Its national breastfeeding month and this week is world breastfeeding awareness. Titles like this have the power to unite and the power to divide. (why breastfeeding continues to cause such controversy I will never understand)
I have heard from and spoken to a number of different mothers of all ages about this and all the feelings that these days of recognition tend to bring.
I have written before about my personal experience with breastfeeding and it has taken me a few days to decide how I personally would approach this week through the ever present social media platform.
After seeing hundreds of photos, pins and posts, a couple of things kept showing up in the conversations that followed. Unsurprisingly, they are regarding the intricate minefield of womens’ emotions (which at this point in time are surrounding breastfeeding) and had absolutely nothing to do with the facts. So I decided that as most people do not seem to be denying the benefits of breastfeeding , I would address the factual side of breastfeeding later in the week. For now I will touch on these other two points
First thing I noticed from talking to women; it seems a lot of mothers feel unsure about how or perhaps why they should/would talk about their personal (breastfeeding) experience.
I am proud, will I say that?
I am not proud, can I say that?
I am embarrassed, how do I say that?
I am annoyed, do I admit that?
I am confused, should I confess that?
Some posts get so smothered with opinionated comments, we end up with an explosion of emotions thrust out into the social media stratosphere with often the most vulnerable mothers covered in the remnants of what actually started out as an honourable cause.
Honestly, you don’t have to say anything.
There are a few phrases that get thrown around like we are in some sort of breastfeeding battlefield such as “Breast is Best”, “Fed is best” or “Informed is best”. While they all have truthful elements to them, these slogans can often be misconstrued or used out of context or taken out of context depending on individuals education, experience and emotions.
Lets give all the hashtags and bashtags a rest for a day.
Mothers who have breastfed and enjoyed it want to celebrate their time and acknowledge what they have been able to achieve. Go for it mums. You have done a wonderful thing and you can be proud of yourself and sentimental about your breastfeeding time. Perhaps you thoroughly enjoyed it but feel it is private or sacred and want to keep those images and thoughts to yourself, not a problem.
How about the mamas who did not enjoy breastfeeding and did it anyway, well done, maybe you don’t really want to reminisce or post pictures of your breastfeeding days and that is absolutely fine as well. Maybe you feel it is your duty to inform everybody how tough breastfeeding is, well, there’s definitely a time and space for that, when someone asks you about your experience, find a way to share it with empathetic honesty and preferably without intention of evoking fear in to your listener.
Now let me address those mothers who did not breastfeed their baby; this does not determine your worth as a mother, know it and don’t take in any nonsense words that proclaim you are somehow a lesser equal. This week/month, is not set/ designed/created for criticising or shaming you, it is not about making you feel less of a mother, truth be told, its just not about you (or more to the point, about formula) at all. You know what? that’s okay too.
This brings me to the Second thing I noticed from seeing a lot of posts; a lot of mothers feel like they are being personally attacked.
There is a trend for mothers to “pick a side”. This is absolutely unnecessary and quite a toxic mindset in our society.
No matter what method of feeding you decided or needed to do for your baby, if you see a mother celebrate something she has done that was good, like breastfeeding, cheer for her. Don’t make it about you and what you did or didn’t do. When we as women hear other women talk about something they have achieved, no matter what it is, we don’t have to assume they have some dark motive of condemnation toward us just because we did not achieve the same thing in the same way. The notion that one person can not be openly proud of themselves simply because another did not share in the same experience, can all be very over-complicated or worse, shallow.
Empathy and recognition for another mother goes both ways. For example, if nobody announced they were pregnant for fear of offending or upsetting another woman who is struggling with infertility, we then rob rightfully happy women of their joy (of “their moment”). Likewise, if we did not allow a woman who has battled with infertility to talk honestly about her struggles then we are condescending her experience. No matter which side of the story you find yourself on, you can validate and show respect for the other woman’s position whilst also expressing gratitude and excitement.
If you have given birth, if you have made hard decisions everyday for the sake of your families wellbeing, then you have strength. Be strong enough to also see pass your own insecurities and offer a compliment to another mother on what they have done well. Its okay. Your moment of recognition is just around the corner. Not everything is about everyone, lets let some things just be about others.
As for the awareness part of this week, lets not ignore that either.
Lets be aware of the benefits of breastfeeding. Lets be aware that breastfeeding is often hard work. Lets be aware that not every woman enjoys breastfeeding. Lets be aware that breastfeeding is natural. Lets be aware that just because its natural that doesn’t mean every breastfeeding mother wants to be an advocate. Lets be aware that there are different ways to breastfeed babies. Lets be aware that breastfeeding is one of many decisions made by a mother. Lets be aware of our manners, our respect towards other mothers and the lingering impact our words and actions can have long after this week of awareness is over.
If you are a breastfeeding bully, stop it! (I said that in my mum voice so you know I mean it)
For everyone else, just be cool. If you like looking at breastfeeding posts, reading the stories, hearing the podcasts, fine, enjoy, but if they make you feel all the yucky feels, stop looking and reading and listening. No point starting a fire in your own mind when you can just put away the matches.
If you live on the Bellarine Peninsula, Geelong Region or Surfcoast Shire and want or need some support with your baby feeding experience, you can contact me, it will be my pleasure to help you get the knowledge and support you are seeking.