The Trouble with Breasts
Response to the essay # 2
May 8, 2012
The Trouble with Breasts
After nearly two full weeks cooped at home after the birth of her first child, a mother decides to venture out for the first time. Although scary at first, the thought of getting some fresh air and being around other people is too appealing to hold off any longer. Bringing a newborn out for the first time can be nerve racking, especially when it is a parents’ first child. A mother decides to head to the mall, a place where you can shop, stroll, people watch and grab a bite to eat. However, the fun, relaxing outing a new mother was hoping for has now been turned into something filled with embarrassment, ridicule and even shame. After walking her newborn around in the mall for a while she decides to take a break, grab a bite to eat in the food court and feed her child. Sounds pretty normal right? Well, that’s not always the case if you are a breastfeeding mother. See, breastfeeding mothers are often times met with strange looks and whispers when feeding their babies. Even a mother who is trying to be as discreet as possible, so as not offend those around her, find that people are still quick to show their disgust on their faces when they realize that she is nursing her baby. And, I can’t help but wonder: why are people so offended by a mother nourishing her child?
From the beginning of time women have breastfed their babies. By nature women are designed to carry, birth and nourish their children; it’s what women are made for. Over time, however, there has been a decrease in the number of mothers in the United States willing to take on the enormous task of breastfeeding their children. Often women start out breastfeeding their baby but don’t continue after the first few days or weeks. According to statehealthfacts.org, 74.6% of children born in 2008 in the United States were breastfed just after birth. Those who were breastfed until six months the percentage drops to 44.3% and at 12 months the percentage drops even lower to 23.8% (statehealthfacts.org). So, why the cultural shift? There are many reasons that date back decades and mostly have to do with cultural perception. How is it that we have this innate contradiction between what we know about the benefits of breastfeeding and the negative cultural perception?
During the 1960’s formula feeding was at an all time high (Wolf). Prior to the introduction of bottle feeding it used to be that a mother’s only options for feeding her baby were to breastfeed herself or to acquire a wet nurse. A wet nurse would either have been paid to nurse a baby or it may have been a family member who had recently had a baby, depending on the situation. A wet nurse may have been needed if a mother had died, for instance, but over time it became more of a choice of convenience rather than actual need. In the 19th century bottle feeding was introduced and it quickly rose in popularity, virtually wiping out the need for wet nurses (Stevens, Patrick and Pickler). Bottle feeding became all the rage due to the convenience and its ever increasing availability, leading to the decline in breastfeeding. Furthermore, the advertising associated with formula feeding had a profound effect on the way society viewed breastfeeding. Why breastfeed when a parent can prepare formula for the infant, saving a mothers’ breasts from the so called havoc reeked by nursing? The only issue with this is that even though formula feeding became very popular, studies were still showing that breastfeeding was a better source of nutrition for the infant. Although the formula that is out on the market today provides a baby with all the nutrients it needs scientists have not been able to duplicate the antibodies found in human milk (Shelov).
A mother’s milk is the best form of nourishment that she can provide. Not only does it provide nutrients that a growing, healthy baby needs, it also provides antibodies from the mother that help boost his/hers immune system (Breastfeeding). Breast milk contains essential proteins such as whey and casein. These two proteins make it more easily digestible for the infant causing less gas that can bother a baby and make him/her irritable (americanpregnancy.org). In addition, there are other proteins such as lysozyme, which helps protect the infant from e.coli and salmonella. Another is bifidus factor, which supports the growth of lactobacillus, protecting the infant against harmful bacteria. Breast milk also contains essential fats that provide the primary calorie source and vitamins such as A, D, E and K (americanpregnancy.org). Finally, breast milk contains carbohydrates, mainly lactose. According to the American Pregnancy Association, “It [lactose] accounts for approximately 40% of the total calories provided in breast milk. Lactose helps to decrease the amount of unhealthy bacteria in the stomach, which improves the absorption of calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium” (2). But breastfeeding provides more than just nutrition to the infant; it also has many benefits for the mother.
