We push them, lift them, augment them and reduce them… Firm them, tan them and dream of the love of our lives touching them, fondling them … Adoring them even … They have inspired armies, kept grand masters company in monastic bedrooms, lured generals and kings into history-altering death traps, aided spies in great wars … Boobs, breasts, jugs … They rule supreme and in the last couple of generations they seem to be doing everything but the one thing they are supposed to do … Nurse our babies.
Rough statistics claim that only about 20% of mothers breast feed beyond the first two weeks. And beyond the first month, it seems the numbers are less than 10%. This is unchartered territory. For the first few generations in hundreds of thousands of years of their existence, female mammals are, for the most part, refusing to do half of what biologically is the reason for their existence. Breast feeding.
The problem with advocating breast feeding loudly supposedly is that mothers who ‘can’t,’ can be thrown into the dark well of guilt. And with post-partum hormones already doing their best to fog up one’s self-esteem, it would be uncanny to rub salt into certain wounds but … when living in a world where money talks, and the formula manufacturers have the upper hand when it comes to marketing budgets, one can dare to wince in scepticism. Perhaps motherhood’s first duty needs an advocate.
The reasons to be heard for not breast feeding are so many I doubt I’ll manage to skim the surface.. No milk, baby not latching, abraded, or cracked nipples, not knowing how much the baby drinks, baby not full enough to sleep the night. Baby intolerant to the lactose the mother consumes, baby intolerant to the gluten the mother consumes, baby doesn’t like it, baby drinks too slowly, baby drinks too fast, baby prefers drinking from the father, baby prefers drinking from the grandmother, baby is allergic to breast milk. Baby gets colic from breast milk, baby’s teeth falling out because of sugar content of breast milk, baby possibly getting mercury poisoning from the amount of tuna mother eats which ends up in the breast milk.
Mother has no time, mother afraid breasts will empty out and look ugly, mother has no patience, mother wants to start drinking alcohol again, mother has to smoke, mother wants to starve herself to get back into those pre-pregnancy jeans and therefore breast milk will not be nutritious enough. The list is endless. And I believe that all the above excuses have been fed into people’s heads by the incredible force of the marketing machine of the formula manufacturers in the 80’s and 90’s.
I believe the only true reason for making the choice to not breast feed is social. Women are simply too shy to expose their boobs in public. And in fact, I believe they are shy to expose their breasts in private, as well.
Plenty have confided that they believe their partners or husbands have alluded to finding a breast-feeding woman unattractive. That the act diminishes in the sensuality associated with a woman’s breasts. Women are shy to expose a breast in front of their fathers and uncles and grandfathers. I, myself, have seen and heard relatives criticising mothers who are attempting to nurse, and even daring to touch and adjust nipples making the mother feel as awkward and embarrassed as one can possibly be.
In our culture, where nudity is frowned upon to a dangerous fault, I cannot help but truly understand why such mothers find the wonderful duty of nursing one’s baby shameful, but surely we can overcome this. A little bit of thought when choosing an outfit is all one needs to curb perceived embarrassment.
Financially, I have calculated that a person saves over a 1000 euros per baby if she decides to breast feed. And seeing that most of us rush to buy the best and most expensive gadgets in the baby world, if the concern is unsightly boobs, even though from my experience in my practice this ‘side effect’ is the exception and not the rule, perhaps one could reserve the cash saved to pay a visit to the plastic surgeon when the period of nursing is over! I mean with so many women opting for boob jobs for an infinite number of other reasons, why not this one?
If the reason is physical, or one is afraid of the pain, the breast clinic in Mater Dei has a lovely team of professionals who can guide a newbie through the highs and lows of the breast feeding experience.
I have given much thought to whether to write this blog or not for as mentioned above, the last thing I want is to seem to be criticising mothers who have not breast fed. But having nursed two babies and managed to return to work within weeks, meant that I had to overcome the initial embarrassment of carefully latching my baby to my breast at hospital in front of visitors, then at home, in cafes and restaurants, on the beach, in piazzas, in planes, in trains and buses and even moving cars, in meetings at MEPA, in architects’ and lawyers’ offices and even in church. Having experienced being red-faced when stopping mid-walk next to a bench and feeding… Having dedicated every single break at work to expressing with one hand and eating lunch or answering emails with the other, and as I sit now, breast feeding while writing this, and all this with a pleasure of the kind I never knew I would experience I want to humbly implore expectant women and future mothers to at least try to give your babies the ultimate gift you will ever be in the position to give them.
Their mother’s milk!