Mama's and Breastfeeding in a Formula Nation

International Breastfeeding Symbol

Before I became pregnant I was already an advocate for breastfeeding. I have always felt that it is the best thing for the child and there are health benefits for the mother as well. When I become pregnant the first real change in my body were my breasts. If the process hadn't been so uncomfortable I may have rejoiced in the extra attention my husband gave me. As my pregnancy progressed I realized that more and more people would broach the subject of breastfeeding with me as if I needed to be convinced it was the right thing to do. At first this struck me as very odd, I found myself reassuring people that I already planned on breastfeeding. When I really started to think about breastfeeding and the response I was getting from people, it dawned on me that we live in a formula nation. Our capitalist society makes it very easy for us not to breastfeed. We also live in a society where women often return to work just a few short months after having a baby which makes breastfeeding even harder. When I started to think about these social pressures, work vs. child, I started to understand why so many people are concerned that a new Mama may not is a whole lot easier not to...

The more research that I did on breastfeeding the more I began to realize that it is also an incredibly personal decision. It is a very intimate act between a mother and her child. For all of the sex we are sold on American television and media, we are not a nation that truly understands intimacy. We are, like our Puritan ancestors, uncomfortable with intimacy. When we see an act of intimacy it causes us to squirm. We have allowed ourselves to see breasts as mainly sex objects and have forgotten the important function they are intended to play in the human experience. When we see a woman place her child to her breast we do not see a sacred and intimate bond being forged and fulfilled, we see a woman placing an object of sexual pleasure in her child's mouth. This causes us to react to the mother in a way that makes her feel what she is doing is wrong or inappropriate. We create fancy fabric shields with funny names (Hooter Hider or Nursing Apron) and give them at baby showers or expect her to closet herself somewhere discreet to feed her child so that we are not embarrassed by this feeding ritual.  However, we do not bat an eyelash or ask a women to cover up if she is walking around in a bikini top, see through or low cut shirt, or tube top. We find it perfectly acceptable as a society to allow women to flaunt their breasts to attract attention and "embrace" her body, but we do not find it acceptable for her to embrace motherhood and feed her child from her breast in public.

What is the uproar all about?

On my journey to learning about breastfeeding I came across several helpful organizations and programs for breastfeeding women. I will list them below. There is a movement within the female community to provide support to one another. How sad that we have reached a place in our society that we have to create support groups to help each other breastfeed our children. At first I read their commentary and wondered at how angry and defensive they were about breastfeeding. I didn't realize there was anything to be so upset about. Then I started looking into the cases of breastfeeding descrimination they were referencing, and I was shocked at what I found. All across our country women have been put on trial for breastfeeding in public. Women have been asked to leave locations, deboard planes, fired becuase of the time it takes them to pump breastmilk, and ostritisized.

I started to watch the world around me in an attempt to observe the number of breastfeeding women I encountered. First let me say that the local hospital in our area delivered around 68 babies in the month of September. With a delivery rate this high and no shortage of hospitals in the area there should be plenty of breastfeeding women around. I was shocked by how few I encountered. When I did notice women breastfeeding, about 10-15 in two weeks, they were discreetly tucked away in semi-private to private places. I saw women sitting in their hot cars with the air conditioning running, or the door open or the windows down and they still had a blanket or something covering the baby. They were in a corner with the stroller in front of them and some form of cover over them. They were in the "mother's room" at the Nordstroms (which at our mall is a separate room off of the ladies bathroom). I saw one woman who was brave enough to breastfeed in the food court of the mall, completely covered by a thick blanket and she was receiving many looks and stairs from the people around her. One woman I believe was in the large bathroom stall of a public restroom (Target)...sitting on the toilet (I only assume she was breastfeeding because of the way she was talking to the very small child who was crying when she took him in there with her). As I continued my shopping trip in Target that day I passed a rocking chair on my way through the baby furniture section and thought to myself "I would have chosen this spot to breastfeed over that nasty bathroom!"  It occurred to me that if I choose to breastfeed my child and I didn't wish to find a hidy-hole in which to do it or run out to my car, I would have to face the stairs and judgements of the public. My only alternative would be to pump my milk and do the socially acceptable thing and bottle feed in public...this just doesn't sit right with child and I deserve to be able breastfeed without being treated as if we are doing something wrong.

The whole idea of public scrutiny ironically made me think of my mother-in-law who is very conservative. Was there going to be problems in my own family when we visited them with the baby? Was I going to be expected to hide myself away? Why would I go visit them then? Are they going to expect me to hide myself away even in my own home when they come to visit after the baby is born? I began to wonder if the best way to approach the subject was to simply come out and ask what they would be comfortable with or should I simply proceed as normal and deal with any awkwardness that followed? Interestingly enough, the fact that I would even question family opinions toward breastfeeding has become a very heated debate within my family since the publication this blog. I admit I tend to be the sort who would rather ask for forgiveness than for permission...

