Category Archives: Breastfeeding

Lactancia prolongada y guerra de mamas

Hace ya unos días que The Time sacó en su portada la foto de una madre amamantando a un niño de 3 años.

Time cover controversy

La cuestión en principio no debería ser algo que causara tanto revuelo, pero no ha sido así. Podemos decir que todavía hay mucha gente que se escandaliza ante la lactancia prolongada, que la considera una locura e insana para el niño, pero la verdad es que la portada de esta revista nos hace un flaco favor a las que sí hemos amamantado hasta pasados el año.

Cuando la vi me sentí ofendida, y no sólo porque la chica es guapísima, delgadísima y no tiene ojeras ( y yo estoy hecha un asco) sino porque  la foto y el título estaban diseñados para polemizar entre mamas.

Amamantar es una decisión privada y personal y no se es más o menos madre en función de los años o meses en los que has dado pecho. A veces quieres y no puedes, y otras puedes, pero no quieres, y aunque estoy en favor de la lactancia y de que no se nos vendan historias que no son ( tipo la leche materna es más ligera y menos nutritiva y a partir del tercer mes hay que dar biberón complementario), lo cierto es que no me gusta que a las mujeres se nos quiera enfrentar en estas cuestiones. ¿Quién soy yo para decidir y ponerme en la piel de la madre que no quiere amamantar?  ¿Qué razones, qué sentimientos, qué vida es la que tengo juzgar? ¿La de la madre o la de la madre de la madre que nunca amamantó, o la del pediatra que le dice que no tiene suficiente leche, o la de las revistas que nos empujan a recuperar nuestro peso y figura a los tres meses de dar a luz?

Además, la imagen esta sexualizada a límites insospechados. El niño subido en una silla, como si quisiera ser mayor, mirando a la cámara y ella en actitud ligeramente sexy. En fin, yo en mi vida he dado teta a mi hijo así. Siempre le he tomado en brazos o a lo mejor tumbada en la cama, pero la imagen no refleja lo que es amamantar a un niño pasado el año. Así que de nuevo, la representación del cuerpo de las mujeres es utilizado para provocar debate y enfrentamientos, no para un mayor conocimiento del tema.

Al sexualizar la imagen se permite que la gente opine desde el lugar de lo indecente que es dar de mamar a un niño que parece mayor. Provoca reacción adversa en los varones que ven a una mujer atractiva que deja acaparar su sexualidad por un niño pequeño y les quita a ellos el lugar. A las mamas que decidieron no amamantar les da argumentos para convencerlas de que es una cosa de hippies y a las que hemos amamantado largo tiempo nos pone de los nervios un retrato de este tipo que sirve para polemizar.

Si es mi teta, y es mi hijo, ¿A quién le importa cuánto tiempo de mamar? Es una cuestión privada que la decide la madre y en la que se busca en consenso con la pareja.

¿Qué opináis?

Natalia

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things I have been reading online…

I am trying to write a short review on new materialistic approaches in Geography and the politics of feeding, and as such, have been reading a few articles on this, which as it happens, seems to be a hot debate at the moment…

blue milk, on the ways the message of breastfeeding is conveyed. I love that it particularly pins down the difficulties I find in the notion of ‘choice’, individualism and patricarchy…

A guest post in PhD in parenting on the debate generated recently on breastfeeding in public.  

And then, something that relates to one of my daily struggles at the moment: to-do list vs being present with your child. Since I am mostly a full-time mom, I have to do things with r. around. I have always cooked and done some cleaning and ordering with her, but now it is also phonecall, fixing stuff in the house, clothes shopping (mainly for her!) and so on. We have recently moved houses and the house needs work, and I am in full nesting mode, so I want to do loads of things before the baby comes. So I find that I am itching to do things, to feel I have done ‘productive things’, and sometimes this means I see parenting as a chore more than something enjoyable, and on times like that, there is inevitably trouble, fights, and bad feelings. This post by Sew liberated on chucking the to-do list, really hit the spot for me.

Hope you enjoy these!

Lucila

Expectations

One of the things that I think has played a major role in how I felt as a mother is the kind of expectations I harboured. These expectations were sometimes based on observations, many created while reading (I am also a member of the ‘you read too much’ club), other were naive ideas or assumptions that I had not questioned or even realised I had until closer examination, and also, my lack of ideas on what to expect. But all of these were important in constructing my experience as a mother, and of many of the mothers I know.

