Click here for information on two great breastfeeding books, The Nursing Mother’s Companion (Kathleen Huggins) and Breastfeeding with Comfort and Joy (Laura Keegan).
- attitudes toward breastfeeding in public,
- universal availability of adequate paid family leave (maternity, paternity, care of ill partners or parents, etc.),
- universal availability of clean and pleasant spaces—and time—for pumping and/or breastfeeding at work,
- affordable high-quality childcare near parents’ places of employment (or onsite childcare in the cases of large employers), and
- flexible work schedules (for everyone, not just for parents, let alone just for mothers).
Given all these changes, some people would still weigh all the benefits and costs and choose not to breastfeed or only to breastfeed briefly—but far, far, far fewer than do now, when we have to make these decisions under unreasonable and indeed hostile conditions.
Beyond well-publicized health benefits, though, there are two rather overlooked awesome aspects of breastfeeding: convenience and pleasure.
Breastfeeding is simple. It may very well not feel that way in the beginning, when you’re tired and possibly recovering from a difficult birth and worry that you don’t know what you’re doing. If you’re currently experiencing latch problems, nipple pain, or mastitis, you may want to shove my head in a toilet right now. But really, honestly, it is amazing that a breastfeeding session can involve zero ‘stuff’ and zero preparation. In the middle of the night, you fetch the baby (or roll over, if you’ve chosen to share a bed) and just lie there and feed him or her, quite possibly asleep. No bottles, no mixing, no thinking about temperature, nothing to wash afterward. When you leave the house as a mother-baby pair, you just need your body and your baby (well, okay, and diapers). When the baby is hungry, his or her milk is ready and waiting. And you will be amazed at how much easier it gets, how second-nature it feels to breastfeed (yes, even in public) once you and the baby have gotten the hang of it. For us, breastfeeding was clearly the easiest, most convenient, and cheapest feeding method.
Breastfeeding is intensely and indescribably pleasurable. Not for everyone, I know, but for lots of people. Again, it may not feel that way in the beginning—and of course people can experience deeply unpleasurable (ahem, painful) sensations if they encounter complications such as thrush, mastitis, or sore nipples—and all these problems should be addressed immediately and compassionately. But wow, breastfeeding can also feel good. When your newborn looks up at you, latched on for the first time. Or when you’ve been away from the baby just a tad too long, your breasts are full nearly but not quite to aching, and letdown feels so welcome when you finally get to nurse again. Or cuddled up in the middle of the dark night, smelling your child and your milk and your partner and yourself all mingled together in the quiet. Or when your older nursling starts rhythmically stroking your arm or your chest with a deliciously soft little hand, or holding your hand with his or hers. Breastfeeding has been one of my peak physical and emotional experiences. And I absolutely dreaded it!
- More information (kellymom)
- “What to Expect in the Early Days of Breastfeeding” (PDF; “Share With Women,” Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health)
What’s with ‘foremilk’ and ‘hindmilk’? (kellymom)
- Latch basics and links to other handouts (kellymom)
- Useful, concise handout (PDF; “Share With Women,” Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health)
- “What Are Baby’s Stools Supposed to Look Like and How Often Should Baby Wet?” (Mother-2-Mother.com)
- Photos (yes, photos!) (LactNews Press)
- Guidelines for storing breastmilk (LLL)
- A collection of relevant resources/information (Workandpump.com)
- Discussions about working and breastfeeding (Berkeley Parents Network)
breast and/or nipple pain
- “Healing Tips for Nipple Cracks or Abrasions” (kellymom)
- “My Breasts Feel Extremely Full and Uncomfortable. What is Happening and What Can I Do about It?” (LLL)
baby’s nursing behaviors
- My baby has suddenly started refusing my breast. Is this self-weaning or a temporary ‘nursing strike’? And, if it’s a nursing strike, what can I do to get through it? (LLL)
My baby is nursing CONSTANTLY, acting fussy, sleeping less than usual, and about to push me right over the edge. What’s the deal? Information on identifying and living through growth spurts (kellymom)
teeth and biting
- “What Should I Do If My Baby Bites Me?” (LLL)
- More details on the possibility of biting (LLL)
- Discussions of “Biting while Nursing” at various ages (Berkeley Parents Network)
food, medication, alcohol, & environmental/chemical safety
- What about food sensitivities in the baby? (kellymom)
- See also (MOMS)
“Is This Safe When Breastfeeding?”: medications, herbs, chemical exposure, etc. (kellymom)
More tips on breastfeeding after a c-section (AskDrSears.com)
breastfeeding with large breasts
- See also “Nursing When Well-Endowed FAQ” (Plus-Size Pregnancy)
First: is it as uncomfortable/awful/attention-grabbing as it sounds? No, not at all. People almost never even realized I was breastfeeding unless they were actually conversing with me as I latched my child on, and I didn’t use a nursing cover or go to any heroic lengths to be discreet. One thing I realized as a breastfeeding mother is that people just aren’t paying that much attention to me. Another is that breastfeeding doesn’t have to involve exposing skin if you’d rather stay covered (even without the blanket-over-the-head approach).
