World Breastfeeding Week is officially coming to a close. And unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably noticed that your news feed contained more a few more breastfeeding-related articles than usual lately. Maybe you even saw the hashtags #WBW2016 and #normalizebreastfeeding floating around or caught a few “brelfies” popping up across Instagram and Twitter.
Maybe all of this made you think to yourself, Breastfeeding is a totally natural thing, and women get way too much grief about it. More power to you if that’s your choice.
Or, maybe your reaction was something more along the lines of, Enough already, I get it: Breastfeeding is great and all, but why do I have to keep hearing about it?
The wide range of reactions to World Breastfeeding Week — as with breastfeeding in general — is a pretty big one. There are those who feel that by heavily promoting the benefits of breastfeeding, advocates are shoving it in people’s faces — making mothers who chose not to breastfeed feel as though their decision is something to be ashamed of. At the same time, others feel that the mere sight of a woman breastfeeding is downright disgusting, and not something we should be putting on display or celebrating. (Yes, “disgusting,” and other even harsher words are used to describe breastfeeding all. the. time.)
And while it may seem like World Breastfeeding Week is some semi-recent social media ploy for likes and shares and getting people fired up, the truth is, it isn’t some new fad. WBW has been around since 1992, when it was started by The World Alliance For Breastfeeding Action in an effort to “protect, promote, and support breastfeeding.” To date, 170 countries celebrate it and it’s endorsed by UNICEF and The World Health Organization.
Here’s the thing: Whatever feelings this week triggers for you personally, when it comes to breastfeeding promotion, WBW works. The number of women breastfeeding in America today is a lot higher than it was a few decades ago, largely because of advocacy campaigns that underline the importance of breastfeeding for the well-being of moms and babies.
But we have a long way to go. The benefits of breastfeeding are well known, but even though a high percentage of moms start off breastfeeding after birth, many don’t make it past a few weeks or months.
Breastfeeding can be damn hard, and if a mom doesn’t feel supported, she is apt to give up.
It’s about more than just finding someone who can help with sore nipples and milk supply worries, though. It’s about making a mother feel that her body can do this, that breastfeeding is normal, and important enough to fight for.
It’s about eradicating the pervasive thought in our society that breastfeeding is something that should be done behind closed doors.
It’s about making a mom feel that the world around her gets it, and will support her as she journeys through breastfeeding — on her own terms, in her own way.
You see, more moms than you might realize have been shamed for breastfeeding their babies. Actually, I would venture to say that most breastfeeding moms have at some point been harassed or made to feel embarrassed about breastfeeding.
I know I have. A pediatrician once told me that my 4-day-old son hadn’t gained enough weight, and I’d need to switch to formula. My milk was still just coming in. His comments made me feel inadequate, like my body wasn’t going to work — and that the only solution was to stop breastfeeding.
Six months later, I was harassed at a Subway restaurant while breastfeeding my son. I was told to nurse in the bathroom or leave the restaurant. The sting of those words still haunt me to this day, almost 10 years later.
But as painful as they can be to listen to, we need to hear these stories. We need people to know how real they are, how frequently they happen, and how profoundly they affect women and babies.
Babble recently asked breastfeeding moms to share moments when they too felt shamed, ridiculed, or judged for their decision to breastfeed — and let me tell you, their stories are eye-opening. Their candor and their bravery is a testament to how kick-ass mothers can be, even when the odds are stacked against them.
There were those who endured judgement from family members …
“The hardest blow I ever received was from my very own sister. My son was just under a year old, and she asked if I was ‘still nursing?’ Without thinking much about it, I said yes. Her response was clear and direct: it was ‘disgusting’ that I was nursing him at that age. What hurt most was that she had been present and supportive for my entire birth. It felt like my biggest ally had just become my biggest bully.” — Kerry
“I get a lot of comments from family asking when I’m going to stop breastfeeding my 13-month-old [and] why I won’t go into another room when I do it. They tell me I’m going to scar her for life by breastfeeding her for so long. The looks in public definitely have made me uncomfortable. I limit how often I nurse her in public. It’s definitely not stopping me from continuing to breastfeed and has not caused me to consider early weaning though, and I still plan to nurse for as long as it is working for us.” — Sara
… and even from friends.
“My son was formula fed after six weeks. My daughter was breastfed to 19 months. As a mom struggling to breastfeed, I received far more shaming comments about my decision to formula feed (especially in a ‘natural’ parenting group) than I did about breastfeeding my daughter. However, after my daughter turned a year old, I started getting lots of negative comments, from nearly everyone. It was like a switch had flipped and suddenly it was just weird and gross to nurse a toddler.” — Jessica
“At my stepfather’s funeral I was nursing my 2-year-old. An old family friend, who has known me since I was 5, came over and told me that I should be ashamed of myself for nursing such an ‘old’ child. My mom came to my defense and said, ‘Nancy nurses all of her babies for a long time.'” — Nancy
From their doctors …
“My kid’s first pediatrician shamed me for nursing him ‘too much’ when he was all of a month old. Supposedly it was because she was worried that my nipples would get sore. When I told her that they weren’t and I didn’t mind, she just gave me the dirtiest look.” — Katherine
“Every appointment after my daughter was 1, her pediatrician would start each visit with ‘You aren’t still breastfeeding, are you?’ And then she would go into a lecture about how my milk isn’t nutritional after she turns one. Luckily I didn’t listen to her and nursed her until she was 2.” — Diana
“Right before being put under for surgery, I made it clear that I intended to breastfeed after I became alert. The anesthesiologist adamantly disagreed. As she began administering the drugs she told me she has three children, two are doctors and one an attorney, and none were breastfed.” — Joanna
… to strangers.
“[It happened to me] at a park near our home on a Wednesday morning. My 6-month-old baby got hungry so we sat on a blanket under a tree and I fed him. A group of three teenage boys walked by and didn’t even glance at us. Two women in jogging suits walked by a few minutes later and both glared at me. One said to the other (loudly), ‘I would never do that in public.’ Her friend replied, ‘Disgusting!’ And they walked past. I was so upset.” — Elisabeth
“I was in the women’s locker room at the gym nursing my daughter when an older woman walked by. I heard her in the next row of lockers tell her friend, ‘Can you believe she’s breastfeeding in here? What is wrong with people?'” — Diana
“It was the first full week of school. I got my daughters to school, stopped in the parents’ room, put [my baby] Finn in the carrier, and latched him onto my breast. As I walked past the classrooms — which were in a progressive school in the East Village of NYC — I first ignored the voice that said, ‘You can’t do that here,’ because certainly those words were not aimed at me. Then I heard it again louder and saw the guard stationed at the front desk looking at me with judgment in her eyes. ‘You can’t do that here,’ she repeated.”
“I told her I can nurse my hungry baby and that by telling me I can’t she was violating my civil rights and disempowering me. I turned and walked away and cried. I was a 40-year-old La Leche League Leader, lactation consultant, and mom of three. Imagine if I was a first time mom?” — Leigh AnneMore On