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Societal Barriers to Breastfeeding

Mother breastfeedingWhen people think of breastfeeding difficulties, the things that probably come to mind are supply issues, bad latch, cracked nipples, constant feedings, and the like. Certainly, there are women who are afflicted by those difficulties and who cannot overcome them. But I believe the societal barriers to breastfeeding (propagated by the kyriarchy)  have a much more significant impact on breastfeeding rates than the medical or technical issues.

What are the societal barriers to breastfeeding?

  • Formula advertising: Everywhere you look, formula is being pushed on new moms. Buying maternity clothes? You can enter a draw to win a year's worth of formula. Buying a parenting magazine? Expect a few two-page spreads telling you about the latest hype on formula being closer than ever to breast milk. Giving birth at a hospital? Expect to go home with a sponsored bag full of formula samples and coupons unless you are lucky enough to give birth in a baby friendly hospital. Surfing the web looking for breastfeeding advice? The formula companies will try to deceive you into clicking on their ads by pretending they are about breastfeeding. We need to push to make compliance with the WHO International Code of Marketing Breast-Milk Substitutes into a standard or a law or find some other way to ensure that formula and bottle companies are not acting unethically and unnecessarily sabotaging breastfeeding in pursuit of corporate profits.

  • Lacking access to lactation consultants and breast pumps: People who are struggling with breastfeeding need access to qualified lactation professionals, i.e. International Board Certified Lactation Consultants, and may often need access to a quality double electric breast pump to help maintain or increase supply while working on breastfeeding issues. However, a lot of people who do have access to health care still do not have access to these essential breastfeeding supports.

  • No workplace support for breastfeeding: Whether they are forced back to work due to lacking maternity leave provisions or choose to go back to work, women do not have sufficient support for breastfeeding in the workplace. Some states have laws that protect women's rights in this regard, but many do not. Even among those that do have laws, employers are known to put pressure on breastfeeding women or make them feel bad for needing facilities or time to pump. There is also not enough support for babies at work programs, which allow women to bring small babies to work with them if they choose. Without the right support, women often find themselves trying to pump enough milk sitting on a toilet without frequent enough breaks to maintain milk supply.

  • Milk banks not a priority: As I explained in my post on blood, milk and profits, there is an entire industry and infrastructure set up to collect, screen, and distribute blood to those that need it. But milk banks are not a priority. There are too few of them and the ones that exist appear to be in it more for the profits than for ensuring every baby has access to breast milk. Making milk banks a bigger priority would allow women with excess milk to provide it to those that need it, thereby reducing the dependency on formula.

  • Attitudes and imagery: People will breastfeed if they see others breastfeeding. Peer pressure, feeling normal, having role models. Call it what you like, it is what it is. If the predominant image in public, in magazines, in movies, on television, is bottle feeding, then people will see that as normal. If it is not, then fewer people will breastfeed and those that do will be ostracized and discriminated against by the anti-nursing-in-public brigade. This is one of the reasons I think it is so important to breastfeed in public. This is why I think we need at least as many breastfeeding dolls as bottle feeding dolls.

We need to keep providing medical, technical and moral support to women who are struggling with breastfeeding. That will always be a requirement. But to truly facilitate breastfeeding, we need to break down these barriers so that all families and all babies can benefit from the health benefits of breastfeeding and the economic benefits of breastfeeding.

Which of these barriers have you faced? Did it prevent you from breastfeeding for as long as you wanted to? Are there other societal barriers that I missed?
« Are we asking the wrong people to comply with the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes? | Main | How you should treat my child with special needs »

References (1)

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    Societal Barriers to Breastfeeding - PhD in Parenting - PhD in Parenting

Reader Comments (78)

Nice summary. Another barrier for some, although obviously it varies from family to family, is having a generation of parents (now the grandparents) who were told that formula was healthier than breastfeeding, so don't fully support or understand breastfeeding. In my experience, while many now understand that nursing is the healthiest choice, they still expect things like pacifiers from day 1, sleeping through the night early on, aren't in favor of cosleeping, think the newborn baby should be perfectly content with a day at grandma's house, etc.

I cringe whenever someone tells me that their pediatrician advised X. They have just so often been wrong for me. Honestly, I never looked to them for breastfeeding advice, so I tend to forget whatever they offered unsolicited, but the best gem was that my child might be allergic to my breastmilk (not something I was eating but actually my milk in general), so I should switch to formula for a week and see, while pumping exclusively, which would maintain my supply just fine. Also repeatedly have been reminded, as we worked on adding more solids into his diet, that "breast milk is not sufficient nutrition after age X" (wonder how often formula moms were told that).

