Breastfeeding Support- When will we walk the talk?

All of us need support.  Even if we think we don’t, even if the attitudes and opinions of others aren’t something we feel impact us, the truth is whatever it is we set out to do we are more likely to succeed when we have support.  Research shows that the number one reason that women that set out to breastfeed but end up giving up is because of lack of support, articles exploring the impact the lack of social support (or social toxins to breastfeeding) has on breastfeeding have called for change, and the US Surgeon General has issued a Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding addressing head on the institutional and social barriers to breastfeeding.  Overall, support is crucial to breastfeeding outcomes on both an interpersonal level and societal level.

The problem isn’t isolated to lack of support from family and friends, though at the individual level it certainly starts in the mom’s immediate circle.  From there it spreads to the local community around the mom, the health care community, and then society in general.  It goes from the outside in as well.

  • Every time a radio show personality rants about how gross it is to see a woman breastfeeding in public, or news reporters seem awkward talking about breast milk and milk banks, or feminist speakers forcefully imply that the “benefits” of breastfeeding are made up to trap women in their homes; it chips away at the support for breastfeeding within society.
  • With every joke laden with sexual innuendoes about breastfeeding, or negative reactions from television and movie characters to the idea of breastfeeding, or sexually charged awkward scenes centered around a breastfeeding pair in an attempt at comedy; entertainment places precedence on a woman’s sex appeal and mocks the breastfeeding mother.
  • Whenever a female politician sneers at the recommendations to support breastfeeding for health reasons, or a male politician openly questions the validity of requiring companies to provide space for moms to pump, or airport security detains a woman as though she’s a criminal because she’s trying to take her frozen breast milk home to her baby; the message is sent loud and clear that woman, children and breastfeeding are not as important as corporate profits and a false sense of security in travel but are considered a business and security hazard.
  • As a woman is shunned from yet another restaurant for feeding her child as biology intended, or a local women’s only gym tries to shame a woman for feeding her child, and school boards declare that mother’s can’t breastfeed in their school lobbies; breastfeeding as part of the fabric of the community and normal part of caring for one’s child is dismissed in favor of other feeding methods.
  • When a pediatrician continues to use growth charts designed for formula fed babies and scares moms into using formula because her baby doesn’t follow the chart, or a labor and delivery nurse tells a mom she doesn’t have any milk on day one and to give her baby formula until her mike comes in, or a famous obstetrician is disgusted on television with the idea of breastfeeding an older baby; breastfeeding is sabotaged by the very group that should most understand the importance of feeding human babies in the biologically normal way.
  • Any time someone in a breastfeeding support group talks down to a mother that supplemented, or an online community gangs up on someone asking for information on weaning, or quotes communicating the superiority of all mothers that breastfeed spread like wildfire across social media; a wedge is driven between those that should be offering support and the many, many women that need it but feel belittled.
  • When friends suggest “why don’t you just give her a bottle so you can have a life,” or a woman’s own mother is embarrassed by her daughter breastfeeding in public, or in-laws suggest formula so they can babysit, or an aunt insists that she never breastfed her babies and they turned out “fine,” or a mother is called “selfish” by a relative for breastfeeding so others can’t give the baby a bottle; the very people that should most have a breastfeeding mom’s back instead stab her in it with their perhaps well intentioned but clearly uneducated comments.

Given that society claims to know that breastfeeding is good for babies and their mothers yet continually sabotages breastfeeding mothers by being openly unsupportive, I can’t help but wonder if it’s just that we actually don’t care what’s best for mothers and babies but rather value profits, the sexual objectification of women, individual comfort based on the belief that breasts are only for sex, and holding onto old beliefs that have been proven to not be true.  As a whole, the actions of society do not match our words: we do not, in fact, believe that breastfeeding is good for babies and their mothers.  We do not, in fact, value the breastfeeding mother.  We do not, in fact support breastfeeding.  Even though we know support is needed.

I do think it’s improving in some ways.  Laws in the USA have passed that hopefully do improve the working mother’s pumping conditions and breast pumps are now tax deductible.  It’s sad that those had to be fought for and met any resistance at all but at least they went through and they are a start.  While the entertainment industry still mocks breastfeeding mothers as a standard comedic element, more and more celebrities are being not only vocal in support of breastfeeding but also openly breastfeeding.  Nurse-ins showing how many are supportive of breastfeeding when a business harasses or kicks a breastfeeding woman off their premises get news coverage and online buzz.  It’s not a lot but it’s something that looks a bit like progress.  A little bit of needed support.

