I Support You: Breastfeeding and Society

Welcome to the January 2014 Carnival of Natural Parenting: The More Things Stay the Same

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have talked about the continuity and constancy in their lives. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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When twentieth-century public health expert Edward A. Winslow defined “public health,” he probably wasn’t thinking primarily about moms and babies, and he certainly wasn’t focused on breastfeeding. In his time fewer than 20% of babies were breastfed. But his definition, calling for “the development of social machinery which will ensure the maintenance of health for every individual in the community” … pipes a “support for breastfeeding moms” message loud and clear to me 1.

 

Breastfeeding and Public Health

Our modern society faces current and future public health issues that can make or break the vitality and morbidity of our future generations: healthcare cost and quality, infectious disease control, the impact of chronic diseases, and nutrition and behavioral issues in public health. Breastfeeding has a profound effect on all these public health concerns, and the initiation and especially the continuation of infant and child breastfeeding is incredibly important to public health.

But breastfeeding isn’t all about moms and babies. Though it is seen by many as a personal choice and a private, intimate act of love and nurture, breastfeeding a child is much more than private cuddles in a dark room and choosing whether or not you want that experience. Breastfeeding is both incredibly impacted by and definitively imprinted upon the people around mom and baby, and the people who influence mom and baby. Breastfeeding a child isn’t something that does (or even should) get shut away in a private room. And the immersing culture of our current society doesn’t shy away from breastfeeding, either. No, Breastfeeding and Society are dancing together in our culture, whether we like to think about it or not: pulling and pushing for the lead in a tango that at times gets messy and heated, and often falls apart to argument and passionate discourse, even among moms who share similar parenting values, or doctors who graduate from the same medical school!

More work is definitely needed to correct misinformation both in the medical field as well as in our communities on the act of breastfeeding, which can in a normal and natural course of events last six weeks, six months, or six years with biological, emotional, and immunological benefits for the whole family at and in between each of those lengths.

 

Natural Parents Network: Breastfeeding and SocietyBreastfeeding and Society

So, Breastfeeding and Society are dancing together. Yikes. While you’re not going to see this pairing any time soon on Dancing With the Stars, we do need to think about this tenuous relationship between breastfeeding and society. What are we to do about it? As parents, friends, colleagues, students, researchers, children, teachers, or the random person on the street who sees a child eating at her mother’s breast: What is the proper response to any discussion about breastfeeding?

Since breastfeeding is biologically normal, beneficial, and protective, and since not breastfeeding creates unnecessary risk factors for diseases, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and various afflictions (including cancers, heart disease, gastrointestinal issues, diabetes, and obesity), then it is definitely in our best interest to know at least a little about breastfeeding, and to proclaim the fact that breastfeeding babies are being given the fullest advantage possible to attain a the highest health and development in childhood and beyond 2. Since it affects all of us through the core public health issues that we face as a society, we shouldn’t hide breastfeeding away and not talk about it, and neither should we proclaim its awesomeness in a dominating manner.

So, what should we say about this terrifying and torturous tango that always seems to erupt into a heat-of-the-moment situation? I say, to breastfeeding moms and babies (including ourselves and our children), that we should simply say:

“I understand you, and I support you.”

Below you’ll find some facts to help understand breastfeeding more, and some information to show how we can support breastfeeding dyads and improve our public health.

 

