It Takes a Village: Breastfeeding

This is not a statement of you should or shouldn’t. I hope that if you’ve followed me long enough, you know I never intend to shame any woman for her choices. This IS a statement that our culture makes it virtually impossible to successfully breastfeed. This is also a statement that if you wanted to breastfeed and tried and it didn’t work out, it’s not your fault!! Have no shame mamas! This culture DOES NOT SUPPORT BREASTFEEDING. We don’t grow up watching it happen. If we do manage to get past those difficult hurdles right after the baby is born, we’re shamed for nursing publicly. Then how do you manage it with work and all of the other responsibilities in life?

When sexualizing breasts is a culture’s priority, what can we expect? I’ve never run a marathon and I can say with certainty that I never will but I have given birth naturally four times and I think that’s about the same thing. (In my mind) I believe that trying to breastfeed in America is more difficult than running a marathon (or giving birth with no drugs.) So birth lasts a few hours to maybe a couple of days (I’m talking the hard core stuff.) Once that’s over, then it’s weeks of sore nipples, latch issues, sleep issues, I mean it goes on and on. I know so many women who say birth was the easy part. Dealing with nursing was what drove them to the edge of insanity.

The root of the problem? We have no context for it being normal. We have no support system. La Leche League USA is an amazing support but many women still don’t know that it exists or they struggle to reach out for help. Not sure I could have done it without LLL and the women I had in my life. I was pregnant 14 years ago the first time I actually saw a woman nurse publicly. I was 24. How does that happen?

I wish as women and mothers we could all be more supportive to women who want to make this choice to nurse. I wish as a culture we could stop with the disgusting judgment that boobs are for men, not babies. Kudos to all the companies that make it possible for women to have better breastfeeding experiences by letting them work from home, bring their babies to work, or providing comfortable pumping stations. Kudos to women who give a breastfeeding woman in public that little wink or smile that silently says to them “way to go mama, even though you may be sitting there anxious knowing there’s a decent chance someone will give you grief, you’re doing it anyway!” Kudos to lactation consultants and those volunteers that set up LLL meetings every week and show up at hospitals and homes to help women get their latches right and counsel them through those intense hormonal shifting times.

We shouldn’t have to be tribal women to be successful at breastfeeding. We should be able to make it work in this culture and I believe that we can with the right education and support. I will always come back to my belief that we are stronger in numbers and that means creating community. The tribal/hunter-gatherer women are successful because a) survival depends on being able to nurse and b) they have each other. We NEED each other. If you are pregnant or plan to have children and want to nurse, find a support system before your baby gets here. If you wanted to but couldn’t, perhaps grow strong bonds with women to help them have the support that maybe you didn’t have. Lobby for better laws, when you hear of businesses that are anti-public nursing, find out the laws in that state and call those businesses. Let’s shift this paradigm and stop being grossed out and judgy when women are using their breasts for their intention in public. Empower the women in your life and build those bonds. It takes a village…

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