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Saturday
Jan262013

What Does It Mean To Support Breastfeeding? Your Insights - Part 2

The last question of my survey on what it means to support breastfeeding was an open-ended one.  I asked if there was anything else you wanted to say about what it means to support breastfeeding and more than 500 you did. In this post, I'm going to share some of those comments, to give you an idea of the nature and variety of them. Grouped by general themes, here are some of the comments that I found either particularly representative or particularly interesting.

On non-judgmental support

The vast majority of the comments talked about being a non-judgmental source of support, meeting women where they are at and supporting their choices.

"Means being a source of support and love. Non judgmental."

"Being a breastfeeding supporter means listening to individual women and acting accordingly, not deciding what I think they're going to say in advance of saying it and giving information based on what I think they need to know.  It means being flexible and responsive to someone elses needs and not being an advocate of what I think is 'right'."

"I think you can be a breastfeeding supporter (and a strong one!) while not being a formula "hater". I struggle with the negative perspective on formula simply because some women need to use it and they should have to feel guilty or like "less of a mom" because they do. At the end of the day it's about choice - if you want to breastfeed, you should be able to. If you want to formula feed, you should be able to. It's not really anybody's business but mom, dad, and baby."

"I support breastfeeding through leading by example. However I came close to being unable to breastfeed due to my baby's tongue tie, and the amount of shame and feelings of failure I had over that illustrated for me how overbearing the "breast is best" messaging can get. My baby would have starved without formula supplementation.  Care should be taken not to demonize it."

"Being unequivocal about the politics of breastfeeding and the war going on against breastfeeding in the right arena but at the same time meeting mothers where they are at in the moment and helping them get their needs met (not serving my own agenda). It's a tough balancing act, but doable."

"As a woman who tried everything (yes, everything docs, LLL, LCs, SNS, Reglan, etc.) to breastfeed and couldn't keep it up I do wish we could tone the formula demonization down a couple of notches.  However, whatever my experience was I still respect a woman's autonomy as a person and a mother above all.  A woman who wants to breastfeed should find herself with an abundance of support and should be able to feed her child whenever and wherever that child is hungry."

"Yes.  Part of it is also helping a mother "let go" when it is not working and is interfering with the mother or child's mental or physical health."

"As a formula feeder, I am a strong supporter of breastfeeding moms, as we are all doing whatever we can to feed our child!"

A breast feeding supporter is one who supports the choice to breastfeed, not one who insists it is the only way to feed their baby. I am a supporter of mothers, and believe that whatever way they chose t feed their baby, they should be given the support and medically accurate advice they need.

Sometimes with conditions...

Although most comments emphasized the need to be non-judgmental and support the mother, regardless of her choice or experience, some did put conditions on that:

"It is more than the superior nutrition in human milk. It is also the strong bond that cannot be formed any other way."

"I'm sick of being given the guilt trip by formula mums. "you should support breastfeeding as long as it doesn't make other people feel bad". I don't get it, if you don't put them in the correct car seat and someone pulls you up on it you would be laughed out if you then said "oh you are making me feel guilty, we tried restraining him but it just doesn't work for us" why should other things that are best for baby ie. breastfeeding, be any different?"

"Everyone should breastfeed if medically able to and be able to get professional help if needed for no cost."

"Support is key. But lack of support is not an excuse for failure to breastfeed your child."

To be frank, these are the type of comments that I think are unhelpful and create a divide between breastfeeding advocates and formula feeding moms.

On supporting breastfeeding moms

A lot of the comments emphasized the need for mother-to-mother, family and community support.

"Mother-to-mother support is a critical part of the picture for  reaching a breastfeeding-normal society. Organizations and institutions that offer it need more support themselves and a much better public image. I have volunteered with LLL and now volunteer with Breastfeeding USA. It is always a struggle to make this work known as legitimate and valuable, both within the broader society and within the medical establishment -- including, sadly, much of the lactation world. This has to change if all the mothers who need this type of support are going to have access to it."

"Family and community support is also essential."

"genuinely listening to the mom and helping her meet HER breastfeeding goals whether or not they are the same goals I had for myself"

"its about encouragement, education & support. i love breastfeeding! i wish all women could experience this and all babies could be fed their mama's milk."

