When I first found out I would be having my oldest child I knew I’d breastfeed. My mother and sister had both breastfed their children so it was normal. Even with that pre-made decision I found myself stocking up on bottles ahead of his birth, because it was the culturally expected thing to do. Who doesn’t need bottles? I have memories of my mother breastfeeding her youngest and my sister nursing a wiggly baby. But I never saw any one else breastfeed in the community. Bottles were the feeding implement of choice, so I stocked up expecting to need them. I didn’t think breastfeeding would fail, but it felt like bottles were required with having a baby.
Until my son arrived I had no idea how much that affected me. I found myself pumping my breasts to allow family to bottle feed, which led to oversupply and mastitis. Within weeks of birth I was getting questions about when I’d be weaning. He wasn’t even out of his newborn clothes before the questions began. My husband’s family called regularly to ask, and well meaning friends and family would provide “facts” about when the breastfeeding benefits would run out. My own father was horrified that I breastfed in public without a cover. I found breastfeeding impossible with one. I knew no one else breastfeeding at the time, and I was beginning to feel like a foreigner in my hometown.
It was after my second child was born that I found my support network at La Leche League meetings and the community. I ultimately decided my calling was to help others. For 10 years I’ve worked with many families to help them find support and, hopefully provide a tiny bit of a network for them while they cultivate their own. Awareness campaigns like World Breastfeeding Week are important in so many ways that it is hard to list them all. The one most important to me is visibility. Because this week is when others, that may not be so visible the rest of the year, come out and bond over a shared interest to create that support network.
I owe my success in breastfeeding to those who came before me and instilled the desire to nurture my children through breastfeeding. Families who are willing to brave the world by breastfeeding their children in stores, cars, libraries, with or without covers all provide what we all need: a culture that views breastfeeding as normal.
For these reasons I want to say to these families:
You helped me feel comfortable enough to meet my goals, because I knew you had been there.
You helped me see that breastfeeding didn’t mean never leaving my home or always being the one hiding in the back room at get togethers.
You helped me, even if we didn’t speak. You helped me by being visible.
Cathy Heinz – La Leche League USA Council Member and Leader, IBCLC
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