As Anne Robb Pugliese points out, “Breastfeeding in public matters because hungry babies aren’t very patient and it’s hard to be a parent without leaving home.” Period. Telling women we must breastfeed because it’s best for our babies and we must be excellent mothers–but not in public because it’s gross or indecent or whatever–is much the same as telling us not to leave home for six months or a year. No thank you, American culture.
- Up-to-date information on US states’ breastfeeding laws (National Council of State Legislatures)
- “Breastfeeding in Public” (Anne Robb Pugliese, LLL)
- “My Views on Breastfeeding in Public” (kellymom)
- “From Bashful to Brazen: The Indiscreet Breastfeeder’s Manifesto” (Sundae Horn, Mothering)
- “Breastfeeding Out and About” (Australian Breastfeeding Association)
- More on the ‘when’ part (LLL)
Discussions about starting solids (Berkeley Parents Network)
- More information (LLL)
- Discussions about weaning and related issues (Berkeley Parents Network)
- A more mainstream ‘how-to’ for weaning (PDF; Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota)
- “What is Child-Led Weaning Like?” (kellymom)
a note on terminology: Although many people refer to breastfeeding past a year—or even six months, or sometimes two years—as ‘extended’ breastfeeding, that term assumes that there’s some (arbitrary) correct or normal number of months for breastfeeding. Actually, when left to their own devices, most children seem to wean from the breast somewhere between 18 months and 4 or 5 years. So, it seems odd and problematic to refer to a two-year-old’s nursing as somehow ‘extended.’ Some breastfeeding advocates have taken to calling it ‘full-term breastfeeding’ instead.
For information on how to use a breast pump and store expressed milk, see “basic information” (above).
In 2009, Public Health Doula published a series of posts on a topic near and dear to my heart: bra sizing. The series consists of:
- “How to Find a Bra that Fits (Part I, Not for Pregnancy or Nursing),” which explains what bra sizes mean and how to get a good fit, and reminds us that “A bra store can only put you in sizes they have”–in other words, don’t go get measured at a store that carries a narrow range of band and/or cup sizes (cough Victoria’s Secret cough) if you hope to discover your actual bra size. I’d add, be willing to try lots of different stores and to try on types of bras that you think could never suit you: the fact that you’ve always worn an underwire doesn’t mean that’s what best suits your new and different shape/size; being open to a wider range of band and cup sizes gives you a better shot at comfort; bras look different on bodies than on hangers; etc.
- “How to Find a Bra that Fits (Part II, For Pregnancy),” which links to the useful “Size Chart Woes: The Naked Truth about Bra Sizing” at The Pretty Year and then discusses issues of bra buying/sizing in pregnancy.
- “How to Find a Bra that Fits (Part III, for Nursing),” which discusses nursing bras and figuring out what size to buy when all you know for sure is that your breasts will change both in the short term (between feedings) and in the long term (as you move through the breastfeeding experience).