On normalizing breastfeeding

The need to normalize breastfeeding was a theme in a lot of comments. There is so much pressure on women to breastfeed, yet people rarely see women breastfeeding in public and when they do, they are at risk of being told to cover up or go somewhere else to feed their baby. Many commenters spoke to the need to make breastfeeding more prevalent in society.

"I never saw anybody breastfeeding as a child or adult for that matter!  I wish I could have seen women doing this in public!  Now I have 2 babies and feed them all the time in public.  Hopefully by doing so I can influence somebody else to breastfeed their kids!!!"

"pop culture should be immersed in the normalcy of nursing to help reverse the sexualization of breasts"

"I have taught anthropology of gender classes at university where I spend at least 2 hours talking about how we as a society need to make changes to make it easier and normal for all mothers to breastfeed for at least two years."

"Never *ever* saying anything negative about how long/how often/where another mom chooses to breastfeed her baby!"

"I will alway be grateful for my mamas who bf around me and helped me become an independent, secure mama."

"it shouldn't be this radical thing. breastfeeding is normal and evolutionarily proven effective. that being said, it may be normal but it can be difficult when we aren't exposed to our mothers, aunts, sisters, cousins nursing. it used to be that by the time you had your own children you'll already seen 15 women nursing, and you had plenty if support."

"It means smiling at nursing mamas. It means giving encouragement to moms I know. It means handing out my "Thank you for nursing in public" cards and giving moms info on the BFB harrassment hotline if they are ever harassed. "

"While I believe that women should be free to breastfeed in public without covering up, I do not have the desire to do so. Unfortunately, there are women I personally know who feel I am doing my baby a disservice by not nursing uncovered & uninhibited in public. I have my specific feelings regarding why I choose not to & I think it is sad that the flip side of the coin in my instance is that I am judged for choosing not to nurse in public."

"If I see a woman BFing, I always try to say a kind word, and acknowledge her bravery.  I BF in public wherever and whenever I need to, to normalize BFing and to help make others more comfortable with the idea of it."

"I support the NORMALIZING of breastfeeding - which means to me, less interventions, more trust in mom and babe with support when needed by skilled lactation and other mothers, and breastfeeding anywhere, anytime."

On removing barriers

Some comments spoke to specific barriers in the medical system, workplace, and public policy.

"More info for prospective mothers about the possible problems you may encounter- I knew I wanted to BF but all ppl ever told me about was how great it was, not about what potentially might go wrong... when he wouldn't latch and had tongue tie and my inverted nipple ended up cracked to the point of needing steroid cream I felt like I had been duped about how great it was... I stuck it out and now it is wonderful, but I wish I would've known it could be painful etc beforehand so I knew what to expect."

"There should be access to domperidone for milk supply issues."

"Hospitals are focus on bombarding women with the message that breast is best but fail to support women who fail at breast feeding after. There was no information for me after a severe blood disorder meant I did not have enough iron in my body to produce milk for my baby. I felt abandoned and just and was just told you can have sma or cow and gate?"

"Advocating for more support for working mothers, including significantly longer maternity leave."

"I would like to add that more support should be give to working mothers, with access to pumps covered by health insurance (or partially covered), and accommodations made by employers at the workplace such as access to a private space to pump in and adequate break time provided to pump."

"Question about breast pumps being covered by public health care - I think that they should be covered even if the pump isn't "medically necessary." Covering pumps would mean that more women who choose to/have to return to work will continue breastfeeding."

"I see a lot of women get stymied by interactions with the healthcare system OTHER than their OB/GYN and related staff.  So, they get sick and get told to stop BFing.  I try to educate as many docs as I can, but I strongly believe that medical education does a terrible job of preparing all docs to handle BFing moms.  They rely on package inserts for example to say a mom can't nurse on a med without ever knowing about resources like Dr. Hale's."

"A breastfeeding supporter means working with the mother to allow her to breastfeed no matter the circumstance. For example, I was told I needed to stop breastfeeding because of a medication I needed to go on. I was told this by someone who "supported breastfeeding" (his words). I went out and did my OWN research and discovered he was wrong. Thankfully he also did some research, but his point blank information could have scared off a mother who was struggling somewhat with nursing."

