Normalize Breastfeeding: Why It Matters

This blog is intended to honor women who have chosen to breastfeed in a culture where, in many ways, it is still not fully normalized or celebrated. Please do not mistaken this to mean that those who do not or cannot breastfeed are less honorable. Every journey matters. VOICE Birth Options strongly feels that it isn't what you feed your baby that makes you a good parent; but that it is feeding your baby in the way that works best for your family.

My mother's parents immigrated from Austria after they married, and had their first child - my mother - in 1957 Massachusetts. My Oma's obstetrician asked her if she was planning to breastfeed and she was dumbfounded. "Of course!" she answered. "What else would I do?" Breastfeeding was out of favor in mid-20th century America and many would not understand my Oma's choice to do it. But she operated out of her norm, and went against the cultural grain.

In the 1980s, breastfeeding was back in favor; however, very few resources - like good pumping equipment and public places to nurse - were made available to women who wanted to feed their babies this way. So my mother did the best she could as a single working parent and nursed her three girls for as long as possible under her circumstances. I was the longest-breastfed baby, being switched to formula at 4 months.

I'm thankful to say I at least had some sort of a grid for breastfeeding growing up. I was taught that it was normal for babies to take milk from their mother's breasts; although to be honest, I have hardly any recollection of ever seeing it, even with nursing covers - it was a mystery to me. I saw plenty of pictures in books, but my first in-person experience with actually seeing it happen was when I was 20 years old, completing my maternity clinicals in nursing school. The sight certainly didn't bother or offend me - but I was keenly aware of the fact that I was not used to seeing a mother breastfeed. Of course, as I continued my education and moved towards becoming a doula, it became more and more normal to me. And by the time I was expecting my daughter, I was confident and excited about breastfeeding. We had a less-than-stellar start, but with hands-on and verbal support from friends and family, we made it through - and 10 months later, it's second nature to us both.

August is Breastfeeding Awareness Month. This annual campaign works to further educate the public about the many benefits of nursing and normalize breastfeeding once again. In previous decades, our society has by and large been conditioned to think that breastfeeding is gross or offensive, not to be seen in public, and an inconvenience in a modern world. Thankfully, we've come a long way already - pumping equipment is more obtainable; businesses are making the time and space available to working moms to pump and store their milk; and public areas are beginning to welcome nursing moms to feed their babies while shopping, eating, or taking a stroll in the park. Yes, there has been much progress in recent years, but there is still a lot of work to be done to reverse the old mindsets about breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding Awareness Month is NOT about telling moms they shouldn't use a cover or go to a private place; it's NOT about proving anything to anyone; and it is certainly NOT about telling women they SHOULD breastfeed. It's about making sure that those who do want to nurse their babies have the proper resources and support available to meet their breastfeeding goals.

I believe that my experience could have been very different had I not been exposed to watching other women do this usually hidden thing. We learn what we see. Observation and demonstration are crucial. This is why I am passionate about breastfeeding education. It is why I will demonstrate it proudly. I want women to know it's normal and that they CAN. Happy Breastfeeding Awareness Month!

Did you breastfeed your baby? Did you feel prepared or supported in that decision? What made your experience challenging or helpful? Share your story below!

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