For instance. (I think I have read Mr Bump too many times, I am even copying its style!)

 Sleep.

 Baby sleeping patterns, or the art of not sleeping. I am a person that needs loads of sleep. Before having r., unless I had 10-12 hours sleep, I was not in the best of moods. However, for some reason, which now I don’t remember (might be because of my lack of sleep), I psyched myself thinking that we would probably not sleep much the first year. This was very important, and it helped immensely, even though I erred in my predictions and we are still not sleeping through the night (she is almost two and a half). Many of my friends expected that their babies would sleep better after a few weeks, and many of those suffered, while some lucky ones did actually get the sleep they expected.

Co-sleeping. Before having r., I used to think that I did to want to co-sleep. At all. When she was born, the only way she would sleep was on me. My midwife, different people and books I’ve read made me feel guilty and afraid of doing this, but reading a bit more, or shall I say, different books, and the everyday the practise made me more confident about doing it, and enjoying it. If there is a next one, this is going to be the plan for the start, no question.

Routine.

Oh! How I fell for this one. I was given a book before r. was born, which charted how babies would ‘work’ in terms of routine, which went something like this: feed, awake for a few hours, sleep, and so on, every three hours, and then after three or four months, every four. If this did not happen naturally, I was to stretch it myself. R. was born early, three weeks early, and she was tiny. Her pattern was more like feed-sleep, every two hours. Almost no awake time. It made me worry that she was not awake but for her feeding time, which was, say an hour. Writing this makes me laugh now at my innocence in a way, but it wasn’t so funny then. When she was a three months, she did not do the switch at all to longer time between feedings, and I could not do dreamfeeds, and I could go on on all the ways that neither r. nor I fitted the pattern set in the book. And stupidly, it made my question myself, feel guilty, get frustrated and flustered if I attempted to do what the book suggested. It was very unhelpful. I eventually found other books that confirmed what I was doing, and made me chuck the other ones, as well as release the guilt. Confidence in myself slowly grew too, but this was not instant, and not without that permanent questioning.

Breastfeeding.

Pain. I knew breastfeeding could hurt, because my mum had a rough time, and my sister-in-law, and many other close friends. Although books say it is not supposed to hurt if the latch is right, I think that is actually quite a crap thing to say. I think this is done to not put women off breastfeeding, but really, it is unhelpful for those of us who do get blood, sweat and tears over breastfeeding. One of the things that kept me going was actually reading that it took different women weeks, even six weeks, for it to pass. Even though breastfeeding was torture at the beginning– I dreaded the moment and the ever present comment whenever she cried, ‘I think she is hungry’. Thrush did not make matters easier, or having breastfeeding-ignorant GPs. But knowing that it would hurt, and that it might take time, pull me through (and well, my stubborn streak helped here too probably).

Frequency. I kind of expected that after six months, breastfeeding would tail off, while her food intake grew, as the standard advice seems to go. This never happened, at least not at six months, maybe more like 18 months. R. did follow my expectations of feeding every couple of hours for the first months, but at six months and onwards, she seemed to start breastfeeding more frequently, rather than less, though much less time each time. And this carried on, and even increased after her first year. It was almost every time I sat down. To give you an idea, booby is her second name at home. Everyone around me seemed to follow the other pattern, the books one. But me. And the weaning questions started to come. My expectations, as well as what if felt, the rest of the world, differed from what was happening, and it made me feel that I was doing something wrong – was the food I cooked bad? Was I doing things wrong with my approach to food (coming next)?Should I put limits on breastfeeding? Fortunately, the internet exists, and forums, and books. And I found a book on extended breastfeeding which put me at ease. It seems that her feeding frequently was quite normal, and that there were many benefits to ‘extended’ breastfeeding. Ahhh. I relaxed. And it stopped being uncomfortable, and frustrating. And it started to feel good, and, what it was, joyful (well, not always, but most of the times). It feels strange that I needed this external corroboration, but it helped. It helps to find your pack, it helps to find you are not so weird, or that you are, but in good company!

Food.

