by Danelle Frisbie
I was recently passed Hannah Rodriguez' post, Lone Lactivist, for possible inclusion on DrMomma.org. Her experience, as the sole, exclusive breastfeeding mother known amidst her South Texas community, forced me to pause and reflect on the various ways that lactivism is played out among us. It also shook my own stereotype of a 'lactivist' ever so slightly when Rodriguez bravely stated that she does not choose to nurse in public, but instead, fosters positive change in other influential ways.
You see, I've long been one to believe that human babies have the basic human right to human milk - wherever, whenever they need it. And not only this, but that they have the right to quench their thirst when parched, and satisfy their need for comfort, all at mom's breast, and anytime it is needed. This, after all, as carry mammals, is how they are designed. So to cover up, or hide behind closed doors, always seemed to imply shame in something that is actually natural, normal, and an activity for anywhere, anytime. My mission (among others): Abolish nipplephobia by extinguishing the taboo that exists in using breasts for their intended purpose.
But in Rodriguez' world, (where the color and consistency of a normally fed baby's poop is not even recognized!), she has cautiously taken steps in breaking down the foreign land of breastfeeding for others around her, while at the same time standing up for the rights of her own daughter to receive the milk made specifically according to her needs. To do this all amidst a culture that does not support and encourage, with open arms, the breastfeeding relationship, is a difficult one indeed. It is tough to gently mother our little ones when we always have to run home, or dash to the car, leave an appointment, exit the store, or hide in a dirty bathroom stall to nurse our children. And babies cannot physically wait to be mothered.
As Veronika Sophia Robinson writes in her exceptional book, The Drinks Are On Me, "Our babies are genetically programmed to expect to receive mother's milk around the clock. Their tiny bodies expect to have the nurturing arms of mother around them all the time. The reason human milk is thinner than the milk of other mammals is because nature designed it this way so that our babies drink regularly and often. This is vital for optimal brain development of higher species of animals. Nature doesn't want us separated from our babies..." Quite simply, the manner in which the human brain develops during the first few vital years of life is intrinsically centered around the composition and quality of human milk, and the method of delivery.
Babies were born to breastfeed. To be close to mom's heart and her regulatory body. To devour not only her milk, but her comfort, and a euphoria of love hormones. When this is denied to babies, their whole system begins to break down, as we clearly see throughout nations in turmoil as a result of low breastfeeding rates (as well as our own detached society). In Lone Lactivist, Rodriguez points out that this lack of breastfeeding is commonly correlated with lower socio-economic status and lack of education. But this should not be the case - to nurse our babies is free, is normal, is good. It should not just be those infants born to mothers of higher incomes and advanced education who receive exclusive human milk. All babies deserve breastmilk. And all mothers deserve to be supported in their mothering, and breastfeeding, endeavors.
So why is this the case?
I'd venture to guess that one reason is mothers with lower incomes are often working themselves (sometimes as the sole provider) and the United States has a ubiquitous unsupportive manner of treating breastfeeding mothers. Not only do we not allow mothers adequate time off from work after the birth of a baby (as is the case in many other Western nations where women receive at least 1 year to be with their baby) but we also do not support normal mothering within the workplace.
When was the last time you saw a new mom return to work, baby in tow, able to nurse at the office keyboard? When was the last time you saw a new mother slinging her baby behind the cash register at McDonalds? Nursing in an Ergo as she checked you out at WalMart? When did you last see your boss smile lovingly as a new mom stepped aside to change her 8 week old, and then return, contented baby by her breast? Moms who must work have fewer options when it comes to baby-friendly parenting, and I'd suggest that the stigma around nursing in public impacts them most dramatically.
One of the reasons women without education elect to not nurse their babies is because they do not fully comprehend the detriments of denying human milk to human babies, but also because it is very difficult to do something when no one else around you is 'doing it.' For these women, and their babies, it is absolutely essential that we normalize breastfeeding, abolish lactiphobia (a fear of breastfeeding) and nipplephobia (a fear of - gasp! - seeing the human nipple doing its intended job). I am doing my part, in my own lactivist way, by nursing my child anywhere, anytime, anyplace he needs to nurse around Washington D.C., and 1,800 miles away, another lactivist mother, Hannah Rodriguez, in her own unique way, is doing just the same!
Kudos to all of you for the small steps we take together in paving the way for the return to a mother/baby-friendly world for the next generation. Until then, remember, each one matters!
For additional information, find books, websites, and articles linked at Breastfeeding Resources.
Danelle Frisbie, Ph.D., M.A., holds degrees in clinical psychology, women's & gender studies, religion, family, health & development and human sexuality. After teaching and conducting research at the collegiate level for 10 years, she left full-time academia to pursue another passion - mothering. Frisbie founded the non-profit organization, peaceful parenting, and currently assists in running DrMomma.org.