The first week of August is typically world breastfeeding week. The theme for 2021 was Protect Breastfeeding- a shared responsibility; and it spoke to the role that everyone plays in promoting, protecting, and supporting women to breastfeed. This theme helps to realise what a positive impact support for mums has on breastfeeding. The 2021 theme reminds us that breastfeeding is not just a women’s issue but a whole society issue that incorporates health professionals, workplaces, partners, family members, and even policy makers.
This year’s theme goes beyond just women and babies and reminds us that at the fundamental level, women need their ‘village’ around them to ensure that they can breastfeed, if they so choose. It reminds us that breastfeeding is not about women persisting through the pain, googling how to do it correctly at 2am, or being shamed into thinking that they must continue because “breast is best”. The big lesson from this theme is- Mums, you don’t have to carry the responsibility of breastfeeding alone and you don’t have to feel guilty if it doesn’t work out for you or isn't your choice. This theme helps us to see that breastfeeding babies happens within a broader system. That system includes our immediate families, our birth experiences, our early experiences with baby, and our social systems that either promote or prevent feeding our babies in the way we want to.
During breastfeeding week (and beyond) social media is flooded with beautiful images of women breastfeeding, along with quotes to motivate people to either attempt or continue with breastfeeding. This can be intimidating or isolating for women who are struggling with breastfeeding or who have decided to stop breastfeeding their babes. In an excellent article about this year’s campaign Professor Amy Brown (from the UK) gives seven tips for helping to make society more breastfeeding friendly. Her 6th step is about education and she writes “Normalise normal baby behaviour. Talk about how often your baby wakes up. Or feeds. Or doesn’t want to be put down.” (taken from https://professoramybrown.co.uk/articles/f/seven-ways-you-can-help-make-society-more-breastfeeding-friendly ). This point reminds us that all babies cry and have periods where they don’t sleep through the night and ALL babies love to be close with caregivers. No matter how they are fed.
Campaigns that promote breastfeeding in ways that are non-judgmental and inclusive can help to promote not just breast but mum’s mental health too. We know that not all mums can or even want to breastfeed their babies. We hear in our therapy rooms that many mums feel guilt, grief, sadness, and judged for their choices around how they are feeding their babies. Feeding (and many other) topics in motherhood can create a great divide- a sense that there is a right or wrong way to do it. When in fact, we know that there are many shades of grey. Some women exclusively breastfeed, some go straight to bottle, some physically cannot breastfeed, and some choose mixed feeding. Whatever your choice, just know that this does not change how you feel about your baby or how much you love them. When there is a black and white view on a topic like this it can lead people to become more attached to their viewpoint and in some cases, more extreme. We have seen this with some pro-breastfeeding groups who try to shame women into one way of doing things. This too forms part of the larger system that either supports women; or turns people away.
So, while it is lovely to enjoy the positive stories that come from a campaign like this, no matter what your circumstances, we can always choose to support other mums with their own feeding choices without judgement.