I didn’t realize a breast infection could strike before you start breastfeeding. I’m 3-6 weeks away from nursing anyone but I woke up this morning with a sore, red area next to my left areola ! Bummer! This has me thinking about breastfeeding a lot. On Mothering discussion forums there is a conversation about what we wished we would have known about childbirth beforehand. One woman commented:
Here’s what I have to say to that, as I sit with a hot compress on lefty.
The problem with this wish is that formula companies and all their money were so successful for decades in reducing women’s (and more importantly, society’s support for women’s) confidence in the fact that most women can indeed provide enough milk for their child with enough knowledge and support. Not 100%, but certainly the vast majority. All sorts of practices became mainstream in the twentieth century that sabotage the likelihood that breastfeeding will be successful, and the formula companies got rich from mother’s who believed that they “didn’t produce enough milk” and “had to supplement”, when really it was “modern” practices/elements in the environment which failed the mother and baby pair, and led to premature weaning.
Nowadays, amongst the mothers I’ve talked to about breastfeeding, since becoming a mother myself more than a decade ago, I’d say a crazy high percentage of them talk about ‘not having had enough milk’ and needing to supplement and wean early as if it’s a totally everyday thing, like diaper rash. In my experience, it’s about half of the moms I’ve ever talked to. That’s so sad, because that means that most of those were simply failed by society who did not provide enough support and assistance in order to make a success of breastfeeding.
Based on my anecdotal perceptions, the breastfeeding community still has a lot of work to do to undo the effects of a crazy successful cultural shift towards formula via an overt campaign and subtler practices introduced in the 20th century that were consciously waged to undermine breastfeeding by the big formula companies.
Even ardent lactivists (such as myself) admit that not quite 100% of mothers will be able to produce enough milk (and of course will need to supplement). But, as important as it is not to hurt the feelings of the small percentage of moms who really will need to supplement (and I don’t see why their feelings need to be hurt, no one in the breastfeeding community says that 100% of woman will be able to EBF for 6 months and that there should be any shame in those few seeking out supplementation) , it’s most important not to perpetuate misinformation about how likely that is to happen to any given woman, by implying in any way shape or form that it is at all a common occurence, or anything other than the exception to the norm. That will result in less babies enjoying the benefits of breastfeeding. That’s more important than the tiny percentage of moms who can’t EBF feeling marginalized.
It’s not that mother’s feelings don’t matter, it’s just that more babies getting breastmilk (as a result of better support around the moms that need it) is even more important.
There should be no shame or judgment to the small percentage of mothers who really can’t breastfeed. There should be no shame or judgment to the mothers who don’t get enough support from the society around her in order to be successful and don’t successfully breastfeed for that reason. There should be no shame or judgment on mothers, period.
It’s society’s job to undo the damage so thoroughly done over decades by big corp making tons of money off of pushing formula, and a shift in attitudes from ‘yeah, tons of moms can’t make enough milk,’ to ‘actually, with enough support, most (but not quite all) women will be able to EBF the first six months’. We owe it to girls coming into maturity, to provide this accurate message to them, and fight the misinformation that it’s common for women not to make enough milk. It’s a really, really dominant theme that I hear again and again both in the US and in Europe, and it makes me so sad that we are failing women as a society by not providing enough knowledge and lactation support, and perpetuating ideas and practices that sabotage the breastfeeding relationship.