Support Breastfeeding Honesty

I talk about my boobs a lot, especially here on my blog. It wasn’t something I set out to do – YES! I know what will make me a raging success on the internet! Talking about my SORE, LEAKING NIPPLES! – but when you are breastfeeding a newborn it just sort of happens. In the past three years, I’ve said the word “breast” more times the day than I’ve said my own name. BREAST.

Back in the beginning, when I was really struggling, I spent hours online reading forums and message boards and websites full of breastfeeding advice. Do this, don’t do this, try this, try that, give it time, see a doctor. Some of it was helpful, some of it was scary, some of it was eye-rollingly stupid, and sometimes it stressed me out. But one thing I found invaluable was real-life stories from real-life women. Living, breathing moms with crazy hormones and crying babies and stretched out abdominal muscles. I laughed at their leaky mishaps, cried when their babies were hungry, and sympathized with their pain. Those stories – not the experts – were what got me through the rough start and into happy, 15 month nursing relationship with my first child. I STILL turn to the internet when I have a breastfeeding question and find often myself answering them for others when they pop up on Twitter or Facebook.

There is some worry in the lactivist community that talking to much about the hard parts of breastfeeding instead of just the warm fuzzies and rainbows will discourage women from ever trying to breastfeed. They fear that too many jokes about bleeding nipples and piranha babies will scare mothers away and into the welcoming arms of the nearest can of formula. It is often implied – and sometimes said outright – that it shouldn’t hurt, it shouldn’t be a struggle, it should come naturally, and if our eyes fill up with tears of pain and angst rather than tears of joy as we latch our babies then we are doing it wrong. Shhhhh…don’t talk about that. We’re trying to recruit more women to Team Breastfeeding.

I say that’s a mistake and a disservice to women. This isn’t shirts versus skins – it’s just mothers and babies.

In fact, I say the opposite is true. I say the honesty has led to more breastfeeding. Talking about your personal experience with breastfeeding should ALWAYS be encouraged, no matter how successful or long that experience was. Every single conversation about breastfeeding normalizes it. It becomes just another thing we talk about when we’re discussing babies, like diapers and spit up and tiny socks and why are their nails so SHARP? I have talked about every single bit of my breastfeeding journey, from my giant engorged porn start boobs to using a nipple shield to dealing with thrush and finally, FINALLY having the kind of idyllic, peaceful nursing relationship the books tell you about. As far as I know, I have yet to scare someone so badly they vow to never nurse a baby.

What I DO know is many of my friends who struggled to breastfeed their first child are trying again with their second baby. They are nervous and worried and cautiously optimistic, but they are TRYING. A mother’s feelings about breastfeeding can be so fraught with both internal and external sources of guilt that stopping or quitting, even if it’s the best choice for their family, can be heartbreaking. I like to think my constant willingness to engage in honest boob-talk had a teeny tiny bit to do with their decision.

I am so so proud of these women, whether they try for one day or for a thousand. They are brave for putting it all out there (heh) again and they are all amazing moms. The bottom line is because mothers have found more information and more support and more honesty about breastfeeding there are more babies getting more breastmilk. And isn’t that what lactivism is all about?

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This post has been in my drafts folder for a few weeks while I worked out exactly how to say what I wanted. Just yesterday I saw the Support with Integrity Pledge posted on my friend Gina’s site. I’m thrilled to see over 1,000 people have signed it already and vowed to support breastfeeding moms without judgment or criticism. You can check it out and sign the pledge by clicking on the badge below:
Support with Integrity

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Birdland a.k.a. DO NOT SCROLL DOWN IF YOU ARE AFRAID OF BIRDS. I MEAN YOU ERIN.
Winners!
No Sleep Til Bedtime

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20 Responses to “Support Breastfeeding Honesty”

  1. Robyn says:

    I’m not sure how i feel about this. On the one hand, i agree with the honesty. and i think any amount of normalizing breastfeeding is awesome. I remember having a hard time in the beginning and feeling like i was the only one, and i must be doing it wrong, since it wasn’t supposed to hurt, and it definitely did. But then again, i was pretty determined before i started and nothing could scare me off. i think it’s pretty comparable of an issue as child birth. I HATE that people insist on telling pregnant women their horrible birth stories, and scaring the poor women. I think that’s a big reason why a lot of women decide they are having a medicated birth before even trying it natural (not that i’m anti-medicated births). i feel bad for these women who are terrified before even trying it themselves, especially since my natural birth was amazing and a great source of personal stength for me in the rest of my childrearing. i guess i wish we could be honest about breastfeeding and child birth without scaring the pants off poor unsuspecting women. maybe there’s a happy medium?