"Sharing accurate information with doctors, who usually dispense inaccurate info. Understanding that some moms aren't comfortable NIP and showing them how to do it "discreetly" instead of bottlefeeing in public."

On risks of breastfeeding vs formula feeding

A few comments touched on the relative risks of breastfeeding versus formula feeding and how that should be assessed and expressed to parents.

"It feels like fighting an uphill battle a lot of the time. Many people just don't want the truth about the risks of NOT breastfeeding. And it's sad we're even having conversations about a baby's right to nurse in public."

"I think the notion of 'choosing to breastfeed' needs to exist alongside the notion that breastfeeding is the natural and optimal way of feeding a baby for as long as the baby and mother want to. It's hard to agree that women ought to be made to feel bad about not breastfeeding--there are good reasons for not breastfeeding and it ultimately is a private decision--but that choice has to be made in an atmosphere that respects the fundamental priority of breastfeeding. Thanks."

"I really disliked this item "Infant formula packages should have to indicate that "breastfeeding is best for your baby". because some women have no choice and that value statement just makes an already painful situation much worse. It's fine to list facts and risks, but "best" is laying a guilt trip and is not about choice and worse rubs salt in the wounds of those who have no choice."

"Accepting a mother's choice.  A lot of these I had to say no, like someone making sure she starts breastfeeding within an hour.  Unless it's asked for, that would be intrusive and hard to deal with.  Or not allowing her to use pacifiers if she asks for one, that's not supportive as there's research saying that helps.  It should ALL be the mother's choice and initiation.  And I've yet to meet a lactation consultant who got that."

"I strongly support breastfeeding, but also support formula 100%.  I think formula is much much safer for the baby than sharing mothers milk- who know what is in there. What if that mom smoked- is a breastfed baby still better off ?  Formula is not a bad thing, please stop the unnecessary criticism of it."

On those last two, I wanted to add that I would look to evidence, rather than my opinion, to make a decision. For example, in terms of initiating breastfeeding within an hour of birth, of course hospital staff should accept a mother's choice if she feels it is intrusive and hard to deal with. But at the same time, I think they should inform her of the risks of not establishing breastfeeding immediately after birth if her choice is to breastfeed her child. I think educating moms in advance of the birth is important, so that they know what to expect  and know what will help them to get a positive start on breastfeeding.

That was your say

And there we have it. A sampling of the comments in response to the open ended question on what it means to be a breastfeeding supporter.

What do you think? Was this what you expected? Is there anything you want to add that you didn't get to say in the survey?

Image credit: Daquella manera on flickr

« A New Look and a More Defined Path | Main | What Does It Mean To Support Breastfeeding? Your Answers - Part 1 »

Reader Comments (21)

I would like to add that I so not think I would have breastfeed my son for so long (16m and Lin strong) if I were back in Germany. Here in NorCal, it's so normal and I have never ever encountered anything but support. In Germany, a friend asked me with raised eyebrows "Are you STILL nursing?" - I was visiting her with my 9m old. Her children are weaned at 6m, because, as she says "I don't want them to be able to ASK for it!"
6m seems to be a really strong cutoff.

January 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBlesstheFunk

I think the reaction you describe could happen anywhere, not only in Germany. Plus: you can get different reactions in Germany as well. I know a lot of women who have looked at me bewildered when they heard that I was still occasionally nursing my then 3year-old daughter as well as her baby brother. All these women have found breastfeeding extremely difficult themselves - probably partly due to lack of support. However, not a single time has any of them questioned my decision to let my children wean themselves. I love the statement of one mother who simply said "oh, your children are very lucky then."
I found that (extended) breastfeeding is a harshly disputed topic in german online-discussions as well as in german media, but I myself haven't met anyone who told me it was time to wean my children in what has been four years of breastfeeding so far.

