Breastfeeding is Natural But Often Doesn’t Come Naturally

by Dagmar Bleasdale on October 21, 2009

D nursing beach

I was quoted in one of our local news papers, the Journal News, when I was a participant in the Global Breastfeeding Challenge on October 3, and the writer did such a terrible job with the article that I had to write a Letter to the Editor.

There were several things wrong with the article, but they told me in no uncertain terms that they would not write a correction and therefore I had to limit myself to expressing what was most important to me. Here is what I wrote:

“…Breastfeeding is what nature intended, but it doesn’t come naturally to a lot of mothers. Most mothers struggle with it at first, and there are not enough resources and support for women who want to breastfeed. That is why raising awareness with events like the World Breastfeeding Challenge and having places like Full Circle Family Care is crucial. As a breastfeeding advocate who frequently writes about her experience with breastfeeding on my blog, Dagmar’s momsense, I work very hard to get the word out about all the wonderful benefits of breastfeeding and that nursing in public is normal. The last thing I want is for people to get the impression that breastfeeding isn’t natural. It’s the most natural thing in the world, and it needs to be promoted as the best choice for children’s and mothers’ health.”

I didn’t know that my letter to the editor had actually run until I got the sweetest postcard in the mail from a “76-year-old breastfeeder of three,” thanking me for being “such a valuable proponent of breastfeeding our babies” and my the letter to the editor.

So today I tracked down my letter via the paper’s website. The paper changed my wording around a bit to make sure it doesn’t come across like they reported something untrue, but what caught my eye was a discussion between two women who left comments about my letter on the website.

One woman thought breastfeeding in public is “a personal experience that should be done in private.” The other woman chimed in and in the end things like “if you think the perverts who walk around us aren’t looking for opportunities to exploit and satisfy their personal demons, you’re from another planet” were written. Huh? As the other woman pointed out, breastfeeding “is not about sex”! Or demons, for that matter!

So I just had to chime in again. I responded:

“Nursing in public or in private is normal. In what world do we live that mothers have to justify feeding their children? Why is bottle feeding accepted in public and breastfeeding isn’t? In the whole three years I have been breastfeeding my child in public, no one has ever seen my breast, if that is what this is about. And even if someone did, who cares? I am feeding my child! My son has as much right as any other child to be fed on demand.

Now that he is almost three, we hardly ever breastfeed in public anymore, but you bet that I would let him if he wanted to and I could not get him interested in other food at that moment. I hope to encourage other moms to breastfeed, and I write about its health benefits on my blog all the time (http://DagmarBleasdale.com). It is sad that some people want to attach such negativity to something as beautiful as breastfeeding. When did something so natural become something mothers are made to feel ashamed about?”

I could have gone on and on, but I was limited by the number of characters the paper allows for comments on the Internet. What is wrong with people? Why does breastfeeding incur such negative feelings? Why do people have such an aversion to seeing a mother breastfeed her child? I don’t get it.

Have the formula companies brainwashed our society so much that we forget that the purpose of breasts is breastfeeding?!

I would love to read your comments.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Annie @ PhD in Parenting October 26, 2009 at 4:18 PM

Good for you for standing up and writing in!

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Marieke October 23, 2009 at 10:48 PM

Hi Dagmar!

It was lovely to meet you today at the farm with all our kids!

I have to say that it seems that the more negative attitude towards breastfeeding seems stronger here in the US than I ever noticed back when I still lived in Holland. There seems to be a much stronger knee-jerk reaction against anything perceived as remotely “sexual”, a puritanical streak.

Remember Janet Jackson’s nipple getting exposed during the Super Bowl a few years ago? In many countries back in Europe, not that much would be made over it, whereas here it seemed like it was the Worst Thing Ever! And it received an almost ridiculous amount of news coverage.

I’m glad I grew up around women in my family who breastfed and treated it as normal. I breastfed my son until he no longer wanted to just after he turned 2 (I had just gotten pregnant with my daughter then too), and my daughter still nurses frequently at 19 months. I nurse anytime, anywhere when in public. Anyone who catches a glimpse of nipple has to be standing right over me staring, because it’s really quite impossible to see much more than a patch of skin at most. I feel it’s much more important for my child to be content and happy… nobody wants to have an unhappy, screaming baby around.

I’ve never had any negative comments regarding my breastfeeding. I do think that that may have something to do with confidence and attitude. If you’re comfortable with what you’re doing, and if it’s being done pretty discreetly, I don’t think too many people either realise what’s going on, or have issues with it. Plus I guess I may give off the vibe that I’m not going to tolerate negative comments either ;)

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Dagmar October 24, 2009 at 12:30 AM

Hi Marieke, it was so nice to meet you and your little daughter as well! Yes, I don’t think Janet’s nipple received much coverage in Germany either. We sunbathe topless, so who cares?

I have the exact same attitude as you do. I wrote about what you said in a past post (how to deal with criticism about breastfeeding): if you give off the attitude and confidence that you won’t tolerate a negative response to your breastfeeding in public, people don’t dare to say anything. In three years of breastfeeding, I have never really run into anyone saying something negative. If someone wants to look over with their eyebrows raised, I just smile at them. :)

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Maya October 22, 2009 at 9:50 PM

Oh, and I wanted to recommend http://www.phdinparenting.com to you! the author has a very interesting dialogue with nestle on their formula promoting practices right now.

