to stop feeding, for everyone. After all, my husband wanted my boobs back!! Love Posie

Ali said...

Oh wow what a subject! And gee I wish it wasn't. Like you, I get a bit tired of the open-mouthed reactions people have when hearing about extended breastfeeding. If mum and child are happy that is the important thing. I breastfed my first daughter until 20 months and only stopped because I was pregnant and feeling incredibly sick all the time. I am still breastfeeding my 14 month old. I still breastfeed in public but as my daughter gets older I know I will feel less and less comfortable doing so...this annoys me as I know I have every right to do so but I don't like being stared at feeding an older child. I probably shouldn't care so much.

shae said...

I think this is a great post and I agree with you entirely.

Will be sharing

melbo said...

Love this. You have articulated many thoughts I've had myself (please feel free to go over to my own blog where I frequently rant about it!)

Agreed that breastfeeding in public should be seen as normal. Have had nothing but good experiences with that myself luckily. Even once had a young woman at the next table in a cafe decide to feed her baby there when she saw me doing it. Proudest moment of my breastfeeding life I think.

Mine is 3 and still going. He shows no signs of wanting to stop but I have had enough so stop it must. He still wakes me occasionally overnight and early in the morning.

I know he loves it but thankfully he is very verbal and can understand. I have been explaining to him that the cuddle will always be there even though the "tubbletee" won't. That I've loved doing this for him but he's growing up and it's time to stop.

I wish every mother and baby had the time, opportunity and support to get properly established and to feed until they are both good and ready to stop. On their own time and in their own way.

therhythmmethod said...

I agree MM. Not only do we not support breastfeeding, I don't think we support children. We create spaces where children should be raised and its generally away from the rest of the community: heaven forbid the public should be exposed to the messy, loud business of nurturing and raising children. Part of it is generational: my MIL cracked the sads when I had Boy 3 because I dared to breastfeed during her 45 minute visit. She spent most of the time waiting outside in the corridor waiting for me to 'finish'. Such a prude!
Also, people need to acknowledge that feeding is hard work. In the first few months, it's a full time job. It takes patience and determination. And even then, it doesn't always come together.
Great post.

Amy said...

Loved this post.

DancingInTheRain said...

I still can feel the embarassment of the time as a teenager I lifted up the shawl of a new mother to see her baby and the realised she was breastfeeding. I think it was the first time I can remember seeing seeing breastfeeding in action. Now as a mother I hope that my daughters always remember it as a very normal part of life with a baby.

Shauna said...

I breastfed all of mine (x4) but only really copped crap once for the first time. It just occurred to me that that was about 3 weeks off 18 years ago (eek). I was feeding my first at a shopping centre and was sitting on the seats just outside the supermarket. A security guard took it upon himself to tell me there was a feeding area in the toilets and i should go there. Well, red flag to a bull and i went off at him. He slunk away with his tail between his legs. That was it really. I had no problem with midwives in hospital (most in maternity wards are midwives and should know better in this day and age). Great blog entry

Shauna said...

Ps Michael was only breastfed for about 9 weeks. It was too hot and sweaty in Cairns and he preferred a bottle of milk straight from the fridge. The second boy was b/fed for about ten months and the third one i cant remember because he lived on a mixture of formula, cows milk and breast milk. He didnt care. And my last baby (a girl) was b/fed for 2 years. She would not drink anything from a cup for a very long time and she'd never drink formula, expressed breast milk or anything or have a dummy. They were all different and i just went with the flow (boom boom)

Naomi Hart said...

HA! I can feel the fire leap off the computer screen!!! I just had a close call with fatigue (among a few other illnesses) and emailed the ABA for some advice as my hair has fallen out, i've lost a fair bit of weight, my nails don't grow and a few other normal functions have gone by the wayside with breastfeeding - their advice? eat more nuts. now as the mother of an exclusively breastfed, never even boob from a bottle baby, you can hardly say i'm not pro boob.
guilt guilt guilty guilt. it's everywhere isn't it!
xx

ClaireyHewitt said...