But we have a long, long, long way to go.  I have hope, I have to, that some day our society’s actions will support our society’s words.  That breastfeeding will no longer require advocacy beyond normal education because breastfeeding will be accepted without controversy as normal.  That we will act like we believe the science that breastfeeding is good for babies and their mothers and that we will value the breastfeeding mother.

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Comments

  1. Beautifully said. Hear, hear.

  2. I have a friend, more of an acquaintance I guess, who just had a baby. Her doctor told her she has two weeks to decide whether to breastfeed. I was shocked, not only by her decision of “I’m going to decide whether I like it or not, and may or may not breastfeed”, but also by the advice from her doctor. Should I have but in and informed her that this critical time is a time of establishing receptors that will be with her through her whole breastfeeding relationship? That her milk will be gone by the time she makes her decision? I simply offered my support, told her where my baby and I stand, and left it at that. I am too afraid of being considered one of those people that pushes something that she doesn’t want to do(but where is that line drawn?). My problem is, why is the situation looked at like that?! Why isn’t it seen as, breastfeeding is the normal way, formula feeding is the oddball. I know that as nice as I try t o sound, in this situation and every day, I’m probably offending someone. I wish BF support was normal, common, and standard.

  3. Kirstie Farrar says:

    AMEN!

  4. Wow, wonderful post, exactly what I’ve thought – that we have to truly be supportive, not just tell women “breast is best” but then give a ton of conflicting advice and contradictory societal messages, and then they feel guilty when BF’ing doesn’t work out and go on to blame outspoken lactivists (I’ll use that rather than much harsher terms I’ve seen some moms use 😉 ) rather than blaming the society that failed them.

    • sorry, my prior comment doesn’t look right, I meant “outspoken lactivists” in the sense that I’ve seen a lot of non-breastfeeding moms express outright hatred (most likely misdirected) towards anyone who seems pro-breastfeeding – not at all meaning that lactivists shouldn’t be outspoken.

    • Lactivists give conflicting advice too. In fact they are often the ones giving it.

  5. Wonderful and, sadly, true. I wonder what it will take to change the support in word to support in deed.

  6. Well said, as always. I’ve struggled with all kinds of BFing issues with both my boys. (I’m still struggling with my 9mo old) The support of my bestie, my mom and my absolute stubborness got me through the worst of the worst, while I was bombarded with “suggestions” from everyone else from Dr’s, nurses and my husband that I consider formula all while under the guise of “I support breastfeeding but….” (I do have a wonderful husband, I swear) I hope articles like this get spread far and wide, so people can give more thought to how to support moms who want to breastfeed! Thanks!

  7. I’d love to see more support for women who have to work after having a baby. In this day and age, most women have to go back to work as the one-income family is all but disappearing. I’m a CNA, and I have been very lucky to not have to go back to work until my girls were started on solids. However, some of my co-workers have not been so lucky, and one of them even got fired for taking “breaks that were too long and too often” so that she could pump for her then 3 month old. I understand that in a care giving type of situation it’s hard to have one of your employees have to leave the floor every 2 hours for at least a half an hour each time. But why not work with them, and make them a float or something, at least for the first couple of months while they are back at work so that they can continue to build their milk supply. Of all the care facilities I have ever worked, not one of them has had a place for mothers to pump. The moms are expected to do it in the bathroom (yuck!) so I watched most of them do it in their cars! Also, the US needs much better maternity leave. By 3 months, most moms have just got their nursing on track with their baby, have just built up their milk supply. And then we are expected to return to work, because we either can’t live without that income, or because we will lose our jobs because we only get so much time off. It’s really just awful, and really does show that the US puts profits way before the health of our women, and also the health of our children!

    • I was just thinking(and talking) about this recently. I’ve read that in Canada, paid and UN-PAID one-year maternity leaves are common! I would love to see more employers accommodate a woman bringing her baby to work with her for the first year. Most women, like me, are not looking to have a full-year off(it’s not really “off” anyway when your caring for your child 24/7)but merely a chance to spend at least the first year with their baby. I bring my baby to my office with me, and having him near me everyday has given us an amazing breastfeeding relationship. Like you said, we could not survive off of one income, so I am so grateful to be able to bring him along!

      • In Australia, 12 months maternity leave is extremely common. Many workplaces enable you to stretch your paid leave (6 months) out so that you are paid half-pay for the extra time. Unfortunately, the US is so far behind in looking to support new mothers.

