Saturday, 1 October 2011

Breastfeeding is like Sex

No I’m not talking about the oxytocin release nor am I talking about skin to skin contact.

Gabrielle Palmer in her groundbreaking masterpiece “The Politics of Breastfeeding” pointed out a crude yet effective equivalence between learning to breastfeed and losing your virginity. For those of you who haven’t read the book (what are you thinking??) I have reproduced the paragraph:

“Imagine a young man making his first attempt at sexual penetration. Ask him to set about a project in a special sex centre where there are ‘experts’ he has never met before, ready to supervise and tell him how it ought to be done. Presume that his partner is as inexperienced as himself, and that he is asked if he is going to ‘try and achieve an erection’. When he starts, a busy ‘expert’, who may never have personally experienced sexual relations, starts telling him how to do it and inspects his body with a critical expression, prodding him and his partner in an insensitive manner. By the bed is an artificial penis, put there, as the young man is told, ‘just in case you can’t manage it’.”

Aside from its effectiveness at helping men envisage the plight of new mums, this dialogue raises several interesting breastfeeding questions. Are hospitals the best place to give birth and learn to suckle? Should we banish the discourse of “try”? Should all breastfeeding counsellors be required to have successfully breastfed themselves? Should breastfeeding support involve the health worker physically touching the mother or her baby? Should formula be banned from the postnatal ward? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on these enquiries.

In the meantime, if any of these scenarios ring true to you, pop over to my article: “Top 10 Breastfeeding Boobie Traps” to discover how it’s not just the hospital environment and its staff that sabotage breastfeeding. The prime saboteurs are closer to home than you think. One may even have given birth to you.

12 comments:

Life is a Journey said...

"By the bed is an artificial penis, put there, as the young man is told, ‘just in case you can’t manage it’.” hahahaha!!

I do think it would be helpful if all breastfeeding councellors have breastfed. When someone is teaching you how to do something, anything, you naturally assume they've done it before.

donordiva.com said...

Oh, how I wished they never gave my son formula in the hospital. I was never given the options due to him being hypoglycemic. I think if they would have let me nurse him it would have been a different story.

I really like the idea of the hospital not providing formula. One of my friends told me the hospital she delivered in was considering this policy.

Love your post...keep them coming!

Alpha Parent said...

Thanks for the feedback guys.

During this pregnancy the midwife gave me a leaflet which informed me that if I wished to formula feed I would have to bring my own formula as the hospital would not be supplying it. A step in the right direction, although I wonder if it had more to do with the Government cuts than infant health.

Maternitique said...

I so agree! I think giving birth is like sex, too, in the same way. Women expect to "learn" how to give birth in childbirth "education" classes, but most classes do so little to really explore the emotional, psychological and spiritual aspects of childbirth. There are even some major physiological parts of birth that are generally left out of classes. It's as if you were taking a class about learning to have sex, but left out the feelings, spiritual connection, and intimacy from the process. Breastfeeding, birth and pregnancy are so much more than mechanics. And much of our approaches to teaching & learning set up unrealistic expectations.

LadyOfTheCuntryManor said...

Another informative post. I believe breastfeeding counsellors should indeed have breastfed, or at least attempted to to be able to bond with what are usually, first time mothers. It is all too easy to ram a bottle in a childs' face-I like to think that those that have had the struggle are perhaps more understanding. Then again my glass is half full and I'm incredibly naive.

lauraleighton said...

Haha, great parallel! I did so much better with breastfeeding once I was back HOME. On my own comfy couch. I learned most of what I know from reading up online, watching videos, joining online groups, asking other mothers who successfully breastfed, and practice, practice, practice! I do think it would be best if IBCLC's had at least a year's experience breastfeeding. It's a requirement of being a LLL leader.

cheryl said...

When I gave birth to my son recently the nurse "helped" me to breastfeed..she touched on my breasts and nipples in a way I didn't like but felt it was normal since she was an expert..then I was left on my own. After I couldn't complete a feed on my own the way she liked..and my son was screaming for hrs I finally gave in and said I wanted to switch. The nurse barely batted an eye before heading off to get formula..after I came home (24hrs) I began trying again and because I was left to figure out what my son and I were comfortable with we have been exculsivly breastfeeding since he came home!

Alethea said...

As an LD nurse and lactation counselor with 10 years of experience using mostly hands off approaches, I have to say I totally resent the attitude that you have to have breastfed (or given birth) in order to help someone feel comfortable learning how to do it. Are you saying that I'm not qualified to be compassionate because I am just now choosing you to have my first child. Everyone has a different life path. I can guarantee I am more helpful than many of the nurses who have given birth and have breastfed before, I know this because lots of the mamas I help give me that feedback. Maybe I will learn some new pearls to pass on during my own birth and breastfeeding journey, but let's stop with the divisive attitudes already!

Alethea said...

Do you live outside the US? US hospitals receive free formula from the formula companies so that parents will assume that is the best brand, and they will then go buy their products. None of the formula infants receive in US hospitals (unless they are designated Baby Friendly) is paid for by the hospital. This is why it is so imperative that US hospitals start paying for formula. Bottles wouldn't be the "easy way out" for overworked hospital staff if they affected the bottom line.

AlternaYuppie said...

I liked this post but our birth doula never successfully breastfed herself due to (true!) supply issues resulting from a variety of health, hormonal, and thyroid issues. Yet she gave some of the most effective, gentle, and considerate help for helping baby to latch that I have seen.

And I think that a "postnatal ban" on formula is unhelpful wording also. There is a difference between banning free samples, especially to moms who have chosen to breastfeed and banning formula.

Lastly, let's talk about how to make hospitals more breastfeeding friendly for moms who choose to to birth their. Giving birth in a baby friendly hospital was a critical component in my breastfeeding success. Many women may need or choose to give birth in a hospital - whether planned or transferred, they still deserve to have their decision to breastfeed well supported in the earliest moments and days of their nursling's life.

Vada's Mommy said...

I was dead set on breastfeeding the moment I found out I was pregnant. It was just what I was going to be doing. My daughter latched on the second that the nurse handed her to me. She was the "model" breastfeeding baby in the hospital and since I had a c-section I was there a few days longer than most, so women from all over the ward were coming to see how much of a natural she was. I made the mistake of listening to the lactation specialist and did not give my daughter a bottle until she was 6 weeks. Now we are dealing with a nightmare trying to get her to take a bottle. I think sometimes as mothers we should just use our better judgement than to listen to someone that has not personally experienced what they are telling us to practice.

Melanie said...

Great comparison. I myself was poked, prodded and man handled during my brief and unsuccessful breastfeeding experience. I felt violated. Sadly they weren't trained how to look for tongue tie or lip tie and my baby had both. This and my supply issues (thanks PCOS!) meant that we combi-fed for 7 weeks before my milk completely ran out and she's been on formula since. I don't know if they'd found her TT and LT earlier whether the story would have been different - but our bond could have been better as we'd have been nurtured in our breastfeeding journey instead of sabotaged.
I don't know if they should have had to have breastfed themselves, but they should have had proper and thorough training. Also they should be taught about how to deal with us - our breasts are private and part of our bodies, not just udders and slabs of meat to be grabbed and shoved into our baby's mouth.

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