I had no idea breastfeeding was painful…
Mothering is extremely difficult and we are quiet about some of the most challenging aspects of it. Before my daughter’s first latch, I didn’t know that breastfeeding was painful. It took me months to learn that there were different ways to hold her while I nursed her. I endured months of hoisting my achy, postpartum body into a seated position for night-feedings before I realized I could do it lying down. But even after that, exclusive breastfeeding meant that I was awake for every night feeding, often while my husband slept obliviously beside me.
It was exhausting, isolating, and painful. Doing it in public was scary, I’d heard horror stories of women being harassed, or told to leave for feeding their babies.
Can’t breastfeed? You’re still perfect.
That having been said, it is extremely important that no mother feel guilty for using formula. Fed is mandatory. For some, breastfeeding is impossible. The United States is one of only 3 countries in the world that has no government-mandated maternity leave (the other two don’t have a government). Not getting any time off to establish breastfeeding makes it almost impossible. If you are not able to breastfeed your child, you are still a perfect mother. However your child is fed, they are fed with love. But it is crucial that we are honest about the challenges and rewards of breastfeeding so that other new mothers have success in overcoming the challenges they can.
Breastfeeding should be normal
I recently posted a breastfeeding selfie of social media. Why would I share such an intimate moment on such a public platform? Because the subtle support that comes seeing images of breastfeeding is significant enough to make a difference. Breastfeeding photos need to be as accessible as cleavage photos. Breasts are not merely to appease the male gaze, they have a beautiful purpose. I want to see images of all kinds of women nursing all kinds of babies. It is easier if you know you are not alone.
Backlash and Harassment
“Breastfeeding turns me on, does that make me a pervert?”
This was a message I received from a stranger on the internet. It made me feel nauseous, thinking that some man I’d never met saw an image of my daughter eating, and felt entitled to ask me this question. I felt like I should delete the post, but I didn’t. This is why it’s important to normalize breastfeeding. So that men like this see it regularly and know that it is not about them.
Pediatrician: “Have you switched her to whole milk yet?”
Me: “Cows milk? No, she’s still nursing…”
Pediatrician: “Well typically we start to see issues with anemia in children her age who haven’t switched to whole milk.”
I’m not a doctor. But I’m also not a cow.
This is an interaction that took place between me and our pediatrician when my daughter was barely over a year old. I have a background in science and a lot of respect for doctors, but the World Health Organization recommends two years of breastfeeding. I felt discouraged and confused but I do my own research, and follow my instinct. My daughter is almost two, definitely not anemic, and still drinking whole human milk.
“Babies that breastfeed too long have issues with tooth decay.”
As with any study involving children, it is almost impossible to truly isolate the variables. It is fairly common to hear that full-term (extended) breastfeeding leads to tooth decay and orthodontic issues, but according to every peer-reviewed article I’ve read so far, there are other things to worry about. More likely children are going to suffer from tooth decay linked to bad hygiene, excessive sugar intake, or exposure to cigarette smoke. Here’s a great article on the topic from the Australian Breastfeeding Association.