Disclaimer- I fully support a woman's right to feed her child what, how, & where she chooses- formula fed or breastfed. This post is in no way negatively directed at mothers who choose to or have to formula feed their babies. Healthy, thriving babies is what is most important no matter how they are nourished.
For generations, the people of our American society have been what I like to call bamboobled. Bamboobled into believing that formula is superior to breast milk. Bamboobled into thinking that breastfeeding is something taboo, to be hidden away from the eyes of the innocent and the general public, behind closed bedroom doors and pieces of fabric. Lately I have been asking myself how did this happen in our society? How did an act of mothering that was once considered normal and quite frankly, the only acceptable means of feeding your baby become to be viewed as a shameful act, perverse even to some?
So, I have been reading and educating myself about the history of breastfeeding in this country. And I have been speaking to those of older generations such as my own grandmother to try and piece this together. And my conclusion? The bamboobling started generations ago. Right around the time that my own grandmother was giving birth to her first child.
I was surprised to find that those who were most comfortable with my breastfeeding in my family were my own grandparents. I fully expected to receive more support and acceptance from younger generations than from older generations, but I was wrong. And as I thought about it, it made sense. My grandparents would have been the ones who would have witnessed their own mothers nursing their siblings. Maybe the last generation in America to regularly do so. My grandmother tried to nurse my oldest uncle. Then she started hemorrhaging shortly after she and baby arrived home from the hospital. She was rushed to the hospital and then admitted. Her son was not allowed to be brought to her room to nurse, and when asked if she could use a pump, the nurses refused. The hospital hijacked her attempts at breastfeeding. This was also at a time when a nursing mother was relegated to a back bedroom in the house to nurse her baby during family gatherings. Made to be an outcast by their own loved ones. (And yes, I know this still exists, self-imposed or otherwise.) The support was severely lacking and my grandmother gave up on nursing her son shortly thereafter.
You may ask yourself why on earth would a hospital & those dedicated to promoting a healthy lifestyle sabotage my grandmother's efforts to breastfeed her son? This was during the 1950's. An era when most families could finally afford to buy a television. The first diet cola was sold. Oral contraceptives were invented, and the first Teflon pan was produced. And formula corporations had just started writing large checks to hospitals and doctors to have their infant formulas promoted by the health industry. Advertising campaigns were launched to convince mothers that formula was better for their babies than their own breast milk, and doctors agreed. What parents would question the recommendation by their doctors and hospitals to formula feed their children? By the 1970's, nearly 75% of all babies in the United States were formula fed. And thus, generations grew up never being fed breast milk or even being aware that breastfeeding was an option for feeding a baby. And I was one of those children.
Obviously, I thrived and grew up healthy. But to this day, I cannot recall witnessing one female family member or a female family friend nursing in my presence. My baby dolls all came with bottles to feed them. My little sister was bottle fed. The culture of shame regarding breastfeeding had a stronghold in the mindset of America by the time my mother gave birth to me in 1977. It was not "normal" to feed your child from your breast, and it was frowned upon. Something that had once been so natural and socially accepted was no longer. Yep, bamboobled.
How I came to the decision to breastfeed my son 13 years ago, I do not fully recall. I was 19 years old when I was pregnant with him, and I read. A lot. Study after study had come out from the medical community about the advantages and benefits of nursing versus formula feeding. I knew that I would at the very least give breastfeeding a shot. Fortunately for the two of us, my son took very easily to nursing. I do not recall having much contact then with people who were supporting my decision to breastfeed or even knew how to support me, quite frankly. Twitter did not exist then. ;)
My now 2 month old daughter and I had a very much different initial breastfeeding experience, as those of you who have read my previous blog post know. But luckily, we were at what was deemed a breastfeeding friendly hospital- the encouragement to nurse within the first hour after the birth, rooming in, knowledgeable nurses, and a lactation consultant on staff. And yet I was given an infant formula sponsored "goodie" bag complete with formula coupons to take home with me from that very same hospital. Yeah, that made me scratch my head. I even felt a little angry over that, even though I couldn't quite put my finger on just why. And now I know it is because it seemed so hypocritical to me. Like they there supporting breastfeeding, but selling out at the same time.
Much must be done in this society to reverse the bamboobling. And I will continue to be open about nursing my daughter, even if that does offend a few people or make some people uncomfortable. Attitudes concerning breastfeeding can change. My father is proof positive of that, even though he may not realize it or admit to it. When I breastfed my son over 13 years ago, he didn't even like to be in the same room with us. Just this Sunday, he sat down beside me on the couch as I nursed his granddaughter and didn't blink an eye. I am pretty sure he didn't even realize it, but I did. <3