September 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLynn

Great post! Just today I had a 'discussion' with my mother about this. She was complaining about a coworker pumping every two hours. I had to remind her that her precious granddaughter nursed every hour and a half as a wee infant, and that not every woman pumps the same amouunt of milk in the same amount of time.

What I find frustrating is the attitude of those (like my mom) who say 'I support breastfeeding BUT...'--to me, that 'but' negates any support to fellow women and their children. All babies deserve to be breastfed, and all mamas deserve the support to do so!

September 11, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterkara

I'm in Australia and when I was breastfeed I felt that some of the areas you mention were well supported eg. lactation consultants and trained medical professionals encouraging breastfeeding. I think the biggest issue here is lack of maternity leave and workplace support for breastfeeding. Pumping and continuing to breastfeed (especially when your baby is < 6 months) while working is a very big commitment.

September 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

Thank you for this post! We need so much more education to have more women breastfeed, which in turn will make breastfeeding in public more common and accepted.

I hope to meet you at BlogHer 2010!


I think another barrier is all the horror stories women hear. Much like sharing all the bad things about labor, many women share only the bad stories about breastfeeding. I had heard so many stories about cracked nipples and thrush I became very worried and anxious about breastfeeding. Turns out it's been a breeze.

Women need to talk about the challenges and the solutions to those challenges, sure, but I would also like more women to talk about the good things about breastfeeding. I don't mean just the benefits to baby, but how it can be fun (baby's do funny things while nursing) and not all women have a hard time with it.

September 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterOlivia

Amazing post! I live in a state that protects breastfeeding mothers in the work place, with the stipulation that the company has over 50 employees. My company has 8. I am onto month 13 of breastfeeding my daughter, with great success and only some turmoil. When I returned to work when she was 6 weeks old (due to lack of maternity leave) I enformed them I was still bfing her. "Support" was there but by the 4th mo or so it was evident that the support was gone. Almost against their will I continued to pump every 3 hours, off the clock to feed my precious little one. I wish that all bfing moms were protected in my state not some. We now nurse right before I leave and as soon as I get home. It works for us, but it shouldn't have to!

September 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLauren

I'm going to second the family issues. All of the things you mentioned, have led to a gap in breastfeeding traditions for many families. I am still breastfeeding my 4 month old and plan to continue for quite a while, but in the early days and weeks of breastfeeding, the number one thing that was a barrier for me was that every time I would nurse my son, friends and family would leave the room. I didn't need privacy, my son didn't need privacy, they just had an issue with me breastfeeding. This doesn't seem like a huge deal, but when we had visitors constantly in those early weeks, I felt so alone when everyone left me out of the conversation/activity/etc (which I could generally still hear from the next room). If I had wanted privacy, I would have taken my son to another room. They would suggest that I pump and bring a bottle, so that I didn't have to leave to breastfeed the baby. I don't take my son to another room to nurse (unless he's majorly distracted) and when friends and family would abandon me in the name of "support," I couldn't make them understand that moving to another room is just as bad as telling me to go somewhere else. Now that my son is older and easier to nurse on the go, I just pick him up and follow them, but that wasn't always possible.

September 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDon't Pat the Belly

Great summary. I was particularly waiting for you to mention the last point - as long as breastfeeding mothers continue to hide in another room, in their cars, or under a nursing cover, breastfeeding will not become "the norm" simply because it is so rarely seen.

(I do have to, however, disagree about the breastfeeding dolls - it feels *to me* like one more money grab, all these use-specific dolls which do so little to encourage imagination. My son will nurse his cars, his stuffed monkey, whatever, and I've had the great pleasure of nursing both a dinosaur and a firetruck in the past - no "breastfeeding doll" needed here! I would like to see less dolls being sold with bottles, though, as that only perpetuates the notion that bottle feeding is the normal way to feed a baby.)

September 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCynthia

@Cynthia: I agree that the "breastfeeding" specific dolls are not necessary, or shouldn't be. But with so many baby dolls coming with bottles, I do like to see these as an alternative.

September 11, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Bravo on a super summary! Thank you for all you are doing to raise awareness of the "Booby Traps" that are keeping moms from achieving their personal breastfeeding goals. The sooner that everyone wakes up and realizes that your doctor or hospital handing you a formula bag is like a cardiologist handing you a cheeseburger, the quicker we will drive people to action.