A few additional comments from my own experience and observations:
- The third post in the Public Health Doula series assumes that you won’t (and really shouldn’t) be out and about in the days immediately following birthing. But if you’re the sort of person who gets stir-crazy and likes to be active and not shut in (if a ‘babymoon’ in bed with your baby sounds more claustrophobia-inducing than luxurious, for instance), you may want to get the hell out of the house. My son and I were at our grocery the day after I birthed him, not to buy groceries but to go somewhere, and it was chill, and following my own needs rather than the constant and well-meant advice to stay in bed led to an infinitely saner postpartum period for me. Which is to say that if you think you’ll need more than a sleep bra to get you through the early days post-birth, then you may very well be right–I’m sure glad I bought a couple more structured nursing bras ahead, so that I felt put together for sitting outside, seeing a few friends, popping by our co-op, etc.
- In pregnancy and during breastfeeding, your nipples may become a lot more prominent than usual. That may not be awesome news. I, for instance, spent a lot of my pregnancy standing in front of classrooms full of college students, and I wasn’t super-comfortable with extreme nipple visibility while attempting to impart a love of literature and critical thought to the 17-22 set. Once you’ve given birth, you’ll probably face the added difficulty of finding breast pads that effectively absorb spillage but don’t make weird outlines through your shirt, as though to say, hey! kids! look at my breast pads in wonder and confusion! try to guess what I have stuck down my shirt! And to top it all off, it’s really hard to find padded nursing bras that help take care of these issues, I assume because the last thing most pregnant/nursing breasts appear to need is padding. One thing that helped me immensely was switching to the expensive and large but extremely effective LanaCare wool nursing pads, which–amazingly, given their size–are smoothing and close to invisible under clothes (especially if you can find a lightly padded nursing bra that works for you).
- I have to reiterate the third post’s final plea: “Don’t wait! Don’t settle for crap bras during nursing—get the right fit and get good ones!” And not just during breastfeeding–during pregnancy, and after weaning, too. Your breasts may change often in size and shape from early pregnancy straight through quite a while (for me, six months or so) after your child completely stops nursing. No one told me to expect a series of size changes over a three-year period. No one warned me to be vigilant about having at least a bra or two that really fit, even if I’d just bought the now-uncomfortable bra a few months earlier. My advice is to wear bras and clothes that fit, no matter how often your body changes, and to understand ahead of time that these changes are totally unpredictable. No one feels good in an ill-fitting bra or ill-fitting clothes.
“Breastfeeding: Radical, Feminist, and Good for You” (Kate Joester, the f word)
“Breastfeeding: A Feminist Issue” (Penny Van Esterik, ProMom)
“Is it Just So My Right?’: Women Repossessing Breastfeeding” (Paige Hall Smith, International Breastfeeding Journal)
“Women’s Liberation and the Rhetoric of ‘Choice’ in Infant Feeding Debates” (Bernice L Hausman, International Breastfeeding Journal)
“Parenting and the Workplace: The Construction of Parenting Protections in United States Law” (Maxine Eichner, International Breastfeeding Journal)
Finally, here are excerpts from five thought-provoking scholarly articles that address (potential and actual, conceptual and activist, historical and current) relationships between feminisms and breastfeeding:
Deborah McCarter-Spaulding, “Is Breastfeeding Fair? Tensions in Feminist Perspectives on Breastfeeding and the Family” (Journal of Human Lactation 24.2 [May 2008]):
[Bernice] Hausman [in her 2003 book Mother's Milk: Breastfeeding Controversies in American Culture] presents a compelling argument that those privileged to have the choice to breastfeed (often middleclass white women) need to use their social capital to make breastfeeding possible for all women. Feminist health activism includes working to remove structural barriers to breastfeeding, such as economic barriers, lack of appropriate support from medical personnel, and work/family patterns. […] Exhorting a woman to breastfeed without appropriate assistance will only contribute to her burden and produce guilt.