Our Government Gets Involved

Recently, President Obama signed into law two bills (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, H.R. 3590, on March 23 and the Reconciliation Act of 2010, H.R. 4872, on March 30, 2010. (See the combined full text of Public Laws 111-148 and 111-152) that protects women's right to pump breastmilk at work. She is protected becuase this law allows her to take long enough break times to successfully pump without penalty by her employer. This bill was signed and supported because of the number of women who stop breastfeeding after three months (this is when most maternity leave runs out). Our nation's children have been negatively affected by this trend because children who are breastfed exclusively for at least six months are healthier.

(According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 75 percent of mothers start breastfeeding immediately after birth, but less than 15 percent of those moms are breastfeeding exclusively six months later. As a part of the Healthy People 2020 initiative, the national goal is to increase the proportion of mothers who breastfeed their babies in the early postpartum period to 81.9 percent by the year 2020.)

The bill is an effort to increase the health and well being of our nations children...I can see where they would draw the link between mother's returning to work and the decline in breastfeeding but is that really the issue. I don't want to get on this topic now but I personally feel a bill that extended maternity leave would be much more effective...I began to wonder, this bill seems like a step in the right direction but is it really what is at the heart of the issue? I wonder if women are not breastfeeding longer than three months becuase of social reasons and the difficulty and incovience of pumping. Is about three months of hiding yourself away, and/or public scrutiny about all a Mama can take?

As a point of interest the law in CA regarding breastfeeding is as follows:

California Civil Code § 43-53.
1997 Section 43.3 of the Civil Code
43.3. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a mother may breastfeed her child in any location, public or private, except the private home or residence of another, where the mother and the child are otherwise authorized to be present.

The hyperlink will also lead you to other CA laws regrading breastfeeding and milk banks.

This led me on a quest. How does the public treat and respond to women who breastfeed in public, covered or uncovered, is the problem with us and not with the laws?

Public Opinion Poll

I can't help but feel like we, as a society, are missing something. In my quest to understand how society responds to women who breastfeed I decided to post a poll on my facebook page and ask my friends to tell me what they think. I also made the poll public so that people who were not my friends could vote. I had a feeling that things could become heated and at one point two of my friends didn't just disagree they began insulting eachother. For the most part comments were civil and not directed at anyone in particular but it did bring to light that there is a wide range of opinions on this subject.

On my facebook page I posted the following question (to date 132 people have responded, the number of votes each answer recieved is next to the answer choice):

When you see a woman breastfeeding in public you...
A) feel embarassed and look away or wish she would cover up. (1 vote)
B) think it is normal and see nothing wrong with it. (105 votes)
C) approve of it but think that she could pump and bottle feed in public. (4 votes)
D) are fine with it as long as she is covered up. (20 votes)
E) feel it is never okay to breastfeed in public, it should be private. (2 votes)

What I found the most interesting about this survey is that one of the respondantes to (E) was very vocal about his feelings on public breastfeeding and equated exposing your breast for breastfeeding to a man exposing his penis in an act of public urination. Also stating that if you breastfeed in public you should be a registered sex offender just as someone who publicially unrinates. I was not surprised that this sparked a heated debate on my facebook page. If I followed this respondants reasoning, if one considers the breast as a sexual organ (like the penis) then you would be rather offended to see a woman place it in her child's mouth. Although some may say that this is a rather extreme view of breastfeeding, we live in a world of diverse beliefs.

I did find that many of the women who were mothers remarked that they didn't have problems with public breastfeeding but could never do it themselves. One of my males friends remarked "I like seeing boobs, that is all I have to share". There were also several comments which stated the need to show courtesy and respect for others by covering up while breastfeeding. This seemed to be the best way to go. Modesty is often the best policy was the theme that I kept hearing from respondants.

The poll seems to overwhelmingly show that people ultimately feel that there is nothing wrong with breastfeeding, that it is natural. However, when it comes down to it, the vocal minority seems to be the most intimidating and controling force.

Since my baby isn't here yet I haven't experienced this in real life but from what I understand there are a lot of important factors to take into consideration when breastfeeding your child. A good latching may be difficult if you can't see what the baby is doing (becuase they are under a blanket) and what about eye contact bonding. If baby is under a blanket isn't this affected? On the other hand if the environment is too noisy or stimulating feeding may not be successful either...take these basic breastfeeding issues into account and add social disapproval on top of it. We might have a much better understanding of why women don't breastfeed for as long as they should.

My Personal Plan of Attack

There has never been a question to me of whether or not I will breastfeed. I have always thought that I would and that hasn't changed. One of the first sewing projects I did for the baby was a Nursing Apron or Hooder Hider. Not only are their health benefits but also emotional and phychological benefits to the mother and child. At first I didn't think that I would have a problem with breastfeeding in public. I didn't honestly think that it was that big of an issue, but I may be wrong.

It has occured to me that I may not be bothered by it and my husband may not be bothered by it but public response to it is a very different matter. Will I be able to stand up to the public negativity for very long, will it become more of a hassel then it is worth? Will I find myself running to my car or looking for somewhere to hide in order to feed my child or will I simply cover up and blindly feed my child? I admit to having a rebellious streak but am I that gronola that I will do as I please without a care for other's personal quams...?