September 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBettina

I wrote this yesterday:


And honestly, I think that it's idiots who spout things like I listed in my post that do the most harm.

After that, I'd say it's the family thing. Remember how Jennifer Lopez didn't breastfeed her twins because her mother didn't breastfeed? My son watched me BF his sister from day one, and now when he sees other women BF babies, he just says, "Look mom, that baby is having a chest snack." (LOL) By the time he is grown and has children of his own, he'll be totally familiar and comfortable with BF and be able to support his partner.

My mom breastfed (late 70s and early 80s) and was a great source of support, but my MIL never did and although she was supportive of my CHOICE, she couldn't help much when it came to the specifics.

I don't know, my BF experience was almost all positive, but I know a lot of that has to do with our race, income and education level.

September 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKayris

Thanks for this. I really echo your thoughts on public breastfeeding--we need more of it! I wasn't very comfortable doing it myself in the beginning but I've gotten braver over the months. I still get the odd "look" (especially now that my baby is approaching one year) but for the most part, it's been a positive experience. Some have actually stopped to say encouraging things like "Good for you!" While those comments are fine and supportive I think we need to get even more progressive than that--public breastfeeding should not have to be some kind of a spectacle or political statement, when really I'm doing nothing more than feeding my baby because he happened to get hungry while I happened to be out.

September 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPriscilla

I faced significant medical barriers, but they were a little different. My first child was premature, and so we were separated at birth. When I wasn't present, and without my consent or consultation, they fed her a bottle of formula. And then over the week that she spent in the NICU I received tons of conflicting advice from every person I saw, and there were a lot. 2 nurses a day, and rarely the same nurse twice.

What I experienced, and what a lot of other moms have experienced, is that policies and practices are MUCH SLOWER to change in the NICU. I find it very disappointing, since these little babies are so much more vulnerable and in need of breast milk and their mother's presence. And yet the systematic barriers in place are that much higher because they are in a brightly lit nursery around the clock with no place for parents to stay and very few options for privacy. I understand that these babies need special care, but I think that there is still a lot of room for progress in terms of promoting early bonding and breastfeeding.

September 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

Amen. The hospital where I used to work received an enormous shipment of "Breastfeeding Kits" produced by Enfamil. With a can of formula, vitamins for mom, and the prominent slogan, "From the time you are breastfeeding. . . to the time you are supplementing." And these were given to the breastfeeding mothers. No wonder one of the top reasons for early weaning is the perception of inadequate milk.

You are right on about doctors. I just wrote a post on my experience with my son's former pediatrician and how she nearly brought our breastfeeding to an end.

September 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

I agree that family and "lost knowledge" is a huge barrier. My mom ff from birth, so was unable to help me when I had issues with my firstborn, and my sisters did bf, but had no problems so were also at a loss. And MIL bf DH until close to 12 months, but she still managed to undermine me by sayiing things like "he's hungry AGAIN?" or "are you putting him on a 4 hour schedule yet?" or (when I hadn't weaned him by 1 year), "you ARE going to put him on a bottle eventually, right?" I ended up nursing my son until 2.5, and am currently nursing his almost 2 year old brother with no plans to wean -- and apparently I am the subject of much discussion among extended family, who all have their own opinions on how long is too long (3 months, for some). Fortunately, the only people that get a say in this are me and my son, and my DH is completely supportive, but for some moms, I can imagine it would be difficult to continue when they have no one in their corner.

And I so agree the lack of knowledge and support from the medical community is shameful. I could go on and on about the bad and/or inconsistent advice I got, and the even worse advice I overheard being given to other moms in hospital. I had an in-home visit from a lactation consultant after the birth of my first son, and I asked her "why don't the nurses in the hospital know what you know?!" I think nurses in maternity wards and pediatricians should be required to become certified lactation consultants, or at the very least, admit that they are not experts in this area. And they should support the CPS recommendation to bf for up to 2 years and beyond. In my experience, they do not.

September 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

How true. My second son spent a night in special care, and they really discouraged me from nursing, saying it was too much effort for him etc. And he was not a preemie unable to suckle, but a 9.7 lber who had had fluid in his lungs at birth and was being monitored. Though not one nurse suggested it (it was the LC's day off...), my DH managed to track a pump down for me, and I brought a teeny tiny amt. of colostrum to the nursery, determined to give him something if I wasn't "allowed" to nurse. A nurse put it in a bottle, and when she caught us removing the nipple to "cup feed" him, she freaked out on us. I just wanted to feed my baby, so I went along, and thank goodness it didn't mess him up. And minutes after that? There was a shift change and the new nurse suggested I should try to put him to the breast!