January 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHannah

I nursed my first until a bit past 3, which is when his baby sister arrived and he started to self wean (though at 3.5 I still nurse him when he asks, now every 2-3 weeks or so, despite my husbands visible discomfort). For me, extended breastfeeding has been the most isolating thing. I know nobody that went past a year, and most friends that made it that far have this odd dichotomy--proud of their year but then they express total unease with nursing a walking/talking little man. I felt so much pressure to wean, and it made some of our breast feeding sessions more ambivalent than they would have been otherwise. There are very few resources (other than a handful of classic books) that address the agitation of breast feeding in pregnancy, the ambivalence of nursing two, and the joy and other advantages of continuing to breast feed a toddler and preschooler. For us it even has caused marital tension because while I think he tried to support it, my husband has even fewer models of extended breast feeding...after months if asking when I planned to stop (which started at that magical one year mark), he basically started just looking away and saying, with a sigh, "this is between the two of you". Exactly! He also always covers me when I nurse in public and regularly asks if I might want to pump a bottle if he knows I might have to nurse when we are out. Why would I want to do that?

January 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMegan

Interesting! You know, I've said before guilt kept me going at the beginning. And it had nothing to do with anyone else pressuring me to continue or "making me feel bad" for considering weaning (if anything, most people around me supported that). It was an internal voice saying "you are making milk, you just need to figure out how to get it to your baby!" I'm glad I listened in the end, and I don't always think guilt is a bad thing (and no I'm not suggesting guilting other moms, I mean listening to our own internal voices)...

In regards to choice, well yes, it's the mom's body so it should be the mom's choice. I just feel it can never be true choice when there is such a lack of knowledge and support around breastfeeding, and the risks of not breastfeeding (as opposed to the "benefits").

I do want to point out that a quick search (e.g. start with kellymom.com) would satisfy the commenter who mentions smoking. Yes in fact, it IS better if a mom who smokes breastfeeds, at least baby has that protection. This is the kind of thing I mean above--a woman who smokes may be told by some well-meaning person or just assume it is not safe for her to breastfeed, so she doesn't, unaware that there is greater risk if she doesn't. It's not informed choice. (Of course it is ideal if mom stops smoking either way, but life isn't always ideal and quitting smoking is not an easy thing.)

January 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

I would LOVE IT if someone handed me a "thank you for breast feeding in public" card. I do it all the time when we go out to eat or for coffee. I don't make a big deal out of it and I cover myself as best I can with a scarf, but I never really think of NOT doing it. Would the other patrons rather I quietly feed my baby or would they rather he scream through dinner?

January 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

The ones who complain about breastfeeding in public probably wish you would (a) leave the baby at home or (b) nurse in the bathroom. Both unreasonable requests, in my opinion.

January 27, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I've had many interesting experiences while breastfeeding in public. None were enough to phase me and most make for hilarious stories to share with family and the baby in question when they are older. And that's the beauty of it. I can tell my daughter's the stories of their mom being approached by security guards in both a food court and Costco while nursing them and we can laugh about it and normalize it. I can tell my son about the time I was approached by an employee at Bell (while I waited over an hour for service) with a huge wad of paper towels from their staff room "just in case I needed help covering the baby's face" and he can have the tools to support his future partner if she chooses to breastfeed. And, of course, I can tell them all the story of the lunch date with their father in a busy, urban cafe - the kind business suits frequent - when I was approached by a women, who pointed to my nursing baby and, before I could brace myself for a negative comment, said, "Thank you, thank you. I have worked as a public health nurse for 30 years and you have reminded me why I do what I do."

January 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLouise

I did a lot of research re:breastfeeding prior to my daughter's birth and felt quite prepared. I knew a lot about various problems that could happen but was still caught by surprise by how difficult I found it. Without a supportive partner I would have given up. Everyone kept saying how everything looked perfect & how "well" nursing was going but it HURT and I didn't feel like it was going well. I did in fact have latch issue but apparently not visible; I eventually figured it out with help of pump - it helped me get a sense of what nursing should feel like & adjust baby position accordingly.

I don't remember any discussion of fact that both mom & baby need to learn skill. Quite contrary; most talk in terms of baby knowing instinctively what to do.  I think this increases a mom's sense of failure when breastfeeding not working.

