Changing for the breast? A 14 year old shares her views on breasts, breastfeeding, sex appeal, and society.

by Ophélia Martin-Weber
Photo credit Dorothea Lange, 1936 Library of Congress, American Memory

Photo credit Dorothea Lange, 1936 Library of Congress, American Memory

I wonder when people started treating boobs as objects used just for sex.  A long time ago did people respect moms and their breasts feeding hungry babies?  Even though they didn’t see women as equal did they know that breastfeeding was the healthiest, easiest, and natural source of nutrients to feed the baby and nothing to shun?  There was a time when women didn’t have the right to vote but could freely pull out their breast and feed their baby and today it seems like we have flipped those.  In some ways we have come so far in how women are treated and viewed in society but in other ways women, particularly mothers, are dismissed as their real value being only in their appeal to the opposite sex.  I wonder if we’ve lost something.  Then I wonder what that means for me and I’m only 14 years old.

When I was younger I didn’t know breasts had amazing powers to produce milk even though my mom breastfed my sisters and me.  All that I knew was that I had little boobies and I couldn’t wait for the day when my nipples would transform into breasts.  I don’t remember when the fact that mature breasts can give milk really stuck in my head but when it did I thought humans were related to cows.  Sure, humans and cows are both mammals but when I was a kid I thought maybe women actually were cows.  Today I know that’s not true and I also understand there is a lot of attention given to the sexiness of the female breast and that makes me uncomfortable.  Uncomfortable because now that I have breasts I find myself wanting smaller breasts in part because of dance but also because I know that bigger breasts are supposed draw attention from guys, are seen as more sexy, and could decide how I am treated by others.  Part of me feels that if I want to be liked I have to have big breasts.  I want guys to notice me but I don’t want guys to notice me (yes, I know this is a contradiction) and I really don’t want them to think I’m just here to have sex with.  I’m just not ready for that and don’t know if I ever will be.  To me, I’m so much more than my sex appeal.  So I’m careful about what I wear, I don’t want communicate that I want attention based on sex but that frustrates me too.  The clothes I like the best are more form fitting but if I wear yoga pants that fit my butt well will it be communicating that I want the wrong kind of attention?  Or in a leotard are my breasts speaking louder than my mind or my art?  I hope not.  I want to matter to others for more than just my body.  As a dancer, I work with my body a lot and I work hard to make it strong and healthy but not for attention.  That work is to help me tell stories, to use my body as an artist and an athlete.  Struggling with my body every day is part of my lot as a dancer and I have a love hate relationship with it and I’m ok with that.  What I don’t want is to question my natural biology simply because of how others say it should be.  Sometimes it feels as though society wants to punish those with female body parts yet tell us we’re equal without having to act like we really are.  I don’t get it, I understand that breasts are considered sex things but they don’t seem any more “sexy” than most of the other parts of my body such as my lips, my arms, my shoulders, my legs.  Men may find them sexy (is it that way in every culture or just ours?) but they aren’t sexy to me, they feed babies.

The author, Ophélia Martin-Weber

The author, Ophélia Martin-Weber

Looking back to what my childish mind was thinking and comparing it to some people’s opinions about moms openly breastfeeding in public, I wonder if they too see breastfeeding moms as cows?  Do breastfeeding mothers need to be fenced and herded together, separate from everyone else?  I know there are people that think about moms that way but not everyone does.  A lot of my adult friends have different opinions about breastfeeding but they don’t think poorly about my mom and they don’t ask her to cover when she’s feeding my little sister.  It doesn’t bother them that part of my mom’s breast is visible.  Pictures of beautiful and sexy women show off breasts at least as much as a mom’s breast is seen when she is breastfeeding.  In our culture, what is the most sexy part about women’s breasts?  The breast that is popping out of a too small shirt or the covered nipple?  Why?  If it’s the nipple, why is it such a big deal about breastfeeding in public if the baby is hiding the nipple?  Understandable because of the messages we get from certain parts of society, they might think it is sexual because a person’s mouth, even if it is a baby is on a woman’s breast but they need to get a grip and review their history lessons.   And also learn how breastfeeding works.

And why is it ok for men to show off their mammary glands but women can’t?  Why aren’t women “allowed” to expose their chest as much as men can?  Why is it considered indecent for me to be topless by my neighbor across the street can walk around just in his shorts and nobody has a problem with it?  How is that equal?  How is that not discrimination?  Stop telling me I can be equal to my male counterparts but then tell me I have to hide my body more as if there is something wrong with me.

I’m not sure I even want to have babies but if I do I will breastfeed them though I have to admit the idea of breastfeeding in public scares me because I know how people think of breasts, women, and moms.  That kind of attention isn’t what I want for myself.  I don’t know what I will do though because I know too much about breastfeeding to not breastfeed and I don’t think I’d want to just stay home all the time.  How sad is it that anyone would be afraid to feed their baby in public?  I’m a little disappointed in myself for feeling this way, I mean, my mom is The Leaky Boob, I feel like she’s the queen of breastfeeding.  But that’s where I am right now.  Fortunately, I have a long time to figure that out and I know I have a family that will support me along the way.

If all this obsession with female breasts didn’t actually happen, what would life be like?  If we could change the attitudes against breastfeeding would we actually change attitudes about women?  I hope we can learn from our mistakes because I think people are being hurt by the accepted cultural attitudes of social norms.  And I’m still young, I have to have hope.

 

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What do you think?  

Do you feel attitudes about breastfeeding are related in any way to our attitudes about women in general?  

How did you think about breasts, breastfeeding, and your own body when you were a teen?

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Completely unrelated to this post, this video shares the author’s story of dance and her dance aspirations.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9wzWcV_gSs

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IMG_0404 Ophélia Martin-Weber is 14 years old, the eldest of six girls.  Ophélia is in 8th grade, homeschooled, and is   passionate about dance.  A few years ago Ophélia wrote for The Leaky Boob, sharing her views as an 11 year old on breastfeeding and Jessica recently shared a proud mama moment about Ophélia.  You can see some of Ophélia’s dancing and hear her share her dance story and dreams in this video.
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Fear and Breastfeeding in Las Vegas

Breastfeeding is not porn, nudity, or obscene The Leaky Boob

Since starting The Leaky Boob 2.5 years ago I have said and photographed things I would never have imagined doing before.  I’ve said things such as “breastfeeding is not about sex, it’s about feeding a baby.”  Nothing like stating the obvious.  Most recently was texting my husband “do you know where that nudie card is I brought back from Vegas?  I need it.”  Yep, I brought a nudie card home from Vegas.

Say “Las Vegas” and most of us conjure up images of slot machines, black jack tables, show girls, stripers, booze, and buffets with obscene quantities of food.  Sex and money seem to flow freely.  Clothing requirements are little more than sequins, triangles, stars, and stilettos for women, the range is a little more diverse for men.

Say “mommy conference” and you probably picture babies in strollers or carriers, baby toys, tennis shoes, snack cups, and a chatty group of women.  Breastmilk and cheerios seem to flow freely.  Clothing requirements range from diapers and onesies or soft outfits in bright colors for the smaller ones in the crowd and something comfortable covered in spit up for the adults.

Say “mommy conference in Las Vegas” and you might get a little confused.

However, as much as it may seem like a collision of 2 very different worlds, the MommyCon conference in Las Vegas hosted at the Flamingo Hotel and Casino was anything but confused.  It was fun, vibrant, and sometimes a little comical (I doubt Vegas has ever seen so many babies in carriers going through their casinos).  The Flamingo Hotel did a great job securing extra cribs for the influx of young guests and the conference area hosted workshops like dancing with your baby and it didn’t even involve a pole.  While there was room for improvement, the host hotel handled the influx of moms and dads with babies and young children well and the juxtaposition wasn’t as weird as I anticipated.  I was thrilled to be there as a speaker and enjoyed my first ever trip to Las Vegas.  It seemed appropriate that I was in Vegas speaking about Sex, Lies, Parenting, and the Rest.  I had a great time with my fellow speakers and meeting the attendees of the event.

