Saturday

Why is breastfeeding so damn difficult?


Pyne's laughter filled the house of my mother-in-law. She looked at me and continued to laugh. "You want to do what?" "You want to help women to breastfeed?" And then the laughter started up again, a very infectious laughter. I found myself laughing. Was I laughing at myself and my pretentiousness? Or was it her laughter that surrounded me with the joy of her world. She wasn't laughing at me but as she explained to me the idea of teaching/helping a woman breastfeed was unheard of in Liberia. Pyne had immigrated from Liberia to New York City to escape the violence of her country. She was a beautiful woman. She was tall and elegant with high cheekbones, sparkling brown eyes, and skin a velvety brown. Pyne tried to explain to me that women just know breastfeeding, they don't have to be taught. Like walking and talking, breastfeeding is just known. I tried explaining the US reality of women unable to breastfeed, of all the difficulties that women encountered. And she just stared at me and shook her head in wonder. Culture shock for both of us. In the short time that I got to know Pyne she shared her knowledge of cooking plaintain-delicious. She showed my young daughters and I how to wrap on our bodies a simple dress, a Fanti. She talked of her home in Liberia, of encountering a Black Mambo snake on the way to school. She laughed often and her stories enthralled us all. That was years ago.
I still relive the laughter but also the clash of our cultures, particularly regarding our views on breastfeeding. She thought I was ridiculous to think that breastfeeding was this difficult behavior. And I just couldn't get over the idea that some cultures view breastfeeding like walking and talking, it just happens because that is what humans do.
How did our culture get so wacked, so out of balance that breastfeeding requires expensive gadgets (breast pumps), drugs, and some paid expert to get it to work? What is it about our environment that short circuits breastfeeding? I still feel the shock of having Pyne think I was ridiculous for thinking breastfeeding difficult or that women might need assistance to breastfeed. Yet, now 25 years later, I see only too well that whether breastfeeding succeeds or fails is very much tied to a mother's perception of reality. If her reality, her faith, her knowledge is steeped in technology; it will be incredibly difficult for her to take a leap of faith and believe that breastfeeding is like walking and talking.
From the moment of birth, we are creatures of imitation. We learn by imitating. If breastfeeding is a hidden part of life, then women will find it a very difficult to imitate that behavior. If living becomes so out of step with nature, then our faith becomes vested in our technological society. We cannot trust our bodies to function correctly and that belief becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Years ago I did a home visit with a mom who was employed in the medical field.
She told me she didn't have enough milk (a theme exploited by the infant formula industry through marketing). During our two-hour home visit, she nursed her baby to sleep, pumped 4 ounces of milk with an electric pump, and then hand expressed 2 ounces of milk. I told her that it sure looked like she had plenty of milk. She had been thinking she needed to use infant formula. Her baby was gaining weight and healthy. But her perception was that breastfeeding wasn't working. Seeing all the milk, helped her realize that the milk was there. As someone in the medical field, she needed numbers and needed to see the milk. Once she saw this, she was able to continue breastfeeding without needing the infant formula. And she went back to her job in the hospital and was able to provide her young baby with her expressed breastmilk.
Is breastfeeding difficult or are mother's perceptions of breastfeeding the difficulty?

Back to the reality of the pharmaceutical industry...another patent using a human milk component to prevent and treat cancer. Called, "Cripto tumour polypeptide," patent #7439320 owned by GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals, filed in 2001. Cripto is found in mammary epithelial cells. These cells are part of human milk.
Copyright 2011 Valerie W. McClain

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