Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Social Need to Nurse in Public

This post was inspired by a discussion on a webforum for swing dancers, oddly enough.

There has been a lot of media attention on the subject of breastfeeding in public. The main cause being the removal of photos from Facebook showing women nursing their children. At first, I was reluctant to take a stand on the issue. Parenting for me, is not a political statement. However the more I thought on the matter, the more I felt that so-called "lactivism" ran much deeper than a political feminist movement. Lactivists are pushing for a movement that is much needed in our society. Breastfeeding, and public displays of breastfeeding such as pictures, are needed to be seen in western culture for several reasons:
  • To promote the normalcy of breastfeeding
  • To educate the public on the healthfulness of breastfeeding
  • To decrease the number of problems that new nursing mothers face.
The first time that Jonah and I nursed outside of our home, I was embarrassed to the point of mortification. We were at a picnic with friends at Edgewater park in Cleveland. Jonah was less than two weeks old. We had nursed in the car, before making our way to the public park pavilion and had only planned on staying at the picnic for less than two hours. This way, I would not have to worry about feeding Jonah in public. I found the first time out, amongst friends, as a new mother to be refreshing. Two hours passed very quickly, and Jonah was ready to eat before I was ready to leave. My baby was frantic, crying for reassurance that food was nearby. I looked around the pavillion, but saw nowhere secluded or private. I timidly peeked my head into the bathroom, with its rank and rusty stalls. I couldn't stand the smell, much less the thought of feeding my baby in there! Jonah's screams were becoming more real. I sat down at the edge of the picnic area, took a deep breath, and unclasped my nursing bra. Just as I began to lift my shirt, with my flailing screaming newborn drawing attention to the situation, a group of men walked past and looked straight at me. I quickly fastened my bra, and began yet another frantic search. Finally, I pulled the stroller to the corner of the pavillion. I sat between the stroller and the wall, on the floor, hoping no one saw as I lifted my crying baby to my breast.

I am sharing this story, because I think that it is typical for new mothers to feel this way when nursing in public for the first time. Embarassed, frantic, and self conscious. I wish that I could take my confidence in nursing now, and project it onto other new mothers. When a mother is learning to breastfeed, this is not the state of mind that she needs to be in. Luckily for me and Jonah, we have recieved the support that we need to nurse comfortably when we are not at home.

Promoting Normalcy:
The reason that my story is so much like other women's first public nursing experiences, is that breastfeeding is seen as an abnormal behavior. People view it as weird, vulgar, and sexual. The breast is not seen as the vessel that holds nourishment and comfort for an infant or young child, but it is a sexual icon that is only exposed by the lewd and promiscuous. At the same time that it is viewed as a sexual conduit, the breasts also provide entertainment value to performers such as Britney Spears, Madonna, and a list of others too long to provide here. The breast is exciting and forbidding at the same time. It is no wonder with these conflicting views, that the public is easily misled about the true nature of the most miraculous part of a woman's body.

No woman should feel shameful about feeding her child. No woman should feel the way that I did in that park pavillion, desperately wanting to stop her child's cries, but desperately wanting to not offend anyone. The advice I have for mothers who are shy about nursing in public, is realize that if any onlookers are offended, it is their problem and not yours. Typically, I am the type of person who is a people-pleaser. If anyone finds my behavior offensive or awkward, I am embarrassed and quickly work to make the situation right. However, when it comes to nursing, a mother should be concerned primarily about the comfort of her child, and second, her own comfort. Breastfeeding is difficult enough, without having to worry about the comfort of individuals around you. Baby can sense when you are tense and uncomfortable, and in turn that will make him cranky and reluctant to nurse properly. For the best results, nursing in public should be just as comfortable for mother and child as it is in the home.

By giving the public more chances to see women nursing, breastfeeding will become a normal part of society. A child suckling at the breast will no longer seem "perverted" but instead would be publicly accepted. Women would no longer feel ashamed to use their body for what it is naturally designed to do.

