The Breastfeeding Dilemma
That's me, a few hours after giving birth to Rox 20 years ago! Lex is meeting her sister for the first time!
I dedicate this blog to my daughter, Alexandra, who continues to breastfeed her 22-month-old daughter, Claire, and to my niece, Kate, who is nursing her week old daughter, Piper. Congratulations Dave and Kate!! Welcome Piper, our newest member of the Alexander Clan! 💖
What do all mammals have in common? They are warm-blooded, breathe air from lungs, have bones, have hair or fur on their bodies, and female mammals produce milk to feed their babies. Breastfeeding was all part of God’s magnificent perfect design for His children. Breastfeeding is one of the most perfect gifts a mother can give to her child.
Lex with Claire - Still breastfeeding at 22 months old.
Today, many women are aware of the incredible benefits that come from breastfeeding. Medical literature is abound with the numerous benefits from nursing our children. However, only 16.4% of American mothers exclusively breastfeed for at least six months. Women struggle with the decision as to whether they will breastfeed their children or not due to many factors. With so many women working, they feel breastfeeding becomes too difficult. Others worry if they will be able to breastfeed or produce enough milk to sustain their baby? Some women feel uneasy about how people will react when breastfeeding in public places. Lactation experts say marketing pressure by infant formula companies, lack of social support, and workplaces that don't encourage the behavior make it difficult for American mothers to meet the recommendations by the World Health Organization (WHO). They recommend for optimal health of a child to breastfeed for at least two to three years. Formula companies have a $1 billion revenue market in the United States. Barbara Heiser, executive director of the National Alliance of Breastfeeding Advocacy in Ellicott City, Md., says it is not surprising American mothers don't exclusively breast-feed, given how formula companies bombard them. Marcia Walker, a certified lactation consultant who works in the Boston area says, "Mothers are still embarrassed to breast-feed in public places, and most workplaces are not supportive of breast-feeding." Many women feel too much pressure is placed on them to
when it should be a woman's choice.
Nursing Rox at 2 1/2 years old
For me, there was never a question about whether I would breastfeed my daughters or not. Even though I grew up in an era when many women were not nursing and opting to bottle-feed their babies, I had always thought about the many verses in the Bible that talk about the beauty and importance of nursing our children, and of course the incredible health benefits! I realized that even though many of the people around me felt uncomfortable with my choosing to breastfeed both of my daughters until they were almost three years old, I wanted to give my children the healthiest start at life that I could. I know, you’re probably thinking, “Three years old! They can talk!” "They're almost in Kindergarten!" I’ve heard it all…but I remained strong and have always lived by the Bible verse from Galatians 1:10 – “We are not here to seek the approval of people, but that of God.”
As I am an educator and an independent researcher who loves to learn, I was very blessed that my obstetrician was from India. As I thrive on learning from other people and how their cultures view life, my doctor and I would have many fascinating discussions about his culture. He shared with me that his mother nursed him until he was 5 years old...I thought that was so wonderful! How blessed he was to grow up in a country that looked at breastfeeding as completely natural, no pressures. They understood that a woman's breasts were designed for lactating and feeding their young for several years. So, with my many years of experience breastfeeding my two daughters, I felt I needed to write a blog about this subject to help other women make an informed decision about this dilemma that we face when dealing with the topic of breastfeeding. And, possibly rethink our reasons why we make the choices we do.
Often, I’ve heard many women talk about how they don’t want to nurse their children because it’s embarrassing and they would feel uncomfortable doing “that” around other people. Has our culture caused women to look at this part of her body that was designed to feed our offspring, as now something to be uncomfortable with, as something that is no longer a natural process? Has our society made a woman’s breast a sexual feature and now the word “Boob” has become a four lettered word used only to attract a man’s attention? Does this then cause women to feel guilty, ashamed, or embarrassed to nurse their children? Does this cause other people to be offended when seeing a woman nurse her baby in public? Do many people believe our breasts are only for flaunting and enticing men and that using them for what they were designed for is no longer okay? Are we worried about what other people will say if we nurse our young in public? Are women feeling that with so much information about breastfeeding being best for babies, that they feel pressured to breastfeed and their worth and ability to be a mother are judged on their willingness to succumb to this pressure? It is not my goal in writing this blog to say that all women should nurse their children or that it’s right or wrong to breastfeed our children in public. But rather, it is my hope to be able to bring awareness to the breastfeeding dilemmas that our country has placed on women. This truly is a woman's decision and no one should make anyone feel wrong with the choice they make.
