Banter in the Garden
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Tea and Strumpets
(This comes via FOTLG Isabel, who is suitably brilliant. Enjoy)
It wasn’t until I was first pregnant, and started reading the internet, that it particularly occurred to me that breastfeeding was seen as a choice (as opposed to just what naturally follows childbirth) and I was boggled to discover that people on parenting forums (and other places) put energy into debating what was surely a no-brainer. When I did engage and argue a side I came at it as a matter of choice and of doing what was right for the baby, as a health issue, and with a (fairly arrogant) desire to help mothers make better choices.
Over the years I’ve changed my mind. I’m still passionate about breastfeeding. It’s my thing. I know stuff and I really, really want to share it with you. These days, however, I’m not convinced that how we feed our babies is a free choice and I don’t think it’s all about the baby. Breastfeeding is an issue of women’s rights.
I have yet to meet a woman who hasn’t gotten an earful of the “breast is best” message and I have rarely met a mother who didn’t want to breastfeed. The women I know vary in how long they wish to breastfeed for and how committed they are to overcoming obstacles but, in my experience, most enter motherhood with the basic expectation that their baby will breastfeed. So if women want to breastfeed, why aren’t our breastfeeding rates higher? (Honking great PDF of Plunket breastfeeding stats)
I think a lot of women are having their choice to breastfeed taken away from them. It’s not always malicious. When my first was born ,early and sleepy, several of the people engaged in my care were concerned about how stressed I was trying to feed him and how hard I was working with breastfeeding attempts and expressing milk. Those who encouraged me to give up sincerely thought they were doing me a kindness (they weren’t and I didn’t but it was a close run thing).
Sometimes it’s really hard to get good information and impossible to discover if the information you are working from is accurate. I am an enormous fan of modern medicine so it truly pains me to see how often those who should be trustworthy give out poor information. When your midwife doesn’t “believe in” nipple confusion, your doctor can’t tell you which antidepressants are safe to breastfeed on and your Plunket nurse is pushing you to stuff your baby full of pumpkin puree what can you do?
And then there are two societal issues which, in my opinion, cause even more harm than all the wrong and misguided advice in the world: our unrealistic expectations of normal baby behaviour and our failure to value parents and parenting. Babies demand near constant physical contact, they need to feed frequently and they wake often in the night and yet paid maternity leave is almost brutally short, breastfeeding in public is often seen as awkward, embarrassing, and impolite and “giving in” to a baby’s needs is considered a moral failure. Even family friendly organisations like Playcentres and schools can pressure mothers to leave babies with another caregiver so they can attend meetings and working bees. A bottle, either of formula or expressed breastmilk, can seem like the solution and a heck of a lot easier than trying to change society and sometimes it does help and everything is fine. Other times you discover that the midwife that didn’t believe in nipple confusion was just a tiny bit wrong.
I believe every woman has the right to use her breasts and her body the way she wishes and, no matter what I think, she should have a free choice how to feed her baby but, if a woman has chosen to breastfeed, no one should be allowed to stand in her way.