        • I live in Germany and am currently with my 5 month old on a one year maternity leave. Almost everyone takes the year here to take care of their baby. We get paid by the government with 2/3 of our last years net income and the employer has to reserve your job for 3 (!) years. That rocks. The US really needs to look after new moms better!

      • Maternity leave in Canada is 52 weeks. The Mom is paid 55% of her salary by the gov’t and the workplace has to hold a job for her. Some of that can be taken by the Dad if he wants, but it gets deducted from Mom’s leave. There are some further stipulations, such as having to have worked a certain number of hours in the previous year, but generally, every working woman gets paid mat leave. Also, we are taxed at a lower level on the pay so it usually works out to closer to 65% of your income unless you make a lot of money.
        Oddly enough, our economy didn’t collapse when mat leave was changed to a year ( as the US Big Business would have you believe) I am proud to live in a country that values women and children in this way.

  8. There are two things that are bothersome to me. First, the militant breastfeeding types that shame moms for supplementing. I think it undermines any attempt to breastfeed for some moms. It’s like it sends a message that you must do it perfectly right (which in the militant breastfeeder’s mind seems to be EBF; there is no room for supplementing) or not at all. Any breastmilk is better than none. And, ultimately it’s the mother’s decision anyway. Perhaps next time she’d be more likely to breastfeed if she’d had the support instead of harsh words.

    Second, my well-meaning friends and family always offer me a bathroom (or some other room off by myself) and a blanket when I’m nursing my son. I don’t want to be sent to another room, and I don’t want to cover up; it’s uncomfortable for me and baby. I know they mean well, but it illustrates the message society has given to them. It says that nursing in private and covering up are the norm. We as a society have to do more to become comfortable with mother’s NIP and doing so without the blanket thrown over the child.

  9. Thank you for this. It actually made me feel better about my family’s remarks and jokes. And I am going to look into the tax deduction thing… love learning new information!

  10. What a wonderful and timely post. My daughter is two weeks old as of yesterday. I am getting a lot of flack from her father about how I am not sharing feeding duties as that is the best time for him to bond with her. I keep telling him to just wait a couple more weeks for her and I to get established and then I will be willing to pump so he can share. We are going to a LLL meeting tomorrow night so we can talk to some other more exprienced mothers about this. I will show him this post tonight. Thank you!

    • Jami,

      Here’s a quote I love from LLL’s _The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding_:

      “Partners want to connect with their babies too, and when they see the closeness and intimacy of the breastfeeding relationship, feeding the baby themselves looks like the obvious way to do it. But there are a gazillion ways to bond with a baby without bottle-feeding–in fact, partners have the key role of teaching the baby that love somethings comes without food.”

      I often think of that last line when I see dads bonding with their babies; that they are teaching that love can be given all on its own, without food, or any other extras. 🙂

      Best of luck to you and your family!

    • I agree!! I have had many friends say that pumping so Daddy can share is a great way to ‘bond’ with Daddy. My husband and I both agree that our boys (now 6 and 3) and now our daughter follow him around like he is their favorite person. LOVE that!! Daddy’s can read stories and snuggle and quite honestly, he is the one who can get the baby back to sleep when she wakes up 30 minutes after nursing in the evening/night! None of my children have ever taken a bottle… Good luck on the LLL meeting!

    • To address your husband’s concerns… Have you tried feeding your LO together? Try feeding LO lying down on the bed, with LO in the middle. (basically, a baby sandwich)
      This is about as close as dad can get while you nurse, and its a nice intimate moment for the two of you, as well. Hope that helps!
      (i think dads occasionally feel left out when mom sits in a chair or rocker with LO and there isn’t really a physical space for dad to be in, you know?)

    • Nappy changes, baths and rocking to sleep are also great times to bond with baby.

  11. Amen! I am proud to NIP anywhere and everywhere. I hope that someone sees that THIS is what breastfeeding looks like and can remember that it is OK to do. Without support from TLB, I would have none. My father has said “You are not going to be like that Mom on the movie Grown Ups and feed her until she’s five are you? And my husband’s grandmother asked me just last weekend when I was just going to wean. The 22nd of this month will be a year for us. I have plans to nurse until my LO is ready!

