Breastfeeding was back in the news last week as Michelle Obama's attempts to encourage women to breastfeed drew criticism from conservative politicians across the United States. It's wonderful to see someone as influential as Michelle Obama stand up for breastfeeding, but did you know that we can all encourage positive change?
Donate your time to an organization that supports breastfeeding mothers (La Leche League, Breastfeeding Buddies). If you don't have time to donate, consider making a small financial contribution to an organization that supports breastfeeding. Infant formula manufacturers have deep pockets to fund their research and advertising campaigns, committees that promote breastfeeding do not, every penny counts!
Donate breastmilk to a mother in need. If a mother cannot breastfeed herself, donated breastmilk is the next best option, however, there is currently only one (one!) breastmilk bank in Canada. Fortunately, a new milksharing organization called Eats on Feets pairs mothers in need of breastmilk with breastfeeding mothers. If you have a surplus of breastmilk stored in your freezer, consider donating it to someone else who could make good use of it.
Encourage and support your breastfeeding friends. Are you familiar with the term "It takes a village to raise a child"? The same adage applies to breastfeeding. Breastfeeding can be a challenge in those first few weeks, the more support a new mother has from her partner, family, and friends, the more likely she is to succeed at breastfeeding. What can you do to help? Cheer her on! Remind her why breastfeeding is important, and let her know what local resources are available. You're not being pushy, you're being supportive!
Choose your words carefully. The subject of feeding babies can be a divisive topic among mothers, there is no need for judgement or assumptions. I think it's safe to say that we all want what's best for our children, but without proper support at home, and without access to adequate breastfeeding resources, some mothers may not be able to establish a successful breastfeeding relationship with their baby, despite their best intentions. When I hear anyone use the phrase "didn't try hard enough" in relation to breastfeeding, I cringe. When you talk about breastfeeding, use positive, encouraging words.
Lobby your local MP to improve access to breastfeeding resources and government-funded milk-sharing banks. In response to the immediate success of Eats on Feets, Health Canada issued an advisory against breastmilk sharing. While we are fortunate in Ottawa to have access to a number of free breastfeeding resources, families in other cities aren't as lucky. Mothers should not be limited by location (or finances) if they need breastfeeding help. Considering the myriad of health benefits breastfeeding offers both mother and baby, rather than criticizing attempts to make breastmilk accessible to anyone who needs it, the Canadian government should consider how it can increase breastfeeding rates.
Breastfeed in public. As more people exposed to it, the more normal breastfeeding will seem. Use a cover if it makes you feel comfortable, though if you watch yourself breastfeed in a mirror, you may be surprised at how little is revealed.
Stand up for your rights. If you are breastfeeding in public, and someone challenges you about your rights, challenge them right back. Many people still don't realize what that breastfeeding mothers have rights, there is nothing wrong with educating them about it. If you meet resistance, ask to speak with management. If that doesn't work, approach the media. You're not attention-seeking, you're standing up for yourself and your baby. When the media runs a story about a woman being denied the right to breastfeed in public, it provides a great opportunity to educate the general public about breastfeeding rights.
Talk to children about breastfeeding. On at least two occassions, I've had the opportunity to explain to my children's friends how I was feeding my baby (it only took them two years to notice, lol). If your community offers a Roots of Empathy program within its school system, perhaps you and your baby can participate -- in addition to encouraging positive social behaviour, and reducing peer aggression, it's a great way to model positive parenting. If children are exposed to the idea of breastfeeding, it may affect the choices they make as parents.
It's encouraging to see increased breastfeeding rates in Canada, but there's still room for improvement.