I realize there are women who do not feel comfortable with the idea of nursing their babies. We live in a society that sees formula feeding as the norm. With so many women working full time, and without many role models to show that even though we may work full time, it is possible to continue to breastfeed our children. Many women have lost faith in how their body was designed to perform, as breastfeeding is a basic biological function. It breaks my heart when I have women tell me that they so desperately want to breastfeed their children, but they were told they didn’t produce enough breast milk and their babies failed to gain weight. They feel a sense of guilt or shame because they believe they have done something wrong. Often, even mothers who are strongly committed to nursing and follow every instruction or word from medical and family advice, but are still unable to breastfeed. Yes, our bodies were designed to feed our young. We’ve all heard people tell women who have not been able to nurse their babies that it’s instinctual and we should intuitively know what to do. This causing a devastating blow to women who already are feeling great sadness for not being able to breastfeed.
For me, when Alexandra was born, I was so ready to jump right in there and felt nursing was going to be so simple. Wow, was I wrong! I produced a huge amount of milk…shall I say, I made Dolly Parton look small! I had a supply ready to nurse triplets! (Too much information?!) However, I couldn’t get Alexandra to latch on correctly. The medical staff at the hospital said she wasn’t gaining enough weight and I would need to use formula. I refused to accept that. I couldn’t leave the hospital until Lex gained weight; demonstrating that she was getting enough of my milk. As I had never been exposed to other women nursing, and only heard my grandmother tell me about how she had nursed all six of her children, as that is what we were designed to do, and of course the many health benefits, but I believe my "instincts" to know how to breastfeed just weren't developed without the needed exposure from other women while growing up. My grandmother was one of my heroes! I looked up to her amazing wisdom. She even delivered my father all by herself out on her back porch on some newspaper she placed on the floor beneath her! That was her Native American heritage…she always told me how Native American women would squat down in the field while harvesting crops and deliver their babies. I wanted to be like her! I even tried to squat during my delivery for Alexandra! Sorry for digressing…Even with the help of hospital staff and members from the La Leche League, things weren’t going well. Finally, I looked at the situation, I knew I was engorged and had plenty of milk. I had to figure out a way to show Lex how to latch onto my nipple. By hanging in there, not getting frustrated, and not allowing Lex to sense my anxiety, I worked alone in the quiet of the night in my hospital room without anyone there to voice their opinion…I pulled at the nipple and was able to help Lex understand how to wrap her mouth and tongue around it and she finally took right to it!! Now both of us knew what to do! So many of us grow up not being exposed to women who are nursing. For me, my mother never nursed any of her six children, nor did anyone else that I spent time with. I didn’t have first hand knowledge, I didn’t have role models to observe and talk to about this natural biological function as I grew up. Yes, breastfeeding is a natural function, but as our culture hasn’t placed nursing as a priority until recently, many of us haven’t had ongoing exposure and positive experiences with this important piece in raising our children. In many of my blogs and videos I talk about how our society has become so sedentary and the importance of movement and how we are forgetting how to be human...forgetting how to move as we were designed to move. Are we also forgetting how to use our breasts for what they were designed to do? Forgetting why we have breasts in the first place?
A woman nursing her child from an indigenous hunter-gatherer
group located in Cameroon. Image by © Martin Harvey/CORBIS
From an Anthropological perspective, Yale University anthropologist, Clellan Stearns Ford used the largest historical collection of anthropological data available and examined the weaning age of 64 non-Western "traditional" societies; small scale horticultural and hunter-gatherer populations. His investigation determined that the average age of weaning in these areas is about three years old. This data was also confirmed by research conducted by Paul H. Harvey at Oxford and Tim Clutton-Brock at Cambridge who published the most comprehensive data available at the time on world's primates. Interestingly, because these traditional societies are dispersed throughout the world and have no contact with other people, researchers are able to avoid confirmation bias. Anthropologists Barry Hewlett and Michael Lamb wrote in their book Hunter-gatherer Childhoods, "hunting and gathering groups are characterized by frequent and extended breastfeeding and extraordinarily high levels of parent-child physical contact and proximity." These traditional societies are not bombarded with media and technology altering how they perceive how to live life or how they view the female body. They are too busy actually living life, hunting and gathering, raising their children... staying alive. They have ongoing role models that continue the traditions passed on from one generation to another. This was another confirmation to me that our modern culture has lost sight of how humans were designed, how our bodies should function, and how we should raise our children.