I have breastfed 6 children now, in all different settings, sometimes covered and sometimes not.  Over time, however, I stopped covering completely thanks to babies that fought the cover, me realizing that I don’t show much when I feed my baby, and eventually a belief that covering was actually hindering breastfeeding for some women either because they didn’t see others doing it or because they couldn’t navigate breastfeeding in public with a cover.  In all my breastfeeding in public experience, I have never, not once, been asked to cover or leave.  There have been times I thought I received disapproving looks or was shunned for feeding but I’ve never experienced any kind of real negativity about my feeding my baby.  Actually, I’ve experienced several positive and affirming exchanges as I fed my babies in public, more people expressing support than disapproval.  Today I’m experienced and confident when I feed my babies, well practiced and well informed about my baby’s right to eat.  Even now though, when I need to feed my baby in a public setting I will have a moment of anticipatory nervousness as though I expect something to happen.

Flamingo hotel

Feeding Sugarbaby at the Tropical Breezes cafe at the Flamingo in Las Vegas

Except in Vegas at a mommy conference that highlighted breastfeeding and where I was speaking because I created “The Leaky Boob.”  It didn’t even occur to me that someone could have a problem with me breastfeeding there, of all places.

Following my first talk in the morning of Friday, January 4, 2013, I met up with my friend, Sue, who was helping take care of my 8 month old daughter, who I call Sugarbaby, while I spoke.  We decided to have lunch in the Flamingo’s Tropical Breeze Cafe so I could feed my baby and myself before speaking at another session after the break.  Wearing a simple button up shirt and a Rumina Nursingwear tank with Bamboobies breastpads (I may be The Leaky Boob but I didn’t want to leak during my talks), I fed my hungry baby shortly after we were seated while we skimmed the menu.  She was hungry and had missed me so she got down to business pretty quickly and stayed focused.  Our server brought us our drinks and a random cup of coffee neither of us ordered and took our food order.  As we sat joking about the random cup of coffee and waiting for our food (I think he thought I looked like I could use some caffeine), a lovely woman in a suit approached us.  She smiled and asked us how we were then very politely requested that I use a cover, nodding in the general direction of my baby at my breast.

People, I laughed.  I couldn’t help it.  I laughed and asked her to repeat herself.

After confirming that she was indeed asking me to cover while I fed my baby I returned her smile, barely suppressed my laughter, and informed her of my legal right to breastfeed my baby anywhere my baby and I have the right to be, covered or not.  (Do you know the laws where you are?  This helpful resource compiled by You Can Breastfeed Here is a great place to start to find out.)  Her smile waining ever so slightly and her eyes widening ever so noticeably, she gently, though firmly, informed me that I could do whatever I wanted to do but that if I covered I would be making others feel more comfortable as there had been four tables that complained about what I was doing.

I laughed again.  Harder.  “They do know they are in Vegas, right?” I asked her through my laughter.  Because this is what is on the sidewalks and shoved into the hands of those walking on the strip:

Vegas Nudie card

She looked around and I kept looking at her, still chuckling at the irony of this situation.  She knows that just before walking into her cafe I walked past a platform where that very evening, like every night, a woman exposing far more than I was while feeding my baby, dances with moves intending to sexually entice.  She knows that the sidewalks in front of the hotel are littered with photo cards of naked women with tiny stars on their nipples.  She knows that this very hotel advertises a burlesque show featuring breasts (bare), butts, and spread eagle moves on a video that loops endlessly in each guest elevator.  She knows that the very people that complained have seen all that and probably more in the 10 minutes before they sat at their table.  I know she was just trying to do her job.  I know she had no idea that there was actually a law stating I had the right to breastfeed anywhere my baby and I were legally permitted to be.  I know that in her line of work making the customer happy is a delicate balance when one customer may be making another uncomfortable.  I know that in that moment she was wishing I had never walked into her cafe.  I wondered if news coverage of irate breastfeeding moms flashed through her mind.

When she looked back at me I felt sorry for her.  She was probably a mom, I don’t know, but she wasn’t trying to make my life hard, nor was I trying to complicate her job.  In her mind it was simple, I could cover.  In my mind it was simple as well, putting the comfort of others over my child’s right to eat without a blanket on her head just wasn’t ok.  Her smile gone but her face still pleasant she stated again that I could do what I want but it would really help if I covered.  I thanked her and kindly told her that I would continue feeding my baby as I was.

Note that she didn’t yell at me, she never touched my baby or me, she did not call me names, she did not go over to the tables that complained and loudly inform them that I wouldn’t comply, she didn’t ask me to leave, and she didn’t threaten me in any way.

My friend and I laughed once she walked away, we could hardly talk as we shook with laughter.  Jamie Greyson, TheBabyGuyNYC,  joined us for lunch and we all talked about what had just happened.  This was a big deal but I didn’t want to do much about it before giving the hotel and casino the opportunity to make things right.  As I had another session coming up there wasn’t much I could do in the moment but finish feeding my daughter, eat my lunch, and tweet about the irony of the situation.  Jamie and I both shared the story on Twitter, tagged Flamingo, ordered our food, and discussed the entire situation over our meal before heading to my next session.  We all agreed that how I was feeding Sugarbaby at the moment showed far less than the poster outside the cafe and the cards handed out on the Vegas streets.

Vegas showgirl and breastfeeding mom

Poster outside cafe, me feeding Sugarbaby inside cafe.

Here’s where it gets most interesting.  In the 2.5 years I’ve been running The Leaky Boob I have watched how companies handle such fumbles when they receive public scrutiny for harassing a breastfeeding mothers and precious few navigate the rocky terrain well.  That very weekend Hollister Co was facing a national nurse-in protesting their handling of one of their store managers humiliating a Houston woman for breastfeeding in their Galleria store.  Over a week later and the company still hasn’t responded adequately.  I wasn’t sure what to expect from a Las Vegas hotel and casino but was pleasantly surprised to discover tweets from them responding not only to mine and Jamie’s tweets regarding the situation but individual responses to each of our followers that tweeted Flamingo about the situation as well.  It wasn’t long before I had a direct exchange with Flamingo on Twitter, in direct message, over emails, and then a phone call.  The representatives of the Flamingo asked if they could meet with me before I left and they publicly informed Twitter that they would be working with me to make it right.

My day was full of events and meetings so I was unavailable until Saturday, just before I had to leave.  It would have been easy to brush me off on a Saturday but instead Scott Farber Director of Food Operations, met with me personally Saturday morning to apologize, let me know that he had a meeting with his staff on Friday and informed them of Nevada state law permitting a woman to breastfeed her child where ever she has the legal right to be, and instructing his staff that should customers complain about a woman breastfeeding again they would not address the mother but would work with the customers that complained.  Kind and genuine, Scott laughed with me at the irony of being in Vegas and asked to cover.  Scott offered to make it up to me with a free meal and more and was genuinely concerned about how I was after the experience.  He shared that Estella, the manager, was horrified that she had misstepped in saying anything to me and he extended her apology as well as I didn’t have time to meet with her.  We discussed how the Flamingo could better welcome families and some changes that could be made to do so well.  The possibility of me returning to train their staff and sister hotels to consult with them on how to be set apart in Las Vegas as a family friendly destination came up.  These weren’t the actions of a company that wanted to embarrass their customer families, these were the actions of a company that cared to stand apart and understands the value of doing things right.

Yes, the cafe manager should have been aware of the law prior to asking me to cover but it isn’t a well-known law and probably not something they would have even anticipated needing to know.  Now that they are aware, however, they are responding and preparing to not make the same mistake again.  Instead of ignoring or responding heatedly to the situation, the Flamingo has become a model for other companies that find themselves in what could be a PR disaster.  A company that will receive my repeat business because of how well they handled their mistake.