September 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

As someone with breastfeeding issues 8 months later, I now think I know so much about breastfeeding that I hope to avoid similar issues with future children. With hindsight as clear as it is, I can identify so many issues in our journey, some that directly affected our nursing relationship:

* the hospital I delivered at has an IBCLC on staff, but only on an out-patient basis; our first meeting was over a week after my little one was born
* each nurse would say the latch looked great but each had different advice about breastfeeding and seemed quick to push supplements of formula when our little one hadn't had a wet diaper by day 2
* the Special Care Nursery let our little one sleep for four or five hours during the night before calling me from the courtesy room for feedings (who's worried about a little one with an IV being dehydrated?)
* the Special Care Nursery gave our little one a pacifier without asking my permission
* the hospital provided my name and address to a formula company and they sent me a sample of formula in the mail and coupons to buy more formula

September 11, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterbambam

Whoops. That link didn't work. Read about my experience with my son's former pediatrician http://themilkmama.com/2009/09/06/choose-a-breastfeeding-friendly-pediatrician/" rel="nofollow">here.

September 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

Fantastic post. Thank you for this. I just started the breastfeeding support component of my postpartum doula training and hope to make whatever small impact I can.

September 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDou-la-la

I formula fed my daughter Gracie 4 years ago. I convinced myself that I would "try" to breastfeed but when it didn't come naturally and wasn't as easy as "attach baby to nipple and sit" I quickly gave up.
But during my pregnancy with my daughter Kairi I had several friends who were also pregnant that planned to BF. This encouraged me to give it an actual shot this time. I read up on it and talked to lots of moms who had BF-ed or were currently.

One thing that I realized in all of this is that by not being around other women who breastfeed we are setting ourselves up for failure, or at least for having a very hard time with it. Sure, women did this for centuries before anyone thought to write how-to books, but they had also all grown up for generations upon generations of not seeing anything different. Women of the days before formula feeding, back when breastfeeding was not only the norm, but was the only option, didn't need to be educated on it like we do now just in order to do it.

I feel like women of today are being cheated by being deprived of this ingrained knowledge. It's not fair that in order to fully grasp what kind of a commitment I was making I had to educate myself first. I'm not against that, but there are lots of women who just aren't interested in teaching themselves something, especially something that is supposed to be so natural. I know when I was pregnant with Gracie I thought that it should just come to me. But because I'd never seen it done and had no idea what to expect out of it I just gave up and took the bottle of premixed formula that the nurses at the hospital so happily provided.

September 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterErin W.

Excellent post. I, too, echo the family/generational issue that so many have mentioned already. Family attitudes, comments, and atmosphere makes a tremendous impact on a woman's success. Whether of not breastfeeding was viewed as "normal" in your family and community growing up will make a big difference in overcoming obstacles. And don't forget the in-laws. A woman might have great support from her mother but be living in the same city as her mother-in-law, or subject to regular family meals as well as mother-in-law opinions ...

I also think (as Erin W. said) that the lack of peer support is huge. The majority of our peers are looking to pediatricians for answers and getting (most of the time) the wrong information! Then they spread that information amongst one another and the downward spiral continues on.

Finally, our attitudes as 21st century women need to be reshaped so that we don't view breastfeeding as something that "ties us down," or makes us overly "domestic," or what have you. Women need a change of focus to see the amazing privilege of each and every feeding, the sweetness of it, as well as the sense of empowerment that comes with a successful breastfeeding relationship.

