BREAST-FEEDING is not always best.
These are fighting words if you are a mother who has delivered a baby at most hospitals throughout the Puget Sound. If you are the postpartum mother who dares to utter that statement, you will be the one fighting with nurses, doctors, lactation consultants and anyone on the street who sees you bottle feeding.
After delivering my daughter at a local Seattle hospital this summer, I struggled to breast-feed her. Committed to feeding my baby exclusively breast milk, I spent the first five weeks of her life trying every lactation intervention recommended to me.
We went to ongoing appointments with a lactation consultant. I used a hospital-grade breast pump. I weighed my baby before and after feedings. I ingested galactagogues to increase milk supply. I even took my baby to an occupational therapist to observe her eat.
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After my daughter had difficulty gaining weight and after an infection in my breast, I discontinued nursing and used a breast pump and bottles to feed her.
In the months that followed I was asked by co-workers, strangers at the mall and countless others if I was breast-feeding my baby. I struggled to explain in a brief sentence all that I had tried to breast-feed.
I often encountered awkward silences and an undercurrent of judgment. This was not how I imagined my first months of motherhood.
Existing policy and practice around breast-feeding has failed women. In the desire to make breast-feeding a viable option for more women, medical providers, public-health advocates and lawmakers have put enormous pressure on women to breast-feed.
Seattle’s culture of breast-feeding is so far-reaching that in 2012 the City Council passed an ordinance to further protect the right to breast-feed in public.
The message is clear: Women no longer have a choice to breast-feed or not. Rather, we must breast-feed or face the judgment and scorn of everyone who feels compelled to share their opinion on how we use our bodies and feed our children.
The campaign to promote breast-feeding has taken an unfortunate turn, becoming an assault on women and their right to choose, without fear of public judgment, what to do with their bodies.
The moralizing of breast-feeding and demonizing mothers who do not, or cannot, breast-feed, must stop.
As implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act unfolds, we have an opportunity to stand against this disturbing trend.
We must educate medical providers, law makers and insurance companies about the truth of breast-feeding, and craft policies that reflect this understanding.
Beth Wierman Rubin is a mother and graduate student in social work at the University of Washington.