  2. Amanda says:

    Is it weird to say that YOU are the reason I have made it this far with Zoey? Hmm probably.

    I lasted 6 weeks exactly nursing Madison. The first supposed crucial 6 weeks. Then I was done. I didn’t know anyone else breast feeding at the time. I lived across the country from my entire family. My husband was unexpectedly sent out to sea. 6 weeks of leaky sore boobs was all I could take.

    Then we moved back to CT and I befriend you (hi friend!) and whoa here was this super awesome chick who could nurse anytime anywhere. You were the only person I had really been around that nursed around me like it was no big deal. Blanket, shmanket- a cover was so not needed. If you could feed Evan while playing marbles then I could surely last at least 3 months with Zoey!

    7 months later we are going strong! She nurses like a champ, I have managed to deal with the leaky boobs. Dude why doesn’t it ever stop???! I have completely gotten over the fear of nursing in public. Hell I nursed Z standing in line to see Santa just so that she would be happy and smiling in a drunken milk stupor for the picture!

    Being friends with you and reading your stories were by far eye biggest contribution to our success this time around.

    And now my would have been future blog post is in your comment section. So there you go!

  3. Amanda says:

    It was good for me to read this. I live in a community where most women breastfeed, and I need to learn to be less judgmental towards those who don’t. I know I’m like that, and I know I should stop.

    On the other hand, there are two things that REALLY make me angry, and I think more or less rightfully so. One is when women are told things that are blatantly untrue in order to discourage them from breastfeeding – sometimes even by doctors. Yes, this still happens. The public health nurses are doing everything they can to dispel these myths, and at the same time the doctors in the same area are continuing to spread them. When I hear I woman say “My doctor said I probably won’t be able to breastfeed because my mother couldn’t / because I have flat nipples / because the baby is big and I won’t have enough milk / because I’m having a c-section / whatever” it makes me so angry and frustrated.

    The other thing that really upsets me is when fathers/partners are unsupportive of mothers who want to breastfeed. I have one friend who really wants to breastfeed and whose husband started in when she was about 5 months pregnant about how it’s so difficult, painful, time-consuming, most women can’t do it anyway, it’s not worth it, why bother if it isn’t easy, etc., etc. It makes me so sad. She just had her baby in the last few days, and I don’t know yet how BF is going for her – based on the kind of (non)support she has, I would imagine not well.

    Also, I just wanted to note – I know many women who struggled like crazy breastfeeding their first, and only one of them had any difficulty with her second. For the rest, it was a piece of cake the second time around.

  4. molly says:

    I can get behind this. You know, even though I only breastfed my boys for a combined six months, it’s funny to me how much of an advocate I am for breastfeeding. It’s just something I believe in and whole-heartedly support.

  5. TMae says:

    I’ve heard so many women say, “The books didn’t talk about…” and I get so sad. Like you, I think that talking about it – about all of it – and not incessantly and ad nauseum, but answering when you’ve been asked, is a huge step in the right direction. Women who want to breastfeed should hear about the experiences of other women who have breastfed. Which seems simple enough to me. But harder to put into practice, what with all the stupid anti-breastfeed crap that floats around in the world and all. The same way we all start asking everyone we know to tell us what their experience was flying, or driving cross-country with a toddler, or a dog, or a cat, or their first time buying a car, or writing a resume. We talk about the good and bad of all sorts of things…why NOT breastfeeding, too?

  6. barbra says:

    Yes, yes and YES!!!!! Women need to know going in that it probably won’t be as easy as the newborn crawling up your chest and latching himself. You, Suzanne, helped me out so much when I was struggling. Your real story and kind words helped me so, so much. And you were in the throes of being sick and the last month of pregnancy and you still sent me kind words.
    Even though my story did not end the way I wanted it to, I like to think that my story has helped other women. A good friend of mine gave birth last July and she knew my story going in. Using my experience, she knew going in what she might need and how to get help. If she hadn’t known that it can be very hard at first, that it’s common to be hard, she might have given up. Six months later, she is still going strong.
    I think women should have the full story. They need to know that it might hurt/be hard. But they also need to know how to get help and that it more than likely will get better. And if it doesn’t get better and turns out the bottle is best for their family? So what. As long as a baby is fed with love it will be healthy and happy. Any breastmilk is better than none and the mother that tried but failed does not love her baby any less. The guilt and judgment needs to stop.