  12. I think a big problem is that pregnant, first time moms don’t get a lot of breast feeding information while they are pregnant. I had the book, The Womanly Art of Breast Feeding that I planned to read after I had the baby. Uh, super bad idea. Especially since I missed the class on breastfeeding in my birth class because my baby came a week early. Thankfully, my wife had been a nanny for years, and was committed to me breastfeeding. I had thought formula was just as good as breastfeeding. I had no reason to think it wouldn’t be given that it was advertised and normalized so much. But then of course, after I had my baby and had some trouble breastfeeding, I found out TONS of information, and mostly through the Leaky Boob (THANK YOU!). My doctor is pro breast feeding (I birthed in a birth center), but due to a bad case of jaundice, we had a home health nurse come to our house to set up a light box, and she pushed formula; and then we had to go to Children’s overnight for more lights and an IV and the residents there also suggested formula many times. The LC and the nurses though just listened patiently to them and then supported breast feeding and me the whole time (I’m getting teary eyed just thinking about how supportive and helpful they were). Two weeks later things were still very difficult (bad latch, nipple shields) and that is when the can of formula showed up free in the mail. They must time that to be a week after your due date since I was a week early. That made me so mad! To hit me when I was most likely down. The ONLY place that had my address and my due date was Motherhood Maternity, so either they sold my contact info to the formula company or Children’s Hospital did. BUT…on the bright side, I have support from family, and friends and work. I see nursing moms out all the time where I live. No one has ever made me feel unwelcome or uncomfortable or seemed uncomfortable themselves when I have NIP’ed. So things are getting better for sure, but we need to make sure the support is there BEFORE it is needed. Because it can become “too late” very quickly, and a new mom might not even know what questions to ask. Thank you for writing this. I will share it widely!

  13. Amazing article. Im coming up on a nursing relationship thats lasted 16months and going strong with my second nursling due any day now. First of all let me say that as a young mother (6 days short of 21 when I delivered my first in a bath tubwith the assistance of midwifes, amazing experience by the way) I had no BF support. NO ONE not one person ever talked to me about the importance of BF. I had no plans to BF just that I would try it and see what happened. It wasnt until afterwards had I researched it at the advise of my pedi whose exact words were “your a very smart young lady, PLEASE tell me you will breastfeed this baby for as long as possible”. So happy that I did. I am so happy with our relationship and I think it was strengthened by nursing.

    However even though I was so very happy and proud to be exclusively nursing this beautiful little boy and was the first to say BACK OFF WITH THE CEREAL! I was actually embarassed to nurse him in public. I would go out to eat or to the grocery store or anywhere for that matter and LEAVE whether to a bathroom or the car to nurse! It wasnt until he was 7 months old was I confortable NIP. I wish that women especially young women were better educated on the subject….So many mothers try and give up because it hurts or is just too much. I wish that there was better support.

  14. I exclusively feed expressed breast milk to my little one. All the bad info / no info on breast feeding for me a first time mom seemed to doom me. The hospital nurses pushed formula saying my milk hadn’t come in. After that baby did not want to latch. I was determined my baby get breast milk and luckily pumping has worked out. I went back to work (US) after the 3 months you’re guaranteed here, then your company can give away your job. I told my boss I needed to pump. I only do it once during an 8 hour shift. My boss is really understanding though. I told him once and have never had to discuss it again. I have a place to go and a place to store the milk. It really is a blessing.

  15. bvandgrift says:

    Something I expected to see mentioned here but didn’t is the role Christian fundamentalism plays in these attitudes. Almost everything you mentioned stems from a hypersensitivity to anything remotely sexual and a shame around the female form, and can be traced back to the underlying fundamentalist culture.

    Thoughts?

    • I think much of it probably does stem from that (a culture I was raised in too) but I don’t see it as all being from there unless we also blame it for a backlash against that mindset. In the mainstream culture today Christian fundamentalism is fairly removed. ~Jessica

    • I would have to disagree that “almost everything” mentioned comes from Christian fundamentalism. I was raised in a conservative Christian home & culture, and breastfeeding and natural parenting were very supported and openly talked about.
      I think we have to also consider the other views–the ultra-“feminist” view that says moms shouldn’t be “forced” to breastfeed and that BFing, attachment parenting, and choosing to stay at home with children denigrate a woman and force her into a limited role.

  16. I found that the people who gave the least support during breast feeding where the experts who thought they were being the most supportive. I’m talking about community midwives and nurses. They were all the crazy kind of lactivists, promoting a lactivists agenda instead of supporting me.

    I wanted to, and did breast feed until I returned to work. I never doubted I could do it, and hated he idea of formula, but still found it physically and emotionally hard.