Educating the Public: By achieving the above goal of promoting the normalcy of breastfeeding, it will be promoted as not only a normal source of nourishment, but also the best source of nourishment for an infant and young child. The more normal that breastfeeding becomes, the less mothers will turn to artificial baby milk (formula) as their child's source of nutrition. Formula is very useful. If a child should abruptly become seperated from his mother, if the mother became ill and was incapable of nursing, or if the infant was born prematurely and the mother's milk will not come in, are all reasons to use artificial baby milk. However, because breastfeeding has inherited the vulgar reputation through the conotation of the breast, many very capable mothers choose to formula feed their infant instead. Formula is promoted as a food source equal to mom's milk. Women say "why would I go through all of that when I have this other stuff that is just as good! Truthfully, formula is severely lacking when it is compared to breastmilk. It is missing several componants contained in breastmilk, including protiens and acids that promote healthy brain development, and antibodies that help protect the child's developing immune system (Baumslag,Michels "Milk Money And Madness" p 90). It is also missing the organic nature of breastmilk. Breastmilk, unlike formula which stays uniform, changes itself to meet the needs of the child at any given stage of development. The food that a mother is providing through her breasts is tailored perfectly for that child at exactly the moment he is drinking it (Baumslag, Michels p 77). The image that western cultures holds over breastfeeding is the biggest reason that mothers choose to feed their infants inferior food.

The general public is not the only group that needs to be educated. Pediatricians are severely undereducated in the breastfeeding department. I feel that this is due to two things. The first is that the current "normal" way to feed a baby is by formula. The general public wants to be educated in terms of formula fed infants rather than breastfed. For generations, breastfeeding was taboo, and therefor became ignored by the professionals. Anther reason is funding. Formula companies give enormous amounts of money to maternity wards and pediatric practices. All of the growth charts and feeding charts for infants are provided by formula companies and based on formula fed infants (kellymom). Doctors do not seem to know that breastmilk is broken down so perfectly by the human body, that a perfectly healthy breastfed baby will be smaller than a formula fed infant at the same age. Because breastmilk is broken down so completely, the body does not retain the unused portion as fat. A breastfed baby is also less likely to overeat. A pediatrician will urge many mothers to supplement "just one" bottle of formula every night, because their child is underweight. When a mother does this, it causes her body to produce less milk, and with time she will eventually increase the number of bottles given each day, decreasing her milk supply, and finally feeding the baby formula full time, when in fact there was nothing wrong to begin with. Pediatricians will also often tell a mother to wean her child right at twelve months, despite the fact that the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for the first two years of life (World Health Organization). The pediatrician is seeing the world through formula fed infants, once again. Formula is not good for all of those wonderful healthy teeth that baby is getting, and neither is the artificial nipple of the bottle from which he recieves it. It is healthy for a formula fed infant to be weaned from the bottle, and given whole cow's milk (which is what his formula was based on.) However, a breast does not equal a bottle. Breastmilk is not harmful to a young toddler's teeth, and in fact promotes healthy teeth(La Leche League International). Sucking on a breast is quite different from sucking on an artificial nipple, and is not harmful for the child. While there is no nutritional value of continuing to give a young toddler formula after his first birthday, breastmilk contains many benefits for both mother and child way past twelve months. The child's immune system is not fully developed and capable of working on its own until at least 18 months of age. During this time, a breastfed child is getting an extra boost of immunity from the antibodies in mother's milk. At the same time, breastfeeding past one year helps protect the mother from certain cancers. These are only a couple of reasons that WHO has reccommended breastfeeding into the second year of life and beyond. If more people see breastfeeding as normal, these truths would become general knowledge, and our child's nutrition would no longer be clouded by the lies of formula companies.