After giving birth it is important for the mother’s uterus to return to its normal size and state. Breastfeeding can assist in helping the uterus shrink back to its normal size by activating the mother’s pituitary gland that produces the hormone oxytocin for this act (Breastfeeding). Additionally, according to Alicia Dermer, MD, a contributing author of New Beginnings, a mother that breastfeeds can stave off her periods, this can be beneficial for conserving the mothers iron and “provides natural spacing of pregnancies” (125). Breastfeeding an infant requires the use of the mothers’ calories and can allow the mother to lose more post pregnancy weight than a non breastfeeding mother. The production of milk uses about between 200 to 500 calories, that would be the equivalent of 30 laps in the pool or and hour of uphill biking (Dermer).
Besides the nutritional value to the infant and the physiological benefits for the mother there are some other reasons why breastfeeding is best. One of the main reasons is price, breastfeeding a virtually free. Formula can be costly and if your baby needs special formula the price only gets higher. A nursing mother has less preparation for feedings; her food is always ready and is always the right temperature.
Bonding is another great reason for women to breastfeed. Skin to skin contact is a very intimate and nurturing way to bond with a newborn. However, that certainly doesn’t mean that a mother who bottle feeds isn’t able to bond with her baby. Even though a nursing mother tends to take on the full responsibility of feeding the infant, a father can be an integral part of it as well. A nursing mother can “pump” her breast milk that can be stored and bottle fed whenever necessary. Although “pumping”, the act of expressing milk through an electronic device, can be time consuming and uncomfortable, it is a vital tool that nursing mothers should utilize. Not only does it give the tired mother a break and some freedom it also allows the father to bond during feeding time. Breast milk can be stored in special Ziploc bags and frozen for a couple months at a time. However, not all mothers find nursing to be pleasant, fulfilling and mutually beneficial.
Nutrition is a large part of keeping up milk production, as is the amount of nursing a baby is requiring (“Overcoming Breastfeeding Problems”). Milk production is based on need, the more the baby nurses the more a mother should be producing. However, some women end up with what is called PIM or perceived insufficient milk; meaning that because they cannot see the amount of milk that the baby is taking in the mother feels that her baby is not getting enough to eat (Gatti). I can remember struggling with this for a short period of time, being a first time nursing mother. A mother often wonders why the baby needs to constantly eat and that maybe it is due to lack of milk, but it really is due to not understanding that human milk is digested more easily and quickly. A mother’s persistence will pay off. Adequate food and water intake is crucial, so making sure to drink plenty of fluids and maintaining a healthy diet can help aid in the production of breast milk.
Over the decades so much research has been done on the numerous benefits of breastfeeding and there are groups that have become staunch advocates on the matter. So why, with everything that we know about the nutritional, physical and emotional aspects of breastfeeding, is it still so offensive to people when they become aware that a mother is simply feeding her baby? And why are the numbers of women who choose, and are able to successfully breastfeed for the recommended time period still so low? The answer lies in our own society and its feelings on the matter. There seems to be two different reasons; those who associate breasts with sex and the new mothers who feel too much pressure to exclusively breastfeed. The combination of the two in the United States is what seems to be hindering the breastfeeding numbers.
This issue has become something that has polarized the nation. Everyone feels that they know what’s best when it comes to their children and everyone has an opinion and a judgment. Women who breastfeed tend to feel that breastfeeding is the only way and it becomes an all or nothing issue. In the article, “Many Women Say No Breast-Feeding For 6 Months: Survey” researchers asked 541 women to take part in a survey about breastfeeding and found that out of the 36 that agreed to be interviewed, the consensus was that too much pressure was placed on them to stick to the guidelines of what the Academy of Pediatrics suggests for successful nursing (1). Many women described the health care professionals as giving them “just one big guilt trip” and were “heartbroken” when the women ultimately gave up on breastfeeding. The feeling is that breastfeeding is natural and therefore it should come naturally to a woman and it can for those who really want it and stick with it. When I had my first child and had made the decision to breastfeed the lactation consultants were there every step of they way during my stay and after for any support I may have needed. Some view the consultants as “breast nazi’s” and that they are placing too much pressure on the mothers to breastfeed (Dotinga). The duty of a lactation consultant is to guide and consult a mother in her quest to nurse her baby. These consultants are simply viewing breastfeeding for what it is; nourishment. Our culture can’t seem to separate the sexual nature of the breast from the actual purpose of the breast, which is to nourish her baby.