BF, I am commenting on it all over the place this week.

Nothing really new to add, but I wanted to put in my ten cents re feeding rooms.

Personally, I had no need for them really, breastfeeding was easy for me, I had few issues. But I did shop one time with a new Mum who was really struggling with her tiny baby. She found she really needed to be in a set position with her top pretty much off, she needed privacy at this stage to start her and her baby on their breastfeeding path. The feeding rooms were essential, otherwise she would barely leave the house to get things done.

So while I don't think woman should ever feel they have to use a feeding room, I do think we should continue to make sure they are equipped with the things a new mum needs. Proper chairs, a quiet space, not a chair in a toilet block. Developing feeding rooms does not have to mean hiding breastfeeding, it can be the opposite and just supporting those women who need some extra space at what is for many a difficult time.

Mama of 2 boys said...

As soon as I saw the title, I knew this post would be a great one. It certainly provokes much thought and discussion. I am staggered by your experiences with the nursing staff at the hospital when your bubs were born. I would have been ropeable in that situation where the nurse gave your son a bottle of formula. I must say the nurses support for both of my babies was excellent. Though the clinic sisters were a different matter. I was devastated by the comments of one in particular when my first son was only 3 weeks old. To this day, I believe it was her advice (or more interference) on my breast feeding that caused me to get mastitis and be hospitalised for 4 days. As a first time Mama, I was so keen to get it 'right' and therefore didn't trust my own instincts, rather went with what she said to do... because silly me thought she was an 'expert'. I have since met dozens of women in my area who all have very distressing stories to share about that clinic sister. Second time around, things were very different.
The breast feeding of children aged over 2 is such a personal choice. I'm with you though, doesn't bother me in the slightest as long as all involved feel comfortable and happy.
Breast feeding in public, again, have no problem with it. I know I've done it... and HAD no choice but to do it in some crowded places in the past. People have really got to get over themselves. We all have either been Mama's or know someone who is a Mama. It's not like breastfeeding is the most relaxed experience when you're in public anyway. It's usually done out of sheer necessity and even if it's not... it should be accepted by the public with grace.
Oh you got me rambling tonight my friend ;o) xo

Mrs Catch said...

You have hit the spot here MM! I would go further and say that not only is breast-feeding not central in our culture, neither are children. People can be so impatient and rude in a way they would not be to anyone else in society. But, that's their problem. I say feed where you're comfortable. And try not to worry what anyone else thinks. (I cannot believe that nurse gave your baby a bottle!)

Jo said...

Wow. Great post. And a huge point raised in the (in)visibility of breastfeeding.

I breastfed each of my boys for about 18-20mths and with baby girl now 22mths and no sign of stopping I am so surprised to feel more self concious NOW at what has always otherwise felt SO NORMAL (maybe because I am older or maybe because views have changes...) I think we have NOT progressed in accepting breastfeeding in Australia at all. I am in a minority of mothers at my school who feed past 6months and worry that breastfeeding is not 'seen' enough by girls (and boys)of all ages. I love that my boys (now 5 and 8)love snuggling in when their sister is feeding...we all make the most of it before it slips into the next chapter...

Being Me said...

Completely agree with you too MM. Mind you, I only used the bf room a couple of times (for the reasons ClaireyH went into), some of them were pretty revolting so it was a needs-only basis as soon as I could manage it (after a couple of months. After that, I fed my baby anywhere she needed to be fed - I would have happily told anyone who tried to tell me I couldn't to go jump in the lake. I don't know if I got any looks because I wasn't looking for them.

I think it's important for breastfeeding mothers not to go seeking the shame or disgust or [whatever word you want to insert here] from society.... just do it, mums! Tune the rest out.

Deborah said...

Great post. Agree with all that you have said. It needs to be said.

Quill and Ink Handmade said...

On fire, MM!
I loved this post - loved it!

