Supporting Breastfeeding in Still Life: A Look at the “Breastfeeding is Normal” Project

World Breastfeeding Week 2013The benefits of breastfeeding to both baby and mother, not to mention the entire family, are becoming more and more well-known. However, there continues to be a pervasive attitude that breastfeeding should be a private event. Even while there are laws in many areas protecting the right to nurse in public, many mothers find the social stigma to much to bear.

Taisha Kelleher has been working on a project called “Breastfeeding is Normal: Anytime, Anywhere” to help normalize nursing in public through a public photography exhibit. This is among many photography displays that have come to Attachment Parenting International’s attention in the past few years, and it is encouraging that so many parents around the world have been moved in this way to support breastfeeding and to further the cause. It also proves that while peer support is most empowering in person, there is worth in simply seeing the act of breastfeeding and the women who choose to do so–even if in still life.

Taisha - Breastfeeding is Normal

We talked with Taisha to learn more about her project, which is in partnership with the La Leche League of the Sunshine State.

API: Hi Taisha! It is always wonderfully inspiring to meet other parents who strive to raise their child through Attachment Parenting. We really like what you’re doing with your project to promote breastfeeding.

TAISHA: I personally find that my style of parenting is very in sync with API principles, and I love what API is doing in terms of promoting healthier family relationships and gentle parenting.

API: Tell us about how the Breastfeeding is Normal Project began.

TAISHA: During World Breastfeeding Week 2011, I came across some slideshows on Facebook with pictures of moms nursing in public from the “Nursing IS Normal” projects that have been coordinated in several states by Kathy O’Brien. I fell in love with the idea and, first, wrote a blog post about the project. Then I decided that something similar had to be done in my area, and I posted a link to my blog post in several forums and asked around for anyone interested in helping to make this come true here. Thanks to our local birth center and Facebook, soon there was a whole group of moms interested in making this project happen! I spoke to Kathy O’brien, and with her blessing, we decided to move forward under a different name, “Breastfeeding Is Normal: Anytime, Anywhere.”

The current partners are La Leche League of the Sunshine State, the Hillsborough County Breastfeeding Task Force, and breastfeeding moms from the community. The project will be displayed at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) as a permanent part of their Amazing You exhibit on the human body.

API: How will the Breastfeeding is Normal project contribute to society and benefit families?

TAISHA: Being embarrassed to breastfeed in public, as well as fear of being shamed for doing so, are some of the reasons that some moms never attempt to breastfeed. Others start out breastfeeding but give up after having a bad experience nursing in public or when they realize their child will no longer keep a cover on. We are hoping this will no longer be an issue in the near future.

When we see something every day, we quickly become desensitized to it. Present generations have not been exposed to breastfeeding much, if at all. We are hoping that the more they see breastfeeding happening around them, the more normal it will become. Most public schools in Hillsborough County take their students on field trips to MOSI, and parents like to take their kids on trips there as well. It is a perfect place for children to be exposed to breastfeeding and to learn that it is a normal part of life.

Of course, we also hope that they are exposed to real moms nursing in public.

The hope is that, with nursing becoming more normalized in our society, more moms will initiate and continue breastfeeding, since they no longer have to worry about hiding or being shamed. This of course will benefit babies in that more of them will be breastfed and get to experience the benefits of breastfeeding. More moms will also experience said benefits. My dream is that one day, when people see a mom breastfeeding, they are so used to it that they don’t even bat an eyelash.

Photo credit: Taisha Kelleher, with her husband and tandem-nursing sons, is working with the “Breastfeeding is Normal: Anytime, Anywhere” project, one of many photography displays around the world bringing breastfeeding into the public eye. (Photography by Patricia Cannon of Sweet Plum Photography)

Parents Crave Uncommon Support for Common Concerns, Like Breastfeeding

World Breastfeeding Week 2013In 2009, Attachment Parenting International conducted a parent support survey on the value of peer support provided through both local leaders and parenting support groups as well as online resources and publications. Overwhelmingly, parents responded that they sought out in-person support from local API Leaders and API Support Groups first.

