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Let's Make Breastfeeding Normal Again!

Photo by Aneta Hayne Photography
Before we get into a topic that I am very passionate about, let me introduce myself. My name is Naya Weber and I’m mother to two little boys who were both breastfed beyond infancy. It was my own struggles that motivated me to pursue a career in lactation. I’m an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) - my job is to support families experiencing postpartum breastfeeding challenges. In addition to working with families, I am the social media manager for Mothers’ Milk Bank at Austin. I’m grateful to have found my way to MMBA, an organization that does so much good and uses their platform to promote good health from an early age.

Normalize breastfeeding - it has been a term all over the internet for the last several years. Moms posting breastfeeding selfies (#brelfies) on social media to a variety of reactions - from praise to the more critical, “why is she posting that??!” I think the real question we need to ask ourselves is: why do we have to work to normalize an instinctual behavior that is the biological norm?

Formula has its place in infant feeding. Not all mothers are able to produce as much breastmilk as needed, and formula is used to help baby grow. However science has shown time and time again that breastmilk is the optimal source of nutrition and immunological benefits for babies, especially premature and medically fragile infants. It reduces the risk of necrotizing enterocolitis (also known as NEC, a leading cause of mortality among preterm infants) by up to 75%, and recent studies show it can be life changing for infants with congenital heart defects as well. For these reasons and so many more, breastmilk is the recommended diet for the first year of life. Families are encouraged to take prenatal breastfeeding classes, initiate breastfeeding within the first few hours after birth, and continue breastfeeding upon hospital or birth center discharge. Despite these efforts, many moms stop breastfeeding long before hitting this goal. According to the CDC’s 2018 Breastfeeding Report Card, 83.2% of infants start off breastfeeding, but only 57.6% were breastfeeding at 6 months, and just over one-third (35.9%) were breastfeeding at 12 months.


Photo by Dave Clubb on Unsplash
While we prepare and encourage families to breastfeed their babies, our society is not set up to help them succeed. The reasons are plenty, and run the gamut from no paid parental/family leave to inadequate pump-at-work laws with little enforcement, to fear of breastfeeding in public. In fact, a 2012 survey showed that 40% - that’s nearly half - of moms surveyed said that breastfeeding in public was their greatest concern. That’s more than fear of experiencing pain while breastfeeding, fear of not reaching their breastfeeding goals, and fear of baby not being able to latch. This fear isn’t unreasonable. Breasts are fine when selling beer, hamburgers, and domain names, but when used for their biological purpose, women are called names, told to leave, and even covered with dirty dish rags. You likely see more skin at the beach, pool, or the 8-foot tall billboard in the window of a popular lingerie store than you do when a mom tries to feed her baby in public. It took until 2018 for all 50 states to legalize public breastfeeding! The implications of skipping feeds because a mom is out in public go beyond plugged ducts, mastitis, and an angry screaming baby. Giving mothers side eye, offering unnecessary criticisms, and not supporting workplace lactation can lead them to stop breastfeeding sooner than planned.


Photo from The Little Milk Bar
Mothers’ Milk Bank at Austin encourages lactating mothers to do what nature has put into motion. Normalizing breastfeeding is good for all of society: allowing mothers to feed their babies the best food available, and ensuring ample supply of donor milk for babies with unmet needs. If all infants get the best possible start in life, we will improve their health for a lifetime. Healthy babies lead to healthy children and healthy adults. One way MMBA will add to the shift in conversation is with our new donor gifts: burp cloths printed on the breast cloth possible. These cheeky burp cloths are automatic conversation starters. While we cannot guarantee that all of the conversations will be good or positive, we hope to get more people thinking about the intended function of our breasts - to nourish infants. Since our donors are familiar with MMBA, our mission, and have their own lactation journey, the boob burp cloths are a great way to dissolve the stigma around breasts. While they may not be everyone’s cup of tea, their potential to start important conversations cannot be denied. They can make an advocate out of a person who may not know much about breastfeeding or milk banking, or may make someone take pause at their own reaction to them. So what do you say, reader: will you join us to make breastfeeding normal again?

Special thanks to The Little Milk Bar for their support in our mission!

Comments

  1. Beautifully said! I just started the process of becoming a milk mommy donor and I couldn't be happier to be a supporter of breast feeding/donating and be encouragement to breastfeeding. Mother nature has made us this amazing to be able to produce and sustain human life! Why should it be considered anything else? Remember Mommies, you are beautiful, and you are amazing!

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