Understanding Breastfeeding

    • Many in our society are led to believe by misinformation and media that breastfeeding holds merely a “bonus” for children instead of understanding that breastfeeding is the normal way to feed infants. Artificial feeding actually places unnecessary risk on both mothers and children, but people rarely state that fact, to avoid insulting those who formula feed (or to avoid angering big formula companies that rely on mothers needing to buy formula)3.
    • “Breast milk is uniquely suited to the human infant’s nutritional needs and is a live substance with unparalleled immunological and anti-inflammatory properties that protect against a host of illnesses and diseases for both mothers and children.”
    • Properties that aid child health include (but are not limited to!): proteins and immune factors that help a baby’s digestive system to mature and protect against allergies and inflammation (excess cellular inflammation has been linked to the onset of type 1 diabetes in children), a nutritional balance that promotes a healthy stock of microflora in the digestive system (as opposed to a formula-fed digestive tract, which actually can attract and feed bad bacteria because of excess iron), and protection against SIDS when infants are exclusively breastfed and safely sleep sharing with their non-smoking, sober mothers 4.
    • Many mothers, despite the scientific data, believe that their children are “better off” on formula than feeding from the breast because the infants seem to receive more ounces of liquid per feeding and seem to be getting “exactly what they need” when bottle fed. Other mothers cite anecdotal evidence like pointing out “that their formula-fed babies did not get as many ear infections as other children who were breastfed.” This contraindication, found specifically in a recent research project in British Columbia, shows that health promotion efforts have mothers saying breast is best “but they do not actually believe it.” 5
    • Embarrassment is still a major reason that women choose to stop breastfeeding on demand, introduce supplementary bottles of formula or pumped milk, or stop breastfeeding altogether.  “In American culture, breasts have often been regarded primarily as sexual objects, while their nurturing function has been downplayed,” and the projection of breasts as sexual objects only continues to grow. Both qualitative and quantitative studies in the U.S. have shown that the sexual perception of breasts leads many mothers to feel uncomfortable about nursing uncovered in private or in public, and that women feel covering, or trying to nurse in private spots, is difficult to do, unfair to their babies, and leads to women giving up breastfeeding altogether. 6

 

Supporting Moms and Babies Who Breastfeed

  • Understand the laws protecting breastfeeding in public in your state, and think about supporting the effort to add enforcement clauses into breastfeeding law, or take action in another way to support breastfeeding mothers and children. Enforcement clauses have been proposed in various states that would subject a discriminatory or accosting person or business to a fine or penalty for ignoring the breastfeeding laws of the state. Having a way to hold society civilly accountable for the way that respect or lack thereof is related upon mothers and children in public areas would go a long way to empowering women to choose to and be successful at nursing their little ones.
  • Recent federal activity seems to support the state of lactating mothers as a discriminatory class that needs protection, but not all mothers are treated with respect in the legal arena. As members of a society that needs breastfeeding to improve public health, we should pay attention to legal cases involving breastfeeding and seek factual information to build a working knowledge of breastfeeding in the law.
  • Expressing breastmilk at work for an infant is addressed and protected (with limitation) under the 2010 Affordable Care Act signed into law by President Obama. Breastfeeding supplies are also tax-deductible. These are motions that will help free many working mothers from the emotional, financial and career-related stressors regarding breastfeeding and returning to work. Supporting working mothers who are breastfeeding is an important part of saying “I understand and support you.”
  • If you have questions, ask them (in the comments on this post, if you like!).  Find someone who is knowledgeable about breastfeeding and ask that person to explain the natural course of breastfeeding to you, or peruse reputable breastfeeding-related books, websites, and blogs to answer any burning questions in your mind. You do not have to be a breastfeeding mother to be knowledgeable about breastfeeding.
  • The basic working knowledge of breastfeeding is pretty simple:

Mothers make milk for their children as a normal extension of pregnancy, and supply is mostly based on physiological supply and demand. Infants should nurse on demand, and mothers should have a support person to call with any questions or concerns. Children benefit greatly from a breastfeeding relationship, even past 12 months of age (at which time it is commonly recommended that their formula-feeding peers stop taking bottles). Breastfeeding can be an enjoyable bond and nutritive and nurturing relationship between a mother and baby, but is not necessarily a private event and is protected in most states by breastfeeding laws, which allow a mother to breastfeed wherever she needs to. Breastfeeding is normal, as the primary purpose of a human female breast is to feed human children. Covering or not is a mother’s choice. It is good for our public health and for our future generations that children and adolescents understand what breasts are primarily for: feeding.

Natural Parents Network: Breastfeeding and SocietySee … not too difficult, right? Below are links to online references that are good choices for learning more about breastfeeding. Remember, everyone in our society should at least understand the basics of breastfeeding so that we can say “I understand you, and I support you” to our breastfeeding mothers.

