• Cleo Marchese, IBCLC, RLC

Breastfeeding in a Vacuum: Cultural Isolation and Breastfeeding

Have you ever wondered why today’s mothers struggle to breast feed? Is it really low milk supply, sore nipples, sleepy babies, chronic sleep loss, or changing attitudes about breastfeeding? Is today’s mother less intuitive than her mother’s generation? Or is it something more insidious and harder for people to understand.

Most US women live in cultural isolation, making many things from breastfeeding to parenting difficult. The same cultural isolation is driving our teen bullying problems, rising rates of depression, and many other healthcare problems. Humans are very social creatures but the rise of social media has made day to day life less social. Families spend more time looking at screens than each other. People do not spend as much time as even one generation ago with their peers.

The General Social Survey (2015) stated the number of Americans with no close friends has tripled since 1985. Most Americans say they have zero people to confide in and only about 2-3 people to discuss personal matters with. Problems breastfeeding are very personal to most women.

Breastfeeding is natural process but it is does not come naturally. Babies are meant to self-attach with minimal help. But somewhere down the line thousands of years ago, one of our ancestors helped her baby survive by actively bring it to the breast to nurse. Her friends and family probably marveled how successful she was and started helping babies to breastfeed. Each woman learned from one another, because women use to live together in groups. Young girls would watch their mothers nurse their siblings. Women would sit in groups nursing and talking about child care because it was important to the survival of our species. The knowledge our ancestors learned dealing with all sorts of breastfeeding problems and getting babies to survive before formula was important.

Fast forward to even 30-40 years ago, women were still regularly meeting in groups. Sitting around nursing their babies or not, watching their children play and speaking to each other face to face. Even at home or family gatherings, there was real interactive time with each other. Children learned a lot of social skills from their mothers. Like breastfeeding, a social skill not just a natural process.

Today, most women live in a cultural vacuum. For most, the first baby they have held is their own. Besides YouTube, the first person they have seen nurse is themselves. Yet, when they have difficulty breastfeeding because their baby is sleepy, not a great nurser or is simply doing something the medical provider helping them has never seen. They are immediately told to pump and bottle feed until things get better or that breastfeeding is not for everyone. It is amazing to me so many women are successful at breastfeeding.

Imagine a society where no one drove a car but a few people. You would never dream of telling them to drive without help. You would not expect them to get behind the wheel with only minimal instruction or worse instructions from someone who has never driven a car but has read about it or seen people drive. If you have had twins, a baby with jaundice, a difficult labor with a tired baby or an infant in the NICU, it equates to driving an 18 wheeler with no instruction. Just a brief pat on the shoulder and a few words of encouragement.

What you can do to enhance your breastfeeding experience:

  • Attend La Leche League meetings when you are pregnant. The earlier the better.

  • Take a breastfeeding class from an accredited lactation consultant. Take your partner, it’s best to learn together.

  • Take a childcare class, learn the basics. Bathing, feeding, dressing your infant and soothing crying babies. It will make parenting easier if you do not have to learn everything the first week home through trial and error.

  • Take a childbirth class and strongly consider natural childbirth.

  • Look into alternatives to hospital births such as birth centers with certified- midwives.

  • Read the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, a classic that has been revised many times to addressing modern breastfeeding concerns.

  • Find a pediatrician before your baby is born. Interview them if possible. Ask their stance on breastfeeding and what their protocol is for slow weight gain or any difficulty nursing in the first few weeks.

  • Try not to Google everything. Call a local board certified lactation consultant for help. Most will answer a basic question. Private practice lactation consultants offer home or office visits for

Help is out there in the form of breastfeeding support groups and individual personalized help. Every day in your baby’s life is like dog years. They learn rapidly good habits and bad. Don’t wait weeks to get help?

#LaLecheLeague #breastfeeding #givingupbreastfeeding #mothersneeds #birthclass #lactationconsulting


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