My mom nursing me in 1977. If she looks young -- she was.
Breastfeeding is one of those things that I feel differently about, depending on who I’m talking to.
My dad reported on a continuing medical education thingie they had at work (“Most of them are yawners”) with a lactation chief and a neonatology chief (“one of the best lectures I’ve been to”). He said he was emotionally moved when they presented the evidence for skin-to-skin transfer of antigens and antibodies (Because God’s design is great!) and they said that physicians should strenuously promote/support breastfeeding instead of trying to neutrally ask bottle or breast? Even formula supplementation isn’t a neutral practice, because it can hinder digestion and decrease supply.
I have a friend who got mastitis while still in the hospital recovering from an unplanned-natural birth; she hadn’t been successful in nursing her other two kids, hadn’t enjoyed it or seen that they benefited from it, so she decided to formula feed from the start.
My sister swears by feeding her babies one bottle a day so that she can get a relief pitcher when she needs one.’
In the hierarchy of things that will make both mother and baby happy and healthy, mom’s sanity trumps breastfeeding, every single time. This I am sure of, no matter who I’m talking to. Luckily, most of the time, as with everything related to mothering, what’s good for baby is also good for mom, it’s very rarely an either-or.
Me nursing Molly with the 1977 wash from Instagram.
I like to think that my feelings (how strongly I feel about breastfeeding) vary on context because of empathy, but I do know that my personal experience informs my feelings about it as much as the other way around. I know everyone comes with their own personal context, but two attitudes in particular about breastfeeding irritate me:
1- Some men in my neighborhood think that breastfeeding in public is “disgusting.”
2- A lady on Facebook wrote: “Can I just say I hate women who say they don’t have enough milk?”
Both of these absolutely baffle me, from a human-female-Christian–human– standpoint. I can see the men saying they don’t think it’s modest (move to burqa-land, please), or that it seems an intimate thing to do in public (then you can’t ever eat in public either), but the word “disgust” — it’s like the word “contempt.” It’s corrosive. And if you find something natural and female to be “disgusting,” let’s just say I’m glad to not be married to you.
The second — I’m at a loss. It assigns some attitude or motive to the woman that I just can’t fathom. It’s probably true that the woman has mistaken perceptions about her milk-production abilities (since only two percent of women suffer from primary lactation failure), but even so, it’s more important that the woman thinks this to be true (unless you’re accusing her of lying, which again, I don’t get). Her perception is more important than reality, because that is what will guide her to either get help or give up: it’s too-often a self-fulfilling prophecy and if someone is “pro” breastfeeding, shouldn’t the response to that sort of statement be compassion? It’s also word choice here that is troubling — “hate” is as corrosive as “disgust.”
The only sort of comment I ever get when I nurse in public or post a picture of me nursing is of the “I could never type and nurse at the same time!” or “I was never able to be that discreet!” variety. So I feel that I have maybe presented a misleading picture of how I do it, and I also feel (quite strongly, so many feelings in this post already) that it is important to nurse in public. I am good at doing this in real life, but I have been hesitant online. And that would be fine if I was also reticent about posting other pictures of my family life.
But nursing in public (online or in real life) is important for many reasons (besides how wrong the ghettoization of women would be):
1. You’re more likely to nurse (longer) if it fits into your life. Breastfeeding exclusively is easy for me now, because I don’t mind taking my baby wherever I go. If I can’t take her, I don’t go. I need a break from the other kids at least weekly (sometimes hourly), but the baby? Once you have more than one child, you appreciate how easy the one is who doesn’t have to be told ten times to put her shoes on. When I went back to work after Avery was born I pumped at work and she also got a bottle of formula every day, because it’s really hard to pump as much as a baby would nurse. But I know I was very, very lucky to have a workplace where pumping fit in my life (I even nursed her to sleep for a nap several times there, lying on the floor in the office of the chairman of the economics department.)
2. Women (and babies) benefit from seeing what nursing looks like. Even the way you hold a baby is radically different from bottle-feeding. Seeing how other women and babies do it helps with latching and general comfortableness.
3. Men and boys benefit from seeing women breastfeed. When they see what breasts are for, they see what breasts are for. Breastfeeding combats the hypersexualization and objectification of the female body.
I made a couple videos of nursing Molly, because I wondered what other people see if they look past the nursing bubble that usually seems to enclose me. Discretion is not my first priority when nursing in public. Getting baby fed is number one, then probably covering up my fat rolls as much as possible, but then, yes, I do nurse differently in public than I do at home, just as I eat differently myself too. At home I’m afraid I’m inclined to sit like a kindergartner and let my elbows rest on the table and I’ve even been know to let out the most delicate of lady-like burps (okay, I do that one in public, too). I’ve never used a cover, because I just never have, but I naturally don’t go for the same sort of skin-to-skin time in public that I can indulge in at home.
This first video is actually at home because I didn’t want to leave my house, and it’s shorter than an actual nursing session (I usually only nurse one side at a time, which takes about ten minutes, every 1-2 hours during the day; Molly sleeps through the night). You can see the logistics of wearing a nursing bra and that it’s easier to get to things if you’re wearing a looser shirt. I don’t own any actual nursing shirts.
molly nursing january 2011
from shannon johnson
From my point of view there’s more showing, and this video is of a really successful nursing session: Molly isn’t tired or frustrated, she’s hungry but not starving. I try not to go out at all if she is going to be extremely tired, frustrated or hungry (or if I am!) during our outing, but of course sometimes this happens, and it always seems to be the case (for both of us) by the end of church. In that case, getting latched and settling down can take more time and include some crying, but one of the best things about breastfeeding is that it is almost always the solution. Even if what baby really needs is a nap or a diaper change or some Tylenol for her shots, breastfeeding will comfort her until the other things can be arranged. The other thing to keep in mind is that I spent practically the first week of nursing this kid naked from the waist up — this video shows how quick and simple nursing can be after four and a half months of daily practice.
We took the kids to the mall play place on Saturday. Tom took this video on my iPod:
Again, it surprises me how little shows from that angle. So here’s the controversial shot. Sometimes, when I’m nursing, and Molly gets distracted, or full, or tired of sucking, this is what it looks like:
You can call it anything you like (nourishing, comforting, not-something-you’d-ever-show, etc) — anything but “disgusting.”