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Dagmar October 23, 2009 at 12:54 AM

Hi Maya, I know about phdinparenting, thank you! I read her blog often and leave comments, and we tweet together. I love her blog, it’s so informative and smart. I learned a lot from her regarding Nestle.

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Maya October 22, 2009 at 9:49 PM

HEAR, HEAR!!!

I am really dismayed by the lack of support for breastfeeding in our culture. Starting the day my son was born, nurses and doctors both tried to discouraged breastfeeding. For some it was subtle, averted eyes, stammering, the suggestion to cover up. I did have one doctor mock me in front of his residents. It’s frustrating! If women can’t count on the first medical professionals they encounter as new mothers to be supportive and knowledgeable about breastfeeding, their chances of being successful are much lower.

And re: William, statistically it’s not the norm (most women in the US don’t even make it to 6 months, sadly) but it’s not unusual. I think it’s great if a woman and child can go that long!

Anyway, my DS is waking up from his nap so I better go, but I’ll definitely be back to your blog!

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Jennifer B October 22, 2009 at 8:07 PM

I too am always surprised at the absurdity of anyone being offended by breastfeeding. Seriously? People really are that ignorant. And yes, Dagmar, people really are that brainwashed by the media and advertising. It’s the same with many misguided notions, just look at our models. Is that how women should look, size 0 – really?. Most folks don’t question the status quo. And in this country, formula is the norm. Pretty sad. I liked one blogger’s idea, formula should only come by prescription. Hey, if you need it, sure here it is. But then, employers would have to give real maternity leaves to allow nursing mothers to be with their children. That isn’t going to happen. :(

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Lisa October 22, 2009 at 3:44 AM

I have breastfeed all 5 of my children for at least part of their lives, my 4th was hard to bf because of his heart defect, so I pumped for him. We make food for our children and they should be allowed to eat whenever and where ever they need to. Great article…sorry they changed the wording around in the paper.

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Maria October 21, 2009 at 4:41 PM

I beastfeed my older son until he was 2 1/2, and when I did bf in public, I was usually embarassed bc he refused to be covered up or to allow myself to be as discrete as possible. In South Florida heat, I couldn’t blame him. So whenever I feed him in public, I either went to the car, or on a few occasions, I just dealt with the stares. In the end, it was more important to me to feed my son and have him satisfied, rather than try to accomodate strangers. Not every individual is going to be pleased in any given situations, and this is no different. I believe that there should be respect for mothers that do want to breastfeed in public, because it is the best thing in most situations and it would break my heart to learn if that was one reason for any mother to be discouraged from breastfeeding.

Now I breastfeed my second son, currently 20 months old, without a care in the world, anywhere I feel like.
Thank you for speaking up on behalf of breastfeeding moms, and also those who may breastfeed in the future.

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william wallace October 21, 2009 at 4:58 PM

Hi…you have nursed your child for three years, really? That seems like an inordinately long time to nurse a child…is that the norm?

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geek anachronism October 21, 2009 at 9:05 AM

I actually posted about this a couple of weeks back. I nurse in public A LOT and my little monster is 4 months now Today I fed her at the local child health centre after her vaccinations and then again in the foodcourt while lunching with my husband (next to some male uni students). After the mass vaccinations there were three of us (out of about 40) who breastfed their child afterwards. Everyone else paced and rocked and generally studiously ignored the three of us feeding. I’ve not ever seen a woman feeding while I’ve been out and feeding mine, only in parent’s rooms.

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Michelle Young October 21, 2009 at 4:52 AM

When I had my first daughter nearly 20 years ago, we were temporarily staying with my in-laws. My father-in-law was so disturbed by the idea that a naked breast might be bobbing around underneath the ample covering that my daughter and blanket provided… I was required to go into the nursery to nurse her… didn’t matter what the situation, if he were present, baby and I had to leave. He about had a heart attack when Mr. Rogers had a show about mommies feeding their babies (animals and stuff… then.. omg…a mom and baby). 20 years later I have another daughter, and I will breastfeed her ANYWHERE, ANYTIME! She refuses to be blanketed, but her chubby cheeks and my shirt cover the necessities. I have breastfed about 1600 days of my life, and wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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Baby-led Mama October 21, 2009 at 6:31 AM

As a member of a number of parenting forums, I am constantly surprised by the reactions people get to their breastfeeding in public and how so many mums feel the necessity to hide away in toilets etc to feed when they ate out with their babies.

Maybe I am oblivious or thick-skinned as I have never experienced anything negative when feeding my children. The only comments I’ve had have been positive (usually from the older generation) and a number of times people have tried to look at the baby without realising I was nursing.

I do think personal attitude and confidence has a lot to do with it. It’s such a shame that more mothers don’t FEEL confident which is largely down to the general attitude in our society that breasts are sexual!

It’s such a bizarre concept to me that some women choose (I’m not talking about people without the choice, just those who choose not to for this reason) not to feed their baby in the natural/most beneficial/easy/free way simply because they are shy or worried what people think, but this is the case for a lot of the people I’ve spoken to. Jeez, I’d lay down my life for my kids’ best interests, nevermind getting my nipple out!

Thank you Dagmar for being a great advocate and spreading the message that breastfeeding is natural and normal x

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