From what I read, people are getting tired of hearing about the benefits of human milk for human babies. Let's stop making mothers who "must" feed their children artificial milk feel bad, they say. Just tell people "breast is best" if you can do it, but let it go at that, and support them in whatever decision they make.

Not an unreasonable attitude; I hate having the government or anyone else harangue me about about very personal choices. But we're missing an important point.

When we overemphasize the exceptions, we lose track of the normal, and engender dangerous attitudes. Try to view abortion as a private, agonizing decision to be left up to families faced with devastating circumstances, and suddenly you find yourself surrounded by people who want to make a horrific procedure into a good thing. Believe strongly that people with homosexual desires deserve as much respect, love, and protection of the law as anyone else, and you are pressed to agree that any sexual practice is a good and proper expression of love. Acknowledge that sometimes it is necessary for children to be cared for by people other than their own families, and soon you find that considered the norm, with researchers trying to prove it is actually better for babies to be away from their mothers.

No matter how many times we mouth "breastfeeding is best," if we continue to add, "but here's what you do if it doesn't work out," we set ouselves—and mothers—up for failure. It's not really the mothers we need to convince. What any nursing mother needs most of all is a supportive environment. When everyone's mother and sister and friends breastfed their children, nursing really could come "naturally." Now, however, with fewer role models, fewer people to say, "this is a minor glitch, you will get through it as I did," mothers are quick to believe they don't "have what it takes" to feed their babies as women have for millenia.

It's not primarily the women we need to educate. It's doctors who have no more breastfeeding experience than their patients and would rather offer the quick fix of formula feeding rather than help mothers find other solutions. It's fathers who have totally lost sight of the true purpose of human breasts (as someone put it, "Hello! We're mammals!") and view their wives'/girlfriends' breasts as merely decorative, or worse, their own possession (like the man—and I use the term loosely—who insisted his girlfriend feed their son artificially because, "No one touches your breasts but me!"). It's restaurants/churches/businesses that from some misplaced sense of propriety want to remove nursing babies from view. (Would you like to eat your meal in the bathroom?) It's everyone who will concede that breastfeeding is best for a brief time, but that a nursing toddler is somehow a perversion—as if bottles, cow's milk, and "pacifier face" were the more normal human condition.

I agree; let's not hound the mothers. Let's educate their support systems. We will never convince anyone of the value of breast milk and the nursing relationship as long as we continue to act as if breastfeeding were a difficult, arcane, and antiquated practice.
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, July 12, 2006 at 6:53 am | Edit
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