Monday, November 8, 2010

make it so....we are a breastfeeding culture

The magical words, "make it so," and it happens. This is a common authoritarian, militaristic viewpoint. We will just "power-through" and people will do what we want them to do. And if they won't, then we make them. Our society uses the soft approach when it comes to making people behave. First we use PR campaigns through educational institutions and or advertising. The internet and blogs work great for creating new mind sets. The CDC devotes some millions of dollars to blogging and bloggers so that the public understands health and disease as viewed by those in power.

The current spin in breastfeeding advocacy is that breastfeeding is normal. How does that statement impact women who struggle with breastfeeding or those who can't or refuse to breastfeed? As a mother who struggled with breastfeeding her first baby, and as an IBCLC working with mothers who had problems breastfeeding, I find the statement unsettling, upsetting. No qualifications, no elaborations are made regarding this statement. Thus, if breastfeeding is normal, then often the conclusion some would make is that formula feeding is abnormal. To be judged, perceived as abnormal in a culture is upsetting. It creates the image of the blame game on individuals rather than on a society that creates enormous obstacles to breastfeed.

The cry that breastfeeding is normal is a reaction to the discrimination of breastfeeding in our society. But the answer is not in reversing that discrimination and making those who bottlefed feel the weight of public judgment. The answer is in placing the blame on the infant formula industry for its PR campaigns, its circumventing of the WHO Code, and on a society that places profit first before the welfare of its people.

Years ago, I struggled with breastfeeding my first baby. She was born at home in a very simple birth. Birthing was easy in comparison to figuring out how to breastfeed her without enormous pain. I called La Leche League and tried to follow their suggestions but got no where. Finally, in so much pain, I started formula feeding my baby. I felt devastated, a failure. Despite people telling me it didn't matter, it did matter to me. And I felt an anger inside that people could be so ignorant of the feelings that mothers have when breastfeeding doesn't work out. The only saving grace in the midst of this situation, was the belief that I would go back to breastfeeding when I healed. Most of my family and friends thought I was done with breastfeeding--quit and that's it. But I started reading everything I could about relactation and adoptive nursing. And back in 1982 there wasn't much to read. I read and reread the chapter on relactation in You Can Breastfeed...Even in Special Circumstances. I was afraid it would hurt again and I was afraid that maybe I was just one of those people who couldn't do it. But I had alot of support from my husband. He believed that it would work and his statements were all positive. It was about a month after quitting breastfeeding that I breastfed her for a few minutes. It didn't hurt and I gradually over time increased breastfeeding while decreasing the infant formula. At a certain point, I was down to giving only a few ounces of formula. I found my fear of not having it as a back up stalling my ability to fully breastfeed. Going to La Leche League meeting inspired me to quit all the way, and fully breastfeed her. This experience was the inspiration for being a La Leche League leader and for becoming an IBCLC. I saw the value of support (husband and La Leche League) and information (knowing that relactation is possible). Struggling with breastfeeding, using infant formula has made me more aware of how abnormal our society is regarding infant feeding. Certainly, breastfeeding is the biological norm. But culturally breastfeeding is a lost practice. For many breastfeeding in a society that thinks breasts are obscene, just sexual appendages, means that many women struggle to bring breastfeeding into their lives.

I do not think my experience was abnormal. In fact after working as an IBCLC for some years, I would say that many women struggle with breastfeeding physically and emotionally. Why? Because we live in a culture that sets up enormous barriers. Perhaps the reason I feel so revolted by the words, "breastfeeding is normal," is because of my struggles with breastfeeding and seeing others struggle with it. Breastfeeding would be normal, if we lived in a society that protected and supported breastfeeding mothers and babies. But that is not the situation. And making statements as if there is normalcy when there isn't is just bad PR.
Copyright 2010 Valerie W. McClain

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