My husband brought up a good point at lunch the other day when we were discussing reaction to this topic. He brought up that although we can do something we shouldn't always do it (1 Cor. 8). He also pointed out that many people, especially men, struggle with pornography and with sex. By breastfeeding in public I may be causing another man to slip. That seeing my exposed breast, however brief, may cause him to have thoughts and feelings that are not appropraite. Not every man in mature enough in this area to see a breast and not think about sex. We are even given a commandment that you are not to covet another man's wife (Exodus 20:17), why would I however unintentionally, place a man in that position? Did I really want to look up one day and see a man looking at me in that way, even if I am not doing anything wrong or breaking any laws?

The answer is No. I never want that kind of attention especially not when feeding my child. That is the same reasoning I use for my own modesty in dress. I want to be unreasonable about this and breastfeed in public anyway.  After all, we should be that change we want to see in the world, that may be the only way to change things or I could accept that we live in a world where breasts are seen as sex objects and not as a food source for our children. I will not condemn a woman for breastfeeding in public and I will not ask her to cover up. I will personally make an effort to seek out a dressing room or ladies lounge when the situation allows for it, but I will not sit in a hot car if it can be avoided or resort to a public restroom. If the situation calls for it I will cover up but I will never be ashamed of feeding my child. I will look for the best place, the most comfortable place for both me and my child. I will not change myself to meet other people's approval.

Scripture and Breastfeeding

A few days ago while thumbing through my Bible I came across some commentary by the authors about breastfeeding.  The commentary notes that until the last century breastfeeding was the only way to feed an infant. It also notes the complementary functions that occur in the mother's body after birth and the babies demonstration of sucking skills. It lists four areas of scripture that especially discuss breastfeeding.

1) It is a special and fulfilling bond between a mother and a child.
"Rejoice with Jerusalem, And be glad with her, all you who love her; Rejoice for joy with her, all you who mourn for her;   That you may feed and be satisfied With the consolation of her bosom, That you may drink deeply and be delighted With the abundance of her glory."   For thus says the Lord: "Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, And the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream. Then you shall feed; On her sides shall you be carried, And be dandled on her knees.  As one whom his mother comforts, So I will comfort you; And you shall be comforted in Jerusalem." (Isaiah 66: 10-13, NKJV) 

2) It is a special commitment that a mother makes to her child.
"Can a woman forget her nursing child, And not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, Yet I will not forget you." (Isaiah 49:15, NKJV)

3)When a child is ready to be weaned it should be a time of celebration and seen as a time when the child is ready for religious instruction.
"And Sarah said, "God has made me laugh, and all who hear will laugh with me." She also said, "Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? For I have borne him a son in his old age." So the child grew and was weaned. And Abraham made a great feast on the same day that Isaac was weaned." (Gen 21:6-8, NKJV)

4)Breastfeeding can act a natural means of birth control. (See the story of Gomer Hosea 2)

Reading the Scriptures about breastfeeding made me think that we live in a world that has changed very fast over the past 100 years. Not all change is good. We know more about medicine, we know more about genetics and nutrition, but maybe we have come to depend on this knowledge too much. The new ways of doing things are not always the right way of doing them. My Grandpa Clay used to say that if it wasn't broken don't try to fix it. He knew that by messing with a good thing we sometimes ruin it.

Donating Your Breast Milk

"Then his sister said to Pharaoh's daughter, "Shall I go and call a nurse for you from the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for you?"  (Exodus 2:7, NKJV)

In the Bible I also found lots of scripture that talked about "milk mothers" or "wet nurses". It was a common practice for women to nurse another woman's child if she could not nurse the child herself. It was not odd. It was the way things were done. Today we have Milk Banks, usually at hospitals where women can donate their excess breast milk so that infants can benefit from breast milk if the mother is unable to breastfeed or is simply not available. These Milk Banks are often under-funded and there are simply not enough women donating their breast milk to these banks. When I have mentioned my interest in donating to these banks, should I be in a position to, I have been met with raised eyebrows and scepticism. I have always been a blood donor why wouldn't I donate my breastmilk as well. This once highly accepted female role is seen as an odd or gross thing to do. It just seems that we have come so far from the foundation of who we are supposed to be as mothers.

Human Milk Banking Association of North America
Provides information about non-profit milk banks in North America. It also discusses how to become a donor.

Breast Feeding Resources

Le Lache League of California
At this site you can find your local chapter of Le Lache Mom. They offer support and advice to soon-to-be-moms and breastfeeding moms.

The International Breastfeeding Symbol
They have all sorts of wonderful resources on this page. There is also a great blog running that shares breastfeeding and milk sharing stories.

First Right
This organization is dedicated to preventing discrimination against breastfeeding and provide support and resources to breastfeeding moms.

The National Conference of State Legislature: Breastfeeding Laws
This link gives you an index on state laws regarding breastfeeding. An interesting read.