When MilkWorks opened our doors in 2001, breastfeeding advocacy was almost non-existent. Over the past 15 years, our culture has shifted, and breastfeeding support is now mainstream. However, it appears this support is facing major scrutiny.
Courtney Jung, author of the acclaimed book, Lactivism, has taken on breastfeeding advocacy with a vengeance. A political scientist professor in Toronto, Canada, Jung has set out to prove that breastfeeding is not what we think it is. She attacks breastfeeding research and claims that advocacy only makes women feel competitive, frustrated, sad, mad and disappointed.
Is there an element of truth in what Jung has to say?
Scientific, controlled breastfeeding research is difficult to obtain. There are many co-founding factors when it comes to determining why each of us experience different levels of health. A breastfed baby could actually have more health issues than a formula fed baby. At the same time, a myriad of public health and medical experts have looked at the data and have concluded that there IS a difference. Human infants tend to function better with human milk vs a processed cow’s milk formula.
This should come as no surprise. The one dietary recommendation virtually everyone can agree on is that real food supports our bodies better than processed food. And whether we like it or not, infant formula is a processed food.
While I personally disagree with Jung’s dismissal of breastfeeding from a health perspective, and I do not feel that mothers and infants have evolved past the need for close intimate contact in the first year of a baby’s life, Jung may be right on in her assessment of breastfeeding as a destructive force in our culture. When it comes to the demons of breastfeeding, there are many.
Mothers are faced with a multitude of breastfeeding challenges, beginning with the fact that many have unrealistic expectations of themselves.
Whether you are a single mom juggling a minimum wage job and a new baby, or a married mom juggling house payments while recovering from a Cesarean and are expected back at work in six weeks, new mothers take on a lot. Gone are the days of a 10 day hospital stay or the 30 days of resting at home while family members bring all your meals.
Mothers want to provide the best for their babies, use their hard earned educations, or just put food on the table. So they seek out expensive or non-existent child care and head back to work when they are not yet out of maternity clothes. This is unheard of in most other countries.
If they don’t, they risk losing their home, which is dependent upon two incomes, or their subsidized apartment, because they are behind on rent. Going back to work means worrying about who is going to take care of their baby AND making sure they can pump enough milk while they are work. After all, "breast milk is best" and Facebook and social media are going to let them know how close they are to best.
If a mom is short on milk, she can’t run to Target or Walmart to buy some frozen donor milk. But she can easily purchase a can of cow’s milk formula quietly sitting on the shelf while she listens to her hungry baby crying. Then, as her baby gets used to taking several bottles of milk during the day, and, of course, sleeping as long as possible at night because that is what our culture says our babies must do, moms find their supply drops and their babies refuse the breast. And, (another) of course, a mom can’t sleep with her baby for night time feedings because no one will tell her how to do it safely. All she knows is that it is dangerous.
Now a mom is spending her time pumping, instead of holding her baby, and tired, because of the extra work of pumping round the clock. Her new best friend is a breast pump. When family or friends invite her out for dinner and she pulls out a bottle, everyone says, “Aren’t you breastfeeding anymore?” It’s enough to make a mom want to throw breast milk in their faces! If she does take her baby out to dinner, a mom is reminded that she lives in a country which has to pass laws to make sure that moms can breast-feed their babies wherever they are. What a welcoming environment!
When Courtney Jung takes on breast-feeding advocacy, many of us in the breast-feeding world just have to agree with her. Breast-feeding may be the optimal form of nutrition and it's delivered in a manner that helps babies trust and socialize and develop relationships. However, when our culture sends a clear message that breast is best, but does not truly advocate for breastfeeding moms, we set everyone up for failure.
If you come to MilkWorks we assume that you want to breastfeed and we will do our best to help you breastfeed. It is not our intention to MAKE you breastfeed. We know that some of you will have great difficulties breastfeeding. And you may end up sad or disappointed or upset that you were not able to feed your baby the way you wanted to. As a community breastfeeding center, it is pretty hard for our staff to not take this personally, feel your emotions, and wonder what we have done wrong…..
The women who started MilkWorks knew what it felt like when moms got no support for breastfeeding and everyone assumed a mom would formula feed. Going back to work while breastfeeding? Get ready to use a manual pump in a toilet stall. Want to breastfeed in public? Expect to be asked to leave or get dirty looks if you were brave enough to do it. Have a problem and want help? Figure it out yourself or find a book in the library.
Then along came MilkWorks. A place moms could get consistent information, a comfortable bra, and maybe a pump that works. Nebraska passed a bill protecting breastfeeding in public. President Obama launched the ACA and the work place improved. Hospitals started providing banked donor milk for preemies or for low blood sugar. Wow! Has breastfeeding finally arrived? Or has it merely focused our attention on what the next step of support needs to look like?
I want to thank Courtney Jung for raising such a stink about breastfeeding. She is making us think long and hard about what we say and how we support new moms. Nothing about breastfeeding is perfect. Some babies do not breastfeed well. Some moms do not produce adequate milk. Telling moms to breastfeed is a lot like saying no to drugs. It is just not that easy.
Mothers have a tough decision when it comes to deciding how they personally are going to feel about feeding their babies. We can get all emotional, but we can also get motivated. Everyone (not just mothers) needs to insist that our country provide adequate paid maternity leave. We need to insist that our country rely less on processed cow’s milk formula and figure out a way to put pasteurized donor milk on the shelves of our grocery stores. We need to quit comparing mothers, and let them love and take care of their babies in a manner that works for a mom and her family.
As a mom, if Facebook drives you crazy, then get off Facebook. Find a group of moms who support each other and enjoy them face to face. Realize there is no one way to parent and no one way to feed your baby. Listen to research and experts and your mother and then do what feels right for you. If you see a mom feeding her baby a bottle, smile at her and tell her how cute her baby is.
Oh, and if you want to come to MilkWorks for help with breastfeeding, please do! We will provide you with information and support and hold your hand and let you smile and/or cry. And then we will trust and accept you to take care of your baby in a manner that no one else can do. We opened our doors 15 years ago, because we wanted this for ourselves. Now, it is our gift to you.