September 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarole

I totally agree with everything that has already been posted. I think another huge problem is the way breastfeeding is promoted (or not promoted). A few years ago, in the US, there were ad campaigns that "promoted" breastfeeding by comparing not breast feeding to doing dangerous things while pregnant (log rolling and riding a mechanical bull are the only two I remember). Then they follow up those ads with NO support at all! No new laws, no better enforcement of the laws, no funding for breastfeeding research, no funding for breastfeeding education, no funding for lactation consultants, NOTHING. So what happens? Women try a few times, get fed up, go to formula and feel guilty. Then when they hear about someone successfully breastfeeding they get jealous, feel guilty and get defensive. Then, if you do breastfeed, you're labeled a "breastfeeding Nazi". The new ads in the US have nothing to do with breast feeding--posters of dandelions with teeny weeny print saying that may be you should try breastfeeding but if you're having trouble then give up and feel bad about it. I also think that too many websites that try to promote breastfeeding come off as preaching too the choir, rather than trying to encourage new moms.
Also, I think too often breastfeeding--and much of parenting in general--is seen as an all or nothing proposition. I hear way too often "I HAD to stop breastfeeding because I went back to work/the baby got a bottle at the hospital so we're doomed anyway/we started solids/I'm not getting warm fuzzies." Women need to know that any breastfeeding is better than none. And that just because you feel like you have to supplement with formula, it doesn't mean you have to stop nursing completely.
Finally, I think that we need to break breastfeeding down into manageable goals for women. I had a ton of issues nursing my older son. When he was a newborn, it was so overwhelming for me to think about making it to 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding let alone a year that I almost quit many many times. The thing that got me through it was thinking I can make it though this one feeding. Then it got to I can make it though this one day, week, month. I think getting more LC's and more non-professional supporters would really help with that.
Oh and I didn't give up with my son, we kept it up until he self-weaned at 3! I'm currently breastfeeding my 8 month old and will let him self wean also.

September 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterClare

For me, it's the lack of acceptance of breastfeeding and bottle-feeding. In my case, I need to supplement with formula because of a low supply (IGT), but others may do a combo if they are working and can't pump, etc. The attitude of "why bother breastfeeding if you are bottle feeding anyways" is really discouraging...and sometimes comes from both sides of the debate.

September 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGayle

I think that the reason I was so successful with breastfeeding my first born was SUPPORT!
Support from my husband and my sisters and my mother. Amazing! It was super hard the first three weeks but I never thought about giving up and instead knew that it would get easier.

I had terrible engorgement and one late night at home when our boy was about 5 days old I was frantic and crying because I could not latch my newborn. My husband got on his lap top and went to Dr. Jack Newman and found a video on how to latch when engorged. Doing the 'flower petal' technique to move back the excess fluid. Anyways, here is my husband explaining how to do this and it helped so much. Support!

September 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMama in the City

@Bambam: Absolutely apart from all the bad practices and breastfeeding advice you've described, the last point also horrifies me for a completely different reason. The rules of confidentiality in medical care mean that the hospital should damn well not be giving your name and address out to ANYONE. It is shocking that they did so, and I hope that you complained good and hard about that point even apart from all the breastfeeding issues that also need addressing.

September 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSarah V.

@Bambam: I agree that it is completely inappropriate for the hospital to give your name and address to a formula company. It is also illegal in Canada for them to do so. Are you absolutely sure it was the hospital? If you have evidence of that and you are in Canada you could file a complaint.

September 12, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

@Gayle: When I am providing breastfeeding support to moms who are struggling with supply, I always tell them that *any* amount of breast milk is beneficial. Yes, there are additional benefits to being able to keep a baby exclusively breastfed until the gut closes, but if that is not possible, that doesn't mean that there is no point in breastfeeding at all. There are significant benefits. I commend you for all of the effort that you put in to provide your baby with as much breast milk as possible.

September 12, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I agree with all of you that family support is hugely important. I guess I dropped that into the category of attitudes and imagery. If you are getting a poor attitude or poor information from those closest to you that is likely to be even more damaging than getting a poor attitude from society in general. We all need our families and friends to support us in our decisions and our efforts.

If you are facing people who are not being supportive, feel free to send them this link:
http://www.phdinparenting.com/2008/11/01/what-does-support-look-like/" rel="nofollow">What does support look like? What to do and not do to support a breastfeeding mother

September 12, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

This is a great post! I have breastfed my son for seven months and am SO GLAD I stuck it out, but the first three months were the hardest of my life. FOR ME (and this is only my experience, I'm not speaking for others) the hardest thing was that nobody told me (not my midwife, not my LC, not my breastfeeding group) that it would be so painful or that thrush could take months to clear up. If I had known I would have been better mentally prepared. Instead, I felt like something was wrong with me, and I felt totally alone. My doctor, rather than my midwife, LC, or LLL leader is the one who finally diagnosed my thrush and gave me Diflucan for a month to clear it up (after trying EVERY natural remedy). It took three months for my cracks to clear up. I think we need to be more honest with women about how difficult it is, rather than worrying about scaring them off. When you don't know that it's often that difficult and painful, you think you're a freak case, and it makes it more tempting to quit or supplement.