  7. I read so much about breastfeeding in the beginning and I worked with a ton of super pro-breastfeeding nurses who talked about it every moment they got. And they talked about ALL of it, the good , the bad and the bleeding nipples. I was prepared for that. I had all the things that everyone said I needed, breast pads, lanolin, soothers, everything.

    In all of that reading and talking, I was not prepared one bit for low supply. No one really talks about it and that is a shame. And when I first turned to twitter, I followed a bunch of people who all basically said that low supply was a myth perpetuated by doctors being paid off by the formula industry. Or something equally dramatic. I was confused, alone and devastated.

    I’m hoping that the pledge really makes people think about and try to support all breastfeeding, not just exclusive breastfeeding. Fantastic post, Suzanne. You me think about all the things.

  8. Well said! I had horrific mastitis, plugged ducts, and bloody nipples with my first (and wanted to punch anyone in the face who told me that was because I was DOING IT WRONG, because I WAS NOT)(also, we totally called her Adriana piranha), and thrush with my second. I have had real life friends tell me that they stuck with it when it was hard because they knew that it was ten times harder for me and I did it as long as I could.

    I write the above paragraph before scrolling up to see what others said – your friend Amanda (the first one) made me tear up – both of you are amazing!!! Go team boobies!

  9. MommaExpat says:

    Power to the milk! There’s a BF support group near me… they have a symbol to “high five” other BFing moms. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5fkInsuOlE

  10. Krista says:

    You know? I didn’t breastfeed so I’m always really hesitant to chime in, but I really think the more we do to talk about parenting (and this goes for breastfeeding too) in an honest light, the better we all. It’s wonderful, it’s hard, it’s funny, it’s amazing, it sucks. By telling people what your experience is (and having people who are smart enough to know that your experience won’t necessarily be their experience) they know they have a source of support, and maybe some answers. But in my experience, support and understanding and feeling like ‘oh, yes. someone GETS it’ is more important than the answers.

  11. Swistle says:

    I agree: if I’d believed all the “If you’re doing it right, it won’t hurt!” nonsense, I would have figured I had tried a million different things and it still hurt, so obviously I couldn’t breastfeed. But luckily I’d been around enough mothers and babies that I was familiar with the concept that it would hurt at first, and that if the latch was good the skin would eventually get used to it and it wouldn’t hurt anymore. So I held on. And it hurt for awhile with all four breastfeeding stages, and hurt quite badly, even when I knew for sure I was doing it right—and then it felt better.

    I don’t like the idea of WHIPPING the information at people: I think I would have gotten freaked out if during my pregnancy a million women had approached me to talk about bleeding and cracking. But I want the information AVAILABLE when I look for it (which it wasn’t in my breastfeeding booklet from the OB), and I like when it just filters into the culture from women mentioning it whenever it comes up.

    My favorite lactation consultant was the one I had with my last baby. I said something like “I know everyone says it shouldn’t hurt, but it always hurts at the beginning,” and she made a scoffing sound and said “I don’t know WHY everyone keeps saying it doesn’t hurt! It DOES at first! I’m a LACTATION CONSULTANT and I KNOW the right latch, and it hurt when I started nursing my baby!”

  12. Swistle says:

    “All four breastfeeding stages” is unclear. I mean, I had four pregnancies, and each was followed by a stage of breastfeeding.

  13. Love this :) I think that the more people talk about breastfeeding, the good AND the bad, the more people realise there is a wide range of normal – if you know that other people had problems and got through it, there is more hope that you might. There’s nothing more depressing than thinking that you’re just no good at it. If there was less guilt and blame attached to parenting decisions and experiences, maybe there would be a little more honesty.
    I think both breastfeeding and bottle feeding can be equally hard, and both can be easy and convenient. Unrealistic expectations can be just as bad as lack of support when things go wrong.

  14. Mom of almost two says:

    This post really hits home. I remember after trying more than 20 latches with the lactation consultant (“A proper latch should not hurt!”) and wanting to cry with each one, I finally lied by saying it didn’t hurt. I left feeling so discouraged; like it was all my fault and I was doing it wrong. What kept me going was a call from someone who said that it can be tough at first – even painful – but to hang in there…. after two long weeks the pain went away and it became such a natural, effortless act that lasted nearly sixteen months. I think I would have felt better during those early and very tiring days if the LC had said that sometimes it DOES hurt at first, that sore, painful nipples are common, but it WILL get better. I’m hoping it’s a less initially painful process with baby #2, but I feel so much more mentally prepared this time around.