When I first had Judah and was struggling to keep up with his hourly feeds, I covered up the best that I could in public places. But he was one of those babes who liked the open air, and consequently, never fed well when we went out, which led to all sorts of crying and screaming. I felt the obligation to cover everything, even though I knew my child preferred to see me. Crazy, now that I look back on it. I should have done what was best for him.
Lou was a different story. I learnt from the mistakes I had made with Judah, and fed her anywhere. I think the prude in me had well and truly vacated by then! When she self-weaned at 8 months, I was so upset - I had hoped for a little more time because I loved that time we had together. But she was almost walking and on the go - long breastfeeding sessions didn't suit her style :)

AND, I went to a playgroup a year or so ago where a mother breastfed her 4 year old in front of me, while we had a chat. I think because it's just so rare to see, that some people feel uncomfortable with the whole idea; I was just amazed that her milk had lasted as long as it had!

x

Rhonda said...

What a great post. I don't think women should have to cover up, personally I would not bf a child past a year old. But that is me. I support others in whatever works for them and their child. It's not up to me to judge, nor is it up to anyone else.

Kelsbells said...

I'm feeling slightly hypocritical about this right now. I'm very much pro breast feeding (although I haven't had kids of my own so I just agree with it for other mothers), yet I'm also one of those people that feel uncomfortable when it's in public.

By no means do I think they *shouldn't* do it, it's just that I feel awkward on where I should be looking. I've sat down having conversations with my friends while they breastfeed, and I had to make a conscious effort to make sure I was staring at their face, lest I see a bit of their breast. That's only because I feel weird seeing naked bodies though...I'm all for their doing what they feel comfortable with!

I probably haven't made any sense at all. Oops.

My point: go for it, breast feed in public! Just don't laugh at me when I look awkward cause I'm scared I'll see your boob.

Vanessa said...

I agree with your comments. I was a neonatal nurse for 11 years and I fought against staff all.the.time not to formula feed infants when they had a willing mother to try breastfeeding. For me it was a control issue, the nurses feeling the control over the mothers, and their time schedule - much faster to pour milk down a newborn from a bottle than teach a new skill to a mother and baby. I personally wish more mothers made a deal out of it like one mother who tried sueing the hospital for assault when they fed her baby formula against her wishes.
I was told once to use the feeding room in a shopping centre and I told the person to go and have their lunch in the toilets.

Coal Valley View said...

Great Post!

I have to say, the support for Breastfeeding in Tasmania is overwhelming! I can't rate the midwives, nurses, clinic sisters and lactation consultants highly enough for their initiatives in this area. They will bend over backwards to help you breastfeed if that is what you want.

Breastfeeding in public never posed a problem for me but I was discreet about it so no one probably even noticed. The only person I received flack from was my step mum who made me leave the table to breastfeed as it made her uncomfortable Grrrr!

I agree it should be an individual decision and each to their own etc but I personally cringe when I see a little person IN PUBLIC go up to a mum and say "boobies mummy" and the corresponding fondling that takes place. I know its judgemental but the visual disturbs me.

I breastfed all 4 of my children for 12 months, including the twins which I thought was a great achievement. I liked the convenience and never had to worry about bottles, formula or sterilising. After that 12 months they could go straight onto normal milk. All the kids basically self weaned around 12 months and I was happy with this too :-)

I fed the twins together for just the first 6 weeks until they could wait so DID NOT feed them in public during this time as that is quite a spectacle and far from relaxing anyway. I got caught out once in a shopping mall during the early days with twins and found myself in a toilet trying to twin feed with my legs up on the back of the toilet door trying to balance the two babies without a pillow. NEVER AGAIN !!

PS: The final part of The Slap airs tonight - can't wait!

Coal Valley View said...

PSS Sorry, The Slap is an 8 part series - Part 2 tonight :-)

Miss Pink said...

Without putting on my ranty pants, you are SPOT ON. You have put this perfectly. The reasons I fed in public never once covering up, the reasons I unbashedly speak of Greenie feeding until he was 21months old, when he weaned himself because HE was ready, the reasons I tell people it's hard work, but to just have a go is really a wonderful first step.

Amy said...

You had me nodding along the whole time! I agree with everything you said. A very balanced and thought provoking post!