September 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSandy

This article is brilliant! I am lucky in that I gave birth overseas-- I had a midwife to help with breastfeeding, and my mother who successfully breastfed me and my 3 siblings. I felt very supported overall when breastfeeding, even in public. I think I used a cover twice total, when I nursed without one I received encouraging smiles instead of scowls from strangers (and that was in uber-conservative Switzerland!). That gave me the courage to keep on nursing whenever and wherever I needed without the inconvenience of needing to cover up (believe me, no one can really see anything anyway) without worrying about what others thought.

I breastfed my son for just over a year, and am so glad I did. I've tried to be very honest about my experience to others, like on my blog. I think knowledge really is KEY, to know what to expect and what it will be like. So many women don't know, and so when they hit snags they think they're not cut out for it not realizing it's just HARD at first and you gotta get past that.

September 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMarcy

[...] Societal Barriers to Breastfeeding [...]

I've continually pointed to the lack of "breastfeeding role models" as a challenge for new moms. Since so many of our moms did not breastfeed, and since in the modern, Western, urban world we are so often isolated, breastfeeding is not a part of our lives. We wouldn't even need images of breastfeeding in the media (not that it would be a bad thing to have them, anyway) if we saw actual breastfeeding around us.

September 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCandace

One study I read on breastfeeding initiation (sorry, it was a while ago and I am not sure I could find the citation easily) that said the most common reason that they found for women not even wanting to initiate was that they thought their male partner would not be supportive. The male partners were interviewed and most of them were supportive.

September 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMomTFH

I didn't really have much support from my family. I asked DH what he thought about the idea of me BF-ing and he just kind of shrugged. "If that's what you want to do...." That's the closest I ever got from him.

When Kairi was born we kept getting readmitted to the hospital because of jaundice. The first time we went back the ped. suspended BF for 12 hours to determine if it was BF jaundice or something to really keep an eye on. Once they figured out that it was BF jaundice they told me to keep her there for observation until her billi level went down to normal. When my mother got wind of this, she told me to quit BF-ing because Kairi must be "allergic to breast milk."

I ended up talking to the pediatrician and asked him if this could be the case, if my breast milk was making her sicker, etc. My mom really shook me up when she said that. The doctor told me that no, I wasn't making her sicker and that breast milk is best in almost any circumstance. I told my mother and she still blamed me for Kairi's nearly 2 week stay in the hospital. I ended up having to have the pediatrician write my mother a note telling her, basically, to STFU and that breast is best.

For some reason my friends and family see me as a quitter and have almost no faith in me, despite proof that I can do what I say I can do, etc. When I told my best friend that I was quitting smoking she told me that she doubted if I'd make it 2 days. I'm working on a year and a half without smoking, and I quit cold turkey on a whim. I have had to learn to turn everyone's lack of faith in me into fuel to prove them otherwise.

So, to all the women who despite your best efforts still can't manage to get some support, look at it as an opportunity to prove everyone wrong about you.

I wrote a post about an argument I got into about breastfeeding support a couple days ago. If you have some time, please check it out. http://beatniksbeatonlife.blogspot.com/2009/09/no-boobs-in-cry-room.html

September 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterErin W.

I agree wholeheartedly that we need to be honest and up front with women who are pregnant about breastfeeding, but I also think that we should try to minimize the horror stories of it all. The way I've explained it to a couple of my pregnant friends is that sometimes it's hard (REALLY hard) but it's SO UTTERLY REWARDING once you get the hang of it.
That's just what I was told and I'm so glad that even that bit of information was shared with me so that I didn't feel so alone when I just wasn't getting it. There were many instances that I made some late-night phone calls to friends that, had they not told me how hard it could be, I would not have made and might have just given up.
It's just important to express that while it's not all Skittles and rainbows all the time it IS probably one of the most rewarding experiences a woman (well, at least THIS woman) can ever experience, and that support is there when it's needed.

September 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterErin W.

I've been mostly lucky in my breastfeeding experiences. My mother is very supportive. I had a sister breastfeeding a baby at the same time I was. And a very supportive husband. Working at home made it easier as well. I've only had to pump to have a supply for if we want to go out without a baby.

My mother-in-law wasn't terribly supportive, but she had been taught that formula was better, and where she grew up it simply wasn't proper for a woman to breastfeed. She only really accepted my insistence on breastfeeding after her daughter had a baby and also insisted on breastfeeding. She was suddenly willing to read all the stuff I had been telling her about for ages before.