The problem is a simple fix for the historic Las Vegas hotel and casino and they are well on their way to making it right.  The experience reflects more on society as a whole though.  That the most scandalous sight for some Las Vegas visitors was a baby eating is a little mind boggling.  Thankfully, I’m not easily intimidated, am informed on the law, am more than happy to help educate, and in the end I’m glad this experience happened to me because I believe through it The Leaky Boob and the Flamingo hotel and casino can work together to better support breastfeeding moms be they in Las Vegas or on the other side of the world.  If it happened to someone else it could have greatly damaged their breastfeeding relationship or intimidated them to not risk leaving their home setting them up for postpartum depression and extreme isolation.  Hopefully, by raising awareness others can become informed of the laws and their right to feed their baby and more companies will work to educate their employees on how to better support breastfeeding mothers and more and more mothers won’t have to be afraid to breastfeed their babies in Vegas or anywhere else.

Vegas call card compared to breastfeeding

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 The Flamingo Hotel and Casino has asked me for tips and suggestions as to how their staff could handle breastfeeding situations in the future in a way that would be supportive and informed.  

What would be your suggestions?  

What tips would you give the employees that may encounter a breastfeeding pair and possible complaints from other guests?

_______________________________

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Blaming the milk? Is it the breastmilk or something else?

This post made possible in part by the generous support of Motherlove Herbal Company.

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.

Be sure your health care provider is using the correct chart with your child, ask if they are using the WHO growth chart for breastfed infants.

 

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.

 

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 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?

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Babymooning- 12 signs you are the mother of a breastfeeding newborn

I’m babymooning.  Sugarbaby and I are doing very well, now 12 days postpartum.  I’ve been trying very hard to take it easy and respect this postpartum time for myself and it has been paying off.  Over the last almost 2 weeks I’ve been simply enjoying my baby, my family, and resting.  Cherishing this newborn time that goes too fast has been my priority.
I wanted to share some observations I’ve made during my babymoon, maybe you can relate and I’m sure you can add some of your own.
You know you’re the mom of a breastfeeding newborn when…
  1. You finally get to take a shower and within 10 minute of getting out you already have leaked milk all over your clean shirt.
  2. As much as you like the longer, thicker hair you grew during pregnancy, hacking it off with a dull pair of scissors is starting to sound like a good plan between the frequency of showers you get, the death-like grip of a tiny handful of hair your baby is capable of, cleaning spit up out of it several times a day, and the nagging fear of a hair tourniquet.
  3. You wonder why you didn’t invest in more yoga pants and are certain you will never wear blue jeans again.
  4. Your favorite food is: “anything someone else made.”
  5. Any time someone hugs you any way but with a side hug you wince.
  6. The old adage “never wake a sleeping baby” doesn’t apply when your boobs are rock hard boulders crushing your chest.  Yes, you will wake your baby for some relief.
  7. You wish you had jedi powers for every time you forget to grab a drink of water before you sit down to breastfeed… again.
  8. “Sleep when baby sleeps” seems like a good plan but you wonder when you’d get to pee or brush your teeth or eat.  Then you realize that sleep trumps everything else and decide you’ll pee, brush your teeth, and eat while holding your baby.
  9. Something seems really funny and you laugh hysterically only to forget what was so funny 5 minutes later.
  10. Shirts are “clean” unless the smell is too bad or there is obvious spit-up or poop on them, dried milk leaks don’t count as “dirty.”
  11. The stash of reusable breastpads that seemed so impressive before giving birth is used up in one day after your milk comes in.
  12. You’d rather sniff your baby’s head snuggled on your chest than even your favorite flower any day.

The Leakies on The Leaky Boob Facebook page had plenty more here and I hope you’ll add your own in the comments below.  Now back to my baby head sniffing!

 

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Boobs- Function and Pleasure

My life is all about breasts, it seems.  I am an IBCLC, and I spend at least 32 hours a week providing breastfeeding services to moms.  I am also a nursing mother – my nursling and I are going on 18 months right now.  And then there’s the flip side of my breasts.  My second job, you see, is modeling for a boudoir and fashion photo company, Red Petti.  This means that I regularly spend a few hours a month getting dolled up and photographed in lingerie for campaigns.  My breasts are very functional and very attractive all in one.

The dual nature of the human breast is one that we have a really, really hard time with in most Westernized countries.  Breastfeeding moms are asked to cover up or kicked out of various places, yet we use bikini clad models to sell any number of things.  With the vastly sexualized nature of the breast, is it any wonder that I have client after client who is concerned that nursing will feel sexual to her, or that she won’t be able to still be attractive if she’s nursing?

Sometimes I hear the advice of “Just retire the sexy for a little while, because you only nurse a short time in the grand scheme of things.”  And this is true.  You do only nurse for a little while.  But that doesn’t mean that you can’t use your breasts for sexiness and functional purposes.  After all, let’s face it – your sexuality is why you have a baby, in most cases.  Babies don’t end that, or no one would have more than one.

So understand that breastfeeding is not sexual, although it can be very sensual (and by sensual I mean that it engages your senses, and the flood of hormones can make you feel very relaxed and happy.) The contact with the breast in breastfeeding is very different than sexual contact, so it is not an arousing experience for most women. There is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about in using your breasts in feeding your child – it is their primary biological function. And if that biological function doesn’t come easily, don’t feel like a failure – see a trained lactation professional to help you learn. Most trained lactation professionals can give you some advice or referrals if you’re having a difficult time with sexual behavior while nursing, as well.

On the flip side, just because you have become a mom doesn’t mean that you are no longer fabulous or sexy or desirable.  That doesn’t end the second you have the baby, although it’s easy to forget that.  It may take you awhile to lose the pregnancy weight (although breastfeeding may help!) and you may have a few stretch marks or some loose skin, but so what?  You are magnificent and gorgeous.  And while you’re nursing, you may even have a fuller, more voluptuous chest.  Enjoy it while it’s around.

Audre Lorde once said, “I can’t really define it in sexual terms alone although our sexuality is so energizing why not enjoy it too?”  She wasn’t talking about the breast, but it works for that, too.  Sexuality doesn’t define our breasts – if anything, the nurturing act of breastfeeding inherently does.  But it’s ok for your breasts to have dual roles, and you can and should enjoy them both.

 

 

 Star is an IBCLC and breastfeeding peer counselor for a WIC in the Midwest.  Star also supports breastfeeding locally by sitting on the  breastfeeding task force in her town.  She is helping her  community’s Early Head Start redefine  their breastfeeding support, and is the  driving force behind a local breastfeeding campaign.  In  the remainder of her free  time, she chases around her nursling and preschooler.
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Breast Cancer, Because Reduced Risk Does Not Mean No Risk

by Terry Arnold

Editor’s note: Breastfeeding activists, such as myself, excitedly share the information that the relative risk of breast cancer decreases by 4.3% for every 12 months a woman breastfeeds (you can read the abstract from the 2002 study here).  This is exciting information and something that should be shared but not to the exclusion of the reality that a reduced risk does not mean no risk.  Women, your health is important.  Breastfeeding can be one way to reduce your risk of breast cancer but it is not a guarantee.  Please take the time to be educated and informed and then for you, for your children and for the people that love you, learn the signs of the different types of breast cancer and don’t neglect your breast health.  This article by a beautiful friend of mine, Inflammatory Breast cancer survivor, science teacher (she’s taught my kids!), and mother of 5 breastfed children is one of the most important articles I’ve ever shared here on theleakyboob.com.  Terry is a hero, speaking out to educate others on this silent killer she has been blessed to survive.  I deeply appreciate her sharing with us, that she cares enough about us moms to risk telling us what we may not want to hear.  This article is not intended to frighten anyone, simply to help educate and share information. ~Jessica

Photo by bingeandpurge from deviantart.com

 

“You’re upsetting me”, she says and walks away….

Breast cancer, I talk about breast cancer. Especially in October (or “Pinktober” as it is sometimes called) as it is easier to strike up a conservation with a stranger due to the social focus on this disease. Today at a volunteer event to protect Galveston Bay, I asked the young woman standing near me if she had ever heard of IBC, Inflammatory Breast Cancer? She seemed a little confused at not being versed on IBC as she clearly was an educated woman savvy in women’s health issues. After a short delay, she said no, she had not heard of this type of breast cancer. I began to tell her about IBC, the cancer that is viewed as a rare but most fatal breast cancer often striking women prior to mammogram suggested age screenings. Her face tightened; unwittingly I had hit a nerve, as she told me there was a lot of breast cancer in her family. Within seconds calm washed over her face and she smiled and said, “But I will never get breast cancer!” Then I was the one at loss for words, “Why do you say that?” Her reply, “I have breastfed two children, each child over a year, so my breasts are resistance to cancer.” I sputtered for a minute…and I said, “I hate to tell you this, but I am a mom of five children, and nursed all of them at least to their first birthday, and I talk to women about IBC because I was diagnosed with this cancer the summer of 2007”.