Hospitals, midwives & OBs need to talk about plan for breastfeeding in advance if problems might be anticipated. Eg My daughter was "growth restricted" & a planned c-section. We could (should!) have anticipated that her weight loss combined with milk delay from c-section would put her at risk for needing formula supplementation before it happened. I had wanted to try pumping first & talking to a lactation consultant but neither were available for hours and nurses insisted that "doing something" was urgent and couldn't wait. Never did see lactation consultant in hospital.

Gotta say though- I would be horrified to get a nursing in public card. I nursed my daughter until 3.5yrs and never really worried about being in public or not, but even well meaning comments made me self-conscious. If it's "normal", why make a fuss?

January 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMary @ Parenthood

The story about the wad of paper towels is hilarious. I think I would have burst out laughing.

January 27, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I hear you on the nursing in public cards. I think some people love them, some people hate them. For me it is similar to publicly congratulating someone for getting a good grade on an exam. Some teachers/professors do it and some kids love the attention, while others hate it.

January 27, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Andrea:

I actually found the smoking question/comment interesting. I didn't think it was fair to assume that breastmilk from a smoking mom would be riskier than formula. That said, the evidence I've seen with regards to smoking and breastfeeding is that if you do smoke, you should breastfeed because the positives of breastfeeding can counteract some of the negatives of your baby living with a smoker.

However, for a non-smoking mom who is looking for donor milk (which was the situation being commented on, I think), it would be a tough decision (at least for me). I would certainly prefer to look for donor milk from a non-smoking mom if I couldn't breastfeed/needed to supplement. But if I had to choose between breastmilk from a smoking mom or formula, I'm not sure what I would choose. I'd have to do more research first (and I'm not sure I'd find answers that would satisfy my questions).

January 27, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I support mothers in feeding their babies how ever works best for their families and I've been thinking about this all day and that last comment really bothers me.

Informal milk sharing has some risks and should be considered carefully.
The idea that a breastfed baby is somehow at a disadvantage if the mother smokes cigarettes is completely off and seems quite judgemental. The risks of a mother smoking come from 2nd and 3rd hand smoke; So that's smoke in the baby's environment and on their caregiver's clothes and is just as present when someone else in the family smokes. Mothers who smoke less than 20 cigarettes a day are not exposing their breastfed baby to any more risks than if they formula fed. There are issues for the mother's milk supply if they are a heavy smoker, but then they are unlikely to be donating milk. Nicotine can be found in trace amounts in breastmilk if the mother is a heavy (20-30 cigarettes a day).

I'm just not comfortable with" What if that mom smoked- is a breastfed baby still better off ?" being uncontested. In the case of a breastfeeding mother smoking, is the baby better off? The evidence says yes. As for milk sharing? That's something the mother and the donor are going to need to talk about but there is no proven risk.

http://www.llli.org/faq/smoking.html
https://www.llli.org/llleaderweb/lv/lvaugsep04p75.html

January 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

Yes, admittedly, I would probably not want donor milk from a mother who smoked (and I'll take a guess donor milk programs would screen for this?) But for a baby that is getting exposed to second-hand smoke in the home, my understanding is, bf can offer protection the baby wouldn't otherwise get if ff.

January 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

I was breastfeeding in public, with a shawl on. A woman came up to me and congratulated me on breastfeeding. She commented that more African Americans should breastfeed so its nice that people are seeing me do it like normal.

January 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

Breastfeeding is such a natural and healthy thing, I think that overall people support it in public places. I'm certainly a supporter! I hope that more women grow to be comfortable enough to breastfeed when needed, not just at home or in a private place.

January 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSante Mama

I would not like it either. I was out with a group of people at the beach last summer, some I knew well and others I just met. When I nursed my son one woman, a Nigerian nun, started clapping and jumping up and down saying, "Yes! That's how you do it! Just like a true Nigerian woman." I don't need to be congratulated on breastfeeding any more than I need to be for talking.

I hear a lot of breastfeeding supporters talk about a woman's choice, and of course she has the ultimate say, but as long as so few women are seen nursing past a few weeks and so much misinformation about it abounds, women's choice will be heavily influenced. Anyone who says, "I decided X and it had nothing to do with marketing/formula companies/society/my mom, etc.", is fooling herself. We don't live in a void. We are all influenced to some extent by what we see and hear throughout our lives, and we all make decisions based on our exposure in different ways.

