Breastfeeding and Bicycles: Support, Balance, and Confidence Needed
Thursday, August 2nd, 2012
If, when they reached the right age, your child told you that they really wanted to learn to ride a two-wheeler, you’d probably support them, right? You’d talk to them about how to balance, remind them that it isn’t always easy but it is worth the bumps, and cheer them on as they tried. You wouldn’t sit on the sidelines, holding their tricycle, telling them that they can just quit (since they don’t seem to be doing that great) and stick with the trike. A tricycle can get them around. It’s almost as good as a bike, right? So why don’t you do that? Would it be discouraging? Would you be telling your child, before he even tried, that you were ready for him to fail? You wouldn’t dream of standing by, watching him fall, and then telling him that he just didn’t seem to be good enough at riding a bike. But we do just that to breastfeeding mothers every day.
Most women go into the hospital with the intention of breastfeeding. Unfortunately, most women only know from friends and family that it is difficult (and that they can always just use formula instead). Everyone is there to remind them of that – from well-meaning family members to uninformed hospital staff. Baby doesn’t latch right away? Just give a bottle. Baby wants to nurse again after an hour? You must not be making enough milk, give the baby a bottle. Baby is crying? Maybe this just isn’t for you, here’s a bottle.
You don’t have to look far to find people talking about the new initiative in NYC hospitals, endorsed by Mayor Bloomberg, which involves regulating the distribution of formula to newborns and requiring the nursing staff to speak to the mother any time formula is given about the benefits of breastfeeding. What you won’t find often is anyone who seems to think that this might be a good idea.
Breastfeeding has been undervalued in this country for a long time – since the seemingly miraculous wonder-food, formula, came along. Now, for those who struggled with breastfeeding, and made the change to formula feeding, saying that it is undervalued probably sounds ridiculous. I’m sure that you’ve heard – time and again – that breast is best. And each time, it probably stings a bit. Our mommy guilt runs deep, and this is one of those issues where it is used against us, time and again, pitting us against one another when we’re all just doing the best we can. But telling someone that they should breastfeed their child is one thing, and providing the support, information, and knowledge that they can use to HELP them breastfeed their child is another thing. Most women aren’t getting that.
I see no reason to bash a woman who wanted to nurse, but felt like she couldn’t. The fact is, too much time is spent on making women feel like they’ve failed when breastfeeding isn’t easy. Too much time is spent on misinformation and competition. So here is a plan, which aims to take away that tricycle and force the people on the sidelines to say, “Well, this seems like it is a challenge for you. Let’s see what we can do to help.” It’s a plan that needs work. It will require training of staff, support from the community, and a belief that women are capable of feeding their children if they are given the tools and information to succeed. I hope that this is just the first step of many.
So, while many are raising their cry against this plan, I’ll add my voice to the conversation. I’ll ask questions. I’ll talk. I’ll advocate – for every child to have the chance to ride their bicycle confidently – and for every woman who so desires to have the support and opportunity to breastfeed their child.