According to the survey, parents seek out support for a variety of childrearing concerns, with feeding with love and respect, which includes breastfeeding, being second only to coping with and resolving sleep issues. Parents specifically seek out API Leaders for a perspective on childrearing that they can’t find elsewhere.

For example, one mother explained how she worked as a nanny for a long time before becoming a mother and had been taught to let babies cry-it-out, to not hold babies, and to feed formula rather than breastfeed:

“When I had my own children, there was such a pull where I felt those were the things I should be doing, even though my instincts screamed otherwise. I have struggled to learn to follow my instincts by immersing myself in a supportive group and lots of supportive reading.”

Attachment Parenting adds to breastfeeding support by including other interrelated areas of childrearing. As a La Leche League leader pointed out:

“My interaction is with breastfeeding mothers, and I have been able to add on more knowledge from API.

Perhaps the largest role API plays in supporting breastfeeding mothers is in actively supporting their choice. Despite health care recommendations that are increasingly pro-breastfeeding, our society continues to be resistant to change in parenting style. Another parent described the frustration of breastfeeding her children in a social climate where, on one hand, highly respected organizations like the World Health Organization, the American Pediatrics Academy, and La Leche League touted the benefits of breastfeeding, but on the other hand, culture was not in tune:

“API has been where I go to be validated and reassured.”

Although there is much more to be read from the API Parent Support Survey, it is clear from the survey that mothers find valuable support for breastfeeding through API’s local leaders and online resources. Here is what other survey respondents had to say about API’s peer support for breastfeeding:

“I had breast reduction surgery 11 years ago that did not allow me to produce much milk. My supply was so, so low and it caused a lot of guilt issues. The ladies in my group tried to help and were so supportive.”

“I worked out of the home and got excellent support from our API group about pumping while working and nursing when home. We’re still going strong at two and a half years!”

“Night weaning: when to do it, how to do it, why to do it, etc. – this has been a discussion through the API-NYC Yahoo! Group. I haven’t started doing this yet, but everyday, I think about it more and more and it’s been great to hear other moms’ stories.”

“Just today, I posted to the Twin Cities API Yahoo! Group that ‘I am only one bite away from quitting’ breastfeeding. My son has three teeth and is using my right boob as a teether. It’s painful and making our breastfeeding relationship rocky. I got a heartfelt ‘I’ve been there and it does bite’ and some good suggestions on how to stop the biting. I really don’t want to quit nursing, and it was important to me that I get advice and encouragement from women who weren’t just going to tell me to quit, that I’ve made it nine months, etc. I felt like I had tried everything, and I was really ready to give up. It hurts to be bitten dozens of times a day, and I was fed up. The API group is invaluable to me. Without that group, I only know two other parents who parent like us. I’ve stopped going to other playgroups, because it hurts me to hear how other moms talk about and to their kids. I think I’d be lost without the API group.”

“When I came to the group, I was having a lot of painful nursing issues, but as time has gone on and my daughter and son have grown, I find that the most beneficial help I’ve received is on finding balance and positive discipline.”

“Extended breastfeeding has been one of the areas where belonging to API groups and knowing other API members has meant a great deal to me. It has helped to be able to share stories – tell them and hear them – of various incidents involving breastfeeding an older child and to talk about the feelings of joy, embarrassment, resentment, etc. that such incidents bring up.”

“I had to wean my baby unexpectedly when I got ill, and I turned to the group for advice on how to handle this as well as tips for allowing my mother to take over my child’s care while I was ill. Also, I had to let my baby go for the duration of a treatment, and I turned to the API e-mail list for suggestions about how to deal with the feelings, asking what was best for my girl in terms of me demonstrating my emotions or not. I received so much support about how to let my mom parent, and validation that it was OK for me to have all the feelings I had around that. The e-mail list made it much easier to feel like I was doing the best I could as a parent, even when I couldn’t do anything physically. Similarly, the advice I got for the separation was to authentically express and communicate with my daughter. That feels completely right to me. Instead of trying to protect her by hiding my feelings, or by letting the story go and telling her later what happened, we can braid it into our family story – such good advice. I also got advice on how to transition her back to us after I’m out of the hospital – simply invaluable.”