    The nurses didn’t help. They just criticised the way I held baby. They old me i ouldn’t take painkillers gor the intense nipple pain. They could not help the cracked nipes. I had to discover shields or myself. They gave confusing advice about when and how long to feed for (‘on demand’ but ‘no more than 10 minutes a side no more frequently than every 2 hours’). They assumed I would bf until preschool, as they did. when I needed to switch to formula, they advised me to tech my 6 mo to use a cup and avoid bottles at all costs (why, I cam’t fathom). Actually when I talked about returning to work they told me to keep breast feeding and “cluster feed” all evening and before work. Not sure when I was supposed to shower, cook or relax.

    I started being a breast feeding champ. I ended up feeling betrayed in favor of ‘the cause’.

  17. amanda kling says:

    I didn’t know that pumps were tax deductible!!!! Damn I missed a break last year!!!! lol I’m so thankful that I didn’t have any trouble with any of these things in the past year. The worst might have been a few “looks” or the darn teenagers snickering and trying to get a peek of a nipple at a HS football game. I am fully prepared to sound off if anyone would ever try to tell me I can’t nurse somewhere or tell me how to “better” feed/nourish my child. Baby number 2 coming in May, theres still plenty of time I suppose. Isn’t it bad that I almost feel on the defensive sometimes, like….prepared for someone to say something negative towards BF or NIP. I dare someone to say something…..

  18. I agree with the post above about better support for moms going back to work. I had to go back to work 6 weeks after my baby was born and it was rough going. I’ve never been a great pumper and can only get an ounce out at a time, but it’s hard to keep up and very discouraging. I had good support to breastfeed, but there is not much support for pumping. A lot of moms in the US have to go back to work and if the support to keep pumping isn’t there, it’s hard to continue. I’ve been lucky that my husband is very supportive and my company even created a quiet room for pumping so I’ve been able to continue for 16 months now (!!!), but there definitely should be more support from corporations and other women. Most women I talk to about pumping at work say, “Yeah I tried it when I first got back, but I couldn’t do it, it was too hard.” Nothing worthwhile is easy–keep trying!

    • My company has a lockable parents room with a fridge and microwave, soothing music and couches. Even then, I chose lot to pump at work. I could have asked for pumping breaks, but it just was not a reasonable thing to do. When I am st work, I actually need to be working. Soon after returning, i started work on a project that had me coming in early and finishing late every day for months. I could not have got it done if I took pumping breaks. Not to mention that I would have to wear non-business’s clothes with easy boob accesss, and wrangle with a pump which needed to be sterilized all the time.

      I agree that you would have to be very committed for pumping to work. As was, my baby thrived on formula. I felt upset for a couple of weeks, but I realized it was the right choice not to torture myself with pumping.

      • Out of curiosity, why would you have needed “non-business clothes” to pump? In either a button down- obvious easy access- or a blouse you would’ve been fine. Please don’t take it as criticism, I’m just trying to understand your reasoning. Admittedly, the sterilizing/washing/storing is a pain in the a$$ though.

  19. This made me tear up more than once. As a mom who struggled to establish a good BF relationship for almost 2 months, I know I could have never made it without the support of my doula, mom, and the wonderful community of women I found in Spokane. My OB and pediatrician were supportive of the idea of breastfeeding in general but never offered advice or support.
    I am planning to do EBF for as long as my little man is interested, and I have gotten a lot of criticism and disbelief from acquaintances (who I don’t really care about) and friends that I would have expected to support me. It’s been hard for me to be understanding of the fact that they don’t have the same perspective as I do and to try to give my position on BF without being antagonistic or down-putting those who could not/did not BF.
    Thanks for the reminder that we as moms need to be the most supportive of another mom’s choice–even if we may not understand or agree with it fully.

  20. Bravo! Thank you for calling out the subtle (and not-so-subtle) ways our culture undermines the confidence of a breastfeeding mother. I see all of these things with my students (I’m a CBE and I teach BF classes too).

  21. Sharon Trombetta, IBCLC says:

    Well Said! I agree there has been progress in some areas and non-support in others. My daughter has been extremely lucky and her Boss has allowed her to bring my granddaughter to work with her who is now 8 months, it is a Veterinary Practice in Southern NJ. All the employees help take care of baby and it has made such an easy transition for my daughter to return to work and exclusively breastfeed. However, the large Pediatric Practice in our community does not support breastfeeding very well. I have been to multiple apppointment with my daughter and granddaughter. I have yet to hear any staff or physician praise her for her efforts or give any education. They are very eager to scold for not vaccinating on their schedule and refusing some vaccines and there are chairs in front of the door to the breastfeeding privacy room. So yes, we have a ways to go until society wakes up!