On Breast Behaviour

One of my long time readers, Jenn Jilks, left this comment on yesterday’s post on breastfeeding:

“Your ignorant patient [she wrote] was only living what she learned. I imagine she was not breastfed. It comes more easily to those who have seen it done, and are familiar with it.”

I need to gently disagree. I’m acquainted with a young woman, middle-class, intelligent and very highly educated, who is extremely fit, and takes such a pro-active approach to her health that heaven forfend a potato chip or Twizzle passing between her lips. She knows the benefits, both to her child and to herself, of breastfeeding, but she is adamant she will not breastfeed, largely for the reasons of patient I wrote about yesterday (if better articulated). She identifies her breasts as intrinsic to her sexuality, and regards the notion of breastfeeding — linking her child and sex — as abnormal, even repulsive. I gather this attitude is not uncommon, though of course, as an ED nurse, my direct clinical experience is limited. I’d be interested in hearing from L&D nurses about their experiences.

I have to say this too: I once suggested to my colleagues in the staff room that formula-feeding was suboptimal and that we needed (as nurses) to make clear that breast was the default. I was quickly shouted down. I was implying mothers who bottle-fed their children were bad mothers. (Well, not bad, but maybe stupid.) My children turned out okay! Worse, it seemed, I was wanting to take away choice from the mother, of whether to breastfeed or not. If nurses feel conflicted about breastfeeding — Some cultural practices  and attitudes run deep indeed.


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  1. #1 by Cyndi on Tuesday 05 October 2010 - 1013

    As an adoptive mom of three neglected former foster children, I’m firmly of the opinion that as long as a baby is being FED and is growing healthy on whatever milk is being provided, then things are good.

    There are pros and cons of both breast and bottle – including the mother’s past which she may not be comfortable talking with you about. If she had been previously sexually abused or seen abuse in some fashion, she may not want to associate her child with something she feels is “impure.” We all walk our own roads to self-acceptance and sometimes our bodies and minds don’t cooperate with the optimum choice. We make decisions that work out in OUR lives and we need support in whatever that is.

  2. #2 by SM on Tuesday 05 October 2010 - 1140

    People are terrified of sex. Guess what, when you are breastfeeding and you orgasm your milk releases. Yes, the deep satisfaction of an orgasm IS directly connected to breastfeeding. We’re mammals! get over yourselves and latch on! You don’t see any other creatures so bent out of shape about sex that they can’t feed their young, do you?

  3. #3 by Toe on Tuesday 05 October 2010 - 1142

    Aside from abuse/adoption, for the ignorant lasses who think ‘those babies’ are for her bf/sex. Breasts have multiple functions (duh) and perhaps telling the ignorant that some women can be stimulated to sexual climax by nipple arousal alone, after weaning, may change their minds. I mean, what are you going to do with the ‘educated’ women who truly believes her boobs are just for sex? There is smart and educated, then there is wise and instinctive. The expression (intrinsic) ‘beauty and brains’ applies to the wise and instinctive coupled with smart and educated, rare in this new world, but it’s the secret to satisfaction. Nevertheless I’m willing to bet the wise and instinctive only will end up getting more satisfaction out of life, because she’s learned to trust her inner self. Sheesh who’dofthunk common sense would be in such short supply in just 26 years of the internet.

  4. #4 by adamant on Tuesday 05 October 2010 - 1235

    As long as the baby is fed, what matters how? The advantages of breastfeeding are not as great as sometimes thought, and breastfeeding is HARD. It hurts like hell, it is time consuming, requires either a stay at home mom or a seriously co-operative employer, and with all the work in the world, it sometimes fails—as it did before formula and bottles were available. Why do you think chubby babies were so prized? Many mothers didn’t have enough milk for their babies……….

  5. #5 by Cartoon Character on Tuesday 05 October 2010 - 1341

    I did L&D for 15 years. Breast IS best….no one can convince me otherwise. However, if a mom, after being informed of all the FACTS, is still adamant about bottle feeding, I wouldn’t judge her. There are only rare instances that a mom can’t produce milk (breast reduction etc) or shouldn’t (certain diseases) and yes, it is HARD – in the beginning months…. but – breastfeeding is as inconvenient as society makes it.
    Everyone has already heard all the arguments for breastfeeding – passing on immunities, more easily digestable, prevents allergies, is less expensive etc…..but it seems our self-centered society wants everything instant, easy and convenient….and sometimes breastfeeding doesn’t come quite as easy or fits into our schedule – because babies require a lot of patience and time…and in our “me” society… that is no longer something that always has a place .
    Breastfeeding is not a sexual thing. It bonds mom and babe. It is proven to give babies the best nourishment. It is a scientific thing with scientific research backing it. Whether it is done for a week or for years, breast is best.

  6. #6 by nurseXY on Tuesday 05 October 2010 - 1548

    My kids might be fine with a degree from community college too. Yet if it were within my means to send them to ivy league, I’d send them in a heartbeat.

    Formula is an adequate alternative to breast feeding. But the vast preponderance of the research shows breast milk is simply better.

    We chose breast milk for our kids, and I truly believe they are better for it.

  7. #7 by Jenn Jilks on Tuesday 05 October 2010 - 1953

    Great discussion! I love the issues you raise.
    But, do you think your colleagues were NOT breastfed? Is this why they poo-poohed your notion? I was a baby in the 50’s and that was when everything seemed to change. Having the money to buy formula was a sign of money. Bottle feeding meant women were more free to go back to work. In those days women had to bottle feed or quit work, as there was no maternity leave anyway!!

    BTW I certainly wasn’t breastfed. I am adopted!
    It was not modelled for me, but with a degree in ECE, we read and talked about the benefits. I was determined to breastfeed, despite Nestle being boycotted at the time, since they were marketing their products to women in hospitals who didn’t need it, could neither afford it, or had access to clean water in underdeveloped countries.

    My daughter breastfed/feeds both kids (#2 being 4 mos old!) and it went so well for her. It is dependent upon your beliefs, background and experiences, as well as the supports around you. The trick is not to appear to be an upper class snob, while providing facts, without judging! I found this the hardest par of my job as a teacher, trying to educate without judging. I often failed at that!

  8. #8 by atyourcervix on Tuesday 05 October 2010 - 2001

    I’m an L&D nurse — Breast is best, putting it simply. HOWEVER – it is up to the mother to decide if she will breast/bottle/both for feeding method. I believe that education of all options is necessary before a decision is made. BUT – by the time most women see me in L&D, they’ve already decided on their method of feeding. I support mothers no matter what they decide. Of course, if a mom is on the fence, I will gently try to guide her to at least try breastfeeding.

    This country (ok, this planet!) needs to get over it’s sexualization of the female breast. Breasts were designed for nourishing babies, first and foremost.

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