According to Jacqueline H. Wolf in the article titled “Got Milk? Not in Public”, Samoan cultures view the breast as a means to feed a child and not an enhancement for their sexual exploits. They view other parts of the body as being sexy, such as the feet, butt, hips or shoulders (1). The breasts are strictly used for the sole purpose of feeding. Peru has one of the highest breastfeeding rates in the world. “Ninety-seven percent of Peruvian infants are breastfed at birth and 69% are breastfed exclusively from birth to five months. Out of the 69%, almost all (95%) breastfeed for an average of 20 months” (llli.org). The reason breastfeeding rates are so high in Peru is that it is widely accepted as normal and natural and therefore women are not ashamed to feed their children in public. It is commonplace to see mothers nursing their children even when not covering themselves up.
In western civilizations the breast is more of a sexual object rather than a means of nourishment. So, it’s not surprising that people become offended when they see a woman nursing her baby in public. Society is associating the breast in a sexual manner and only a sexual manner. Babies’ mouths should not be on a woman’s breast. For some reason seeing a half naked supermodel plastered up on a billboard or in a store front window is more acceptable than a woman who is nursing, even when she is being discreet and covering herself up. As a society we have been giving a mixed message, ‘yes, breastfeeding is best but only when shielded from the public eye’. Is it any wonder why breastfeeding rates are so low? We as a culture still view it as something taboo and are associating it with a sexual connotation. It is important to be respectful of those around you and understand that not everyone is comfortable with the idea of breastfeeding. Likewise, it is important for those who are uncomfortable to be respectful of those who choose to breastfeed. It is natural, healthy and every woman’s right. However, it has just been within the past couple of decades that a woman’s right to breastfeed in public has been protected by law.
As of 2004 breastfeeding has become a protected right in over 30 states. However, society’s acceptance hasn’t been as proactive as the actual law (Bhatia). The law can vary from state to state. In simple terms it states that breastfeeding is every woman’s right and that she must not be segregated or discriminated against for doing so (Baldwin). The city of Philadelphia enacted an ordinance, in 1996, stating the above to protect their community members who wished to breastfeed in public, Amending Section 9-1105 of the Fair Practices Code, 1996 (Baldwin). Even with legislation in place in over 30 states women are still shunned in public and made to feel ashamed for feeding their children. According to Lorrie Leigh, who’s been teaching childbirth and breastfeeding classes in Silver Spring, Maryland for five years, “When you discourage women to breastfeed outside, you encourage them to quit sooner” (Bhatia). There is still the confusion between the health benefits and what is deemed offensive. In the case “Dike vs. Orange County School Board… a teacher wanted to nurse her baby on her duty free lunch break. The school claimed that insurance provisions prohibited teachers from bringing their children onto school property, and prohibited teachers from leaving the school grounds during the day” (Baldwin). The court ruled that the woman had no right to breastfeed. That decision was appealed and went to trial again where the decision was overturned due to her constitutional right to breastfeed. Griswold v. Conneticut states that, “Breastfeeding is the most elemental form of parental care. It is a communion between mother and child that, like marriage, is “intimate to the degree of being sacred” (Baldwin).
Women continually have to fight for their rights to breastfeed in public. They are met with a society filled with people who are either uninformed or unwilling to accept that some people opt for a different path when choosing how to feed their children. As a society we need to become a little more open minded when it comes to breastfeeding. Through education and acceptance we should be able to come together and find ways to make it a more comfortable experience for everyone so that nursing mothers feel free to nurse their children. Since the decline in breastfeeding in the United States in the 21st century there have been some serious health risks that have arisen. Atopy, or severe allergies, diabetes and childhood obesity are just a few that are associated with children who are not being breastfed (Stevens, Patrick and Pickler). Finding ways for women to nurse comfortably in public and have the public widely accept it would be a huge step in the right direction. Typically maternity stores allow nursing mothers to go into a dressing room if they desire and feed their babies. Maybe we could adopt “mommy areas” that would accommodate not only nursing mothers but mothers that need a private place to sit and maybe change a diaper. Acceptance is imperative and the sooner the better. We would all be better off if more mothers would nurse their children even if for a short time.
Due: Access, print and read Sample Essay #2 (under Sample Research Essays); Type a 2 paragraph response to the essay, identifying its strengths and weaknesses. Be specific — look at the thesis, appeals, evidence, organization, documentation, transitions to state what you find to be effective or ineffective.
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