Inflammatory Breast cancer is the most fatal of the known breast cancers and tends to hit women in younger years often prior to mammogram suggested age screening recommendations. Proper and aggressive treatment with IBC is very important and person’s presenting with IBC symptoms need to seek a diagnosis as soon as possible.

My heart was heavy after speaking to this beautiful young woman, because I think of myself as someone who encourages, gives hope and fights for education of a most aggressive cancer, which is dubbed “The Silent Killer.” As I watched her walk away, I felt like I had taken something from her, a confidence that breastfeeding was a given protector and that she could not get breast cancer, instead of my intention of giving her information that might be of benefit to her or others. All women need to be well educated on IBC, especially breastfeeding mothers. IBC is often misdiagnosed as mastitis or breast infection; the woman is given antibiotics and sent on her way. Time might heal all wounds, but with IBC time works against you and a proper and accurate diagnosis is very important. IBC is not detectable prior to a stage three, it does not present with a lump, is typically not found on a mammogram and the symptoms don’t fit what we tend to view as possible cancer threat.

 

Quick check list of symptoms of IBC

Inflammatory breast cancer symptoms may include:

• Breast swelling, which one breast is suddenly larger than the other
• Breast that feels warm to touch and may look infected
• Itching or shooting pain
• A dimpling of the breast skin that looks like an orange peel (peau d’orange)
• Thickening of the skin
• Flattened or discolored nipple
• Swelling in underarm or only on one side of neck
• Might feel lump, however lumps are not common in IBC.

It stands to reason that breastfeeding would aid in the good health of that child, as well as the mother. However it is not a magical cloak of protection from a disease that is viewed as seriously as IBC. So please from one breastfeeding mom to another, practice good breast health, read about IBC, and talk to your friends, midwives, and daughters. This conversation might be uncomfortable as it might go against what you believe to be true as to the benefits breastfeeding gives you as a woman, but we need to be willing to be uncomfortable sometimes, as knowledge is power. We need to be educated on IBC.

Resources:

www.theibcnetwork.org
Post questions to leading specialist about IBC, http://tinyurl.com/44n7xnq

 

  Terry Arnold was diagnosed with IBC in her right breast in August of 2007 after three months of    misdiagnosis. As if an IBC triple negative diagnosis was not enough of a blow, and never one to do things in a small way, she discovered her left breast had traditional cancer as well. In treatment for almost a year, Terry was blessed with so much support by family and friends that she was able to be of support to others with this disease even while still under care. Outside of being the best wife possible to her husband Calvin of 31 years and mother, mother in law and grandmother, she is focused on educating every person to learn more about IBC, its symptoms and best treatment plans. She looks forward to the day we can all remember than once, long ago, there was a disease called IBC that is now filed under an archive of past diseases because we have a cure. Hope always.
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Toddler Breastfeeding, Frustration and What Keeps Me Going

For the last week I haven’t liked breastfeeding Smunchie.  Not just not enjoyed it but skin crawling, hair pulling, hiding in the bathroom couldn’t stand it.  I can’t tell you how much I’ve hesitated to admit this.

When Smunchie started walking I smiled and thought “wow, I’m now breastfeeding a real toddler again” and it was sweet, special and adorable.  It didn’t seem like a big deal either, just a natural transition easing the reality of my baby, more than likely my last baby, growing up.  I’ve breastfed toddlers before but this time I was more tuned in, intending to savor every moment, holding onto it because it was one of the last.  I told everyone I wasn’t going to try to convince them to breastfeed their toddler, just talked about breastfeeding mine.  Like a fairy tale marked only occasionally by moments that were just slightly less than fantasy, I rode the unicorns over the rainbows of my breastfeeding dreams once again into nursing toddlerhood.

Having breastfed toddlers before I know they can become little gymnasts at the breast, start drive-by nursing and attempt to help themselves if necessary.  They don’t hesitate to ask for it by name, loudly and repeatedly and they can become quite demanding.  I know all this, I’ve been there before so I knew what was most likely coming.  But Smunchie’s transition into toddlerhood and breastfeeding was sweet and full of sunshine kisses.  I was the freakin’ wood nymph breastfeeding a toddler while fairies fed me bites of ambrosia and sips of nectar as my cherub toddler caressed my cheek as she sweetly nursed while we gazed into each other’s eyes.  Rainbow farting unicorns.

And then last week Smunchie became that toddler.  Any time I sat down was clearly an invitation for her to breastfeed (really, what else could I have to do sitting down?) and she rejected any multitasking on my part.  She also solidly learned and established her word for breastfeeding, one created and handed down by a big sister, Smunchie now whispers, sweetly chirps or screeches “BOBBIE!” when she feels she needs to nurse.  Which, as it turns out, is all. the. time.  When she was a sleepy newborn with heart issues we could’t get her to wake long enough for a feed and if we let her she’d easily sleep 6-8 hour stretches from the get go causing much worry and alarm clock setting.  Now though she would be happy on the boob every hour, sometimes 3 or 4 times in an hour.  And sometimes she could be on the breast for 25 minutes, others she’s struggling to focus for 5 but if I close up shop she freaks as though I took her unfinished ambrosia meal away.  She’s also gotten jealous of the other girls giving me hugs, climbing up on my lap for a cuddle or even sitting next to me.  To be clear, it’s not really about me as much as someone else coming close to her precious bobbies.  Then there’s the standing nursing, the dancing nursing, the upside down nursing, the head flop nursing, the splits nursing, the humming nursing, the snacking nursing, the in and out of the pool nursing and the just-because-I-love-it-so-much-this-is-the-best-stuff-in-the-world-nursing.  There’s also the entertainment she creates while nursing, the pinching, the scratching, the tickling, the mole picking (Oh how I roar then), the smacking, the foot in the eye, the hand in the mouth and the random but oh-so-predictable raspberry blowing.  I’d love to say that I have a halo permantely over my head and the patience of a saint but the truth is this behavior is starting to make me a little crazy.  Or, a lot crazy.  The wood nymph is now chained to the couch with a screeching gremlin demanding the breast.  And the unicorn farts are not rainbows.

Now I’ve probably scared everyone away and you’re thinking “that’s what I’m in for?  I don’t want to be a wood-nymph!”  Before you go running for the least wood-nymphy outfit you can find that makes the boobies completely inaccessible to your nursling let me explain a few things.

This is normal. Not because my darling nymph baby has now morphed into a gremlin but rather because her toddler development is right on track.  She’s really come to understand that we’re not the same person which means her beloved “bobbies” can walk away.  Very scary when your favorite food source can freely move about.  Oh yes, she absolutely MUST capture it every chance she can!  CARPE DI LECHE!

Move it baby! Not only does she now realize the bobbies roam freely but she’s also discovered that she has a fairly decent amount of mobility all on her own now.  In fact, she’s exploring all the different way she can move and really, what could be better than having boobies around for the exploration?  It’s a good way to be sure she’s hydrated and keeps track of the boobies so they don’t get away.  I mean, really, can you blame her?

