Fairly often on The Leaky B@@b Facebook page we see questions from moms concerned about their milk or explaining that they had to wean because they were told their milk was “bad.” Moms ask about getting their milk tested, wonder about boosting fat content, and are concerned that their milk is making their baby sick. Unlike issues with latch, milk supply, infection or, blaming breastmilk is often more ambiguous. It isn’t uncommon for concerns to be rooted in outside sources; family expressing doubt that the mother’s milk is good enough, health care providers that suggest perhaps formula would be a more accurate, and formula marketing promising improved brain development and “closer to breastmilk than ever” so parents can sleep easier. Even if their little one is growing well and meeting developmental milestones, there can be overwhelming concern that something is wrong with the milk and if their sweet offspring is anything other than the standard of a smiling, chubby, easy-going, and bright eyed Gerber baby, the milk is often the first thing blamed for a breastfed baby.
Why blame the milk?
Other than the reality of living in a culture where breastfeeding is not the accepted normal way to feed a baby but is just one option, why do so many people jump to the idea that there must be something wrong with the mother’s milk if the baby is “too” fussy, gassy, clingy, or any other possible problem? Very few question if another mammal’s milk is good enough for their young, why are quick to suspect the quality of milk of human mothers? Ignorance is a significant factor, too many people don’t understand what is normal behavior for a health, breastfed infant but I don’t think that’s the only reason. Deep down I suspect there are other issues at play.
The perfect baby.
The old adage that children are to be seen and not heard is socially accepted as out of date however, our actions and reactions to children reveal otherwise. If you don’t have a cherubic smiling baby all the time, there must be a reason, a reason that must have an easy fix. A reason that probably starts with the parents. And what could be an easier fix than a bottle of prepared, measured, and “scientifically formulated” breastmilk substitute? With all that formulating, there can’t be anything wrong with it such as what you last ate… or so some are inclined to believe.
Out of touch.
With a good portion of a generation or two of mothers having no experience of breastfeeding, many in society are out of touch as to what’s normal in a breastfed baby. New standards have been established based on a product derived from milk intended to grow an animal that starts out weighing anywhere between 50-100 pounds and can grow to weigh a ton (literally, not figuratively) as an adult. An animal that has 3 stomachs. Growth charts have been based on this product and for a long time nobody even thought there should be a different chart for breastfed babies and health care professionals and parents alike accepted the growth patterns of a formula fed infant as the standard.
Obsessed with food.
Our culture is obsessed with food. Eating it, not eating it, where it comes from, where it doesn’t come from, how much it costs, who is eating it, who isn’t eating it, how much we’re eating, etc. It’s pretty dang hard to measure breastmilk coming straight from the breast. If you can’t measure it, can’t see it, how can you obsess about it?
Women, your bodies are broken.
From monthly fertility cycles to sexual arousal, from birth to breastfeeding, from feminine hygiene to body shape, society consistently tells women there’s something wrong with their bodies. A quick glimpse at vintage ads will show that this has been the case for a long time. Douche it, pinch it, pull it, augment it, decrease it, measure it, plump it, thin it, paint it, perfume it, shave it, cut it, bind it, CHANGE IT! Above all, hide what connects us with our animal side and don’t trust it. Breastmilk is suspect because it comes from our body. There must be something wrong with it. The overwhelming message is that our bodies are broken.
Don’t judge me.
Whatever a mom’s reason to not breastfeed, whether there were physical issues, a lack of support, lack of information, or just not wanting to; nobody wants to be judged. Finding camaraderie can be reassuring no matter what the reason. Most moms don’t want other moms to fall short of their goals and they genuinely want to support but that support can also offer comfort to the one extending it if they feel even slightly judged because they didn’t breastfeed. Blaming the milk for not being good enough or of making the infant sick can bring comfort that it wasn’t anything they did or didn’t do. It’s not that they are looking for excuses but with the other reasons shared it can be that finding a reason as ambiguous as there being something wrong with the milk a relief that things didn’t work out.
Sex, sex, and more sex.
Breasts are sexual. There’s no denying it. But then so are other parts of the body that we use for other purposes… such as the neck holding up our heads and an erotic zone, our lips for kissing and talking, our hands for caressing and working, and so on. Most of western society has over emphasized the sexual nature of the human female breasts but that doesn’t mean that they are a completely asexual part of the female anatomy. That over emphasis has created problems though. Problems that are easy to avoid thinking about if we just don’t use our breasts to feed our babies. The balance is off between the breasts as a food source for a woman’s young and the sexuality of breasts. Since women’s body’s are broken, babies should be perfect, we’re obsessed with food, and we don’t want to be judged, blaming breastmilk for any potential issues helps us to keep that overemphasis on the sexual nature of breasts so we don’t have to be confronted with the misogynistic objectification of women quite as overtly if we never have to see a breast being used in another capacity.
The reality is that most of the time it’s not going to be the milk to blame for problems with baby. Once normal behavior, including normal emotional, psychological, attachment, and developmental behaviors are understood and eliminated as the cause of presenting symptoms, there are many other factors to be evaluated before even considering breastmilk. When breastmilk truly is the problem these babies get sick very fast and in very distinct ways that require quick interventions. And when there are more mild issues such as sensitivities to foods the mother has eaten, slow weight gain of the infant, or other such concerns, the answer rarely is to stop feeding breastmilk. With the support of an informed health care provider and an IBCLC, most issues related to breastmilk can be worked through and the milk isn’t actually to blame. Problems happen and sometimes the actual breastmilk needs to be considered before we rush to blame breastmilk for every physical discomfort or behavior we would rather not see in our babies and let’s truly help moms reach their personal breastfeeding goals, setting babies on the right track for a normal standard of health with the appropriate diet for human babies; breastmilk.
Have you wondered if your breastmilk was ok? Do you think we have unrealistic expectations that lead to confusion between what is normal and what are real problems?