Breast is best. If you are a pregnant or new mom, the mantra is so ingrained in you that you say it in your sleep, during your fits of crying and while staring down at your baby – no matter what they are eating.
So, if breast is best (and it really is best), why is it so hard to get support for it?
Recently Better Homes and Gardens ran a article on Yahoo’s Shine Network entitled the Top Ten Commandments for Dining with Little Kids. There was the usual anti-kid pointers that even most parents would agree with (sort of like the list that the editors here at MSN.ca put together). But one of the commandments said:
THOU SHALT NOT BREAST FEED AT THE TABLE
Yes, I have seen table-side breast feeding at a four-star restaurant. If at all possible, take it to the ladies room. (Note: most upscale restaurants have really nice restrooms!"
The outcry was swift and broad, including the requisite Boycott Homes and Gardens Facebook page. The article is now entitled the Top 9 Commandments for Dining with Little Kids and comes with an apology. The fact that it is illegal to ban a woman from breastfeeding at the table in 47 states and a Canadian women’s right to breastfeed in public is covered by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was not considered. The idea that is is completely disgusting to sit on the toilet in a public restroom and breastfeed was also not considered. And the idea that feeding a baby on a toilet is better than adults witnessing breastfeeding while they eat – that is perfectly ridiculous.
Babies have a right to be fed and people have a right to avert their eyes. I have breastfed in some of the best restaurants and I have always been treated respectfully. In fact Susur Lee once sat down beside me while I was nursing my 3-month old and told me how much he wanted Susur to be a familiy-friendly restaurant. (Not at those prices!) In fact upscale restaurants are much better to nurse in because the chairs are comfortable and most of the servers have families of their own.
But unfriendly stares and comments are common to nursing mothers, and I’m not sure why. Are we as a culture so repelled by a breast doing what it is supposed to be doing? If breast is best then why do we disapprove of it in public and encourage women to hide behind locked doors or under sweaty and infantile covers?
And more importantly, if breast is best why is there so little support in the hospitals for proper breastfeeding techniques? There is often only one Lactation Consultant around and if you were silly enough to have your baby on a holiday or weekend you can wait days to be seen. Post-partum nurses don’t often give the same advice, and worse, are often filled with old wives tales and fear that the baby isn’t getting enough.
In magazines and on websites you see lots of articles about how hard breastfeeding is and how you must forgive yourself if you bottle feed. That is true; breastfeeding is hard and no one is harder on themselves then bottle-feeding mother who wanted to nurse. I know, I have been there. But instead of having a bunch of guilty bottle feeding mamas around, we should be giving new mothers real support. And that support has to come in all realms: cultural, medical and social. Instead of feeling guilty, those of us who couldn’t breastfeed should feel angry that breastfeeding support is mostly on posters and not in the hospital.
Most women could breastfeed successfully if they were given the right tools right at the beginning. (And yes, there are exceptions I was an exception the first time.) That means the baby was put to breast immediately after birth and left there and experienced skin to skin contact. That means that the nurses and doctors support breastfeeding by encouraging it instead of interrupting it by removing the baby, introducing obstacles to nursing and by knowing how to handle breastfeeding problems. That means training nurses, midwives and doctors on proper breastfeeding techniques and it also means having lactation consultants available to women at all times (and at no cost). It means having pediatricians who will put up with weight fluctations that are normal with exclusively breastfed pediatiricians.
Breast is best should be more than a slogan; real breastfeeding support should be part of our culture. The disconnect between what we say and what we do is leaving more women with a bottle in their hand and more high-end diners able to eat without catching a glimpse of a nipple.
If you are wondering what support looks like, check out breastfeeding advocates: Lactivistleanings (where I got the videos), PhDinParenting who has ideas for friends and family of new moms, and the forum at Kellymom.