She needs more. As she grows her nutritional needs do too.  In Smunchie’s case she’s not a huge fan of solids, she’ll eat somethings really well and others not well at all.  We offer a variety of whole foods often and frequently but some days she just refuses to eat anything solid.  Except carrots, she’ll always eat carrots.  It shouldn’t really surprise me then when she wants to breastfeed more often because she needs something to fuel her.  And I know that breastmilk is still perfectly adjusted to her needs and her body can tell that too which is why she wants it so much.  Check out this info. from Kellymom.com on how mom’s milk meets so much of a toddler’s nutritional needs. (If you haven’t seen this yet you’ll really, really want to.  Hint: it’s pretty awesome!)  By the way, in case you’re wondering, no, I’m not concerned that she’ll never switch over to solids and give up breastfeeding all together and no, I don’t think breastfeeding past 1 year old has messed up how she eats. I’m completely confident that she’ll one day be quite happy to let the bobbies go.  In fact, have you ever met anyone that didn’t stop breastfeeding at some point? Have you ever met anyone that was still dependent on breastmilk as a teen or adult?  Yeah, I didn’t think so.

(Also, this study is kind of interesting which is why I’m randomly sharing it here.  The Abstract basically says that the longer a child is breastfed the more they will talk and more words they will have.  Which makes me realize I’m really doomed and The Piano Man and I have almost no chance of getting a word in edgewise around here.)

It makes her feel better. Toddlers fall a lot, get hurt or become frustrated. (Or get pushed/hit by an older sister.)  So much change happening so quickly, what are they supposed to do?  Sit down and rationally talk about it?  A pat on the back?  As adults we think that eating to comfort ourselves is bad but it’s really because of WHAT we eat when we’re eating to comfort.  Smunchie wants more perfect food?  If I reached for spinach or a head of broccoli when I was upset instead of a tub of ice-cream I’d be in great shape.  Smunchie doesn’t always need to breastfeed when she falls down but sometimes she really wants to and the skin-to-skin, the familiar taste and smell of mom and the position of being cradled all combine to be way better than spinach or broccoli.  Or ice-cream for that matter.  I would go so far as to say that by responding quickly to comfort her with the breast if that’s what she wants I’m helping her develop the confidence she is going to need one day to figure out how to comfort herself in healthy ways.

She talks! New words happen daily and she’s clearly assimilating all the nuances of communication.  Everyone around her are fairly decent experts at communicating and she’s trying really hard to get there.  Learning how to tell me she wanted to nurse the same way she hears other people communicate is a big milestone for her because, let’s face it, up until now breastfeeding has really been the most important activity in her life.  Now not only can she sign for it but she can verbally communicate.  Verbally communicate that she wants it with a full spectrum of volume.  She really HAS to use it!

Our relationship is changing.  She doesn’t always want to be held or worn in a carrier.  These days she really likes to get down and do her own thing.  Sometimes she loses track of me.  Others she gets so busy exploring and playing that she forgot to see what I was up to.  And then there are the times where mommy finds her standing on top of the piano or scaling the book shelves (that are anchored) and she’s quickly and quite rudely snatched from the middle of her adventure by fun-ruining mommy.  In those moments she may need to remember our connection, a crucial element of who we are to each other is our breastfeeding and it reaffirms our bond quickly.  Specially if she’s hurt that I’ve ruined her fun.

Boundaries. Smunchie’s developing behavior serves as a reminder to me that she is indeed always growing.  My baby is, in fact, leaving babyhood.  As much as breastfeeding has helped ease this transition, these new behaviors from her help to make the transition real.  As our relationship changes so does my parenting.  In our breastfeeding relationship I’ve realized I need to set some boundaries for both of us, it’s time.  Breastfeeding is a mutual relationship, it has to work for both of us.  Part of Smunchie growing up means her seeing boundaries not only for herself but for others.  This week I’ve started putting some of those boundaries in place with our breastfeeding relationship just as I’ve had to do with her big sisters.

  • This is normal but I have other responsibilities and children that need me.  If I know she’s ok and fed I don’t hesitate to make her wait a few minutes to breastfeed if I’m busy with making dinner, tending the needs of one of her big sisters, or need to transfer the laundry before I can sit down to nurse.
  • I love my baby’s new moves, she’s quite talented.  Still, my nipple isn’t a rubber band and I really don’t care to have it yanked around as she attempts a 360 degree turn while latched.  Or a full back flip.  Just like when she was a new born, if it hurts, I stop it.  Like with biting, if she continues I end our session telling her “ouch, you’re hurting mommy” then put her down and offer a toy that can handle the acrobatics.  Sometimes she’s happy to move on, others she gets upset but I find that she is much more settled at the breast then.
  • Her nutritional needs have increased and I love that my milk is up for the challenge.  Not crazy about being a snack bar though, I limit the number of times at the breast if she’s crossing into 2-3 times in an hour and sometimes offer a healthy snack instead of the breast to get her to stretch to 2-3 hour intervals a couple of times a day.  She’s also recently discovered that she likes almond milk and will accept that in a sippy cup when I need a break.
  • Knowing I can comfort just about any hurt is an incredibly empowering knowledge as a mother.  Knowing that she can get hurt every 10 minutes makes me tired.  So we’re developing other comfort measures.  Smunchie has a lovey and a baby doll that she loves to cuddle with.  When she’s been hurt (feelings or otherwise) I help her locate these items and cuddle her with them.  I also make it a personal rule to never pull my breast out assuming it’s what she’s going to want, I wait for her to ask for it.  When she does, I take it situation by situation and either find alternative ways to comfort or go ahead and nurse.  Having a big family, Smunchie has the added benefit of lots of other pairs of arms that would love to give a cuddle so I build up The Piano Man and her biggest sisters as sources of comfort too.  We have discovered that they all excel in getting her calmed down and moving on much faster than I can.  This also helps when I’m feeling touched out and is a great preventative measure to keep resentment from building when I’m at that point.
  • With our relationship changing Smunchie has started to really communicate that she doesn’t like me multitasking while breastfeeding.  When she really needs me she will reject me holding anything, watching anything or talking to anyone while she’s at the breast and wants me to stare down at her, stroking her hair and talking to her.  To respect her boundaries I try to be sensitive to that need and give her that when it’s required.  In doing so I’ve noticed that she doesn’t come back as soon to nurse again.  That connection established she’s secure enough to move on and explore again.
  • When she screams “bobbies” at me I try to respond softly and gently, affirming that I understand what she wants.  Children learn most through modeling and Smunchie very often drops her voice to the same tone I’m using.  I try to respond very quickly when she does to affirm this positive behavior and thank her for asking so kindly.  Which may explain why “thank you” is one of her new words too.
  • Letting go.  She and I are both having to start letting go.  It’s a gradual process but one that happens none-the-less.  I don’t believe that Smunchie is doing this to manipulate me.  I really believe it’s a part of the developmental fast track she’s on as a toddler.  Recognizing that she is going through a lot right now reminds me to respond more gently when what I feel like doing is rolling my eyes and locking myself in the bathroom.

All these realizations are very helpful in keeping me going when the going gets tough and the boundaries give me hope that this won’t be forever.  My patience is growing, maybe, little by little.   We’re not going to stop breastfeeding any time soon, I know she’s not ready for that and truthfully neither am I.  That does’t mean I never feel like stopping, nope.  I still feel crazy sometimes and I am still a little irritated at the unicorns a few times a day but we’re going to be fine.

One of the most cathartic moves I made as I struggled this week was to admit how I felt.  One evening in a moment of frustration and fatigue and the 4th time Smunchie had nursed in an hour when I had planned on being very productive I hissed at her “I HATE nursing!”  Yep, I said that.  And, in that moment, I meant it.  Twenty minutes later, I didn’t.  Ok, maybe it was more like two hours later but whatever.  The point is it wasn’t what I believed even if I felt it.  More importantly, even if I did believe it for myself my belief that breastfeeding my toddler is important and worthwhile is stronger.  To be able to stick with it though I had to admit how I felt and find ways to keep going.  Admitting it on Twitter was even more cathartic.  Because there I found out I’m not alone.  I typed, deleted, retyped, deleted, retyped, waited 10 minutes before I finally tweeted : “Dear world, right now I’m so sick of #breastfeeding. My toddler is constantly wanting to nurse and I am starting to go crazy. It will pass.” I was scared, what would Twitter-verse think of The Leaky Boob admitting she was sick of breastfeeding?  I even went so far as to add my own “it will pass” to dismiss my feelings and hopefully preempt any replies of the same.  Though I had some, mostly I was surprised by the number of replies saying they were feeling the same way.  When Stylin_Momma replied with “@TheLeakyBoob I needed someone else to admit that. Thank you. I’m trying to tell my 2.5 DD that she has to wait at least 1 hr btwn sessions.” and “I’m trying to encourage night weaning. These things make me feel like #breastfeeding support phoney. So thank you.” I wanted to jump up and down.  In fact, I might have.  The rest of the day I tweeted with Stylin_Momma and a few others about how we and our nursing toddlers were doing, passed around ideas and strategies and shared funny stories.  By that afternoon I was feeling much better and encouraged.  We weren’t breastfeeding support phonies just because we admitted we weren’t enjoying breastfeeding at the moment.  If anything, we were as real as breastfeeding support comes and could offer support from the trenches, knowing that sometimes it really isn’t all rainbow farting unicorns.  That day I leaned on my fellow breastfeeding-a-toddler moms and we propped each other up giving each other a chance to commiserate, laugh and develop some new tools for this phase of breastfeeding.

