Any mother, or would-be mother who spends any amount of time on the internet has read plenty of opinions about breastfeeding. The prevailing attitude seems to be along the lines of, “OMG BREASTFEED YOUR BABY OR YOU ARE THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD AND YOUR CHILDREN WILL NEVER BE SUCCESSFUL IN LIFE.” This general point is stated so pervasively and so, um, passionately, that it’s creating somewhat of a reflexive backlash. Now, very few people are challenging the “breast is best” idea because, science. Instead, what’s happening is that women who can’t or don’t breastfeed for whatever reason, or even women who haven’t yet given birth, are feeling attacked.
Now think about what happens when you’re fighting with your significant other: You feel attacked. You get defensive. You look for anything you can to tear down the other person’s argument. In the case of breastfeeding, there are enough horror stories floating around that just about any pro-breastfeeding argument can be dismissed with two words: cracked nipples.
If it’s not cracked nipples, it’s not enough milk production, or mastitis, or no sleep, or any number of unpleasant side effects that make the idea of shaking up some formula seem more and more appealing. Hell, even people who do manage to successfully breastfeed often have to deal with physical pain and other yuckiness. All of this is compounded by the fact that very few women are actually properly educated about breastfeeding before having a child. What? A lack of female reproductive health education in America? You don’t say!
Before writing this, I took a quick straw poll among my fellow Pants writers, to see how many had taken prenatal breastfeeding classes. The answer? Zero. The typical response was that they had taken the incredibly unhelpful breastfeeding class given in the hospital, post-delivery. Guess what? If you’re just trying to figure out how the fuck to breastfeed after you already have a screaming baby in your lap and you’ve been up for days with no sleep or food, you are not creating a recipe for success.
Maybe it has to do with the fact that I was pregnant in New York City, but I took a shitload of prenatal classes that were offered by my hospital. The breastfeeding one seemed goofy at first, but I fully credit it with the fact that I was able to successfully breastfeed my son for the first year of his life. The instructor not only taught about the importance of breastfeeding (the health benefits, the bonding, etc.), but even had goofy yarn boobs and dolls to teach us about proper latching. As I was sitting there, I felt like an idiot who was wasting time and money watching a lady make a doll suck on a yarn tit, but I swear to God, the techniques I learned that day 100% translated when my son was born.
I learned that there was nothing to worry about when it came to breastfeeding a child with teeth, because if he’s latched on properly, then he physically cannot bite. I learned that the best way to get a baby to latch on is to tickle the bottom of his chin to make his mouth open wide and then just *thwack* shove that baby on my nipple before he even knew what hit him. I learned that if your baby is gaining weight, then OH MY GOD, YOU ARE DOING EVERYTHING RIGHT, CALM DOWN.
Because of the education I received before my life was turned upside down by a 7 lb. 9 oz. poop machine, I didn’t have any of the physical ailments that were seemingly unavoidable. Now that’s not to say that breastfeeding for a year was all sunshine and roses– it was still emotionally draining. I had gone through the better part of a year giving my body up to the baby growing inside of me, and now that he was out, a part of my body was still at his disposal 24/7. Not feeling like I owned my own body was incredibly difficult. As someone who has always cherished her independence, having this invisible tether took a lot of getting used to. But to me, the positives of exclusively breastfeeding my son way outweighed the negatives.
If we want more mothers to breastfeed in this country, judging them to death isn’t going to do the trick. Neither, though, is the flip side of blithely saying, “Oh, it’s her choice.” What it should be, is an educated decision. We need to create a climate of success for breastfeeding, and that includes prenatal education and post-natal resources. Women need to be properly educated about breastfeeding, because as anyone who’s tried it will tell you: that shit is not intuitive. But if something does go wrong, women also need free or affordable resources that can offer help. If breastfeeding still doesn’t work after that, then that’s okay. Say it with me: “That’s okay.”