What You Want to Know About Breastfeeding
By Teri Brown
Though our knowledge and understanding of breastfeeding has grown, there are definite notions about what is and what is not acceptable. Unfortunately, knowing this doesn’t help nursing mothers get the support and information they need without the censorship or judgment they dread. We’ve explored some of the so-called breastfeeding taboos, so you can gain a better understanding of breastfeeding in all its forms.
Let Downs and Love Making
Regina* of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., breastfed each of her three children. Let downs during orgasm was a common occurrence, and she and her husband grew used to it, though it wasn’t something she made common knowledge.
Our society’s rigid attitudes about breastfeeding norms aren’t going to change overnight.
“It’s just not something you really speak of to anyone who hasn’t gone through it,” Regina says. “Breast milk is seen as disgusting – a body fluid like phlegm or blood.”
Myra Lowrie, M.A., IBCLC, and owner of All About Birth, A Full Scope Labor Doula and Lactation Practice in Sugar Land, Texas, agrees that breast milk makes some people acutely embarrassed. “The sensation of getting wet with breast milk while lovemaking causes some couples to feel uncomfortable,” she says.
Lowrie suggests that the mother breastfeed or pump before lovemaking, which will lessen the chance of spraying during an orgasm. “If she does have a let down, she can press the palms of her hand against her nipples to stop the flow,” Lowrie says. “Keeping a towel nearby will also help.”
Some men find that let down during orgasm is attractive, underscoring the fertility and femininity of their women, and many women have no problem with it whatsoever. Other than the inconvenience, Regina and her husband didn’t mind the let downs at all. “My husband is very cool and was not upset or alarmed,” she says. “But I had to keep my nursing bra with pads on or use a towel when we made love!”
Hubbies at the Breast
Dr. Ruth A. Lawrence suggests in her book, Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Profession (Mosby, 1998), “The conflict in some adult men over their role in regard to nursing mothers’ breasts is usually a result of guilt or upbringing.”
This is no more evident than when a husband tries breast milk for the first time and realizes he enjoys it. Debbie* from Montevallo, Ala., says that her husband enjoyed breast milk right from the start, and though it didn’t start out as being a sexual act, it became one over time.
“I never found it to be sexual, but my husband did,” Debbie says. “I thought it was kind of weird at first, but he seemed to enjoy it, so I got over it. I think it surprised him that he was capable of getting my milk. It started out as a taste thing, and after the first few times, it became a sexual thing as well.”
Lowrie says that there was a time in history when physicians instructed breastfeeding mothers to avoid lovemaking, as they believed sexual relations would spoil the breast milk and endanger the baby. “There is no research to support restricting lovemaking while lactating,” Lowrie says.
No one can say what is right for you and your husband. As long as Baby doesn’t find his breakfast in short supply, there is no reason to curtail your activities.
Throughout history, a competent wet nurse was prized in many cultures – especially those that said women of good breeding shouldn’t nurse their own children. For those who couldn’t breastfeed for one reason or another, having someone else nurse their baby was lifesaving.
“Wet nursing saved many babies from starvation and death before artificial feeding became safe,” Lowrie says. “Wet nursing was the only way babies would survive before the introduction of pasteurized human milk and safer artificial human milk substitutes.”
Nursing another’s baby seems to have negative connotations in today’s society. Some people can’t put their finger on why they feel funny about it, while others are leery of the practice for health reasons.
“Today, concerns about AIDS, hepatitis, untreated tuberculosis and other diseases transmitted through breast milk have caused the decline in practice of wet nursing,” Lowrie says.
For two healthy women who are comfortable with occasionally feeding one another’s infants, there is nothing wrong with the practice. For women whose babies don’t take well to a bottle, having a lactating friend willing to watch the baby for a while can be a real lifesaver!
Piercings and Breastfeeding
Lisy Peters, IBCLC, at Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago, Ill., has found no evidence that pierced nipples can interfere with milk production. No doubt that is a relief to a generation of women with multiple piercings!
According to Peters, it can take up to three to six months after piercing for the hole to heal completely. She cautions that it is important to select jewelry that is non-allergic for your body.
“Metal allergy can cause piercing rejection or infection, leading to scarring and nipple damage, which can affect breastfeeding,” Peters says. “Horizontal piercing seems to be better suited for breastfeeding.”
Peters suggests that if you are thinking about nipple piercing, try to do it at least one year before you plan to become pregnant. Nipple piercing may increase nipple sensitivity, and the breast changes and tenderness associated with pregnancy can be too uncomfortable and may delay the healing process.
“Also, some piercers recommend not removing the jewelry for six to 10 months after piercing,” Peters says. “If the piercing is not well healed, removal and reinsertion of the jewelry will probably be impossible.”
It is wise to remove the jewelry while breastfeeding your baby, as the jewelry can cause breastfeeding problems such as poor latch, slurping, gagging, milk leaking from the baby’s mouth, injury to Baby’s tongue and palate and injury to the piercing. Jewelry can also be a potential choking hazard for infants if it comes loose while sucking.
The Age of Weaning
Crystel Riggs of Clemson, S.C., knows all too well how intolerant people can be about nursing the older child. This mother of three nursed her youngest son until he was 3 1/2 years old and endured the censure of relatives and strangers alike.
“Most of my husband’s family had an aversion to breastfeeding,” she says. “I was often made to feel that it was shameful to feed the babies in public or even in the living room of my own home. I got a lot of grief from my family for allowing my son to nurse for such a long time even though in other parts of the world children normally nurse for much longer than here in the States.”
Riggs feels that ideas surrounding the “proper” place or length of time for breastfeeding are determined more by how uncomfortable it makes other people than by how it benefits the nursing child.
Peters agrees. “Our society as a whole may not be knowledgeable about or supportive of extended breastfeeding just because of ignorance,” she says. “There is no evidence that breastfeeding a 2-year-old child is harmful; quite the opposite is true. The World Health Organization and many other health organizations emphasize the importance of breastfeeding [for] two years and beyond. Studies also show that nursing past infancy helps children transition smoothly to childhood, and prolonged nursing is also associated with better social adjustment.”
“A growing body of knowledge on extended breastfeeding reveals many health benefits for mothers and children correlating with the duration of breastfeeding,” she says. “Aside from the health benefits, research now shows that extended breastfeeding may lead to higher IQ scores in children.”
Our society’s rigid attitudes about breastfeeding norms aren’t going to change overnight. Only by exploring our own attitudes about breastfeeding can we understand those who breastfeed to the beat of a different drummer.
* Last name withheld to protect privacy.