For me, the single, most important thing needed to change the tide of breastfeeding is normalizing it. If it's normal, more women will choose it. If it's normal, women will insist on help when they need it instead of quitting. If it's normal, employers will have to support pumping and/or longer leaves. If it's normal, women won't be criticized (nearly as much) for it. If it's normal, doctors and nurses will receive more training and be able to identify true physical problems with lactation. And on we go...

January 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterOlivia

I think an actual card would make me a little uncomfortable ... But when someone says something nice in a casual way, I appreciate it. I've gotten very comfortable nursing in all kinds of place -- probably because I had to: when Baby was 3 months old we went to Europe for a month, and I ended up feeding him in all sorts of strange places -- on a fishing boat, halfway up a mountain, sitting on a curb in a city, on sight-seeing buses, in a sling while exploring a castle during a tour. So nursing in a cafe or restaurant doesn't seem all that strange to me! I've also never had anyone say anything negative. But especially in the beginning, when people would smile and say encouraging things, I did appreciate it. Especially when it's in a quiet or vague way -- like "He looks so peaceful" or "He's so happy." After the TIME magazine controversy I did have some people say they were glad to see me nursing in public so confidently. But a stronger statement might make me uncomfortable, like it was calling more attention to me than I really wanted; I'd still probably just smile, though, and assume that they meant to be encouraging.

The worst (saddest?) reaction I ever had was when I nursed at a different church. I asked where the nursery was, and was directed to what turned out to be a sort of playroom for children while their parents were at Mass (very, very unusual at a Catholic Church). I sat in a corner and breastfed, and after I left I overhead a little girl (4?) asking the teacher what I was doing; she replied that I was feeding the baby. The little girl responded in a shocked voice, "THAT'S not how you feed a baby!!"

January 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAllie

On normalizing breastfeeding in public: I think that often, only people who are looking for it will notice that a mother is nursing her baby. It's just not that obvious once a baby is latched. For myself, I never noticed anyone nursing in public until I was pregnant, then I started seeing it everywhere. I would very much like for society to be more open and accepting of breastfeeding. But at the same time I think that we sometimes overlook how normal it really is, because we're not aware.

February 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

I'm a breastfeeding mom and I nurse without covering up whenever and wherever we are when my kid needs food. I find strangers to be either indifferent or supportive; frankly, I prefer the indifference as I dislike attention from strangers, especially when they are commenting on something that is normal and natural. Like a few other posters have said, I don't get congratulated for walking, breathing or being toilet trained, so I don't really want anybody treating me different because I have a hungry baby.

Despite my ambivalence towards the attention, my experiences make me realize that breastfeeding *is* being normalized and isn't - for me and my friends, anyways - a big deal. The problem comes with slightly older generations (mostly the baby boomers, sorry to name names), such as my partner's mother. She is a very "prim and proper" lady who never breastfed her kids, never wanted to, and is frankly a bit grossed out by it. She told me she was impressed I was "doing that" (she cannot, for the life of her, say the word "breast"!) for my kid as it was a lot of work and really inconvenient and because my kid might not get enough food if I wasn't careful. Fortunately, my partner stepped in to correct her misinformation and condescending attitude before I had to!

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterlaura

I really liked this series of articles, and with 10 days to go until I'm due, it's good to get a pep talk about nursing in public. I just noticed that the phrase "informed decision" didn't really come up anywhere. I think that parents need to be provided with (and gather on their own) all the information on to be able to make an informed decision on what's best for their situation.

This concept came up quite a bit in my lamaze class (only partially covered by my insurance, which by the way, completely covers a breast pump) and in the meet the doctors night at our future pediatrician's office. I think when it comes down to a lot of the questions in the survey, providing the information needed to make an informed decision (like giving out samples or putting warnings/info on formula labels) would be the best solution.

February 14, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterlindsey

Providing milk for its offspring is a characteristic that all mammals share. Remember, we humans are considered a part of the animal kingdom. Breastfeeding is as natural as rain.

February 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAllen @ Funny Baby Videos

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