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No More Breastfeeding Images?

©iStockphoto.com/mocker_bat

©iStockphoto.com/mocker_bat

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by Heidi Green
January 02, 2008

Go, Mothering magazine!

According to The Patriot Ledger’s Dana Barbuto, “more than half” of the images in Mothering magazine show mom breastfeeding baby. She thinks this is cause for concern. If you ask me, it is cause for applause. Over the decades since breast milk substitutes (a.k.a. infant formula) hit the market, images of babies with bottles in their mouths have become ubiquitous. They have become expected. Bottles have become associated with babies the way peanut butter is associated with jelly, Abbott with Costello, ants with picnics. The formula industry doesn’t spend billions of dollars a year in advertising for nothing.

In fact, in an amazing turn of events (and thanks in large part to all of this slick advertising) bottle-feeding has come to be seen as normal, even more normal than breastfeeding. I cannot think of one other substitute that has so thoroughly replaced its original. Veggie burgers? No. Aspartame? No. Oleo? Don’t get me started.

This is especially amazing because infant formula is a poor substitute for the real deal. Yes, I know. Babies who are fed formula live and grow and even thrive. (I did.) But there is no denying that formula—even as scientifically-engineered as it is today—still lacks the nutritional and immunological properties of human milk.

So, why do some take such offense at the sight of breastfeeding dyads? Common complaints are that the images make formula-feeding mothers feel “guilty” for not breastfeeding or, as Barbuto puts it, “unworthy of motherhood.” In what seems like a topsy-turvy version of the three wise monkeys, these women don’t want to see, hear, or talk about breastfeeding. (As if breastfeeding were “evil.”)

Here’s what I think: Breastfeeding is (trite as it may sound) best. As parents who want what’s best for our children, we should weigh the many merits of breastfeeding when we make decisions about how we feed our babies. We can’t do that if there is a moratorium on breastfeeding images and discourse.

The formula industry has been very effective in its efforts to fill TV screens, pediatrician’s offices, and parenting magazines with images of formula-feeding mothers and their babies. There is no breast milk industry to spread the word about breastfeeding (although the national government has made a rather limited attempt.) If I can help to do so simply by talking openly about breastfeeding… well, it seems a very minor thing.

You know what? If there’s one thing I have learned over the past five years, it is that much of parenting is about making choices. Will you circumcise your son? Vaccinate your daughter? Co-sleep with your baby? Use cloth or disposable diapers? Send them to public or private school? The list goes on and on. Breastfeeding or formula-feeding is just another one of those parenting decisions. We should be able to read about it and talk about it as we do the other decisions, without the baggage of hurt feelings.

And (dare I say it?) maybe we should give pro-breastfeeding discourse a bit of leeway. Through decades of marketing, the formula industry has given it a tremendous handicap.

  • Wendy

    I read her article and it seems to me that she has guilt and she needs someone to get angry at. No one is forcing anyone to look at or read mothering magazine . It is a breath of fresh air to finally see picture of breasts being used to the way nature intended it. I feel for women who don’t or can’t breastfeed but i don’t think that women who breastfeed should stop talking about how great it is. I personally think that we would see far less postpartum depression in are country if more women breastfeed. So I say lets flood the magazine with images of breastfeeding mothers.

  • Lara

    I breastfed my three boys for nine plus years and cherished every moment of it. I also spent a lot of that time defending myself, my choices, and what I thought was best, to others. So if they think it is ok to personally attack my decision to breastfeed, get over looking at pics of breastfeeding moms that you don’t HAVE to look at.

  • Karen

    It was my dream (and still is) to have a vaginal birth. Although I couldn’t for ‘medical reasons,’ it doesn’t bother me in the slightest to read about other people’s beautiful all-natural births. I celebrate natural birth and hope that one is in the cards for me next time. This is why I cannot understand someone who wanted to breastfeed but was unable to complaining about images of breastfeeding. The writer has nothing to feel guilty about if she was unable to breastfeed. She shouldn’t feel threatened by other women breastfeeding. She may feel sad about her own situation, as I do about my C-section, but this has nothing to do with celebrating the act when it is possible. I do breastfeed and I love the pictures in mothering.com.

  • Kerri

    Too bad her excuse doesn’t hold water. She made a choice and blames others for it. I do know a survivor of PPCM who went on to successfully breatfeed her child. SO obviously, it is a choice. She was free to make it as she saw fit and no one should blame her, but the reality is it was a choice. It was not a forced weaning. And it doesn’t mean I need to sensor my breastfeeding to increase her comfort.

  • Melissa

    As a pro-breast feeding mama who nursed her firstborn for 5.5 yrs, I was appalled at the reality of my second child’s emergent, premature birth and subsequent NICU stay. I was not new to the NICU experience. My son was also a Preemie, born at 34 wks after 9 wks of bedrest. I thought I knew this time, after struggling to nurse him after his discharge and the inevitable bottle induced nipple confusion what to ‘not allow’ in the NICU. My daughter however, was born at 31 wks after sudden realization during a routine Ultrasound revealed she had almost no amniotic fluid. I went sans standard ‘packed bag’ straight to hospital to be induced. She was born 12 hours later via ‘natural’ birth with much intervention, but she was healthier than anticipated. However, she was not breathing well-enough on her own. The dreaded CPAP was necessary, and she would spend the first weeks of her tiny life with a machine breathing for her. My dreams of preventing ‘nipple confusion’ this time were not to be realized.