La Leche League International

Best for Babes

Breastfeeding in Combat Boots

Nancy Mohrbacher – Breastfeeding Reporter

Kellymom: Evidence-Based Breastfeeding and Parenting

Nursing Freedom

Natural Parents Network: Feeding with Love and Respect

Truly understanding and supporting breastfeeding as a member of society will go a long way toward making it easier for moms to do what is normal and nurse their children. If we as a society support breastfeeding dyads as normal parts of our society, then we’re paving the way toward future generations’ finding answers for the core issues that chip away at the strength of national public health all over the world.

Successfully correcting breastfeeding misinformation is the vital first step in revitalizing a breastfeeding culture in our modern society. Supporting exclusive breastfeeding for as long as possible negatively affects chronic diseases, infections, and illnesses — and it positively impacts future public health and nutrition.

Do YOU have a general working knowledge of breastfeeding?

Do you have access to current facts about nursing mothers and children?

How do you say “I understand you, and I support you” to breastfeeding women in your life?

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated by afternoon January 14 with all the carnival links.)

  • Always an Artist — Some kids take longer than others to come into themselves, so you have to stick with them, as a parent, long after everyone else has given up, writes Douglas at Friendly Encounters.
  • Not Losing Yourself as a First Time Mom — Katie at All Natural Katie continues to stay true to herself after becoming a new mom.
  • Using Continuity to Help Change {Carnival of Natural Parenting} — Meegs from A New Day talks about how she is using continuity in certain areas of her life to help promote change and growth in others.
  • Staying the Same : Security — Life changes all the time with growing children but Mother Goutte realised that there are other ways to ‘stay the same’ and feel secure, maybe a bit too much so!
  • Harmony is What I’m AfterTribal Mama gushes about how constant change is really staying the same and staying the same brings powerful change.
  • A Primal Need For Order and Predictability – And How I Let That Go — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shares how she overcame her primal need for order and predictability once her awareness shifted, opening her eyes to the impact this had on her young daughter. Take a short journey with Jennifer and she bares her soul, exposes her weaknesses and celebrates her new outlook and approach to living life, even in the face of total chaos.
  • Breastfeeding Before and After — Breastfeeding has come and gone, but Issa Waters at LoveLiveGrow finds that her relationship with her son is still just the same and just as good.
  • A Real Job — Back in high school That Mama Gretchen had a simple, but worthwhile career aspiration and today she is living her dream … is it what you think?
  • Comfortingsustainablemum never thought she would want things always being the same, but she explains why it is exactly what her family wants and needs.
  • ‘The Other Mums’ and The Great IllusionMarija Smits reflects on the ‘great big magic show of life’ and wonders if it will continue to remain a constant in our lives.
  • Unschooling: Learning doesn’t change when a child turns four — Charlotte at Winegums & Watermelons talks about the pressure of home education when everyone else’s children are starting school.
  • Finding Priorities in Changing Environments — Moving from Maine to a rural Alaskan island for her husband’s military service, Amy at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work found that keeping consistent with her priorities in changing environments can take some work, but is vital to continuous health and happiness.
  • Keeping it “Normal” — Kellie at Our Mindful Life has moved several times in the last two years, while doing her best to keep things stable for her kids.
  • The Evolution Of Our Homeschool Journey — Angela at Earth Mama’s World reflects on her homeschooling journey. Homeschooling is a constant in the life of her family but the way in which they learn has been an evolution.
  • Sneaking in Snuggles: Using Nurturing Touch with Older Children — When Dionna at Code Name: Mama’s son was a toddler and preschooler, he was the most loving, affectionate kiddo ever. But during the course of his 5th year, he drastically reduced how often he showed affection. Dionna shares how she is mindfully nurturing moments of affection with her son.
  • Steady State — Zoie at TouchstoneZ writes a letter to her partner about his constancy through the rough sailing of parenting.
  • A Love You Can Depend On — Over at True Confessions of a Real Mommy, Jennifer has a sweet little poem reminding us where unconditional love really lies, so it can remain a constant for us and our children.
  • Same S#!*, Different Day — Struggling against the medical current can certainly get exhausting, especially as the hunt for answers drags on like it has for Jorje of Momma Jorje.
  • New Year, Still Me — Mommy Bee at Little Green Giraffe writes about how a year of change helped her rediscover something inside herself that had been the same all along.
  • One Little Word for 2014 — Christy at Eco Journey In The Burbs has decided to focus on making things this year, which is what she is loves, as long as she doesn’t kill herself in the process.
  • The Beauty of Using Montessori Principles of Freedom and Consistency — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares the continuity of her teaching, parenting, and grandparenting philosophy using a combination of freedom and consistency.
  • My Husband’s MiniCrunchy Con Mom shares which of her sons looks more like her husband’s baby pictures — and the answer might surprise you!
  • Growth Happens When You Aren’t Looking — Lori at TEACH through Love is treasuring these fleeting moments of her daughter’s early adolescence by embracing the NOW.
  • A New Reality Now – Poem — As Luschka from Diary of a First Child struggles to come to terms with the loss of her mother, she shares a simple poem, at a loss for more words to say.
  • Making a family bedroom — Lauren at Hobo Mama has decided to be intentional about her family’s default cosleeping arrangements and find a way to keep everyone comfortable.
  • New Year, Same Constants — Ana at Panda & Ananaso takes a look at some of the things that will stay the same this year as a myriad of other changes come.
  • I Support You: Breastfeeding and Society — Despite how many strides we’ve taken to promote “breast is best,” Amy at Natural Parents Network talks about how far we still have to go to normalize breastfeeding in our society.