Humans are not alone in this dilemma. How often do we hear about mammals in captivity, at zoos where animals abandon their young and refuse to feed them? The zoo keepers are then required to bottle-feed and raise the baby. We would think that animals would have natural instincts…perhaps living in captivity without other females to learn from cause these wild animals to be confused and not know what to do. Unless there are many animals living in the same cages having babies and role modeling nursing their young, are wild animals left perplexed and not knowing how to be a mother? Or, possibly so stressed out from being in captivity, causing animals to abandon their young? I just want to pose these ideas…please share your thoughts on this below!
There are women who have been so strongly committed to breastfeeding, following every suggestion and are still unable to breastfeed. In these situations, one needs to try to feel good about the fact that she tried her best and sometimes factors out of our control make breastfeeding impossible. If you are told that you don’t produce enough milk, remember, breastfeeding doesn’t have to mean ‘all or none’. Combine breast milk and formula; your baby will still get the many benefits that come with breastfeeding. I worry that our medical community or family members who have not had experience in breastfeeding may misinform new mothers; possibly giving inaccurate information. It is estimated that about 1 to 5 percent of mothers who give birth are unable to produce enough milk. And, what defines enough milk? As stated above, it doesn’t have to be ‘all or none’.
As our human race and all mammals have been feeding their young since we were first created, it stands to reason that many mammals would be extinct if a large number of mothers weren’t able to produce enough milk to feed their babies. It is very rare that a woman does not produce any milk. Yes, there are a small percentage of women (about one in a thousand) who are born with a congenital lack of glandular breast tissue, which may make it difficult to produce a full milk supply for their babies. However, mothers born with this condition are usually able to breastfeed, but may need to supplement with a formula. There are some women who cannot produce breast milk, but this is extremely uncommon. There are a few situations where breastfeeding is completely inadvisable due to medical problems: breast cancer, hypoplastic breast syndrome, extensive breast surgery, AIDS, galactosemia, and pituitary or thyroid imbalances. Also, if a mother is using illegal drugs, it’s best that she not nurse her baby.
We hear about the dilemma involving women breastfeeding in public places. Just go onto YouTube and check out the videos that show how society reacts to women who breastfeed in public. Click HERE to view a video that shows a variety of responses to a woman nursing her child in public. So sad to see people reacting with such disrespect to a mother who is only feeding her baby. It breaks my heart. Many people are offended and feel a woman should remove herself and go somewhere in private…the bathroom, her car, or actually tell her, “Just go home and take care of it.” Some people believe a mother breastfeeding in public is out of line and she is being disrespectful to those around her. The majority of women are discreet and place a blanket over the nursing baby. I remember as a new mother, the first time I went to church with Alexandra when she was only a few days old. I always had a small blanket with me that I would use to cover myself if Lex became hungry wherever I might be. I was very nervous, almost afraid that people would be offended and ask me to leave the church service. However, I was thrilled to find that by being discreet and placing the blanket over Lex while she nursed was fine. Members of our congregation just smiled if they noticed what I was doing in our pew. They knew that in God's house it was completely acceptable, as He created a woman's body to be able to feed her children.
Dave and Kate with Piper! Our newest breast-fed baby!
Only a few times over the years of nursing my daughters did I run into people who would voice their negative comments towards me for nursing in public, even if I was being discreet. There may have been times when Lex or Rox would try to move the blanket or pull my shirt out of their way, but that happens when we nurse our children. How I wish we could all let go of our insecurities and demonstrate kindness to people who are not hurting anyone with something as natural as breastfeeding. So many other cultures and places in this world understand the purpose of a woman’s breasts and see it as a beautiful, natural part of going out into public and seeing women feed their young. Do we look in disgust at animals nursing their young? Perhaps if we have more mothers and fathers that are willing to talk with their daughters and sons about the beauty of what God created in a woman's body, not focusing on how the media portrays a woman's body to be. Teach our children from the start that a woman's breasts are functioning organs designed to nourish her children. Have more women willing to be role models out in public showing the beauty of breastfeeding to other women and our children; possibly this wouldn’t be a dilemma. Maybe if society didn’t portray women as sexual beings, but rather as humans who were designed to give life and continue that life after giving birth by breastfeeding, we can enlighten our society and bring even more new mothers into the beautiful world of breastfeeding. This is a woman's choice, and we all must do what makes us most comfortable. The key is to learn from one another and not judge anyone. That is not our role. That is for God to do. We'd love to hear from you and have you share your wisdom of life experiences on this topic!! We are all a work in progress… We learn from each other! Thank you SO much for stopping by our website! 💖
Peace and Grace,