“When my daughter was nine months old, we realized she was not sleeping longer than 20 minutes at a time during the day. If she fell asleep after nursing and I tried to lay her down, she woke up immediately. We became very concerned, and I could not find any information in sleep books, and the only option seemed to be to let her cry it out, which we were not prepared to do. We met with an API Leader who suggested I hold her after she fell asleep and that ended up being the way my child could get a nap during the day.”

Breastfeeding and Attachment Parenting are Intricately Linked

World Breastfeeding Week 2013Attachment Parenting is invariably linked to breastfeeding. While not all mothers are able to breastfeed, Attachment Parenting International recognizes that breastfeeding — as well as breastfeeding behaviors while giving a bottle of pumped breastmilk — is one of nature’s best teachers of new parents in how to sensitively and consistently respond to their baby as well as learn to develop the reciprocity of a healthy relationship between parent and child.

Each year, the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action and its partners sponsor World Breastfeeding Week during August 1-7. This year’s World Breastfeeding Week theme, “Breastfeeding Support: Close to Mothers,” highlights breastfeeding peer counselors in all walks of life. Certainly, whether or not API Leaders are they themselves trained breastfeeding educators, all of API’s leaders support breastfeeding and the impact it has on helping to establish a secure parent-child attachment.

Largely due to cultural pressures, even when mothers are able to get breastfeeding off to a good start, there is a sharp decline overall in breastfeeding rates in the weeks and months after delivery. World Breastfeeding Week organizers have found that it is the period when mothers are not under the regular care of a health care provider when problems with breastfeeding arise and are not addressed, and premature weaning often happens.

This time of learning how to parent is crucial not only to the success of breastfeeding but also to the mother-infant relationship, but the early weeks and months are often a time of relative social isolation. This is when community support is most needed.

Traditionally, support was provided by the family, but as society has changed, mother support now needs to come from a wider circle. Depending on the location, a mother may have access to lactation consultants or other trained health care workers, or not. Perhaps the best support, however, comes from other mothers who have breastfed their children and who are trained to provide support.

While API’s local leaders and parent support groups are not specific to breastfeeding support, we provide a holistic look at breastfeeding and the mother-infant relationship. We are able to refer to community resources for breastfeeding questions, such as lactation consultants and La Leche League leaders and breastpump providers, and we can provide basic support for parents to make the best decisions for their family. API Leaders also help mothers view breastfeeding in the context of the whole relationship and how that give-and-take interaction that builds the foundation of secure attachment can be applied beyond breastfeeding.

Join us this week on APtly Said as API celebrates World Breastfeeding Week and how Attachment Parenting families are furthering the cause of breastfeeding in their communities and around the world.

Celebrating the Model of Attachment – World Breastfeeding Week – August 1-7, 2009

While I was pregnant with my first baby, I wanted to breastfeed – but because I would save money and because breastmilk has superior health benefits to formula. At that time, I didn’t know anything about attachment or how important breastfeeding behaviors are to the mother-baby emotional bond – that breastfeeding is the very model of attachment, as explained by Attachment Parenting International’s co-founders Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker in their book, Attached at the Heart.

So, then my daughter was born prematurely and due a variety of problems, I found I could not breastfeed. I had to pump and feed her my breastmilk through the bottle. By all accounts, at least according to my original reasons for breastfeeding, I should’ve been content – I was still saving money and still giving the health benefits of breastmilk to my baby. But I felt like I was missing something, though I didn’t know what. When my second baby was born and I was able to breastfeed, I realized just what was missing.

I had been looking at breastfeeding as filling purely a physical need, when it is so much more – it provides mothers and babies an emotional connection with one another that can’t be replicated in any other way.