    Amazingly, 4 yrs is a huge difference in breastfeeding issues. My doctors this time allowed my baby to nurse FIRST, rather than ‘prove she could eat with a bottle first’ as my son was forced to do. I was able to nurse as often as I could be there (being I had a 4yro child at home who also needed my milk!) and my baby took to it like a pro. When discharged, I had no idea what was to come.

    Once we got home my baby suddenly began having issues nursing. I should mention she was indeed ‘forced to prove she COULD bottle feed before leaving NICU’ just like son, though not to the prevention of any breastfeeding as with him. But apparently I had not realized in time my daughter would also face nipple confusion, coupled with the unanticipated preemie issue of ‘an oral delay’. This delay developed weeks after her birth which I initially found impossible to understand… until one day I realized she was born without labia and now had grown them… who is to say her mouth did not also profoundly change.

    Thru months of LLL visits, SNS systems, nursing my son and pumping 6-8 HOURS a day to keep up my dropping supply, warm baths and naked sleeping with baby, I hoped the day would come when she would nurse once again. Second Nature nipples seemed to teach her to properly suckle (they are a MIRACLE) but the breast still ‘gushed’ too much for her to take in, even if I pumped thru the initial let-down. To add to my trauma (at the point of about 3-4 mos, baby no longer nursed at all, gagging profoundly at the breast and vomitting every time she eagerly tried to suckle) baby also was allergic to both cow’s milk and soy formula, rendering my milk her only available nutrition. Frankly that was my preference, but sadly upkeep of supply without an active nursling is extremely difficult and the pressure to provide enough took it’s toll as well.

    We even resorted to sending our son to grandma’s for a weekend so we could dropper and cup feed baby with NO nipples… after 4 days I had to realize she was not going to nurse. She began, after being oh so patient and trying so hard, to scream hysterically from her urge to suckle and her inability to do so at the breast. I finally gave in… gave her the beloved second best ‘Second Nature’ bottle (second nature indeed!) of breastmilk, and realized she was now 8 mos old and she was likely never to nurse again.

    Thankfully I had a later reprieve of a medical diagnosis of a true oral delay. The doctors had initially been hesitant to realize this… but once the profound vomitting began to occur every time she had a sniffle or a cold (post nasal drip also gagged her like the breast) the doctors had to admit this was NOT normal. This did relieve some of my guilt and I am grateful for this. However, the image’s of breastfeeding both soothe and haunt me when I see sites like this and read Mothering now.

    I used to LOVE Mothering. I do feel excluded now when I read it, to a point. I know intellectually this is absurd. I provided breastmilk for my daughter for over 18 mos with great effort of pumping 6 hours EVERY day and night, also giving her every single bottle so as to provide her with a ‘nursing experience’ with mama. I held her close and suckled her with the fake baba-boobie every time. It was rather like having twins… baby and robo-baby as the pump came to be known in our home. I also know I nursed my son for over 5 yrs, and have earned every proud moment of being a breastfeeding success with him. And I have those ever-so-faint memories of the early moments with my daughter, tiny 4lbs baby nursing on my engorged breast… and it felt so amazing. I know I did absolutely EVERYTHING I could to nurse both my children. My daughter simply could not ‘do it’. The images of other mother’s doing so with ease can still unsettle me, no matter what I tell myself… I too had the idea after my son that ‘any woman who truly WANTS to nurse CAN nurse’. After all, if an adoptive mother can do it, why not anyone else? I have learned better now. Perhaps that is my lesson in this after all…

    So I do understand the ‘guilt’ factor. I do understand how it can seem that we don’t deserve the title of ‘attached mother’ if for some reason nursing did not work out… my AP group did not feel right this time either. And perhaps that is indeed ‘me’. But there is a lack of info for mom’s who could not nurse either because baby had a cleft issue, an oral delay, micro-prematurity, breast issue such as cancer, or even health problems of her own (I also suffer Rheumatoid Arthritis which made some of my medications incompatible. I chose to avoid them. Others may not be able to) that require medications truly contraindicated such as Lithium and Bi-polarity.

    Perhaps Mothering could consider the trials for who breastfeeding becomes a battle un-won, and then those mothers unable to nurse would feel more included. I love that magazine… but do I feel I am a part of that world this time? No. Even with nursing for over 6.5 years of my life, no… I do not.

  • http://www.babygooroo.com Amy

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. It serves as a touching reminder that despite extraordinary efforts, there will be mothers and/or babies who for a variety of reasons are unable to achieve their breastfeeding goals.

    If you are not familiar with MOBI Motherhood International, it is an organization dedicated to supporting the mothers you describe, those “for who breastfeeding becomes a battle un-won”.

    Perhaps battles are un-won, only if we measure our success by the success of others.

    Please know that what you accomplished with each of your children, represents amazing success, by any measure.

    MOBI Motherhood International:
    http://www.babygooroo.com/index.php/2007/07/15/a-safe-haven-breastfeeding-community/

  • Melissa

    Amy, thank you so much for directing me to MOBI. I have not heard of it before. I have found some support thru the LLL boards and BC boards, but had no clue there was an organization dedicated to ‘those for whom breastfeeding become’s a battle un-won”. I am thrilled to know there is.

    Thank you for reading my story… initially it was to be a short comment, and my keyboard ran away with me. Apparently I needed to tell it! It was a lot, so I thank you again. But I truly believe there can be a smug attitude of ‘she obviously did not try hard enough’ towards women who could not nurse… and of course those of us who could not nurse resent those who simply chose not to. As a result, we don’t have a home-base in the ‘mommy wars’ so to speak.

    I look forward to checking out MOBI as well as more of this amazing gooroo site. Thanks again.