In a Salon.com article this Monday, “What a boob: My breast-feeding failure. How putting a little piece of plastic on my nipple convinced me I was a bad mother,” Jessica Roake writes that, owing to a bad fit between her son’s tiny mouth and her breast, she had to use a nipple shield to feed him for the first seven months.
It was frustrating, she worried about her son’s weight gain in the beginning, and she was torn between the advice of her pediatrician to simply switch to formula and the advice of her lactation consultant to stick with the shield and tough it out. It’s a sweet story, written in a voice of uncertainty and anxiety that many moms will remember well.
And then I read the comments section and was slightly horrified. Granted Salon comments are known to get nasty, but claims of “smug and self-righteous nursing fascism” and “lactation extremism?” Oh boy. Why does talk about the complexities of breast-feeding get people so angry—as if by discussing it we’re being fussy and overindulgent? Nursing is not easy, and in earlier times, moms living more communal lives with many generations of women around them had plenty of advice and support. We don’t have that now, so we use formal groups and lactation consultants. What’s so infuriating about that?
For me, the piece also highlighted something important about early breast-feeding: to many of us, it’s difficult, painful, and confusing—we can’t get it right and it feels like a mess. But somehow when we look around, all the other moms seem to be gracefully latching and feeding like pros. This was Roake’s perspective when she went to her first breast-feeding support group:
“Every woman was like the serene earth mother of mommy magazine lore. Their babies suckled peacefully at their breasts, occasionally touching the dainty handmade blankets that held them. Their hair was brushed and perfect, their faces fresh.”
I think it says something about our vulnerability at this stage that most moms feel overwhelmed and have to work hard at nursing, but to each other we seem like we’ve got it all under control.