Breastfeeding, Shaming and Solutions that Help

I’m sick of the shaming.

Many years ago when our mothers were first becoming moms, they were shamed for breastfeeding.  If we had been moms in the 90s, most of my friend group would have been so confused as to HOW to breastfeed.  Now, it seems like the only way is breast.  The problem is that while this is the common conception of post-2010 motherhood, it isn’t all that realistic for a number of women.

I’ve talked about the way we romanticize breastfeeding, cosleeping, and a number of “crunchy” options but I want to talk now about active shaming of moms who can’t or won’t breastfeed.

On facebook this week, a friend of mine posted this meme:

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The person posting this is an ARDENT supporter of breastfeeding.  She’s a SAHM, a feminist, and pumped for MONTHS while her kiddo was sick in the NICU.  For her, breastfeeding was a bonding experience and a labor of love.  I want to start this by saying I admire her love for her child and commend her on her effort.

However, I still think it’s incredibly underhanded to post memes like this.  When I called her on it, she defended it saying it was all about “encouragement” and not shamey.  The meme cites no actual EVIDENCE of the claims it makes.  And it insinuates that formula fed babies will end up sick.  That’s screwed up because no study on earth insinuates that formula fed babies will end up on death’s door.  I won’t get into citations here because it will take a ton of time.  But if you are interested, some good journalism has already occurred on this topic.  Basically, kids regress to the mean around age 3.  Most breastfeeding benefits are short-lived, and the confounding factor in most studies which assert the power of breastfeeding don’t properly account for socioeconomic factors.  Rich women have healthier and happier babies – who’da thunk it?!

Shaming mothers does not help.  IT DOES NOT HELP.  New moms don’t need more shame.  We have enough of it.  We reap the benefits of “you don’t know how you are already ruining your child’s life” in spades just going to the grocery.  Yesterday, my anatomy scan was “textbook perfect”.  Today, I was picking up a drink with my normal two shots of espresso which are condoned by my OB and got a 10 minute lecture on how I was “killing my baby”.  Someone needs to read more.  But regardless, shaming women doesn’t help. I drank my entire beverage.  It didn’t stop me.  It just pissed me off at 7 AM. Ideas like that cited above are not encouraging women.  They don’t make women more successful at breastfeeding, either.

All of my friends who have had babies in the past 10 years have attempted breastfeeding.  Few have been successful at feeding for more than 6 months.  The few that did are stay at home moms.  The rest saw a marked decline around the time they went back to work and either had to supplement with formula or had to give it up.  I know working women CAN be successful at breastfeeding but the success rate is not great.  And when you have little leave, it makes sense.

It is so true that few women get the necessary support to make breastfeeding a success for the year required for true “benefits” to show.  After all, studies don’t focus on EBF for 6 months.  They focus on a year, 18 months, two years, etc.  For feeling strongly about this, I commend my friend who is a member of LLL.  She does truly believe women can do better with support.  I don’t doubt this is true. However, she also doesn’t face the barriers many of us face because she stays at home and is available to her child all day – for better or worse.  Working moms struggle because real life is not kind with a 9 to 5 and a pumping routine.

Things that can help women do exist.  Namely, good family leave.  The women who are most able to access breastfeeding are already able to give their babies the “best” regardless of their breast capabilities because they are wealthy, can meet regularly with lactation resources, and either don’t return to the workforce until their child is in school or already have generous leave.

I get 6 weeks of leave with this baby.  6 weeks.  And that’s what most women get.  I consider it lucky that I have “saved up” 6 weeks of paid leave.  As the breadwinner and the carrier of our insurance, I need to go back to work as soon as I can.  While my reasons for formula feeding are largely rooted in a need for medications that aren’t breastfeeding-safe, maybe I would have attempted it if I could have had more time at home.  Without time to develop a good routine, I would likely hit the same barriers most of my friends do.

Another person on her thread defended the shaming and saying we need to “do better” to get women to “stick with it”.  I commend this because I know benefits really do take about a long time.  But breastfeeding is not easy and in our country, where maternity leave is a true luxury, it is a privilege many women can’t afford.  Shaming women on top of that won’t “cure” this ill.

Pushing for better family leave is a good place to start but not one anyone seems to want to discuss.

The lactivists I know are SAHM’s. There seems to be some cognitive dissonance surrounding what a typical work week looks like when a woman returns at work and begins to pump. I don’t think these women are bad-intentioned in their demands for breastfeeding.  I think they do what they need to do.  I don’t begin to contemplate how hard their jobs are as SAHM’s.  But I do think we need greater compassion for the actual problems we face.  Judgement doesn’t work.  And if feminists are supposed to support choice, we are doing a terrible job at that right now.

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