World Breastfeeding Week is an annual celebration held from August 1-7 to protect, promote and support breastfeeding. My first child was born on August 1 so that date (and the week) has special significance for me. I fully expected to exclusively breastfeed. A number of factors including pre-eclampsia, a failed induction at 37 weeks, a c-section, newborn weight loss, a lip and tongue tie and latching difficulties resulted in formula supplementation, combination feeding, cup and spoon feeding, pumping, numerous consults with lactation consultants and eventually a move to exclusive formula feeding around his third month of life.
All types of Breastfeeding and Effort should be Honored
I understand the reasons for promoting and protecting breastfeeding. I strongly believe that every mother has the right to feed her child as she chooses, where she chooses, when she chooses and should be supported in whatever decision she makes. But as someone who desperately wanted to breastfeed (ahhhh… if you could have seen me struggle to cup feed my baby to avoid nipple confusion) and had the means and support (by way of a small army of lactation consultants and access to and funds for the laser lip and tongue tie repair) I simply don’t believe the assertion that with enough support anyone can breastfeed.
It’s nice to say that mothers don’t fail at breastfeeding, that the system fails them. But this reinforces the idea that anyone should and could be able to breastfeed and overlooks issues of anatomy and biology. Having had two children with vastly different nursing experiences (baby #2 had no lip and tongue tie nor latching difficulties) for me, this simply wasn’t true. In my experience, promoting the idea that everyone is capable of breastfeeding further shames mothers who are not able to breastfeed by assuring them that they could have, had they found or had access to the appropriate resources or support.
During World Breastfeeding Week my social media feeds inevitably fill with artistic black and white photos of babies contentedly nursing, friends running half marathons and stopping halfway through to nurse, tandem nursing, stories of the joy and connection found in nursing and in some cases the triumph of overcoming nursing challenges by embracing elimination diets, nipple shields and other tools.
For me, and for many friends, this week long celebration of breastfeeding can further widen the divide between mothers who exclusively breastfeed and those who do not. Rather than simply promote, protect and support breastfeeding, it can become a self-congratulatory breast is best bonanza that, inadvertently or not, puts down those who utilize other feeding options. I don’t think it has to be this way. Here are three ways to make World Breastfeeding Week more inclusive.
3 Ways to Make World Breastfeeding Week More Inclusive
1. Remember Pumpers
Pumpers, especially those moms who exclusively pump, can feel that they are not “real” breastfeeders and experience shame about pumping. Often the sight of a mother bottle feeding results in an immediate judgement from others, no matter what that bottle holds. While breastfeeding photos can portray serenity and bonding, photos of pumping with its slick plastic funnels and tubing don’t have the same appeal. But the fact remains, pumping is hard work and it demonstrates a real commitment to breastfeeding that should be applauded. So, if you do or have pumped don’t leave out that part of your story on World Breastfeeding Week. Come out of the bathroom stall or pumping room and bring your Spectra with you! Help a fellow pumper feel less alone!
2. Include Those Who Combination Feed
I can remember the moment not long after my son was born when my nurse (who was also a lactation consultant) announced that we’d have to begin supplementing using formula. The news was shared with a disappointing tone, it was clear that I should be upset about the way this was going (and I was).
Though I continued to try to breastfeed and to pump breastmilk the overall tenor of the lactation consultations I met with was one of disappointment. It was clear that the inclusion of any kind of formula diminished my efforts at continued nursing and pumping in their minds. Breastfeeding was to them and many others, an all or nothing endeavor.
Using formula does not erase breastfeeding efforts. Combination feeding moms deserve support for their feeding choices and commitment to the health of their children on World Breastfeeding Week and every week.
3. Promote Without Putting Down
The myriad of choices involved in motherhood are overwhelming and judgements can come from every corner. It is easy to feel insecure no matter what feeding, diapering or sleep choices you make for your child and one of the ways many of us deal with this insecurity is by surrounding ourselves with others who make similar choices and, implicitly or not, putting down those who choose otherwise.
Can we all just stop? It is possible to be proud of your breastfeeding journey without putting down the feeding choices of others. I encourage you to think about your posts, your hashtags and the way in which you frame your breastfeeding experience. Are you simply sharing your experience or making a judgement about the experience of others? This World Breastfeeding Week I encourage you to do something that may be even harder than nursing: be honest, be sensitive, be inclusive.