Last year I spent a week laid-up sick, and watched a lot of tv, in one show there were several references made to a baby being breastfed, and being a Lactivist Nerd I noticed each and every one of them, from the bad advice a Dr gave to supplement with formula when the baby was sick, to the mentions of mum needing to pump, and leaving breast-milk in the fridge when she had to go out. Only once was it used for slightly comedic effect, every other reference was made in a very casual day-to-day manner. And whilst we never once saw the baby nursing, we also never saw the baby being given a bottle either. (Massive kudos to the writers of ‘Friday Night Lights’, great job!) But, it made me think. We, in the west, live in a world where formula feeding is so common place that people assume that it’s the default method, and are surprised, or even shocked, to see a woman nursing a baby. In almost every other tv show, movie, book, magazine etc, virtually every baby ever seen is being bottle fed [formula]. Breastfeeding is such a taboo subject that it’s inclusion into this tv show really stuck out.
People now seem think of breastfeeding as the “Gold Standard”, a nice extra you can choose to give your baby, and have forgotten that it is simply the biological norm. What babies are meant to do, what our boobs are for, and what gives our babies the things they need to grow up the way they were meant to. Physically, immunologically and emotionally. These days people assume that the way a formula fed baby behaves is the way babies should behave. They expect long deep sleeps from very tiny babies, instead of hourly feeds, short naps and light sleep that is actually normal baby behaviour. We have, as a society, forgotten that babies aren’t meant to get constipated, baby poo/wind shouldn’t stink and that reflux isn’t to be expected. There’s a big difference between posseting now and then, and regularly chucking back large amounts of milk.
I also wish people didn’t think it fair game to pass comment on the health of breastfed babies. Childhood illnesses are just that, a part of childhood, all babies and children get colds, and coughs and fevers. Breastfeeding is not a Magical Forcefield which stops your baby ever getting ill, but it does make your child able to resist a lot of infections, and means they can fight off the ones they do get. All babies and children get sick, the more contact they have with others the more likely they are to get sick, so a breastfed baby in a day-care nursery will still catch infections, and this is not because breastfeeding makes no difference. It’s frustrating having to defend the fact that I breastfeed. Ever. To anyone.
When Jamie Lynne Grumet appeared on the cover of Time I confess I was not 100% convinced about the image and portrayal of natural term nursing. But once I looked past the cover, which even at first glance I knew had been chosen because it was challenging and controversial, I was relieved to see how normal the rest of the images were. There were no tired stereotypes; lentil-weaving hippies wearing alice-bands and saggy, baggy tie-dyed clothes, just normal women, some of them even quite glamorous <gasp>! Normal women, with normal children, doing something that, up until comparatively recently, was, and in truth still is, completely normal. My ex always maintained he was with me on our parenting choices, he said he supported me in breastfeeding the girls, but recently he admitted that he was embarrassed that they’d nursed for “so long” and he has never watched my tv interview on it. But we need to talk about it, not as a ranty, preachy, shove-it-down-the-throat thing, not in a militant way, just in passing, when it’s relevant. Don’t shy away from ‘admitting’ your babies nursed until they were way past being babies, be quietly calm and confident about it, and that way it stops being freaky, and starts to become normal. Put away the nursing covers, don’t lurk in back rooms, don’t even think of being ashamed. You don’t have to shout about it, just do it. So I’m ok with talking about it, and refuse to hide the fact that my girls nursed for years, not just months, because to stop it being shocking and controversial women like me, Jamie, Pink, and even Tami Taylor, need to just carry on doing what we do, and not hide the fact that we are breastfeeding mothers.
Because breastfeeding is normal.
Jennifer at Jehefinner