There’s a startling disconnect inherent in the way our society views infant feeding. On a daily basis, I see vomit-worthy comments posted on Twitter disparaging mothers who are committing the mortal sin of nursing in public – some recent gems included a tweet from a guy who got his jollies waiting for a nip slip from breastfeeding moms, and several women taking cheap shots at “exhibitionist” moms who were “grossing them out” by feeding their babies in plain sight. Seeing this, I can absolutely understand the need for breastfeeding to get an “extreme makeover” in our culture; I can start to see why online discussions about the need for bottle-feeding support devolve into defensive diatribes about how we (FFFs) are in the majority, and have no comparable need for sisterhood.
And yet, my Twitter feed serves as a stark contrast to my other guilty pleasure – celebrity culture. We may live in a “bottle feeding society”, but breastfeeding has become a rite of passage among the pop-cultural elite. Just for fun, I spent a few days googling every single famous mom who had given birth in the past year or two, and almost every single one had a photo, interview, or online mention about how they were breastfeeding, or at least planning on it. The few who didn’t either adopted, or made it a point to explain why they weren’t (Tina Fey, Bryce Dallas-Howard). From hard-living rockstars like Pink, to pin-ups like Alyssa Milano, January Jones, and Beyonce, to girls-next-door like Sarah Drew, Alyson Hannigan, and Jenna Fischer, to the French first lady Carla Bruni... it seems as if everyone on the A, B, and C-lists were using their A, B and C cups (even the enhanced ones, a la Tori Spelling) for their evolutionary/biological purpose.
I’ve talked before about how important perspective and environment are in this discourse: two women in the same city could have markedly different experiences with infant feeding support, depending on their socioeconomic and cultural surroundings, as well as their individual peer groups. I live in Los Angeles, a stone’s throw away from Hollywood, so looking at this list of happily-lactating celebutantes clarifies why I felt so alone in my bottle-feeding days. But I realize my breastfeeding-friendly area is nothing like where so many women live, places where they feel ostracized every time they lift a shirt to feed a crying baby. I know this alienation is real; one look at Twitter proves that, and then some. I’m not sure what’s worse – enduring the threat of borderline sexual harassment each time you breastfeed, or having famous physicians tell you that you are harming your baby by not trying hard enough to give them their birthright of mother’s milk. I think it’s probably a toss-up, or at least depends on your psychological makeup and personal triggers.
However, I think lactivism needs to take a serious look at US Weekly before focusing more attention on “glamorizing” breastfeeding. It’s been glamorized. And yet, women are still experiencing ignorance and intolerance about nursing their babies (or toddlers). Celebrity culture has tremendous influence – the advertising industry capitalizes on this; think about how many famous folks endorse the products you purchase, directly or indirectly. Numerous articles have been written about how celebrity post-baby weight loss has a negative impact on our collective psyche; we supposedly watch them shrink in a matter of weeks and believe that’s how postpartum bodies should act (incidentally, most of them attribute their miraculous weight loss to breastfeeding). If we see a Kardashian pushing a certain type of stroller on their insipid reality show, it becomes a hot seller the very next day. Depressing as it is, our society looks to the bobbleheads on the television for guidance on style and substance. So why isn’t it working with breastfeeding?
Seeing Victoria Beckham or Miranda Kerr or Hilary Duff breastfeed doesn’t make an impact, because of course these women are breastfeeding. They have the resources to do so – flexible and accommodating work environments, nannies, housekeepers, access to superior healthcare providers, support, and most importantly, they live in breastfeeding-friendly environments. How is this making breastfeeding look any more do-able to the average woman? It might make it look more attractive, but not more attainable.
So, maybe the focus should be less on giving breastfeeding a makeover, but rather a makeunder. Focus on making it more accessible and attainable to those who are struggling to make ends meet, to those who not only are lacking a nanny and personal trainer, but also a supportive partner; the ability to switch to a breastfeeding-friendly pediatrician; money to see a private lactation consultant, or a car to drive to see that consultant.
And from a formula feeder’s point of view, I want to make one last point: breastfeeding moms have their choice of role models. Maggie Gyllenhal, Marion Cotillard, Jennifer Gardner… Women who are opting not to breastfeed have Snooki, who recently was accused of saying breastfeeding is “kind of like you’re a cow” (although for the record, she was just talking about pumping, which she intends to do – she was scared of breastfeeding because her friends had experienced trouble…but I digress):
Speaking of makeovers….
A new study is making headlines this week. “Early full-term babies may face later school woes” warns HuffPo, explaining that in a study of 128,000 New York City public school kids,
…of the children born at 37 weeks, 2.3 percent had severely poor reading skills and 1.1 percent had at least moderate problems in math. That compares to 1.8 percent and 0.9 percent for the children born at 41 weeks…. Children born at 38 weeks faced only slightly lower risks than those born at 37 weeks… Compared with 41-weekers, children born at 37 weeks faced a 33 percent increased chance of having severe reading difficulty in third grade, and a 19 percent greater chance of having moderate problems in math.
…maternal cigarette smoking correlated significantly with the development of NEC (P = 0.02). There was no correlation seen between maternal gestational diabetes, maternal hypertension, formula feeding, and pathologic chorioamnionitis or uteroplacental insufficiency and NEC.
“These data identified maternal cigarette smoking as the only risk factor that is associated with the development of NEC in premature infants,” the authors write. “Our data imply that smoking delivers toxins and nicotine to the uterine microenvironment that can affect microvascular development and may predispose the fetus to future NEC.”