There are many great and wonderful parts of breastfeeding a toddler too.  I look for them and savor them to try and have a more balanced perspective.  That afternoon I pulled out a basket of instruments for Smunchie to distract her from wanting the boob again.  She immediately forgot about breastfeeding, or so I thought, as she became engrossed in the instruments.  Playing chimes on a drum and wooden xlaphone, Smunchie started singing.  I returned to what I was doing, smiling at the banging and chiming filling the living room as her little voice soared.  Then I realized what she was singing, the first time I’ve ever heard her put words to her songs.  Over and over again in sweetly sustained notes she was singing “BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOBBIEEEEEEEEEEE!  BOBBIE! BOBBIE! BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOBBBIEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!”

See, only a toddler could write a song about how much she loves her bobbies.

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Breastfeeding = Breastfeeding

“You look like a breastfeeder.”

I had just met the woman that said that to me and we were not even 10 minutes into our first conversation.  We met at a friend’s birthday party when the what-do-you-do question came up and I mentioned The Leaky Boob.  After explaining what TLB is to her “excuse me, say what?” response she surprised me with her response.  After I got over my own shock at her statement I wanted to say “why yes, of course I look like a breastfeeder, I’m a woman with a baby!”  Instead, I laughed.  Because I knew exactly what she meant.

I was offended a little bit though, in part because I didn’t think I did look like a breastfeeder at that moment.  Often I do but I was actually pretty not-breastfeeder looking that day, I thought.  I really thought my style was funky-artsy-cool.  Then it hit me, I was offended that someone thought I looked like a breastfeeder.  I mean, my hair was short and funky, I was wearing my cool cat style green glasses, blue jeans, halter top and a hoodie.  My nails were even done!  As you can see from the pic below, just a quick head shot on my phone I know, but taken on that very day, I don’t scream breastfeeder, do I?

Except for the female part.  And the breast part.  And the kids part.  And maybe The Leaky Boob part.

But I don’t want to look like a breastfeeder outside of those things.  Because it has a certain connotation in our culture.  Looking like a breastfeeder means you look weird.  Means only a certain type breastfeed.  It means that as of yet breastfeeding is not so normal in our society and there is a brand that goes along with breastfeeding that is more specific than a female with breasts and children.  Really, every single woman should look like a breastfeeder, not just one type.

I have to tell you something.  It’s not exactly easy for me to admit this and I’m afraid you’ll look at me differently but I need to get this out there:

The truth is I’m a pretty green mom.  Green as in… crunchy.  As in environmentally aware and “natural.”  As in we use cloth napkins and cloth diapers, have home births and don’t follow the recommended vaccination schedule.  We have almost no plastic play things and avoid most trademarked characters on clothing and toys as well.  I really, really am pretty crunchy.  But I think of myself as funky-normal, a variation of mainstream.  I can’t always afford to buy organic and I really like make up.  I haven’t recycled my glass in like 2 years because the city doesn’t pick it up and there isn’t a drop off anywhere near me and after lugging boxes of glass bottles around in my van for months I decided that I was probably wasting so much gas from the weight of the glass in my car that it totally offset recycling them- if I ever got to recycle them.  Oh, and I haven’t been to a homeopath since I had kids.  No Birkenstocks either.  There are plenty of not natural, non-organic probably bad for you products in my house, some of them we eat.  Also, I have a PILE of reusable shopping bags, I’ve even made some of them but I forget them more often than I take them with me to the store.  So I’m green but not green.  Not Kelly green, more like 1970′s linoleum avocado green and I have the glasses to prove it.

I have another confession.

While it is true that we avoid prepackaged foods and artificial colors and flavors in our foods we go to Chick-fil-a a couple of times a month and my kids get candy full of crap 2-3 times a week.  Some of you are shaking your head going “tsk, tsk, she’s poisoning her kids!” and others are going “yeah so, we go out to some place like that every meal or would if I could afford it and I freaking LOVE Skittles.”  Personally, I’m with both of you.  I wasn’t allowed to have that stuff growing up and my mom made us have healthy substitutes instead.  We’d take our own piece of cake to birthday parties, adults would never give us the candy other kids got because my mother warned them not to, we’d get these sesame honey stick things my mom called “good candy” instead and the snacks we brought to play groups looked suspiciously similar to mulch.  Everyone looked at me sympathetically.  I hated being that kid.  H-A-T-E-D IT.  So I don’t make my kids be that kid.  They eat the crap candy their teacher hands out.  And in full disclosure, my lactivist self is a traitor and I even let my kids eat the Nestlé candy they get.  Shame on me, right?

I have another confession.

Most labels make me uncomfortable.  If I were to use one to describe myself someone could quickly point out how I am not that.  Every time I try to label myself I have an immediate exception ready.  So I don’t call myself an attachment parent.  But I do wear my babies, they sleep in our room, there is almost always a parent with them when they are young (me or The Piano Man and rarely sitters), and we don’t spank.  That said, I also believe in regularly leaving them for my own sanity and because I’m a better parent when I do, I like my stroller, and sometimes I pump a bottle of milk just because I feel like I’m going to have a panic attack if I have a baby on my boob one more time.  And I LIKE it that way, it works for my family.  Which by some standards means I fail attachment parenting.  By other standards it means I win at label-rejection I guess.

I have another confession.

We homeschool.  But I don’t want to.  In fact, I have such a hard time with it I almost can’t say it out loud.  It’s been a struggle for me for the last 4 years and as a homeschool graduate myself I swore I would never, ever homeschool.  NEVER.  I knew I wasn’t cut out for it even before I had kids and I still know I’m not.  If The Piano Man didn’t homeschool with me and we didn’t have some great homeschool programs there is no way we’d be making it.  Obviously I feel our reasons to homeschool are important enough to be doing it right now but it’s not going to be this way forever because I can’t wait to send my kids to school. Besides, I don’t look like a homeschooler either.  Right?

I have another confession.

I’m a lactivist but I don’t particularly love breastfeeding.  True story.  As a lactivist I have lots of thoughts about formula and formula companies.  Shocker, right?  Here’s the real shocker: I don’t think formula is poison!  *gasp*  Though I think there need to be better standards, higher quality ingredients and a heck of a lot better regulations, I’m never going to say formula is poison.  I also don’t think a mom bottle feeds because she’s lazy or selfish even if she claims that’s why.  Nope.  Instead I think there are much bigger, much deeper issues involved that she may not even understand but are a result of the booby traps so prevalent in our society and I don’t want any mom that doesn’t breastfeed to feel guilty about it.  Should I hand in my lactivist card now?  Should I be smacked and scolded “bad lactivist!” and denounced?

I have another confession.

