MOM Art Annex: Exhibition & Education Center

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A Mothers’ Breastfeeding Struggles Are Not Her Fault – Blame Society

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.

Sources:
https://sites.google.com/site/historyofchildbirthinamerica/historical-resources/historical-timeline
https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/data/nis_data/results.html
https://www.unicef.org/parenting/food-nutrition/14-myths-about-breastfeeding
https://www.cnn.com/2019/06/11/health/texas-breastfeeding-pool-trnd/index.html

Deann’s Other Blogs at MOM: 

Why Don’t IBLCLCs And Dentists Agree
How Income and Insurance Can Affect Breastfeeding Support For New Moms
Breastfeeding Education Might Not Be What You Think It Is
Gender Disappointment

Recent Press: Cayuga News about Dee Merrit at MOM

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Why Don’t IBCLCs And Dentists agree?

By Deann Shaffner

It can be very frustrating for parents to hear from a dentist, that breastfeeding at night, or night-nursing, caused your child to have cavities. The health benefits of breastfeeding are widely promoted, but information that it might cause cavities isn’t forthcoming. That’s probably because it is may not be true. It can be confusing for a parent to hear from a professional that has studied lactation to hear from a professional that has studied teeth that they simply do not agree. One argues that night nursing isn’t a valid reason to wean, and the other insists on weaning at night because prolonged night-nursing might cause cavities.

I’d heard rumors about people who experienced situations where the dentist suggested weaning at night, but when it came time for me to experience this first-hand, I was shocked. During a tooth brushing wrestling match with my youngest son who had recently turned 2, I noticed, not just 1, but 3 dark spots! There were THREE cavities on his front teeth. I instantly felt pangs of guilt. How could I have caused this? Then, I questioned if I was brushing his teeth enough? Was he getting too much sugar in his diet? Did I not have a good brand of toothpaste? Whatever it was that caused the cavities, I had to get him in to see a dentist immediately so we could understand our options and treat the problem.

When Liam’s father came back from the dentist, he told me, “Well, Liam has cavities because he breastfeeds at night, so you have to stop nursing him at night or brush his teeth when he is done. I guess breastfeeding is just as bad as drinking a soda before bed.”

I felt so angry, I yelled, “I AM SO GLAD I AM NOT A FIRST TIME MOTHER! THAT IS NOT TRUE!”

Of course, his father looked at me like I was crazy. I was just a mom saying that my dentist, who is well educated in the study of teeth, had no idea what he was talking about. Who the heck am I to question what my dentist said? I knew from all the books I had read, podcasts of IBCLCs I had listened too, that this was a topic brought up often, and it was always discussed as a myth. I knew the resources I had to navigate, to share with other mothers stating that this was not true (like here on Kellymom.com.)

I just kept saying to myself, “breastfeeding does not cause cavities!” But again, how could I KNOW this, but my dentist did not? I knew I had an appointment for myself in the upcoming months and I decided that would be the time for me to address all my questions and offer the information I had at my disposal. I liked and respected my dentist a great deal, even though I was angered by what he said. In the past, he had made our family feel comfortable, even though he was a very young dentist.

I asked my dentist a variety of questions on the day of my appointment. First, I inquired about what sources for education on breastfeeding and tooth decay he had access too. Then, I asked how he knew exactly what caused my son’s cavities? Lastly, I wanted to discuss why IBCLCs and dentists don’t agree.

Before answering my questions, I could interpret that he felt uncomfortable and that he was not expecting this kind of conversation. The direct questioning of his authority surprised him. He explained to me that he did not have any lactation education. He then shared a brief description from a study in 1984, of the relation of night nursing and cavities in the book Dental Caries: The Disease and It’s Clinical Management on pages 344-347. Then, he then also explained that when my son nurses at night, the breastmilk may sometimes pool around the front of the teeth, which may lead to the cavities.

breastfeeding baby

I knew what he was describing was baby bottle rot. This is because when breastfeeding, the nipple goes far enough to the back of the throat, which does not leave much room for breastmilk to go anywhere but down the throat. But, before I could say anything else, he quickly reminded me that he supports breastfeeding and that I just had to brush my son’s teeth throughout the night when he nurses. With my last question on why IBCLCs and Dentists don’t agree, he simply did not have an answer for me. This upset me because I felt concerned about other new parents (this was my second child) might interpret the conflicting information available to them.

The 8th edition of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding states, “There is no evidence that nighttime nursing causes cavities. Other mammals with teeth nurse day and night, and they don’t get cavities.

Dr. Brian Palmer studied children’s skulls that were thousands of years old. These skulls were preserved prior to the invention of toothpaste. He found almost no evidence of cavities. Why would this be? One reason is that “human milk does not pool around the teeth during nursing; it is pulled instantly toward the throat and swallowed,” (Pg. 241).

A lot has certainly changed over millennia of human life, including diets and how we live. But, what hasn’t changed is a baby’s wiring to breastfeed, and to receive human milk. Can breastfed children get cavities? Of course, but saying breastfeeding alone is what causes problems, is incorrect. In my own experience, my breastfed son, who was also introduced to a variety of milk including soymilk, almond milk, whole milk, and was also eating whole foods, I probably did not brush his teeth as often as I should have been. My other son had nursed for almost 2 years and at 5 he never had a cavity. My Dentist did not ask me about Liam’s diet, but as soon as breastfeeding came up, the issue of cavities was blamed on that. I do not accept that reasoning.

I’m sure in both the professions of IBCLC and of dentistry, the newest scientific information is relevant and accessible. But, how often do dentists actually get updated on lactation research? And, how often are we studying this issue? There are breastfeeding-friendly dentists sprinkled throughout the U.S., but not everyone has the means to visit with one.

If you’re experiencing a recommendation to night-wean in order to avoid cavities, it might be best to look for the most recent research. Then, as with everything else, make as informed a decision as possible. Evaluate what works best for you and your family, and make sure you’re wiping your child’s teeth twice a day, especially at night. No matter how you feed your child, you cannot 100% protect them from cavities. But, you can help prevent them as much as possible. Cavities can happen to any child, but breastfeeding alone is not the answer to why children may develop dental problems.

Congratulations to Deann for a recent press article at Cayuga NewsDecorative Image Only

Deann’s Other Blogs at MOM: 

How Income and Insurance Can Affect Breastfeeding Support For New Moms

Breastfeeding Education Might Not Be What You Think It Is

Gender Disappointment