Didn't keep her from asking at 6 weeks, 6 months, one year, etc. when I was going to wean. And she's still upset that my current baby refuses to take a bottle at all. That we're teaching her to use a sippy cup instead, as she's more willing to do that, is apparently not good enough either.

Still, I count myself lucky to have so much support. My two oldest breastfed past a year and weaned on their own schedules. I intend the same for this one.

September 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie

I think education is important for a certain group of women who don't have access to resources and aren't necessarily strong enough to advocate for themselves, but I'm not convinced it's the biggest hurdle. In my experience as well -- as an exclusive, baby never taken a bottle, no REALLY-breastfeeding mama -- I'll also say that fears of public breastfeeding for me, were way overblown by blogs and the media. I've nursed this kid EVERYWHERE, in many different parts of the country, and not once has it been an issue. I think talking about it as being natural and normal is good, but pointing out all the instances where it's not accepted also scare people away sometimes, because those examples are loud, but they are mostly not the norm.

What I agree with, and what was stated more from commenters than anywhere else, is familial barriers. I am constantly surprised at how often my family asks how long I plan to breastfeed, and many of them are clearly surprised when I say at least one year. Frankly, it's the most difficult challenge, because strangers and acquaintances wouldn't have the balls to ask or express disapproval. But family feels free to let it rip, you know? I don't really give a rip, personally -- I'm standing firm, as it's none of their business, and I'm the mom here -- but I could see how people with a different family dynamic would find it difficult.

September 14, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjonniker

I think I was lucky in that my friends had babies before me and by the time I did it was absolutely a NO brainer... I also feel like I am lucky to live in an area where very very very few bottle feed, at least of the moms I see out and about. I always do a double take when I see a bottle (even though it could be breastmilk and I know it sometimes is.)

A cousin told me that she found it difficult to breastfeed because she didn't have family support. Her family wasn't "against" it - but she didn't get any help of any sort - a little of the "you chose to breastfeed so..." kind of attitude where as they would have jumped on giving bottles and she felt like she could have used a little bit more support. She managed to breastfeed for a while regardless -- but it made me realize that sometimes it's as little as that that can make people switch to formula... :(

Somebody else I know who was expecting twins was "asked" by her family to seriously consider formula because "they wanted to feed the babes" (her mom and mother in law) um... ?????

Finally -- I have a cousin who just had a baby (well, his girlfriend did) and they don't have too much money... I had asked her (and highlighted the need) if she was going to breastfeed and she was - she was keen and she started very well as soon as the baby was born... I saw her a few days after birth and she was doing GREAT with breastfeeding and then at about 2 weeks old she stopped :( I felt like I COULD have stepped in to offer support but it really didn't seem needed (i'm not super close to these people and i don't see them that often, but i would have seen her daily if it ment helping her breastfeed) and I feel so sad all around about it. I feel like the system let her down because they should have been more clear about the NEED to breastfeed when it's feasible. I feel like she completely misunderstood that formula is the 'easy' option -- because i've seen her have to take care of all the bottle washing and such and it's a PAIN... and most importantly -- IT'S FREE. How does this low-ish income family end up formula feeding at 2 weeks of age when she had PLENTY of milk (seriously plenty in her case!!)

All that to say that I know the help was readily available for me when I was breastfeeding my newborn twins -- but perhaps I only know that the support was there because I WAS LOOKING FOR IT and I was 110% positive that I would do everything in my power to breastfeed. So I *think* we have a good thing going here, but I was already convinced. Bottom line is that I now think that perhaps there's a huge lack of education for those that have yet to be convinced that they should.

September 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnnie


I'm not disagreeing with the premise of your comment but I wanted to give you an example of when "education" was helpful for this already had exclusively breastfed one baby very educated has plenty of access to resources and is a very stubborn advocate mama:

When I had my second, I knew it was likely he was going to be large. My friend (who lives in a different state and who tried to breastfeed but never successfully latched and pumped for four months before going to formula) who also had a large baby warned me that the hospital would try to insist on a bottle for a big baby.

Because I had advanced warning, I could research, become informed and be ready. Well, he was over 10 lbs, they did try to bully me, and I was equipped to say "no." I actually had to position my husband as a guard.

Anyway...I also wanted to say that it is great that no one ever said anything negative to you but I do know women (and I knew that they weren't out to prove anything and were just feeding their babies naturally, casually, normally) who have had strangers come up to them.