Baby-led weaning. When the time came to start thinking about feeding her food, rather than breast milk, at six months, I rather liked the idea of what is called baby-led weaning (BLW). I am glad I did, because no spoon would cross her lips. I had a very skilled spoon-avoiding baby. But I did not care so much, because I had another option. BLW implies feeding babies what you eat, and giving them finger foods, instead of purees, and letting them feed themselves, from the very beginning. At the same time, breastfeeding (in my case, bottle feeding instead), is kept up on demand. What I had not realised is that sometimes BLW comes with small print. Some babies do not eat and just prefer to toss all the food away after playing with it, and just go for the good old boobs when talking business. And not for the expected first months, but for much longer. And this happened until, well, she was more than a year old. Not that she did not eat at all, but very little. She still does eat little. But she has always been fine somehow. And I had to adjust my expectations once again. Once I did, I again, relaxed.

And after. This one is harder, because I cannot benefit from hindsight. For me, the natural step after BLW is intuitive eating. But I am still working at it, and get confused on the how to, and tinker with it. What I am trying to avoid is the struggle over eating, and the bribery and negotiations, the categories of good and bad foods that are so common, but not sure how this will pan out yet, as I still need adjustment myself. I find it hard though, as she eats little, and sometimes does not eat her meal, but does eat heartily her ice-cream, and I feel the questions coming – from within and from outside. Though many times, she eats both at the same time. And it is not so normal….

This rambling post had at some point a purpose. Hmmm….maybe that expectations matter, and adjusting them is painful, but powerful. And that there is no other way, at least for me, but to be attentive, to change, to be flexible, to read, to find my pack. This, in hindsight, is called to trust your instincts, but somehow, it feels more complicated than that, and more of a process of knowing what your instincts are in the first place.

Lucila

The changing meaning of breastfeeding

E. is now 17 months old and I’m still breastfeeding him. However, breastfeeding didn’t come naturally to me. It took me many weeks to adjust to it and was quite painful at the beginning. After the initial moments of pain passed, all went well. During the first six months I loved the sense of connection that breastfeeding brought and the feeling that I was giving him something that was good and healthy – my milk. I could hardly believe that he was feeding exclusively on my milk for six months. It was like a miracle to me.

During our Christmas holidays in France, when E. was three-and-a-half months old, he got an infection and we ended up in hospital there. The first night was horrible: he had a high fever and was in pain. The hospital was packed, due to a strike by some of the staff, and we ended up sharing a room with three other babies and their mothers. During the first night, which I spent sitting on a chair with him, the only thing that calmed E. down was breastfeeding. I was frightened and in tears because I had never seen him like that, but he latched onto my breast as the only relief available to him in this world. At those moments I thought to myself: “At least, I can breastfeed”, as the act of breastfeeding was the best and only thing I could do. This thought gave me peace of mind. There was absolutely nothing more I could do; and on top of that, it was working. While on my breast, he stopped screaming.

My other memory from the hospital was the sense of solidarity with the other mothers. I remember an Arab woman with a three-year-old girl in the bed next to ours. Her toddler had an infection and cried throughout the whole night. At one point the mother screamed at her: “What do you want? I can’t do anything more, please stop crying!” I felt great compassion for this woman who stayed beside her daughter day and night. We were all exhausted, and I could feel that the women in our room were just doing their best (I refer exclusively to women because those who stayed at night were all women, whether breastfeeding or not). So although I tend to criticize everything, I didn’t find any room for criticism during those days in hospital in France.

The following morning I fetched myself a coffee and got another for the Arab mother. I empathized with her about how difficult it is to stay with a toddler crying the whole night. She replied that this had not been the first night but the fifth that her child had cried all night. She clearly needed some rest. She started crying. In the hospital in France,  I learned about the strength of women that raise their children on their own, and how easily we criticize other women without understanding or learning about their circumstances.

During these days in hospital I found breastfeeding a source of comfort and relief and had the sense that my milk was helping E. to get stronger. I felt very proud of myself as woman able to feed our baby. Now breastfeeding has another meaning for me. It is the sense of connection, of being really close to E. The other day I told my partner that I don’t know when I’ll stop breastfeeding because when this happens I will never be so close to E. again. Breastfeeding has become a question of connection rather than health; an issue of nurturing rather than feeding. By breastfeeding at night I keep my intimate moments with E. and I also have the perfect excuse to refuse to do any travelling, which I don’t feel like doing at this point.

