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