In Defense of Breastfeeding

August is Breastfeeding Awareness Month.

I know, I wasn’t aware of this either. In fact, like most people before I had a child I wasn’t aware of a lot of things. Birth, babies, breastfeeding and everything in-between was like another country on the other side of the world that I had never researched and had no intention of visiting. Of course, this all changed for me this year.

Even though my baby Charlotte has been delivered and continues to grow and thrive, my interest in pregnancy, birthing, and breastfeeding has not waned. Every time I discover a friend or acquaintance is pregnant I find myself either on the receiving end of their questions or doling out (unsolicited) advice. To borrow from Mary Schmich, of the “Wear Sunscreen” speech”, “Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.”

But where she says, “Trust me on the sunscreen,” I say: Trust me on the breastfeeding.

A new book is due out next week called, “Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong – and What You Really Need to Know” by Emily Oster. She is an award-winning economist, University of Chicago professor and a new mom. Safe to say she is probably more qualified than me to offer up advice. In her book, she combs through a lot of medical studies to debunk many widely followed dictates of pregnancy: no alcohol, no caffeine, no changing the kitty litter, etc., etc. I haven’t read her book yet because it hasn’t hit the shelves but from what I can tell she is trying to help women escape the confines of check lists.

I am way ahead of this lady because let me tell you I didn’t follow half the recommendations from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of what not to do. I ate my eggs runny; I drank Red Bulls and coffee. I had blue cheese salad dressing, ate Jimmy John’s turkey sandwiches almost every other day, had bacon, hot dogs and sausage, sipped some wine here and there, took hot baths, colored my hair, did headstands at 38 weeks, forgot to take my prenatal vitamins, rock climbed, started yoga two weeks postpartum and an intense bootcamp four weeks postpartum. Did I mention how many cupcakes I ate?

And despite all this (or maybe because of?!) my baby and I both turned out fine. I am not advocating you ignore what books or what the ACOG says, but I do encourage my pregnant and new mom friends to go with their guts. Remember that gut feeling? It is the same feeling that helped our ancestors evolve and reproduce and thrive long before the internet or, “What to expect while you’re expecting.” I know women who have done everything “right” and have had miscarriages and seen women who smoke, drink in excess, and do drugs (my top three no-no’s obviously) have babies.

I am often asked about the things I did while I was pregnant and I am here to say I did not follow all the rules, but I did follow my instincts. I can’t give better advice than for other women to do the same.

My one piece of advice I will give to new moms, however, is breastfeed and stick with it. Please for the love of all our gut feelings, breastfeed. If you just found out you are pregnant than learn all you can about breastfeeding.

The birth will happen, breastfeeding…not so easy. I don’t care so much how women give birth, whether they eat sushi, or if they take spin classes or not, but I do care that women breast feed. At least try. And if you can’t, seek a lactation consultant or a free support group at your hospital or learn how to pump correctly if nothing else.

Honestly, it is a wonder anyone breast feeds anymore. Women have to return to work after 12-16 weeks to conditions not conducive for breast feeding. Flight attendants are shaming women on planes for feeding their children. Women are discouraged BY OTHER WOMEN in public places and told to cover up or leave.

I hear things from people like, “Well I support breast feeding if… she uses a cover.” Or if “she does it in private” or “she pumps a bottle and feeds from that” or “she goes in the bathroom and does it”. “I support breast feeding if I don’t have to see it.” No YOU don’t. NO you don’t. NO YOU DON’T.

If your support is conditional then that is not support. No wonder so many women turn to formula early on.

If you have to go back to work and cannot pump enough or you don’t feel comfortable nursing in public or never got the hang of nursing to begin with how else are you supposed to feed your child? I’m not judging; I’ve had to use formula myself in emergency situations but reading the label on that stuff makes me ill. Here’s what’s in Similac Advance: nonfat milk, lactose, high oleic safflower oil, soy oil, coconut oil, galacto-oligosac-charides, whey protein concentrate, c. cohnii oil, m. alpina oil, betacarotene, luten, lycopene… and that’s just the first 12 of 55 or so ingredients. You know what my breast milk has in it? Proteins, self-digesting fats, hormones and enzymes, vitamins and minerals and immunoglobulins. All ingredients that my body, not some lab, produces specifically for my baby. As I’ve said, yes, I’ve used formula before but to me it is no substitute for what my body can produce for my child. If you do chose formula then do your research and know what you are feeding your baby. (NOTE: Some women’s bodies aren’t able to produce enough milk, or they are just not able to breastfeed. Let’s endeavor as a community to support them in their choices, just as we want support for our choice to breastfeed our children.)

Knowing how wonderful breast milk is for babies I cannot believe how many people do not support nursing mothers. Before I had a baby when I saw a woman nursing I’ll admit my first thought was, “wow, there’s a boob with a baby on it.” Then I would go on spring break and see more tatas in a wet t-shirt contest than I ever cared to see in my life. You can go to Hooters, watch the Miss USA pageant on national television or see just about any movie with Jennifer Love Hewitt or Scarlett Johansson these days and see more boob action than you will when a woman is breast feeding. Now when I see a woman nursing her child I don’t get embarrassed or grossed out, I think, “wow what an amazing thing the human body is that it can grow and nourish a child.”

Why are we so immature as a society? What’s the big deal with breasts? Have you been to a water park lately? Go there and see the amount of people that should be required to cover up, then defend to me how breast feeding weirds or grosses you out.

In honor of National Breastfeeding Awareness Month and to raise awareness of the importance of breastfeeding I wanted to feature some beautiful women breast feeding.

I hope by looking at these photos you will see the beauty in them as I did. I wanted to solicit photos and stories from other women, but I realize that not everyone has a photo of them breast feeding. I encourage you to take one yourself or have a spouse take one for you. There are many photographers now who will take an entire photo session of you breast feeding. If you would like me to feature your photo or story on here feel free to email me at [email protected].

Enjoy your pregnancy. Enjoy your labor and delivery however it happens. Workout, eat healthy, be happy and don’t be scared if you don’t do everything some book says.

But trust me on the breast feeding.

My beautiful strong mom inspirations and some very happy healthy babies:

“This picture was taken at my sister wedding; my youngest, Coraline, was 2 months old. I take pride in that I nursed both of my daughters for their first year of life. In a culture where we are constantly told what a woman should be or look like, every time I nursed one of my daughters I was affirmed at what MY body was doing, despite its softness and imperfections. My body was sustaining life.”

How could you say no to this beautiful image of bonding and love? One of my friends gorgeous second daughter. Even with a toddler she finds the time to nurse because it’s so important to her.

Charlotte Nursing (Image from Natalie Magee

This is the face I see when I feed Charlotte and that makes it all worth it.



Filed Under: Blogs


About the Author: Natalie Magee writes a regular column for Happiness Series about what motherhood and beyond - from prenatal to postpartum. Her intention with her column, "Baby & Beyond - What No One Else Will Tell You" is to give practical advice and tips to the busy mom and mom-to-be. She also shares her experiences good, bad and ugly as a woman, wife, mom, flight attendant and fitness instructor. Natalie is also a regular fitness contributor on Happiness Series. She will continue to create great, effective workouts for anyone - including the busy moms out there - who wants to get fit and stay in shape.

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