From the initial pain and discomfort to the joy and pride of being able to feed E. exclusively with my milk, breastfeeding has had different meanings for me in my relationship with him. I think I will be able to stop breastfeeding when I can find other ways of communicating with him that provide us with some sort of intimacy. But I’m not longing for this time to come, and I’m sure it will bring buckets of tears.

Natalia

The materials of mothering

Boyer, Kate and Boswell-Penc-, Maia, 2010, Breast pumps. A feminist technology, or (yet) “More Work for Mother”? In Layne, Linda, Vostral, Sharra and Boyer, Kate (eds.) Feminist Technology, University of Ilinois Press, 119-135. (Women, Gender, and Technology)

Boyer and Boswell-Penc enquire in this chapter whether breast pumps can be considered a feminist technology. I find this article interesting in that it focuses on one example of the stuff, that is,  the materiality, which makes up modern motherhood and examines what roles this technology play, what does it enable, and what are the risks that it brings, through analysing  the cultural context of its emergence but also by analysing its use in practice.

Their work focuses on the use of breast pumps in the waged workforce in the US, one of the countries where women have less maternity leave in the world. One of the questions which frames this study is understanding if the breast pump is a feminist technology or if it is it another device which, as Ruth Schwartz Cowan (1983) argues, creates ‘more work for mother’, as many other so-called labour-saving devices.

In this chapter they look at the cultural context in which the breast pump emerged – a time (60s-70s) where there was growing awareness and advocacy for the benefits of breast milk over formula, and a moment when higher number of women were returning to the waged workforce. The latter practice was due to different reasons ranging from economic restructuring, the need for double wages, and the fact that women were occupying better managerial positions. They describe how, in the 1990s, the technology evolved to be lighter, portable and cheaper, and jumped from being mainly hospital-based, to being available for retail.  

The argument for it being a feminist technology stems from the way that using this technology allows more mobility, more temporal and spatial freedom to the mother. The breast pump can bring a much needed break for mothers and it allows for mothers to break the cyclic time loop that new mothers who breastfeed are in – the two hour window to do things!- as well as the necessary proximity to the child. It also expands the choices that women have in terms of infant nutrition, as well as serve other important purposes, such as relieve engorgement in mothers who choose not to breastfeed, and help initiate breastfeeding for mothers who adopted an infant. Moreover, its use in waged workplaces could help push the boundaries of the private/public, by bringing to work an activity normally done in the privacy of the home.

However, these authors point out that much of its liberatory potential in terms of waged work is constrained by attitudes about pumping (and general lactation), issues about the technology, workplace design and the politics around actual pumping. Breast pumps, thus, have to be understood within its actual use, which is something that these authors delve into. They show how attitudes to pumping at work make women who pump, as well as the breast milk itself, feel ‘out of place’. The strong feelings that breast milk brings out is seen, for example,  in the case where women were fired for leaving their breast milk stored in the communal fridge. For women who pumped at work, the search for privacy and the sense of embarrassment around pumping, made them look for different strategies that would allow them not to be seen or heard (electric breasts pumps can be very noisy!), such as going to feed to the car, in the medical centre, in an unused office/conference room. Other constrains also include finding the time for it, as often employers do not structure extra breaks for this. What this shows is that the responsibility of finding a place and a time for this activity is down to the individual. Moreover, it highlights the reasons for the uneven distribution of its use, in terms of class especially, as the possibility of having this extra space and time is most likely to be in middle income jobs, rather than low income ones.

Furthermore, these authors also highlight some of the risks that this technology can bring to feminist struggles. By providing a technical and individualised fix to the question of how to combine lactation with work, it might keep employers off the hook in terms of providing other, and maybe better, alternatives. In addition, as these authors show, this technology has something in common with other technologies, such as communication technologies, in that they give more mobility, more spatial and temporal freedom, but it also raises the expectations of what can be done. The authors show that as much as this technology increases choices and provides flexibility, there is a risk that it could be used against efforts for longer maternity leave or on-site care, for instance.

