We throw the phrase “normalize breastfeeding” around like kids in a dodgeball game. But what are we really talking about? Have you ever wondered what the world would really be like if breastfeeding and pumping were truly normalized? How would things be different if breastfeeding and pumping were as normal as talking on a cell phone or driving a car?
If breastfeeding was normalized I wouldn’t be writing this post.
I guess I wouldn’t even exist. Well, I would have been born into this world and spent my career as a social worker advocating for the rights of children, but I wouldn’t have quit that job, struggled through breastfeeding problems and then started a blog called The Badass Breastfeeder to fight for the rights of breastfeeders. In a world where breastfeeding is normal that name would sound like The Supreme Cell Phone Talker. There’s not much of a ring to that. Because talking on cell phones is normal, mundane, an everyday sight.
If breastfeeding were normalized I wouldn’t have been told that I wasn’t making enough milk by the doctors and nurses in the hospital and then quickly given a Hefty bag full of formula to bring home. Breastfeeding would be so ingrained in our society that I would have automatically known how to get started. I would have seen it so many times that my body would have instinctively mimicked the breastfeeders that came before me. The doctors and nurses would have hours upon hours of training in lactation and they wouldn’t think twice about bringing in the lactation consultant if I were struggling.
At my postnatal visits the medical professionals would ask how breastfeeding was going just as they ask how my baby is sleeping.
If I said there were problems they would write a referral to a lactation consultant just as quickly as they refer you to an eye doctor when you complain of eye problems. There would be no mention of formula and no doubt put into my head about my body’s ability to nourish my child.
But really all this medical intervention would probably not happen much. If breastfeeding were truly normalized it would come as naturally to us as swaying our baby back and forth when she cries. Our bodies just do it. It’s instinctual. We’ve seen this action by parents of crying babies our entire existence, it’s in our bones and remains in our brains. Breastfeeding would be like that. Just a natural and instinctual behavior.
If breastfeeding were normalized I wouldn’t have sat up with anxiety attacks at night Googling about breastfeeding, left to my devices to figure out what was good advice or what was making things worse. I would have been swept along in an ancient practice and the experts around me would be my mom, my grandmothers and my mom friends. My entire community would support my breastfeeding journey and respond immediately if there were issues. The elders would stop by and give some pointers. There would be people breastfeeding around me all the time. If I had a medical condition my cousin or friend might nurse my baby because wet nursing and milk sharing would be normalized too.
In a world where breastfeeding was normal there wouldn’t have been chaos when I first posted a breastfeeding photo online.
People wouldn’t have told me that I was “gross,” or “inappropriate” or “need to cover up.” It would be just another photo in your newsfeed as you scrolled through the photos of food, kids’ faces and political memes. The lady at the post office wouldn’t have giggled at me and whispered to her coworkers as I nursed my son while mailing a letter. I wouldn’t have felt nervous when my son wanted to nurse on the crowded bus or at the auto shop.
No one would ever have to ask where they can pump because a mother pumping would be as normal as people on their laptops at Starbucks. Breastfeeding and pumping mothers would not be harassed at work or in public. We would have paid maternity leave because the role of a mother would be highly valued. Women would not have to choose between their careers and having a family. Women’s role in society as mothers and workers would be respected and protected.
If breastfeeding were normalized breastfeeding rates would increase. The amount of crying babies would decrease! We wouldn’t feel uncomfortable feeding our babies whenever we needed. We wouldn’t be told when to wean. We wouldn’t be told that our breastmilk loses its nutritional value at 1 year postpartum. We wouldn’t be told that our babies are too old to nurse if they have teeth, can ask for it, can pull on our shirt, can walk, etc.
Women might be less sexualized and objectified. Breasts would not be a sexual fetish used only to sell products and gratify men. Breasts would be seen as just another body part like legs, hands and lips. There would be no pride behind breastfeeding. No one would give you a high five or tell you that you’re awesome. No one would slip you a congratulatory note or pay for your lunch. There would be no tee shirts or stickers. No books or photo shoots. No fundraisers or promotional materials. No one would call themselves “badass.” Like I said, I wouldn’t exist, at least not as I do now. But I’d be OK with that. All in all, it sounds like a much better world.
Is this breastfeeding utopia realistic?
Can we really live in a world like this? I would like to think we can. We need to keep the faith and hope alive. We need to continue to push for reliable information. We need to continue to demand that our rights are protected. We need to fight for better lactation support. We have made great progress in recent years. I for one am on board to continue the mission. Are you?
Abby Theuring is a blogger, public speaker, activist, wife and mother of 2 who lives in Chicago, IL. She writes about breastfeeding in public, gentle parenting and feminism. Abby has a master's degree in Social Work and worked with abused and neglected teenagers for 14 years before her son, Jack, was born. Upon the birth of her son she quit her job and refocused her passion for advocacy to breastfeeding and gentle parenting. Abby struggled to get started with breastfeeding and now hopes to empower mothers through blogging and public speaking. Abby's blogs can be found at thebadassbreastfeeder.com.