Penny Van Esterik, “Breastfeeding and Feminism” (International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics 47 Suppl. ):
Women’s groups and feminist groups should put breastfeeding on their agendas and commit their valuable time and resources to breastfeeding campaigns and programs for the following reasons:
- Breastfeeding requires structural changes in society to improve the position and condition of women.
- Breastfeeding confirms a woman’s power to control her own body, and challenges medical hegemony.
- Breastfeeding challenges the predominant model of woman as consumer.
- Breastfeeding challenges views of the breast as primarily a sex object.
- Breastfeeding requires a new definition of women’s work — one that more realistically integrates women’s productive and reproductive activities.
- Breastfeeding encourages solidarity and cooperation among women at the household, community, national, and international level.
Although breastfeeding is recognized as a women’s issue, it is seldom framed as a feminist issue. [Yet] breastfeeding is a paradigmatic feminist issue because it requires rethinking basic issues such as the sexual division of labor, the fit between women’s productive and reproductive lives, and the role of physiological processes in defining gender ideology. […] Breastfeeding requires negotiating a number of socially constructed dualisms that have dominated western thinking. These discursive categories that have shaped and continue to shape the way we experience and understand the world include oppositions such as:
- production vs. reproduction;
- public vs. private;
- nature vs. culture;
- mind vs. body;
- work vs. leisure;
- self vs. other;
- maternal vs. sexual.
Breastfeeding in theory and practice bridges many of these oppositions and dissolves others.
Jules Law, “The Politics of Breastfeeding: Assessing Risk, Dividing Labor” (Signs 25.2 [Winter 2000]):
[The literature on breastfeeding overwhelmingly] foreground[s] one dimension of the issue (risk) disproportionately while relegating another (the domestic division of labor) to an almost invisible background. A thorough analysis of infant feeding would have to relativize and contextualize the risks of infant-feeding methods much more rigorously and attend far more closely to the picture of family life, the politics of gender, and the domestic division of labor that are assumed in most work on the subject. [...] The risks posed by various methods of infant feeding need to be regarded as relative and rationally calculable, rather than as categorical and sacrosanct. […] Further dissociating breastfeeding from other aspects of child care to which it is in fact neither necessarily nor exclusively connected (e.g., intimacy and bonding) may offer a vision with trade-offs and decisions very different from the ones generally pictured in breastfeeding literature. To a working mother, for instance, it might be more important to know whether the bulk of breast milk’s immunological benefits are passed on to her baby by two, four, or six weeks of breastfeeding (since these differences bear on tangible maternity-leave policies and demands) than to know that a year of it reduces by a fraction of a percentage point her baby’s chance of getting a rare childhood disease. […]
Furthermore, very few studies of infant feeding adequately interrogate the extent to which the gendered division of domestic labor – and specifically child-raising labor—is presupposed by various infant-feeding “solutions.” […] The goal ought not to be the separation of this particular decision from its surrounding social variables in order to make it an unconstrained one; infant-feeding decisions are necessarily and productively connected to a host of other choices and constraints. [… I]nfant-feeding decisions ought to be explicitly understood as questions about balancing the labors, pleasures, well-being, development, and opportunities of a household’s various members and, furthermore, as decisions that open, rather than assume the answer to, the question of who cares for children and in what ways. Just how these decisions will be arrived at is a complex and context-specific question; none of the points made here is intended to suggest that the negotiation of child-raising responsibilities can simply take place within a neutral medium purged of asymmetries of power, privilege, and resources. Perhaps, however, we can begin to acknowledge how many common assumptions about infant feeding are covertly grounded in such asymmetries.