I was a breastfeeding mom from the get-go even when I was decidedly not “crunchy.”  Before I recycled or used cloth diapers, I breastfed.  When we ate Hamburger Helper regularly as part of my rebellion in getting to eat whatever I wanted and I didn’t even know what MSG or Red 40 was, I breastfed.  When I had one carrier I hated, kept my baby in her bucket car seat all the time and planned on spanking to discipline, I breastfed.  When I worked full time, had a hospital birth, and bought every Winnie the Pooh decoration and toy I could find, I breastfed.  The idea that it was a “natural parenting” choice didn’t even occur to me.  These things weren’t even on my radar and I’d never even heard most of these terms.  In fact, over 12 years ago I went to a La Leche League meeting and was completely freaked out by my experience there and those “natural types.”  I didn’t co-sleep, didn’t want to garden, and couldn’t handle the idea of putting a candle in an ear to cure an ear infection.  Since I didn’t fit in I never went back.  But I did keep breastfeeding in spite of having almost no support.

Recently I’ve seen conversations that almost assume that everyone that breastfeeds is on the same page regarding every parenting choice.  Like we’re a club that talks, walks, dresses, eats and sleeps the same.  But we’re not.  The mom across the street from me breastfed her son for close to a year, pumping for him when she returned to work.  Unlike me she lets her son eat prepackaged food daily, have character toys and clothing and she has him fully vaccinated.  Like me, she does curbside recycling.  Also like me?  She loves her child more than she could begin to articulate.  I admire her, she’s an awesome mom and I’ve learned a lot from her and I hope maybe she’s learned some things from me.

Here’s the thing: the natural parenting/crunchy/hippie/green/stay-at-home-mom/work-at-home-mom/gentle-parenting/natural birthing/what-ever-you-want-to-add-here communities do not have the corner on breastfeeding.  Breastfeeding ≠ all natural parenting.  Breastfeeding ≠ attachment parenting.  Breastfeeding ≠ crunchy.  Breastfeeding ≠ a parenting style.  Breastfeeding ≠ rejecting mainstream parenting.  Aside from having lactating breasts, there are no real parenting style requirements to breastfeed.  No card to carry that you’re in danger of losing if your baby sleeps in a crib in another room.  Every woman that breastfeeds is a part of the breastfeeding mom club no matter how long she breastfed, where her baby sleeps, what she eats, how she introduces solids, where she gave birth, if she stays home or works, if she loves her stroller or has a dozen carriers, if she used a form of sleep training that involved cry-it-out or if she co-sleeps, if she vaccinates or doesn’t vaccinate, if she circumcises or is staunchly against it, if she covers when breastfeeding in public or just puts her baby to her breast, or even if she uses formula to supplement.  Other moms don’t have to agree with or like her choices but it doesn’t change the fact that if they breastfeed they are all still breastfeeding moms.  Moms that are the more natural, crunchy types are just as much mothers and breastfeeders in need of support as those that are more mainstream types or those that defy labels completely.  And vice-versa.

I worry sometimes that if breastfeeding is perceived to be a part of the complete “natural” package we will discover some push back against it completely.  What if they’re not interested in co-sleeping but are willing to breastfeed and then in the experience of looking for breastfeeding help and support they discover they are also expected to co-sleep?  Or a new mom plans on breastfeeding for the first 6 weeks, encounters some difficulty but is determined to get through it only to ask for help and get chastised for not planning to breastfeed until the child self-weans?  If it starts feeling like it has to be all or nothing as though breastfeeding is some sort of lifestyle then for some it will be easier and less intimidating to choose nothing than to choose all and fail.  Breastfeeding isn’t a move to pick up any label or style of parenting.  Being a breastfeeding mom doesn’t automatically make someone a babywearing mom, or a co-sleeping mom or a gentle parenting advocate.  Being a breastfeeding mom means she’s just that, a breastfeeding mom and whatever else she chooses to be.  You don’t have to adopt all or even any of the stereotypical aspects of “those natural types” in order to be a breastfeeding mother.  Just because I eventually did doesn’t mean it’s right for you and I can respect that and still support and encourage you.  Personally, I seek to support and empower women, families, parents and breastfeeding moms and their supporters regardless of their labels and choices in parenting styles.

It’s not that we can’t talk about these different choices, we can and should.  In fact, it is through encouraging and respectful dialogue about different choices we’ve made that others can be empowered to consider something other than what they already know.  For many, that’s probably how they even considered breastfeeding in the first place.  So let the conversation flow freely but let’s be careful that we don’t have a string of parenting style requirements to breastfeed and be willing to put aside our differences and still offer genuine support.  I hope we get to the place where you can’t pick a breastfeeding mom out of the crowd based on how she’s dressed or how she interacts with her children or what baby products she has with her.  That regardless of our other parenting and even lifestyle choices breastfeeding is just so normal that we don’t assume breastfeeding women look or act a certain way other than being a mom.  Whether she’s a fashionista like Kourtney Kardashian or a babywearing, homebirthing, Birkenstock sporting hippie or something in between several different stereotypes, a breastfeeding mom deserves to be supported regardless of her parenting approach.  Nobody has the monopoly on breastfeeding.  We can all be a part of the club and we all deserve support.  Just like no matter how we feed our babies we’re all a part of the mom club too.

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Do you fit any labels?  Or find that you are a little of this, a little of that?  How would you describe your parenting style and does that have any influence on your breastfeeding?  Do you find that sometimes you look down on others that parent differently than you?

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By the way, I think all of this goes for any other parenting choice.  However we feed our children, our family and household rules, discipline, educational choices, and so much more, we all have one thing in common for sure: we’re parents that love our children.

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Breastfeeding, My Daughters, and Body Image

