Breastfeeding. A simple word, a simple act, yet it has an overwhelmingly ignorant stigma that follows. Today’s society has caused parents to be ashamed and embarrassed by their body, yet this ability to share nourishment, comfort and protection is astonishing and incredible. Why has society skewed such a raw and natural human phenomena into something sexual and inappropriate? Unfortunately, the corporate world has taken advantage of society’s belittlement of parents and pounced on the opportunity to capitalize. Formula companies served as a band-aid for years to cover public discomfort about breastfeeding, but parents are starting to fight back! When parents join together and advocate for change, they can catalyze policy reform and alter social norms to better breastfeeding experiences and perceptions.
Some people’s initial reaction to breastfeeding is that it’s gross to do in public. Yet, we aren’t providing parents with a private place to do it. Formula companies used this ideation and belief of breastfeeding to their benefit and made an alternative to breastmilk that was not as “exposing”. This may have concealed one issue, but exposed an entirely new, detrimental one: the health benefits that were lost when parents switched from breastfeeding to formula.
Breastfeeding allows for several health benefits for babies. One is that formula can often be more difficult for babies to digest. Formula is made from cow’s milk; therefore it takes some time for the baby’s stomach to adjust to this form of milk versus having something natural and human-produced. Also, breast milk can change to meet your baby’s needs. This is not only the most useful aspect of breastfeeding but also the most impressive. Our bodies react to the baby’s saliva to chemically induce the necessary antibodies and changes to protect our baby’s immune system. Additionally, research has shown that if 90 percent of families exclusively breastfed for the first six months of a baby’s life, nearly 1,000 infant deaths could be prevented per year.
Additionally, breastfeeding offers benefits beyond health. Fiscally, breastfeeding saves money because you do not need to purchase formula. Also, because the breast milk offers protective factors, breastfed children are less likely to become ill or will be ill for a shorter period of time, thus allowing parents to work. Furthermore, breastfeeding can also be a foundational bond in a baby and parent’s relationship. This is a time for skin-to-skin contact and an emotional bond to form between parent and child.
Now, this is not another typical comparison of breastfeeding versus formula. Many parents are aware of the facts and we as a society have a better understanding and knowledge of breastfeeding. This being said, the next step is to create a new social norm where breastfeeding is accepted. It is now federal law to provide an appropriate place labeled a “lactation room” for breastfeeding parents on paid time in the workplace. This is a significant step forward, but it’s not enough. If we are going to discourage public breastfeeding, we need to provide the appropriate means such as suitable lactation rooms in public venues. The workplace is fantastic, but what about the library, mall, universities, and grocery stores? And no, the bathroom is not a viable option for parents to feed their baby. To gain momentum to normalize breastfeeding and end its sexual stigma, making it widely accessible in public places is the first step.
To do this there is one major step. This step is free, but one of the most important components of a successful movement. Parents need to be a united force and join and support one another to breastfeed without embarrassment, without shame, and without any fear of judgment. It’s saddening that “mom shaming” currently exists because parents have grown to be judgmental to one another instead of using this social network that has infinite support to give.
It’s vital that all parents, families, and communities support one another and invest their energy in normalizing breastfeeding in public venues. Advocate for public lactation rooms to secure a win-win for both parents and those in society that will hopefully one day find those rooms unnecessary. We shouldn’t force parents to have to go home or into a bathroom to nourish their child, and this can only be done with the support of one another.
About the Author: Sarah Brusca
|Sarah Brusca is office support and a special projects coordinator here at Suwannee River AHEC.|