Many of us struggled with breastfeeding and can understand how hard it can be. I managed to breastfeed both of my children, but a combination of paranoid, misinformed nurses and a general lack of preparedness almost derailed my plan on several occasions. Breastfeeding is hard — especially since there isn’t an overwhelming amount of accessible support and information. You’d think there would be more support for something that so many people consider to be the healthiest start to an infant’s life. Instead, there’s a little information and a lot of assumption that a woman will just know what she’s doing.
Recently, a mother shared her own anecdote of struggle with breastfeeding her first child in The Guardian. For a variety of reasons, Elisa Albert really wanted to breastfeed her infant. She had a hard time, her child was losing weight, and she was terrified. From her essay:
“100 years of aggressive formula marketing has effectively erased the tradition of women helping each other in this way. I had never heard of anyone I knew nursing another woman’s child, or having her child nursed by another woman, and I had never wondered why. I sat in the rocking chair that night, nipples on fire, inconsolable shrunken baby looking more and more like a plucked chicken in my arms, and a terrible new panic hit me: we were in very serious trouble and could not go on this way.”
She reached out to a friend– who seemed to have a very easy time breastfeeding her own child — for help. Her friend nursed her baby for a brief stint and also supplied her with frozen bags of breast milk, giving Albert the extra time she needed to negotiate some things that made it easier for her to breastfeed as well: a hospital grade nursing pump, a lactation consultant, and some breathing room.
It’s a fantastic essay that examines certain rituals that have become taboo in our Western culture — questioning why we are so quick to accept the label and judge the action. In Albert’s case, the ability to lean on another woman was what got her through an incredibly difficult postpartum time:
It took me a long time to regain my confidence. The state of early motherhood was in many ways a state of crisis, and although my husband was characteristically stalwart and kind, a full partner in every sense, it was the women who calmly, lovingly took my hand and led me through. It turned out I didn’t have to feign invulnerability whatsoever. The more vulnerable I remained, the clearer my vision became, and what I could see, at long last, was a circle of woman comrades, offering me fortitude and nourishment when I was bereft of all. My gratitude only grows with time.
It’s obvious why an observer wouldn’t be immediately comfortable with this scenario – the possibility of disease transmission being the thing that comes to mind first. But if this was a close friend of hers, she knew her health status, and was comfortable asking for help – why not? It worked for her, it worked for her friend, she was able to go on to nurse (which seemed very important to her) so alls well that ends well. The only thing that saddens me about the story is that it highlights the incredible pressure some women feel to breastfeed. The fact of the matter is that we’ve made advances that help women move away from certain limiting aspects of motherhood – and breastfeeding can certainly be one of those aspects. We have formula now – rejoice! But Albert questions the “cross-nursing” taboo and writes about it in such a way that she may just make you question why you accept certain things as “taboo,” too.
(photo: Getty Images)