Diane Thulier, “Breastfeeding in America: A History of Influencing Factors” (Journal of Human Lactation 25 ):
During the 1960s, a second wave of feminism took hold in America. The new feminist desire was to glory in women’s ability to control their own bodies. There was a desire to overthrow many of the male and medical areas of control. Interestingly, breastfeeding continued to hold little appeal even for those second-wave feminists. […] In Feminism, Breasts and Breast-Feeding, Pam Carter thoughtfully discussed this ambivalence […,] ponder[ing] whether women should attempt to minimize gender differences as the path to liberation or if they should embrace and enhance gender differences by fighting to remove the constraints placed on them by patriarchy and capitalism. One might see bottle-feeding as freeing women from the demands and restrictions of lactation or, on the other hand, as imposed on women by formula manufacturers depriving them of a unique womanly experience.
Despite the apparent discord, the feminists’ efforts to empower women and change the delivery of health care had a dramatic and positive effect on breastfeeding rates in this country. Starting after 1968, this second wave of feminism was responsible for encouraging women to develop their own knowledge and understanding. [...] Yet, not all women shared the same points of view in regards to their roles and positions in society. The La Leche League (LLL) was an excellent example of women who, although sharing some of the same goals as the feminists, espoused a very different ideology. […] The LLL was born of Catholic moral discourse on family life. Members believed in the tenets of male-female complementarily as grounded in traditional Christian beliefs about essential differences between men and women. Many feminists questioned these assumptions. What unfortunately remained was a reciprocal feeling of suspicion between feminists and members of the La Leche League. Despite this conflict, both groups would do much to advocate for the return of breastfeeding to the American culture.
Jacqueline H. Wolf, “What Feminists Can Do for Breastfeeding and What Breastfeeding Can Do for Feminists” (Signs 31.2 ):
[In the early twentieth century, f]eeding schedules, although antithetical to the supply-and-demand trigger of human milk manufacture, became the watchword. And so women were likely right [when there appeared to be a sudden epidemic of low milk supply]—their bodies were not producing enough milk for their babies. However, the phenomenon was due to cultural rather than physical or evolutionary causes. [...] Economic pressure, class conflict, and changing views of time, efficiency, self-control, health, medicine, science, sex, marriage, motherhood, and nature prompted women of all classes to begin to doubt the efficacy, propriety, and necessity of breastfeeding. Women’s complaints of insufficient milk are worth particularly close examination, however, because that disturbing condition invited doctors’ involvement. [...] Doctors theorized that women’s complaints of insufficient milk were wrought by dual evils: the “overcivilization” and the “overeducation” of women. […] By the 1930s, lack of faith in the efficacy of breastfeeding had become the cultural rule. [...]
[The] prominence of LLL in the breastfeeding world has made some feminists wary about taking a stance on breastfeeding. In 1940, 25 percent of American workers were women. By the mid-1950s, when LLL began its work, that percentage had risen to one-third. Many of these women had children: 18.6 percent of women with children under six and 39 percent of women with school-age children worked outside the home (Blackwelder 1997, 195, 225). Yet as membership in LLL burgeoned, the organization declared mothering the paramount activity in women’s lives. In the 1963 edition of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, the league never hinted that a significant percentage of mothers with young children left their homes to work nor did it suggest how a mother might mesh breastfeeding and working […]. Historian Lynn Y. Weiner describes LLL’s philosophy during those years: “The basic requirement for successful child rearing was a full-time, attentive mother who understood and accepted her ‘special vocation in life’” (Weiner 1994, 1370). [...] The league did not explicitly recognize the reality of contemporary women’s lives until the fourth edition of its best seller in 1987, when the organization finally offered practical advice to mothers who wanted to continue breastfeeding when they returned to work. […] The chapter on “Breastfeeding and Working,” however, ended by urging new mothers to think carefully before returning to work: “The early months and years set the course for the rest of your child’s life, and they can never be recaptured” […].
In lobbying for societal support of breastfeeding mothers, feminists can simultaneously reopen a national dialogue about an array of currently dormant feminist goals: lower breast cancer incidence, equitable treatment in the workplace, legal protections to stay home and care for an infant without harming a career, day care close to work sites, flexible work hours for mothers of young children, better informed consumers of medicine, and healthy body image for young women.