‘My boobs are too small.’

unnamedWillow had her second dental cleaning the other day. She sat so cooperatively for the hygienist as she scrubbed Willow’s little chompers and examined her severe overbite.

“Is she still breastfeeding?” the hygienist questioned.

Yes, I replied knowing just what she was about to say next; that natural term breastfeeding must be causing her teeth to buck out.

“Huh,” I shrugged, at that moment not having the research to back up what I knew to be true. Several studies show that breastfeeding for at least 12 months positively influences dental occlusion. (Read more here, here and here.)

Willow’s mouth hung open, her eyes shifted around the room, the hygienist and I continued to make small talk.

“I don’t know how your body keeps up with feeding two babies,” she said as I nursed my three-month-old. “I could barely nurse one when I came back to work.”

My heart broke knowing exactly how this conversation would develop.

“It’s all about supply and demand,” I replied and wondered if she was allowed time to pump during work hours.

Occasionally she had been, but her schedule was “crazy” and because the dentist doesn’t have children of her own, “she wasn’t all that understanding” of the importance of continuing breastfeeding relationships.

Rewind a few weeks earlier. Two of our friends came to meet Iris for the first time. She spent most of the visit nursing.

“I’m going to try to breastfeed when I have kids,” one of our friends announced. “But my boobs are so small, I probably won’t be able to.”

“Oh but that’s not true,” I corrected and probably got a little too overzealous explaining how lactation works.

One more scenario.

Iris and I recently started attending a mom and baby yoga class. It’s great fun and lovely to visit with other mamas.

IMG_1796During our first class, we started talking about baby-led weaning and nursing once baby starts eating solids. Our instructor informed us (all first time mothers excluding myself) that she gives her 11 month old a bottle of diluted juice or organic formula (organic formula is still artificial baby milk and is associated with the same risks as “regular” formula) before bed each night because she “just can’t keep up with her daughter’s demand at night.”

She told us that a lot of moms lose their supply during the night, apparently due to some dark, voodoo spell, not as a result of decreased feedings.

As she disseminated this “advice”, I froze in horror. Just one bottle can be offensive to baby’s health; just one bottle throws off baby’s healthy gut flora established by normal birth and breastfeeding setting the stage for a myriad of health concerns.

To be fair, Dr. Alison Stuebe, MD, MSc, makes a respectable argument about supplementation. In Breastfeeding and depression: It’s complicated, she writes:

“I’ve…cared for women who are struggling with milk production and spending all of their time trying to eek out a few more drops of breast milk, at the expense of their baby’s other needs. One mother, who came to see me during her second pregnancy to talk about strategies to optimize breastfeeding, recalled one day when her first baby was 4 months old. He was lying on the floor, screaming, and she was ignoring his cries because she was busy pumping. She said she realized, at that moment, that she needed to prioritize mothering over making milk.”

Thankfully this isn’t our yoga instructor’s case. Still, each mother infant dyads’ situation needs to be evaluated and respected at an individual level. Exclusive breastfeeding might not be fit for everyone; there will be variations within infant feeding methods. However every mother is entitled to accurate, evidence-based information so that she can weigh the risks and benefits of her choices for herself and for her child.

I am not undermining the importance of peer support, but it isn’t fair that new moms are forced to get their breastfeeding information from ill-informed yoga instructors.

In the same sense, it isn’t fair for a potential mother to denounce her body’s ability before giving it a chance. It isn’t fair that a mother should have to give up breastfeeding before she and her child are ready because she has to return to a hectic work schedule.

As far as breastfeeding advocates have come in advancing maternal infant health, judging by my many unfortunate encounters with improperly educated people, I’m afraid we are far too behind.

Photo by Willow
Photo by Willow

I’m certainly not professing to be some kind of breastfeeding guru. I have only come to learn about normal birth and breastfeeding since having my own children. Which seems to be the trend… become pregnant, begin your truncated journey learning about birth and infant feeding options. It often happens that a woman only begins learning about breastfeeding because her breastfeeding relationship has already been compromised.

This method simply isn’t effective in the short or long term. When expecting parents have information shoved down their throats in a nine month period, they are generally left terrified and floundering. These struggles shared with friends, family and future parents either confirm others’ poor experiences breastfeeding or scare the living daylights out of prospective breastfeeders.

The stories I’ve shared are a result of the culture we live in where breastfeeding isn’t normal. It’s a sad situation.

In order for breastfeeding to reclaim its status as the normal infant feeding method, we need to see the act of breastfeeding from little on. Each and every day. In and out of the home. Whenever a baby flashes us a feeding cue, breastfeeding should ensue (generally speaking.)

While the state of breastfeeding in our nation is rather dismal, only about 16 percent of babies exclusively breastfeeding at six months, we know there are amazing people working hard to improve the health and lives of families everywhere.

Tell us what you are doing to normalize breastfeeding in your community. What kind of challenges are you up against? Please share in the comments below!

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