It’s National Breastfeeding Week. And yeah, I’m celebrating.
I love breastfeeding for its benefits for both myself and my children, but also because it’s such a wonderful celebration of femininity and the amazing way G-d made our bodies. I spent nine months making them, I spent another six months exclusively nursing them. When I see how big my son at six months old is I can say in no uncertain terms “I did that.”
Naturally, there have been posts attacking breastfeeding all week on mommy blogs. Because mommy wars. We claim to hate them, but then we click and click and click and fuel them even more. One post that a friend shared, though, piqued my interest. It was from a doctor. And it was, surprisingly, against National Breastfeeding Week. So yeah, I fueled the mommy wars, and I clicked.
You can read it on Time here, but the gist of the argument is that National Breastfeeding Week hurts feelings. Women who can’t breastfeed feel sad and judged by the week celebrating breastfeeding. Instead, she argues we should have a National Infant Feeding Week. Do you keep your child alive? There’s a week for that!
No bones about it, breastfeeding can be physically hard. Pumping is nightmarish and some of the things women go through (I had a lump biopsied while I was still pregnant and then went through mastitis, tongue ties, shredded nipples, etc. after my kids were born) aren’t for the faint of heart. I’ve worked this hard because, most of all, I am intensely stubborn. But also because I’m home with my kids full-time and it made logistic and financial sense to fight as hard as I could. And I’m glad I did, because I learned later about the medical benefits of breastfeeding for me as well as for my kids. Every time I bring my sick kids into the doctor my pediatrician tells me they are more protected from infection because I’m nursing them. I learned that it lowered my chances of breast cancer and heart disease, both of which run rampant in my family history. The TED Talk on the benefits of breastfeeding in the realm of heart disease is fascinating and worth a watch:
I’m so glad I didn’t have a medical provider who downplayed the benefits to both me and my babies for the sake of my feelings. I had midwives, doctors and lactation consultants who knew that I wanted to pull through and made it possible for me to do so. There were times I had to give my son formula in the beginning of his life because he was dehydrated. Breastfeeding was a tough go for us the first month, even though I was still nursing my toddler at the time. None of these providers made me feel like less of a mom for doing so. It is possible to extol the benefits of breastfeeding without demonizing formula. A good healthcare provider knows how to do so.
I lose a lot of respect for a healthcare provider who would withhold medical information for me because of my feelings. Does this doctor also tell her fat patients that they aren’t at higher risk of diabetes and heart disease? Dr. E. Bimla Schwarz, from the above TED Talk, doesn’t mince words with her obese patients, just as she doesn’t mince words with patients who smoke or don’t exercise, just as she doesn’t mince words with moms about the benefits of breastfeeding.
We evolved to nurse our young. We’re mammals, right? During pregnancy a mother’s body prepares to make milk. And after birth lactation is a part of her natural recovery. That means that pregnancy is more than nine months, it’s about twice that. When this process gets interrupted, a mother’s health suffers. In study after study, we’ve now consistently seen that moms who don’t breastfeed have more heart attacks. Regardless of their diet, their exercise, whether or not they’re smoking, their family history. Regardless of all of these things. Moms who don’t breastfeed have more heart disease.
Why do we need National Breastfeeding Week instead of National Infant Feeding Week? 99.9% of babies are fed. That is not an accomplishment. That’s our job as mothers and as parents. Breastfeeding isn’t always easy. We can’t shield women from the knowledge that keeps their children more safe from infections and their hearts safe from heart attacks. Doctors have an obligation to their patients and the parents of their patients to give all of the facts — that’s their job, not watching out for my feelings.