I think knowing about something in advance helps you prepare so you give the response you want, instead of what you jump to without perfect information in the moment.

But yes, the scare stories can go too far and end up having the opposite effect.

September 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCandace

I don't think I even knew what BFing WAS until I was about 10 or 11 and was told that a neighbor was BFing her newborn. My next exposure to it was at about 15, when we moved to another city and started attending a new church. There most of the new moms were BFing, including my class teacher. It was then that I realized that this was the "right thing to do." When I had my first baby at 21, I had a lot of problems with sore nipples and very little support (this was pre-internet and I hadn't heard of LLL yet), but my mom, despite other problems I had with her, at least DID try to support me, even went down and bought breast shields for me. She never tried to undermine my decision whatsoever. I think, therefore, that people can make the decision, as my mother did, to open their minds and not to put up these societal barriers.

September 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCathy Y.

Excellent post. I am often surprised at the lack of overall social supports to breastfeed and the cultural norms around it. I never even though twice about breastfeeding, it was just assumed I would. I grew up thinking images of breastfeeding were normal, even our religious images of Mary (Catholic) were often of her breastfeeding. However, others seemed surprised by the length, public aspect, or just breastfeeding in general. I think there is a lot of lost knowledge and Victorian based norms that still run dominant.

September 14, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterbeth aka confusedhomemaker

I agree with you, mostly. And while yes, I think knowing in advance is helpful, I think that all! I! read! about! before I nursed in public was how IT WAS MY RIGHT and how PEOPLE WILL STARE and SAY SOMETHING TO YOU. And while maybe people have stared (in fact, I should amend my earlier comment, because people have, on occasion), I was actually more self-conscious sitting there waiting for someone to approach me than I was doing the act itself. Does that make sense? It's like we're all supposed to be on HIGH ALERT for the naysayers, OMG! And that in itself can be a hurdle towards breastfeeding in public. I was actually afraid to do it a few times, not because I was actually afraid to, but because I didn't have the energy to be this feminist icon of breastfeeding and fight for my rights. I was too damn tired. And when that never happened, I realized all the angst was for naught. Once I got the hang of it, if anyone said anything to me, I probably would have started laughing, because seriously.

September 15, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjonniker

[...] is powerful. Although there are numerous societal barriers to breastfeeding, the fact that people see babies bottle feeding everywhere and rarely see babies breastfeeding is a [...]

I haven't had the chance to read each comment, but I hope you'll consider a plug for free local breastfeeding support provided by La Leche League Leaders throughout the world. http://www.llli.org/ (use "Find Local Support" pulldown in upper left section of the page.)

September 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKayTi

My school is refusing to provide me a place to pump. They have said that I could go in the bathroom which is disgusting and also have no outlets in them, so I wouldn't be able to plug my pump in to pump. I've written to the school news paper and our local gazette to no avail. I called the LLL in our area and apparently there are multiple mothers who have called them regarding this. Any ideas of what to do to change this? The school policy says they only have to provide a place for teachers.

September 16, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjordan

@Jordan: I'm going to send you an e-mail.

September 16, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

@Jordan: I'm sending you an e-mail to get some details from you, but in the meantime for your benefit and for the benefit of any lurkers, I wanted to point you in the direction of http://www.firstright.org/" rel="nofollow">FirstRight - an organization that helps moms that have faced breastfeeding discrimination. Consider getting in touch with them to report the incident and also to see if they can help.

September 16, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Age of the "baby" is another big one. The last time I checked, the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for at least two years. My son is less than two but appears older. This means we have not yet reached the recommended bare minimum but I get shocked looks whenever he says "Boobie Time?" We now only breastfeed at home (2-3 times a day). I returned to work when he was a year old and put him in a nearby daycare so I could nurse him at lunch time. Until he was about 18 months old I breastfed in public (on a bus) under a wrap and got really weird looks with that too. Even other women I know who breastfed their babies acted strange about us carrying on after the age of one. It's sad, really.

September 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCassa

In Australia it is illegal to advertise formula for newborns - so the formula companies do advertise toddler formula but it means that new mothers aren't exposed to formula marketing. I believe this has had a very positive impact on the amount of mothers who choose to breastfeed.

September 18, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterzoey

[...] is growing awareness of the importance of this issue. Here’s what a blog called PhDinParenting says about it in a post called “Societal Barriers to [...]

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