When I first came to Attachment Parenting, I viewed each of the Eight Principles of Parenting as separate entities – like I could do one or a few but not have to do the others, too. (When you’re new to this parenting approach, especially coming from a background that is so foreign to the concept, it can be difficult to trust that this parenting approach will work for you. And trying to think of all Eight Principles is perhaps a little overwhelming at first, too!) The further into my parenting journey I go, though, the more I realize how all the principles weave together and rely on each other. It’d actually be very difficult, perhaps impossible, to just pick out one or a few principles and not do the others, too.
Continue reading “Celebrating the Model of Attachment – World Breastfeeding Week – August 1-7, 2009”

Keeping a-breast…

It began when you were very small,

No other source of food at all,

every hour, sometimes less,

you would suckle at my breast.

Everywhere we went they’d smile

supportive of us all the while,

You were young and cute and small

of course I breastfed, after all.

Strangers told me they were proud

in voices strident, voices loud,

that I chose to bare my breast.

They told me it was for the best.

Now that you walk, and run, and play,

our nursing support has become dismay!

Though you are still a babe to me

a big kid and breasts is all they see.

Despite the heads that shake away

We still nurse all night and day!

You are still my little one,

we will nurse until you’re done.

(Support breastfeeding, celebrate World Breastfeeding Week!)

World Breastfeeding Week- Supporting Nursing Mothers

World Breastfeeding Week starts on August 1, and runs through August 7th. The theme of this year is “Mother Support- Going for the Gold.”

Supporting a mother who is breastfeeding is so important. There are so many other demands that a new mother faces when nursing, having support can be invaluable to the mother and new baby to establish breastfeeding.

But did you know that nursing a baby past six months and has many health benefits for the baby and the mother? Sadly it seems that once a baby is nursed passed six months and beyond, support often turns to opposition?

Nursing mothers who continue to breastfeed past six months, a year, a year and a half, two years, three years, and even four years and beyond also need support. Likely they have heard negative comments about nursing their older child.

I am happy and proud to say that I nursed Ryan (my first son) until he was 26 months old. I wanted to nurse him longer but I was seven months pregnant with my second son, Cole, and my milk had gone, and it was incredibly irritating to me- pregnant hormones and all. I am still nursing Cole, mainly before nap time and bedtime, but he has shown no interest in weaning, and I don’t have any interest in forcing him to do so. In fact, it is a very nice bonding quiet time for us at the end of the day.

So many mothers who nurse a baby older than a year, feel like they have to hide it, and not talk about it. Sometimes mothers are made to feel like they are doing something wrong, or potentially stunting their child’s development, but that is not the case at all.

In honor of supporting breastfeeding mothers, who nurse their babies of all ages, I am posting one of my favorite pieces about breastfeeding, by Diane Wiessinger, MS and International Board Certified Lacatation Consultant (IBCLC). Perhaps you will learn something you didn’t know about breastfeeding, or maybe it will inspire you to support a breastfeeding mother to keep nursing a bit longer if she wishes to do so.

I think it would be great as a a society if we supported ALL nursing mothers, whether they were nursing a newborn, infant, toddler, pre-schooler, etc. It truly is one of the single best things a mother can do for her child, and that should be supported and celebrated.

What if I Want to Wean My Baby?