I think everyone needs to read this!

I missed the slap last week, but have read all about it over the past week...

lilly blue said...

I am still lovingly, joyously breast feeding my almost 3 yr old - though there are moments when the reactions of the world make me feel small and alienated. I wanted to share this beautiful story of a mama living in Mongolia and reflecting on the differences in Western culture and her affirming experience of breast feeding in a culture that views and embraces it so differently - enjoy x

http://www.drmomma.org/2009/07/breastfeeding-in-land-of-genghis-khan.html

Tenille @ Help!Mum said...

Breastfeeding was hard for me in the beginning. I got no helpful advice at all from the midwives in hospital, in fact it was as if they treated breastfeeding with suspicion. I remember on day three there being a big kafuffle because they thought Lilly's blood sugar was low and assumed I wasn't producing enough colostrum for her. They started talking about bottle feeding. A proper blood test showed that there was nothing wrong at all, but the conclusion that was jumped to resulted in stress for both myself and my daughter, who had to undergo a painful blood test. I had to watch as my brand new daughter screamed while they pricked her heel and squeezed out enough blood to test. All because of an overzealous midwife jumping to her own conclusions. So with no support at all (they never bothered running the breastfeeding classes they advertised), we had attachment issues. Which meant a lot of pain for me. It wasn't until Lil was about 7 weeks old that we started feeding comfortably.

I only fed in public a few times; the glares I received from other women were enough to make sure that I planned my outings around her feeds. I never fed in a 'mothers room'; they were all filthy.

My return to work at 8 months saw my supply decrease significantly, and Lil's feeds gradually reduced to just one feed before bedtime. That ended at 15 months. I miss it, but looking back we were both ready to stop.

So yes, we have a long way to go with breastfeeding acceptance. The fact that it needs to be 'accepted' at all is really sad, when it is actually the most natural thing in the world.

Tenille @ Help!Mum said...

And as for 'The Slap'; well Tsiolkas has deliberately exploited extended breastfeeding and the associated stigma to brand a character in a particular way. For me, it was a disappointing aspect of the book. But I found much his treatment of female characters to be superficial.

cityhippyfarmgirl said...

Great post and look at all those awesome comments.
I'm a big fan of breastfeeding and think the more people breastfeed in public and people aren't so freaked out by the whole process, the easier it will be normalised. How can having a huge pushup bra with your jugs hanging out be acceptable and breastfeeding in public not be??

Christie said...

I kind of feel like I've been living in a bubble. I breastfed all four of my children until around the 18-22 month mark. Not once did I come across negativity towards breastfeeding. I've heard people talk about the looks and attitudes of the naysayers, hopefully they are just the squeaky wheels that need oil (or a grip on reality) and not the majority.
As for extended breastfeeding, I think along the same lines as you; each to their own. Truly, parenting is so individual, I don't give a shite how my neighbour does it, as long as I'm happy with how I'm doing it.

Dani G said...

I nursed Little Bird for 18 months and would've kept going if she didn't bite so much!!
Promoting breastfeeding? Not a chance. From the moment an OB/GYN confirms pregnancy, a woman is given free samples of formula, coupons, and literature. In hospitals, they push formula like it's gold. I'm so glad I stuck to my beliefs and my guns- er, boobs.

Anonymous said...

I love this post and totally agree!

We just got back from Nepal and the women there were so surprised that I breast feed because they are under the assumption that Western women just don't do it. It made me sad to think that other cultures are given the information that we are somehow so removed from something so natural.

Partly Sunny said...

People are so hot and cold about breast feeding in the states. I have to admit that the much older kids doing it kind of gives me the willies, but hey, it's their family, so, you know. My family is freaky in ways that I'm sure would give other people the willies, too.

And I used to breast feed in public a lot. Not like, whip it out for all to see, but I wasn't covering myself up with a tent either. I just kind of figured the kid's head hid the major offending parts. And I never had anyone say anything. Maybe I just got lucky. Or maybe I just have that incredibly agreeable looking face that no one would ever want to say anything mean to...;)

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