Decreasing the Number of Problems that Nursing Mothers Face: Breastfeeding is not an instinctual behavior. It is a socially learned behavior (Tamaro, "So That's What They're For" pp. 28-29). Any mother can tell you that the day her baby was born and brought to her breast the first time, she stared at the baby, hoping he would tell her what to do next. No lightbulb just turns on. It is a very difficult task to learn, and without proper guidance and modeling it can be downright impossible. Women need to see other mothers nursing. We need the support and commaraderie of other nursing mothers, but above all, we need to see other mothers nurse. By keeping breastfeeding private, we are making it more difficult, and pretty much impossible, for the next generation of mothers to breastfeed. I feel that this is the most important reason why public displays of breastfeeding should be allowed without censorship. I am confident that with more nursing mothers in plain view, the next generation of mothers would have fewer problems learning to get a good latch, figuring out the correct position to hold their infant, what to do if the baby is not latching properly. Fewer women would have the frustration of a screaming infant while not knowing how to feed them. The top reason that women fall back on formula is because they feel frustrated with themselves and resentful towards their baby that neither of them know how to breastfeed. It is a behavior learned by watching others, and by mimicking others.

To close, I would like to say that I have grown more confident in my nursing since that dreadful first experience. I have learned to simply make Jonah and myself comfortable while nursing, and the rest just falls naturally into place. It is so natural, that many people do not realize I am nursing. I nurse while shopping (while he is in the sling,) while chatting to friends, and at restaurants. I have only ever recieved on negative comment about my nursing, at the mall, and I am still amazed at how much it did not bother me. I have stuck to my philosophy of "it's not mine or my son's problem to fix" and I am boosted with the confidence that I am doing the absolute best for my child: providing him with the most perfect form of nourishment, and responding promptly and calmly to his needs rather than frantically delaying them in order to find a secluded place.

other resources:
Ask Dr. Sears
Dr. Jay Gordon

Saturday, January 10, 2009

How Our Experiment with EC Has Changed Our Relationship:

Even though we are still in the early stages of practicing elimination communication (EC), I would like to take a few moments to dedicate a post to the ways in which it has changed our relationship as a family, already. We have barely scratched the surface, and are just now introducing the potty during today's sessions. Today, Jonah seemed to be giving cues that he needed to urinate. Rather than grabbing a cloth diaper to catch it, as I have been (rather successfully, only false predicting two times and never missing a stream!) I decided it was time to introduce the toilet. I took him to the bathroom, held him onto the seat and made the "sss" sound. Jonah looked at me and smiled, but he did not urinate. I decided to be patient and sat with him, making the "sss" noise anytime he seemed to be giving cues of needing to urinate. Each time he smiled at me and cooed, as if amused at my attempts. After about twenty minutes, I decided that I had falsely predicted, and took him back to our flannel blanket to play. He did not urinate for the duration of our activities. I had noticed a pattern before, during our observation, that he seemed to urinate directly following waking from nap. After his naptime, I felt his diaper and it was dry. Back to the toilet we went, and we repeated the episode from the morning: me "sss"ing, and Jonah smiling back. If it weren't for all of the soaked diapers that I've been changing between EC sessions, I would be concerned about him not urinating, but I suppose I just have to fine tune my understanding of his schedule and his cues before he will successfully eliminate in the toilet. I have chosen a more suitable trainer toilet for him, and as soon as it arrives I am anticipating having an easier time introducing him to eliminating in the bathroom. For now, I suppose it is enough to introduce him to the idea of being in these surroundings.
As I said above, I would like to dedicate this post to what EC has done for our relationship, even in these early stages. I want to do this to let my readers realize that EC is more than merely taking the diaper off of the child. I realized before we began that EC was a way in which to nurture and encourage communication from child to mother, but I did not expect it to change the way in which we bond. EC, for us, has helped point out many points in my (old) daily routine that were not at all conducive to the nurturing environment I wanted to promote for my son. For example: upon his waking every morning, I would nurse, change his diaper, and often his pajamas, bring him out to the living room where he would sit in his bouncy while I made my coffee and breakfast. Sometimes I would wear him in my sling as I ate breakfast and browsed the web for news stories, daily weather, and other unimportant items, but most often I would sit with him bouncing in his seat. If he fussed, I would pop a pacifier into his mouth, hand him a different toy, and bounce the seat vigorously with my foot. This seemed to make him happy, "plus," I told myself "I need this time to gather myself, so I can spend the rest of the day being a good mother." This behavior of mine stemmed from my preschool teaching days, when I could relish the moments of the morning quiet, sipping my coffee reflecting on current events, before the mad rush of reality came over me when I entered my classroom. I needed my morning routine then. It helped me to thrive as a teacher. What EC has pointed out to me about this, is that Jonah is in fact NOT happy, patiently waiting for his mommy to start the day. In fact, he can get very distraught over it. I had no idea before EC, because I was not in the habit of watching his every cue, his body language as well as his verbalizations. As soon as we began our observation periods, our morning routine changed drastically. Upon waking, Jonah would be nursed, his diaper removed, and warm clothing placed over his upper body and legs only (leggings became a fast style in our household!) We would then come out into the living room, where I had created a "safe zone" of a large fleece blanket covered in cloth diapers. We would choose some toys, and have quality one on one time. Sometimes, because I do recognize my need to eat, I would snack on granola bars or cereal, but as opposed to our old morning routine, the focus remained on Jonah and the activity that we were doing together.
As I grew more experienced with his cues, we could make our activities more complex. We practice rolling, and sitting up, and there are quite a few occasions when I do in fact put him in the sling so that I can have breakfast or coffee, but again the focus of activity is on Jonah and his communication to me rather than keeping the focus on me and my own desires (wanting to read web forums or the news, wanting to "drink my coffee in peace" etc.) If there is something that is so important to me that I need to do it while diverting my attention away from my child, I now do that during his naps or bedtime, like updating this blog for example.
I do promote independent playing, often times laying him in our "safe zone" with a selection of toys. He rolls around, scooches all over, and explores the toys I have set out for him by reaching for them, groping them, and mouthing them. He does all of this while I lovingly sit back and watch him play. He entertains himself now, with the security of knowing that I will be there when he needs me. At this age, an infant does not merely want his mother, or to be held, it is his need. By answering his cues quickly, I am giving him the assurance that I am there, he will not be left behind. EC has done a lot to help me follow his cues, and see that in fact he was insecure about a lot of situations that I was not paying attention to. It has helped me become a more attentive mother, and more thorough in my caregiving. It has come a long way from the lines of merely dealing with waste and dirty diapers. It has become an extension of my parenting, and as such it needed to make some changes along the way.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Elimination Communication Day 3: An Experimental Trial Continued

As we were continuing our observation sessions for elimination communication, I was beginning to feel discouraged. After hours of watching my son's every twitch, logging the times of every nap, feeding, and elimination, I could find no pattern and could see no cues. I was beginning to think that maybe it wouldn't work out for us. I wanted to try a few more days of observing before throwing in the towel.

One of the problems we've had is, Jonah does not seem to urinate when he is not wearing a diaper. He lay hours on the floor playing, completely naked for me to see that much anticipated golden stream. He would begin to get cold or fussy, or I would need to get back to the reality of stay-at-home-mom chores. The diapers he wore while I carried him in my sling were coverless, but there would still be a slight delay between when he urinated and when I would know that it was happening. It was too difficult for me to see his cues this way.

This afternoon, during our fourth observation session, we had a breakthrough. Jonah urinated onto the pile of cloth diapers on which he was playing. When I saw him urinating, I smiled and made the "sssss" sound. Jonah smiled at me and went on playing. A few moments later, it happened again. I met it with the same reaction and so did Jonah. An hour later, Jonah had urinated four times and each time I smiled and whispered the "ssss" sound into his ear. By the fifth time that he urinated, I was able to successfully predict it and have the extra diaper ready for clean up duty. I was completely overjoyed, and have newfound hope in that we can pull this off.