Happy Breastfeeding Awareness month everybody! In honor of this important topic, I’d like to share some of the breastfeeding myths that make me want to shake people and yell, “What?! No!!!! That’s just not true!”
1) Breastfeeding is sexual
Um, excuse me but while our culture has sexualized breasts, their original and primary function is to FEED BABIES. Yes, breastfeeding feels good, but it’s definitely not sexual, and nursing in public is certainly not displaying our breasts to be ogled or even an overt attempt to make you uncomfortable.
If my baby needs to eat, I will feed her. Period. It’s not about you. It’s about meeting my baby’s needs as best I can so that she can learn to trust that the world is a benevolent place and know on a fundamental level that she is deeply cared for. I’m not trying to make you uncomfortable by nursing in public, but I will do it and hope that others will too until it just becomes normal and no longer makes people cringe, blush, or turn away.
2) Nursing in public is immodest
OK, so what about this group of people who claim that breastfeeding in public is fine, as long as it’s hidden under a cover or in a bathroom stall. I’m sorry but I don’t like eating with a blanket over my head and neither does my baby. And don’t try pulling that “nipples are obscene” crap either, men’s nipples are shown ALL THE TIME and nobody makes a fuss. Get over it.
3) Formula supplementation is necessary
The truth is that formula supplementation can lead to a reduction in milk supply which leads to more formula supplementation and before you know it and despite your best intentions, you end up giving up on nursing entirely.
Yes, there are some instances where babies need formula supplementation, like when they are unable to digest protein and need medical intervention. But what bothers me is how often nurses and hospital staff freak parents out with percentages of weight loss and then push formula supplementation on them in the early days of their baby’s life when the nursing relationship is still so new and newly developing.
My milk didn’t come in until day 9 and the doctors were concerned about my baby losing so much weight. So I did supplement, but I did it with donated breast milk using a tube so that my daughter was sucking at the breast while she received the donated milk. That helped stimulate my milk production and gave her the benefits of breast milk, even before mine came in.
I guess I just want new moms to know that there are other options and they don’t HAVE to use formula if they don’t want to. And I think hospital staff tend to downplay the potential long term effects on your milk supply, so please consider the decision carefully before you decide to supplement with formula.
4) Toddlers and preschoolers are too old to nurse
Oh this one really pisses me off. Anthropologically, it’s believed that humans have nursed until ages 3-5yo for most of human evolution. We nurse until we’re ready to give it up, until our needs for comfort transform into hugs and snuggles, and until most of our caloric needs are met by solid foods. The age at which these milestones happen can be different for different kids. And sure, the mom also has a say in how long she’s willing or able to nurse. But this idea that once they’re talking they’re too old for their “milky” is just ridiculous. That’s a personal decision to be made between mother and child. It’s actually not anyone else’s business, so take those judgments elsewhere please.
5) You should pump so that others can feed your baby
Excuse me but someone else’s desire to feed my baby is not a good enough reason for me to attach myself to a machine for half an hour to get a couple of ounces of milk out. If you like pumping, more power to you Mama, but for me, it was a hassle, I never got much milk, and I MUCH preferred the experience of snuggling up with my baby to hanging out with that machine.
I worked hard to arrange my life so that I would be able to work from home, nurse my baby for 2 years, and spend time bonding with her. Yes, it required a big commitment to be available to her for about half an hour AT LEAST every 3 hours (and often for shorter nursing sessions much more frequently), for 2 years but it worked well for us. I guess I just want you to know that if you don’t want to pump and store extra milk so that others can feed your baby, you don’t have to. Even though you might get some pressure to do so, you should only do what works for you and your baby. Everyone else will adjust, and before you know it your sweet baby will be weaned and on to new adventures.
6) Breastfeeding takes too much effort
Unfortunately, our society is not based on what’s best for children and families. Instead, the almighty dollar seems to determine our fate far more than we’d like. But there are some things that are worth pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones and brainstorming new solutions.
Yes, nursing in public can be uncomfortable, especially when you get dirty looks or nasty comments from passers by. Yes, you’re required to be near your baby more frequently and can only have small windows of time away from him. But have you SEEN all the new studies showing what a huge benefit breastmilk is to your baby? Better immunity, better emotional security, and even a higher IQ? I think breasfeeding is well worth the effort.
Oh, and when I see parents shushing their screaming infants while trying to mix powder and water as quickly as humanly possible, I think, “Wow! That looks like a lot of effort. All I have to do is pull down my shirt and I have instant access to the most nutritious food my baby could want!”
7) Breastfeeding doesn’t hurt
It’s a nice idea and all, and maybe for some women breastfeeding never hurts a bit. But most of the women I talked to said it hurt a LOT for the first couple of weeks and then settled down after that. Unfortunately for me, the pain didn’t cease and since all I heard was, “it shouldn’t hurt” I didn’t realize that I had Raynaud’s phenomenon of the nipple until my daughter was 9 months old.
Although it was once considered rare, new studies estimate that up to 20% of women may suffer from Raynaud’s, many of whom are misdiagnosed with thrush, and given antibiotics unnecessarily. Often, not understanding the cause of their pain, women stop breastfeeding because it’s so incredibly painful to continue. But there are herbal solutions (like red pepper) and there’s a medication that can bring relief of these symptoms and help moms continue to breastfeed, even if they have Raynaud’s.
8) Advocating for breastfeeding means I think you’re a bad parent if you formula feed
I do want to acknowledge the fact that not everyone is able to breastfeed. If you’ve tried hard to nurse your baby and still weren’t able to breastfeed, please know that I support and appreciate your efforts. And I don’t think your baby’s immune system will be drastically compromised or that formula will make your baby stupid.
Your care and attention have a far greater impact than the milk your baby consumes. There’s no shame in being unable to breastfeed. I just wish our society was set up in such a way that we could help each other out, nurse each other’s babies and tell formula companies to go take a hike.
So what are the breastfeeding myths that most bother you? I would love to learn even more about breastfeeding this week, so don’t be shy, please share your thoughts, ideas, articles and resources with the rest of us by leaving a comment.
And have a wonderful week, Shelly