By Dee Merrit
Mothers are warriors.
If you look back on the history of birth in the U.S., 95% of infants were born at home with midwives. Promptly after birth, the child was placed on the mothers’ breast to nurse. Today, many women seem to doubt their ability to give birth naturally and breastfeed. Often society does little to support them.
Many women desire to breastfeed and though the rates have slowly been rising research shows there is still a decrease in breastfeeding rates from birth to one-year. A quick google search will show you why there is a decrease. What is not listed amidst the CDC research is how women have been taught to not trust their bodies.
In America, it is more common (and comfortable) to see women advertised in lingerie and skimpy clothing. At the same time, a woman nursing in public can publicly shamed or experience feelings of discomfort, or be judged critically. Nursing mothers are still evicted from public spaces, restaurants, and they encounter rude comments when strangers express they do not want their child(ren) exposed to breastfeeding. Although breastfeeding is what our bodies are designed to do, it can be awkward and has been referred to as something to be socially discreet about.
As a mother of three boys, I would rather have them grow up knowing breasts have a purpose. Women’s bodies are uniquely formed to feed babies and also to comfort them. Additionally, nursing a newborn helps with psychological development (and so many more other beneficial things).
In some communities, mothers have access to breastfeeding help through groups like La Leche, as well as breastfeeding cafes and mother support groups. Still, some mothers struggle. It could be that many mothers continue to get false information from health care professionals who are not educated about lactation, and though health care professionals mean well, they sometimes insinuate that mothers should not trust their bodies.
All breastfeeding mothers should have access to local references from lactation professionals and be free of cruelty and judgment. If an advisor is not available, then there are other ways to connect to professional consultants including email, phone, and video chat. Unfortunately, these options are not always promoted. Many health care professionals unintentionally perpetuate myths about breastfeeding. For example, I have heard of women being told that breastfeeding can hurt; NO! Breastfeeding should not hurt! If it does, then it is a signal that something may be wrong and the nursing mother should seek help from an IBCLC. There are so many myths that continue to be perpetuated. Here are a few listed online courtesy of the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, UNICEF [LINK].
Even with available resources, some mothers of young children struggle just getting out of the house. They’re tired, overwhelmed, and are dealing with a mixed bag of emotions. If they have a messy house on top of that, they may not want to entertain visitors. Believe me, no one coming to support or assist a mother with nursing is spending their energy judging a messy home. (My own kitchen has been not been cleaned since I had my first son 8 years ago and yet, I continued to have more children)!
In this shared graph from Katie Hinde, an Associate Professor of Evolutionary Biology and Senior Sustainability Scientist at Arizona State University, and a researcher of lactation, she shares on this brief clip on Ted Talks what little we know about breastmilk compared to other subjects.
She shares this powerful message, “Many mothers do not reach their breastfeeding goals, that is not their failure, it’s ours.”
Do nursing mothers have rights? Yes, they do. But in 2019 some mothers still struggle with being told they can not nurse in public. As recently as this summer, a woman in Texas was told she could not nurse her baby at the public pool. Even though this mother knew hew rights, this issue escalated quickly and police were called to the scene. A breastfeeding mother has rights for a reason. These rights should not only be known by mothers but by public servants as well. Government employees as well as other facilities that say they support breastfeeding mothers need to be required to read and understand breastfeeding rights for customers, as well as their employees. This can vary from state to state. Mothers nursing in public helps to expose the general public to an infant’s needs as well as the very natural act of maternal nursing.
Even though some people in the general public may be hurtful, many other breastfeeding advocates will support you. We are mothers, we have the right to feed our babies as we choose, and we will not be silenced for choosing to breastfeed whenever and wherever our child is hungry outside the home.
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Recent Press: Cayuga News about Dee Merrit at MOM