  1. Schneider, M.J. (2011). Introduction to Public Health, Third Edition. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers, LLC. 5
  2. Stuebe, A. (2009). “The Risks of Not Breastfeeding for Mothers and Infants”. Obstetrics and Gynecology. 2009, Fall; 2(4): 222-231 Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2812877/
  3. Bonia, K., Twells, L., Halfyard, B., Ludlow, V., Newhook, L.A., & Murphy-Goodridge, J.(2013). A qualitative study exploring factors associated with mothers’ decisions to formula-feed their infants in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. BMC Public Health. 2013; 13: 645 doi:  10.1186/1471-2458-13-645
  4. Noble, L. (2013). “What’s Really Wrong With One Bottle.” Presented at the iLactation Conference: Breastfeeding- Navigating the Bumps
  5. Bonia, K., Twells, L., Halfyard, B., Ludlow, V., Newhook, L.A., & Murphy-Goodridge, J.(2013). A qualitative study exploring factors associated with mothers’ decisions to formula-feed their infants in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. BMC Public Health. 2013; 13: 645 doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-13-645
  6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2011). The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General

Photo Credits

Photo 1: Rene Mayorga

Photo 2: Stephan Kiessling

About The Author: Amy W.

Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work Amy_willa My NPN Posts

Military spouse, breastfeeding advocate, natural parent, and seamstress, Amy ran into natural parenting by accident, and now blogs at Amy Willa: Me Mothering, and Making it All Work and Natural Parents Network, in order to share her experience and inspire others to live an authentic life and seek peace in parenting. Amy enjoys sewing, selling Silly Bear Handmade cloth diapers and eco friendly home goods at her Etsy shop, and is a passionate and compassionate breastfeeding advocate. She is active in La Leche League International, and pursuing a Public Health Degree and certification as an IBCLC.

5 Responses to I Support You: Breastfeeding and Society

  1. Luschka  

    Gosh, what a great post! So informative. One of our local breastfeeding groups printed a bunch of ‘thank you for breastfeeding in public’ cards that we give ot too moms when we see them breastfeeding. It has information of the group on it too, if they want to reach out to more likeminded people.

  2. Lauren Wayne  

    I keep hoping for a day when we don’t need to tell people breastfeeding is normal! Till then, keep on preaching.

  3. Crunchy Con Mom  

    Great info! Mostly at this point I encourage breastfeeding by doing it publicly. And I complimented a mom on her cute nursing cover at the zoo last time I visited!

  4. Dionna  

    Awesome resource – thank you so much for putting this together!

  5. All Natural Katie  

    Despite the promotion of “breast is best” and all of the strides that has made is amazing. We still have a long way to do. Baby steps (no pun intended).

    I am a SAHM and socialize through a Mom Meetup group. It is so great to see that other moms my age are breastfeeding. I try to set an example by talking about my experience and challenges with it.

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