I breastfeed for my daughters. At first glance, this would seem obvious: I have all girls. We all breastfeed or formula feed our children for them, it is what you do as a parent; feed your child.  And this is of course true for me as well.  After all, breastfeeding is the biological normal way to feed a human baby and thankfully my body can do it just fine.  But over time a new aspect of breastfeeding has emerged for me.  I don’t breastfeed only to feed and bond with my daughters any more.  In this age where an impossible ideal is held up as desirable for the female form, when airbrushing celebrity figures to make them “perfect” is the accepted norm, when a woman’s worth is presented as being entirely wrapped up in her sex appeal, when women’s (and men’s) bodies are used to sell things, when objectifying a human being for their body is lucrative, one of the reasons I openly breastfeed my babies is so my daughters can see something different. Initially this benefit of breastfeeding wasn’t on my radar. I was focused, like most new moms, on doing what was best for my baby and “breast is best.” (My views on that saying and it’s impact on breastfeeding have changed after all these years.) Attractive qualities of breastfeeding such as statistically higher IQ levels in breastfed babies, lower risk of obesity in adulthood, super-power like immune system boosting, and faster/better recovery time after birth all sounded good to me and I was drawn in by these dreamy sounding sale pitches that no other product could truly replicate.  I felt my daughters deserved the best and I would do everything in my power to give them the very best I could.  Though not impressed with myself for breastfeeding my daughters, I was pleased, even if I didn’t really think about it too much with my first three girls.  It was just simply something you do as a mother: push baby out, expel placenta, breasts get the signal to produce milk, put baby to breast, and the rest, as they say, is history. It changed though.  While I knew the wonders of breastfeeding I began to see myself and the world a little differently as I watched my girls grow.  Earlier than I ever imagined possible it seemed little girls were encouraged to flaunt their sexuality with clothing options that seemed better suited for “girls” about 4 times their age and no, I’m not joking.  Advertising, toys and cartoon characters jumped out at me suddenly as more messages to little girls (and boys) as to what a woman was supposed to look like and what her purpose was.  Suddenly even my favorite Disney princess from my own childhood concerned me as I considered the sexual overtones of her character and clothing.  I wanted something different for my daughters and I found myself becoming increasingly concerned with the messages my young girls were hearing regarding their bodies and what they should look like.  The messages they were hearing of their purpose and function. Of their worth and value. When Squiggle Bug was born nearly 5 years after Lolie, my 3rd, my girls were fascinated with my changing body during the pregnancy.  They loved the midwife visits and The Piano Man and I considered having them present for the birth.  To prepare them for that we started watching birth videos with them.  Long an open family about bodies, the differences between boys and girls and openly educating about sex, we encouraged them to ask questions.  Watching them watch a baby being born in these videos was beautiful, they were in awe of the whole process and I was reminded of the wonder of birth.  Seeing them take in breastfeeding and learn how it works, I marveled in a way I never had before over the incredible design.  Then a conversation with The Storyteller caused me to marvel in my own body when she said “You can do that?  You did that for us?  That’s amazing!  Mommy, your body is awesome!” I had never, ever in my entire life seen my body as awesome. I have not been good friends with my body.  Unfortunately, much like other women, I have struggled with body image.  In my head I can acknowledge beauty that wouldn’t be considered magazine worthy and I love and applaud representations that fly in the face of western societies expectations of what is desirable.  Yet for myself I hold a different standard.  Growing up I saw beauty defining images that depicted something pinched, poked, pushed, and painted.  And I liked it, wanted to look like that.  Complicating it further was my family’s very conservative faith views of modesty and during the very formative years of puberty I was bombarded with messages that if I dressed a certain way I would be responsible for making men and boys lust… or worse.  As I got older I heard people imply that if a woman was raped to look at how she was dressed, she was probably “asking” for it.  I always felt that any unwanted attention on my body was my own fault.  I wasn’t even sure if my body was something I really had any say over.  The struggle the conflicting messages I received contributed to me being insecure and I was afraid of my own body.  Should I hide it?  Should I flaunt it?  Would it cause my guy friends to stumble?  Or would it make me popular and admired?  Whatever it was, it wasn’t good.  Either way my body wasn’t good enough, beautiful enough, sexy enough, big enough, small enough, soft enough, hard enough, safe enough, innocent enough, protected enough, modest enough, pure enough, it would never be enough.  My body failed everything, every standard set.  And I didn’t know how but I felt it was all my own fault. These feelings impacted my relationships including my relationship with my husband and my children.  I struggled with pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding in part due to these feelings.  Breastfeeding Earth Baby, my first, was no walk in the park for me emotionally. With time though I started to feel like maybe it wasn’t my body that failed, maybe it was society that had failed me though I wasn’t sure how.  Childbearing and breastfeeding did give me some respect for my body while at the same time confusing me further as to how motherhood could be so beautiful but drive being beautiful even further out of my reach.  Pushing back wasn’t easy and to this day I still struggle with internal voices telling me I’m still not enough.  With my daughters though the failure was glaring.  How I was failed was muddied by my own destructive behaviors but how my daughters were failed was unfolding before my eyes.  Surrounded by images, stories and marketing aimed to sell them something my daughters were drawn to artificial depictions of beauty just as I was.  I knew this wasn’t what I wanted for them.  We could have fun with dress up, make up and doing the pretty thing for ourselves but I didn’t want them to become consumed with aspiring to some artificial standard they could spend all the money in the world to reach and still fall short.  Early on we started rejecting toys and entertainment options that glorified a version of the female form that nobody really has any hope of reaching and choose selectively options that featured more realistic or simple characters.  We chose to be a Barbie-free home, the Disney princesses were regulated to a minor role, Saturday morning cartoons are a rarity and I stopped reading fashion magazines.  Still, I couldn’t help but notice that the girls were intrigued by this image of false female perfection. So we talked.  A lot and often.  Sometimes serious, sometimes casual, always open.  In the course of dialoguing with them I began to realize something: if I wanted this for them I had to want it for me. Getting rid of the fashion magazines was one of the best things I ever did for both my daughters and myself.  Learning to love and accept my body on an ongoing basis, embracing the struggle of my conflicting feelings is part of empowering them.  Letting them see me use my body for feeding their little sister and my choice to do so without shame and without covering in public, to embrace my body as it functioned naturally instead of imposing an unnatural standard of beauty or being controlled by fear helped them to accept their bodies now and as they grow and change in the future.  It also helped me.  Their questions, fascination and awe at the amazing things my body could do humbled me to tears.  They appreciated something I had never had the courage to truly see.  Today my older three daughters think breastfeeding is great and will easily say as much without blushing or giggling, just honest enthusiasm for something so magically normal.  My daughters are clearly comfortable around breasts and breastfeeding, which is good since, you know, they’ll probably have both some day.  I want them to appreciate and value their body both then and now. It is my honest hope that my older girls will remember me breastfeeding and these memories will be a part of empowering them to accept their bodies, to be fascinated and enjoy the power of their bodies and to embrace a much fuller and honest definition of beauty and their growing sexuality.  For my younger girls I hope that we continue to have friends that breastfeed their babies so my daughters will see and ask questions like their big sisters did, developing the same awe and confidence in the female body, including their own.  From this place they stand a greater chance of a healthy body image, generating confidence and self respect.  I’m still working on this for myself and I won’t stop because I’m not only doing it for me, I’m doing it for my daughters.  For me I am learning that my body, indeed my whole self is more complex than advertisers and parts of society would have me believe.  And I’m claiming it back.  For me.  For my daughters.  For women everywhere. As Earth Baby grows into her body as a young woman we have more and more frequent conversations about breasts and I love seeing her views develop.  Many times our conversations happen while I’m breastfeeding Smunchie and as she expresses her thoughts and concerns, voicing her questions that are both practical and philosophical, I marvel at the beauty of this moment.  Normal.  Healthy.  Beautiful.  I am breastfeeding for my daughters. (Photograph by Jack Potts, Bohemian Photography)

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It’s Time for Facebook to Prove It’s Not Anti-Women

The Leaky B@@b Facebook page was reinstated again this afternoon, January 5, 2011.  This time cautious celebrations were expressed on the page along with fear that it would just go back down.  As I write this it has been up for 7 hours, just about as long as it was up yesterday.  Hopefully it will really stay this time.

Our celebration is tempered a bit though, we’re missing a few of our members.  Several “Leakies” as we affectionately call those on the Facebook page, had their accounts disabled after receiving warnings for supposed obscene photos.  Just like TLB, they received the non-specific form letter via email informing them that they were deleted for violating the TOS. These individuals along with numerous other group and business pages have had their accounts deactivated all because someone decided that their breastfeeding photo or information was vulgar.

Judy P. Masucci, Ph.D, president and owner of A Mother’s Boutique shares how Facebook deactivating her account last summer impacted her.  Now she tip-toes around her pages on Facebook afraid to say or post anything that may attract unwanted attention.  What is she doing that is so obscene?  Sharing information and photos that support breastfeeding and mothering.  No lewd photos, no hateful content and certainly nothing as revealing as what you can find on the Playboy Facebook page.  (I can’t bring myself to link to the Playboy page but if you’re really curious do a Facebook search, you’ll see what I mean.)

As excited as we are to have The Leaky B@@b back, the problem remains and any page, individual, or photo is at risk of being deleted when related to breast health.  Facebook has a responsibility to it’s customers to clearly communicate that they are pro-women by creating a new way to moderate materials flagged as obscene.  No doubt the company is overwhelmed with reports of obscenity but surely they are smart enough to develop a system that would allow them to remove the truly obscene materials while those related to breast health including breastfeeding and breast cancer are able to remain.  Additionally they need to have a provision for an exempt status for all groups, pages, and companies related to breast health.  If they don’t, well entrepreneurs, there’s a market here for you to create a new social media site that can do just that.  Facebook, your customers are unhappy and many of us are waiting to see what you decide to do now before we take our business elsewhere.  I appreciate your efforts to keep pornographic images off Facebook, I really do but please, breastfeeding is not pornographic.  Reinstating The Leaky B@@b indicates that you are aware there is a significant problem with your current mode of operation.  The first media coverage I could find on this problem dates back to 2007.  You would think Facebook would get tired of this and make some necessary changes.  Four years is long enough, fix it.

Have you had your account deactivated and you suspect it is for breastfeeding photos?  If you or someone you know of, individual or group, has had their account or page deactivated please leave the information in the comments here.  If there is a page started to bring them back (as was Bring Back The Leaky Boob- again.) please share the link to that as well.  I am compiling a list to take to Facebook not only to ask for those pages and individuals to be reinstated but to show how flawed their current system is.  If The Leaky B@@b could be deleted twice within a matter of days something is obviously not working.

Nobody should have to tip-toe around their pages afraid that educating and supporting breastfeeding or breast health could have them deleted.  Help us continue to hold Facebook accountable to it’s customers.

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