  15. Suzanne says:

    Thank you for writing this! I’ve always admired your “honest boob-talk,” and I really appreciate reading a breastfeeding post that encourages moms just to try. Because, for some of us, the first time was a nightmare (lasted 6 weeks, thank you very much PPD). But I wanted to try again. Like, really TRY. And the second time, we made it four months. My return to work just threw me for a huge loop and we never really recovered. Pumping sucked, and I actually don’t really know how the weaning happened. But still. Every little bit counts. And I couldn’t agree with you more: this issue isn’t about moms vs. moms. It’s about moms supporting moms. xo!

  16. Jen F (from Robinson) says:

    Oh man, you have no idea how much this resonates with me right now. I really wanted to know everything I could about breastfeeding, before I even got pregnant – the good, bad, and ugly. Although I was firmly committed to it already, so maybe I wouldn’t have been so open to hearing all the negative stuff if I was on the fence. But to this day, it pisses me off when I’m reading “the Womanly Art” and they downplay the bad. Or skip things entirely. Like TMae said, my “the books didn’t talk about…” moment was at my 6-week postpartum appointment. My midwife was all, “so, have you guys, you know, done it?” and I was like, “you’re going to think I’m nuts since I had a c-section, but… it HURT!” and she nonchalantly gives me, “oh yeah, that soreness is from the hormones, it could last throughout breastfeeding.” AYFKM?? How does anyone get pregnant with a second kid?! The thing is, even with that little gem of info, and with all the other struggles I’ve had to make it work (11 weeks in and *still* working out kinks), I totally think it’s worth it. I’ve done both bottles and boob, it didn’t take long to see that nursing is not only way more convenient, but so intimate and wonderful (well, except when there’s a thrashing wildebeest coming at your boob ;). I know that my little preemie especially needed all the benefits of breast milk, and I’m proud that I’m now able to provide that through nursing almost exclusively (even if it kills my sex life, sigh).

    I was so grateful to have your blog as a resource to hear an honest account of how it could be for someone. Love this post, especially all the comments, and hope more people will be open with their struggles and successes. I would hope that we can trust women to be able to make informed decisions – but they need the truth to be able to do that.

  17. Teri says:

    The overall sentiment of your article is obviously heartfelt and meant to dissuade others from bullying. However, there is little integrity in the Support with Integrity pledge. Lines like “There isn’t a “wrong way” as long as the breast milk is flowin’ and the baby is growin'” lack any form of respect for individual women and children, and still insist on the “breast is best” framework by which all mothers are to be judged.

    There can very well be a “wrong way” if the milk is flowing. There are many cases in which the breast milk isn’t flowin’ and the baby isn’t growin’. There are many situations in which breast is not best–right from the start–and this pledge leaves these women and their children in the cold. It is not supportive of actually feeding babies without judgement, it is only in support of feeding babies in a way its adherents agree with, even if those adherents agree not to quibble about the specifics.

    As a formula feeding mom for whom breastfeeding destroyed my health (sometimes the pain doesn’t stop. Sometimes the skin doesn’t toughen up. Sometimes breastfeeding exacerbates auto-immune disorders, nerve disorders, mental health disorders–the fact that these pains often DON’T go away is frequently dismissed/treated as myth by lactivists, even those who seem to like this pledge), I do not find this pledge supportive of women. I see it as another paternalistic, dogmatic push for one-size-fits-all medicine for women.

    The notion that all women must try to breastfeed in order for other women to be proud of them–as you seem to imply in your post–is inherently damaging because it sends the message to health care providers overall that women and children are not worth individualized care. In my own case, I may try to get some colostrum into my future kids’ mouths, and will go no further because I risk destroying my health again. But I reserve the right to say, at any point, that it isn’t even a good idea for me to try. My kids need me more than my milk. I’m no good taking care of them if I am too crippled to take care of myself.

    And I shouldn’t have to even tell you that, but that is the current state of breastfeeding promotion. You can dress it up nicely, but it still amounts to one-size-fits-all medicine; prescriptive, rigid, inorganic dogma that insists all women must be held to a certain external standard enforced on them by a committee of people who have never met them or know their stories and yet deem themselves better experts on a woman’s or child’s body than that woman or that child’s parents and health care professionals.