by Diane Wiessinger, MS, IBCLC

Breastfeeding your baby for even a day is the best baby gift you can give. Breastfeeding is almost always the best choice for your baby. If it doesn’t seem like the best choice for you right now, these guidelines may help.IF YOU NURSE YOUR BABY FOR JUST A FEW DAYS, he will have received your colostrum, or early milk. By providing antibodies and the food his brand-new body expects, nursing gives your baby his first – and easiest – “immunization” and helps get his digestive system going smoothly. Breastfeeding is how your baby expects to start, and helps your own body recover from the birth. Why not use your time in the hospital to prepare your baby for life through the gift of nursing?IF YOU NURSE YOUR BABY FOR FOUR TO SIX WEEKS, you will have eased him through the most critical part of his infancy. Newborns who are not breastfed are much more likely to get sick or be hospitalized, and have many more digestive problems than breastfed babies. After 4 to 6 weeks, you’ll probably have worked through any early nursing concerns, too. Make a seriousgoal of nursing for a month, call La Leche League or a Lactation Consultant if you have any questions, and you’ll be in a better position to decide whether continued breastfeeding is for you.IF YOU NURSE YOUR BABY FOR 3 OR 4 MONTHS, her digestive system will have matured a great deal, and she will be much better able to tolerate the foreign substances in commercial formulas. If there is a family history of allergies, though, you will greatly reduce her risk by waiting a few more months before adding anything at allto her diet of breastmilk. And giving nothing but your milk for the first four months gives strong protection against ear infections for a whole year.IF YOU NURSE YOUR BABY FOR 6 MONTHS, she will be much less likely to suffer an allergic reaction to formula or other foods. At this point, her body is probably ready to tackle some other foods, whether or not you wean. Nursing for at least 6 months helps ensure better health throughout your baby’s first year of life, and reduces your own risk of breast cancer. Nursing for 6 months or more may greatly reduce your little one’s risk of ear infections and childhood cancers. And exclusive, frequent breastfeeding during the first 6 months, if your periods have not returned, provides 98% effective contraception.

IF YOU NURSE YOUR BABY FOR 9 MONTHS, you will have seen him through the fastest and most important brain and body development of his life on the food that was designed for him – your milk. You may even notice that he is more alert and more active than babies who did not have the benefit of their mother’s milk. Weaning may be fairly easy at this age… but then, so is nursing! If you want to avoid weaning this early, be sure you’ve been available to nurse for comfort as well as just for food.

IF YOU NURSE YOUR BABY FOR A YEAR, you can avoid the expense and bother of formula. Her one-year-old body can probably handle most of the table foods your family enjoys. Many of the health benefits this year of nursing has given your child will last her whole life. She will have a stronger immune system, for instance, and will be much less likely to need orthodontia or speech therapy. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends nursing for at least a year, to help ensure normal nutrition and health for your baby.

IF YOU NURSE YOUR BABY FOR 18 MONTHS, you will have continued to provide your baby’s normal nutrition and protection against illness at a time when illness is common in other babies. Your baby is probably well started on table foods, too. He has had time to form a solid bond with you – a healthy starting point for his growing independence. And he is old enough that you and he can work together on the weaning process, at a pace that he can handle. A former U.S. Surgeon General said, “It is the lucky baby… that nurses to age two.”

IF YOUR CHILD WEANS WHEN SHE IS READY, you can feel confident that you have met your baby’s physical and emotional needs in a very normal, healthy way. In cultures where there is no pressure to wean, children tend to nurse for at leasttwo years. The World Health Organization and UNICEF strongly encourage breastfeeding through toddlerhood: “Breastmilk is an important source of energy and protein, and helps to protect against disease during the child’s second year of life.”(1) Our biology seems geared to a weaning age of between 2 1/2 and 7 years(2), and it just makes sense to build our children’s bones from the milk that was designed to build them.

Your milk provides antibodies and other protective substances as long as you continue nursing, and families of nursing toddlers often find that their medical bills are lower than their neighbors’ for years to come. Mothers who have nursed longterm have a still lower risk of developing breast cancer. Children who were nursed longterm tend to be very secure, and are less likely to suck their thumbs or carry a blanket.

Nursing can help ease both of you through the tears, tantrums, and tumbles that come with early childhood, and helps ensure that any illnesses are milder and easier to deal with. It’s an all-purpose mothering tool you won’t want to be without! Don’t worry that your child will nurse forever. All children stop eventually, no matter what you do, and there are more nursing toddlers around than you might guess.

Whether you nurse for a day or for several years, the decision to nurse your child is one you need never regret. And whenever weaning takes place, remember that it is a big step for both of you. If you choose to wean before your child is ready, be sure to do it gradually, and with love.

1.) Facts for Life: A Communication Challenge, published by UNICEF, WHO, and UNESCO, 1989
2.) Katherine Dettwyler. A Time to Wean. Breastfeeding Abstracts vol 14 no 1 1994

copyright ©1997 Diane Wiessinger, MS, IBCLC

By A Mama’s Blog