Monday, April 4, 2011

This one's for Jess

This is the column I wrote for this week's paper. I'd like to share it here as well.

My column this week is going to make some of you feel uncomfortable. I would be lying if I said that wasn’t what I was trying to do. I firmly believe that sometimes, in order to incite change, we have to force ourselves to do what feels uncomfortable for us.

So this week I am going to write about breastfeeding. Now, before you run screaming from the room, hear me out. I have a story to tell you.

Last week a friend of mine, whose husband is serving overseas in Afghanistan, was asked to stop breastfeeding her 8-month-old daughter, Zoey, during a visit to Bragg Picerne Military Housing. The girl was covered and they were in a private office, but the woman helping them asked her to stop and refused to continue with her paperwork until she did. The reasoning was that they needed to maintain a “business atmosphere.” She was asked to feed Zoey in a bathroom.

The fact that this happens to moms like Jess every day is extremely disheartening. Why is it that our society has such little tolerance for this natural act? Why are breastfeeding women asked to feed their infants in bathrooms? Do you want to eat in a bathroom? Would you want your toddler or your older child to eat in there?

I think the reason this feels so unnatural to us now is because for so many years, formula was touted as the better option and so those who could afford it, used it. Now, I have nothing against formula or those who use it. I’m very glad that this option is available to families and I am sure it has saved many babies’ lives. But because formula was pushed on mothers for so long, it became the new normal. I think it is time to change that.

We all know now that breast milk is the best food for babies. The World Health Organization recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life. After 6 months of age, it is recommended that breastfeeding continue until up to 2 years of age with the introduction of appropriate complementary foods.

So why should a woman, who is giving her baby the best source of nutrition as recommended, be made to feel as though she is doing something wrong?

I know there are some who will say that they don’t want their children, particularly their sons, to see a woman breastfeeding her child. I challenge those people to ask themselves why. Is it because it is unnatural? Or is it because our society has placed a taboo where it doesn’t belong? Why is explaining it to your child necessarily a bad thing, when the explanation is that a child is being fed? Who is really the one who feels uncomfortable here, you, or your child?

Somehow, in some way, we need to get back to viewing breastfeeding as a natural act, and not as something dirty to be done in a bathroom. People like Jess are working to make sure that happens. I am proud of her for that.

Jess’s story was carried on her local news late last week. I promised I’d do my part to help spread awareness as well. I can’t say the idea didn’t make me feel a little bit uncomfortable. But that brings us back to the root of the issue, doesn’t it? If we can’t force ourselves to do what makes us feel uncomfortable every now and then, how can we ever expect there to be change?

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