I’ve been struggling a little with this post because I’m so excited and so full of ideas I can’t pin down one thing I want to talk about! (I’m expecting this post to be a bit scatty. We’ll call it a warm-up.) Right now I’m doing more research into floor beds – that throwaway comment at the bottom of Sleep got me thinking that it might just be possible. And I’m planning for my next post to be a recipe, to cover all bases in our first week.
Anyway. I read this article over the weekend, and one sentence in particular resonated with me:
We’re pushing breastfeeding as a message but we sure aren’t embracing it as a culture.”
The author is talking about the US, and goes on to talk about workplace culture and other things that I’m not sure entirely apply to the UK (or at least not to me at the moment).
But this particular sentence is applicable to my direct and indirect experiences of breastfeeding. I am extraordinarily lucky in that breastfeeding has never been a problem for me or N: I was confident, she was good at suckling, we were surrounded by women who had breastfed and who supported us totally, and we never came across any problems.
The one issue I did have was right after giving birth, when the midwife asked me not to feed her until the placenta was delivered. I think it was maybe half an hour before it came out, and then when I did try to latch her on, we both struggled. My partner left and went home to sleep, and N and I were left alone, and it was the strangest time: I was so elated but so terrified that Breastfeeding Was Going Wrong, and is the baby starving, and oh my god look there’s a baby, and just a general buzzing throughout my mind. When she was eight hours old, she did it, and we’ve not had an issue since. But now I wonder what on earth that midwife was thinking, and regret that I was so placid and obedient just after labour (and during, too, but that is another story).
One of my friends was less lucky, ended up not breastfeeding (not through choice), and was shamed at every turn. Did you know that when looking up how to make a bottle feed, the Aptamil website reminds you that formula is a poor substitute for breastmilk before it lets you watch the video? I’m guessing it’s not the only one. Women who are not formula feeding voluntarily should not be made to feel any worse than they already do.
A breastfeeding friend was warned that her baby was not gaining weight fast enough, and encouraged to supplement with formula. She spent two weeks trying to force more milk into her perfectly happy baby; thankfully, the next time she took the baby to be weighed, a different health visitor reassured her that her child just happens to be on a lower percentile. Women who are breastfeeding should not be made to worry unnecessarily about their baby’s weight gain, nor should they be forced to doubt their capability.
One of the books I have (Your Baby Week By Week – not recommended for attachment parents, exclusive breastfeeders, co-sleepers, baby-led weaners, babywearers, and more) pushes the importance of giving your baby a bottle of expressed breastmilk. I have read arguments (possibly in this book, I can’t remember and don’t care to look) that breastfed babies must be able to take a bottle so that their parents can feed them in public. Women should feel completely free to feed how they want, when they want, where they want.
I hate the idea that I should make N take a bottle so strangers won’t run the risk of seeing part of my breast.
This is a feminist issue: we are expected and encouraged to use our bodies in a certain way, shamed if we do not or cannot, expected to fail, expected to hide our successes so other people do not have to risk looking at our bodies.
How do people keep all these bigoted ideas in their head at once!?
The current culture is pushing breastfeeding without understanding the social, biological, and emotional contexts.
Society at large is not ready for, or supportive of, public breastfeeding. Some feminists are pushing for equal topless rights, arguing that breasts are unnecessarily sexualised. I would go further and say that breasts are constantly unnecessarily sexualised. If I wear a push-up bra and a low-cut top and go clubbing, I’m purposely sexualising my body; wearing a stretchy-necked top and a nursing bra and periodically pulling my breasts out to feed my baby is a totally different thing. So different that I’m beginning to think that anyone is uncomfortable with me feeding my baby is imagining me in high heels and nipple tassels… anyway.
It is embarrassing to feed your baby in public because people are staring (trying to catch a glimpse of a nipple?) or looking away (desperately trying not to catch a glimpse of a nipple?) and I do feel the pressure to balance N in the feeding position to hide me undoing my bra.
Biologically, some women struggle to breastfeed. I’m going to leave this here as I don’t know much about it, but basically, if you physically cannot sustain a baby on your own breastmilk, this is not something you should feel punished for. We’ve (mostly… partly…) gotten past blaming people for attributes they were born with, like homosexuality*, but for some reason we believe that women can want their way into successful breastfeeding?
Furthermore, it requires a lot of mental energy to breastfeed in a world where women’s bodies are simultaneously public property and something sinful to be hidden. We feel as if we are inviting comment when we expose our breasts, because strangers already make rude and frightening comments on the parts of a woman’s body that are visible. If I did not believe in fat acceptance, I would struggle to bare certain parts of my body in public (for example, refusing to wear short-sleeved tops in summer as a teenager).
What we need is a world where people breastfeed publicly, where breasts are not sexualised in non-sexualised settings, where those who do not breastfeed are allowed to look (so that young people can learn what breastfeeding looks like, thus ingraining certain ideas such as positioning to aid their breastfeeding experiences in the future), where parents do not feel like they are hounded for their feeding choices, and where women and their bodies are trusted. Instead we have none of those things and a breastfeeding campaign which attempts to ignore that.
*This might be a bad example; please suggest others!