    On some level, lactivism is profoundly discriminatory; the insistence on “breast is best” means that women and children with disabilities, medical conditions, or mental health conditions that preclude breastfeeding are denied proper medical care that sees them as valuable individuals in the name of appeasing lactivists who see any assessment that breast is not best as a knee-jerk booby trap. Moms are often bullied and victimized many times over, especially when the disability or condition is an “invisible” one–see http://www.butyoudontlooksick.com–and children who face medical issues often face utmost cruelty, compounded by people who accuse their moms of simply not trying hard enough when they are, in fact, facing more difficult challenges than most peoples’ nightmares. I do not see widespread acceptance and information-sharing among breastfeeding mom peer support groups that many of the issues that preclude breastfeeding in women and children are due to some form of disability, medical condition, or mental health situation. This pledge doesn’t help.

    I agree with you 110% that withholding information about the difficulties of breastfeeding is not helpful. I would go so far as to say it’s immoral. Women have a right to the warts-and-all picture, and it’s demeaning to be treated as if we can’t handle the truth. Rigid insistence that breastfeeding is natural and that every problem can be easily solved by just nursing more, taking some herbs, and having more willpower only encourages people to stop before they might otherwise have wanted to, and no one should be denied the chance to breastfeed because she was booby trapped by other breastfeeding women or breastfeeding experts.

    But all the information in the world isn’t going to change the fact that for a LOT of women, breast is NOT best. Not if she tries one day, not if she tries 1000 days. No, it’s NOT rare; the stats that lactivists throw around that aren’t even backed up by peer-reviewed studies; even if 1-5% of women who can’t make milk is true that’s still thousands upon thousands of women and that doesn’t even include all those who can’t/shouldn’t/don’t want to breastfeed for myriad valid reasons. I’d love to see a pledge that recognizes ALL moms who are feeding their kids the best way they can, but sadly, I don’t think that will happen in my lifetime. The militancy for one-size-fits-all medicine is too strong, and I don’t see any major breastfeeding organizations lifting a finger to stop it.

    • bebehblog says:

      Please stop making something that is not about you and your situation about you. This was a personal account of my experience with real, actual babies and the efforts of my real, actual friends and their babies. Telling me I’m not allowed to express my pride to my friends who have tried breastfeeding a second time is insulting. I am not “sending a message” to ANYONE besides the women – who know who they are – this post was inspired by. Also, perhaps YOU need to check out your own link because YOU are making assumptions about my friends. Many of them suffer from medical and/or mental health conditions that must be taken into consideration when/if they decide to breastfeed so don’t think I am simply unaware of these things.

      There is absolutely no judgment in either my post or in the Pledge. We are talking about women who HAVE chosen to breastfeed needing support and honesty to reach their own individual goals. We are not talking about whether or not breastfeeding is the right choice for you as a mother. We are not talking about feeding babies in general. What we are asking is akin to getting all Catholics to agree that the Pope is infallible – what you see is an attempt to get EVERYONE IN THE WORLD to agree the Pope is infallible.

      On a less personal note, I also disagree with you that the status quo has shifted from formula to breastfeeding. I know it depends on what part of the country/what level of care a woman gets but even in my liberal hippie New England state formula was pushed on me and my baby from literally seconds after his birth. They guilt they laid on me was in the form of “You are so selfish for wanting to breastfeed when you baby NEEDS to eat RIGHT NOW.” (He did not, they just wanted to check the “baby fed” box on their stupid sheet – talk about one-size-fits-all medicine.) The lactation consultant I was promised never arrived. The class I took was more of a recruitment seminar in “breast is best” rather than a how to. That is EXACTLY why I don’t shy away from talking about my breastfeeding experience – I learned pretty much everything I know from individual women telling me THEIR experiences. There is definitely a vocal contingent of lactivists who do all the things you claim – and the loudest ones are often extremely judgmental, harsh, unforgiving and the reason I hesitate to even associate myself with the term – but the rest of us are trying to increase awareness of booby traps and offer support to women who want it, not hurt anyone.

      • Teri says:

        I use my own example to show just how hurtful and exclusionary pledges like this are. They allow militant lactivists to go on doing what they have been doing for a while now–equating formula feeding moms to idiots, child abusers, lazy, selfish, unfit mothers who never should have gotten pregnant in the first place–while claiming that they are warm, fuzzy, and supportive. I understand you might not do such a thing, and that’s a good thing. But voices like yours are not heard in the lactivist community, only the bullies. I’m sorry it is that way; it makes all breastfeeding moms look like bullies, which is not true. But I stand by what I believe, that pledges like this only heighten the mommy wars, not help stop them.

  18. […] I remembered a good friend of mine, Suzanne, posted about Breastfeeding and I thought I should read it while I work to make a plan on how I will feed this child in light […]

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