What I found fascinating is that this article makes me think about the different things that make up the practices of mothering, and how each of these things are performative in more than their utilitarian sense. They work to highlight questions of race and class, as it has been shown in this article. I would say that things and technologies also play a role in identity formation, as they act as markers of inclusion in certain groups. In a sense, I think that they are also part of the ways of evaluating a mother’s performance – I am thinking here of the pressure I felt the first times I tried to put up or down the buggy in public, for instance!

We are surrounded by stuff in our practices as mothers: buggies, breasts pads, sterilisers, cots, nappies, dummies, bottles, special clothes for breastfeeding, high chairs, car seats. And the list can go on and on. Leaving out the stuff of motherhood would impoverish our understanding of the politics of motherhood/parenthood, which is why I find what these authors do, that is, questioning the theoretical possibilities but also the complexities that seeing and thinking these technologies and things in practice bring about, is a crucial exercise.

Mothering as a site of struggle

Following Lucila’s post on the immense sadness of weaning we had an interesting conversation on the phone. My experience of breastfeeding differs from hers as I have rarely received any sort of criticism about my continuing to breastfeed E., who is now 17 months. The reason is that E. has been dropping the breast progressively and breastfeeding times happen to be mostly when we’re at home.  For that reason, I haven’t had done much breastfeeding in public.

 However, once, back home in the Basque Country I was enraged by a male homeopath who suggested to me that by continuing to breastfeed I wasn’t teaching E. to deal with frustration. His assumption was that after a year (why one year and not two?) you must stop breastfeeding otherwise you will make your toddler psychologically weak and vulnerable to all sorts of addictions (can you believe this?). I was really furious, but I didn’t want to be rude so I just said that the WHO recommends breastfeeding for up to three years ( I know, it was very stupid to use expert criteria to protect myself instead of walking away from his office which in this case would have been the right thing to do).

My experience with this homeopath led Lucila and  myself to discuss how one can resist and revolt against stupidity and lack of respect. There are many things written from a feminist point of view about how the media, society, experts and social and cultural constructions of motherhood oppress women and reproduce the same discourses and practices that have subjugated women all over the world. However, I still believe that mothering is one of the most powerful political roles a feminist can take on.

A feminist mother can navigate between the public and the private, negotiating these spheres and defying the practices that separate them as worlds that do not belong to one each other (i.e. that of the mother at home and the woman at work), confronting assumptions about who does what at home and resisting the categorizations of good mother and good academic (good mothers stay at home, good academics publish and attend conferences rather than blogging about feminist mothering:-) ) .

Going to school meetings with a baby or a toddler, breastfeeding a toddler in public, sharing and negotiating housework with your partner on an equal basis, buying dolls for your toddler boy and encouraging him to wear pink if he likes, inquiring about toddler facilities on campus and even better campaigning for them, taking your toddler to the university with you during his/her school holidays (even better if you are a male academic) , confronting the idea that the careers of successful academics require consistent and linear progression without long maternity or paternity  gaps, or including articles and views in your teaching from feminist scholars who research mothering and parenting (even when by doing so you’re risking your legal credentials in front of a bunch of future lawyers): all of these acts visually, actively, and politically challenge the idea that we live in separate spheres, that the public belongs to one type of women and the private to another. Either you stay at home or you work, because if you want to do both you will be permanently scrutinized and criticized as a bad mother or as a failed academic.

By acting and rebelling against these premises we redraw and reveal the intersections of these spheres, contributing to changing many of the patriarchal structures in which we live. In this sense, mothering is a site of struggle in which all the contradictions, desires, stereotypes, emotions, limitations, oppressions and hopes come together to challenge the idea that mothering is just a private business. The sense that women’s lives need to be segregated, torn between home and work is part of a materialistic and individualist Western illusion in which life must be lived in closed compartments. Mothering shows that this is not possible, and from its very sense of fluidity, mothering can renegotiate many of these assumptions too, or at least it can try to.

Natalia

Mostrarse (o no) es un tema feminista

Hasta ahora, venimos hablando alrededor de este tema: el taparse (o no) como cuestión feminista a través del tema de la lactancia, sobre todo con el de dar la teta en público, y del velo. Acá comparto un video que hizo Annie de PhD in Parenting sobre el tema – un blog interesantísimo que mezcla investigación sobre temas de ser padres, y que es personal y político, y que da en el clavo, que no es poco. A ver qué les parece.

This video on covering up as a feminist issue is also in English and French. Take a look.

Lucila