There are a lot of aspects of motherhood that make me wonder, “How did my mom do this?” To say I’m reliant on the internet to inform many of my parenting decisions would be an understatement. I truly question how our parents knew what to do without Google.
One of my most googled and researched topics was breastfeeding. I had a lot of questions. Did I want to breastfeed? What were the benefits? What products should I buy? And don’t get me started on all the logistics around pumping and milk storage. It got me thinking about how my own mom navigated breastfeeding without the internet.
My mom’s breastfeeding experience in the ’80s couldn’t be more different than mine today. When I asked about her experience, it was pretty simple. She tried breastfeeding, it wasn’t very convenient and didn’t seem to work that well, so she switched to formula. That was it.
I’m thankful that we’ve come a long way with breastfeeding. If it is a path moms want to travel down, there are a lot of improvements that we’re enjoying that our own mothers didn’t have. Read on for 4 ways breastfeeding has improved since my mom had me.
1. There is a lot of support—if you want it
While in the hospital after I gave birth, I saw three lactation consultants. They would swing by the room to answer questions, check my baby’s latch, and offer positioning assistance. I also had an appointment with a lactation consultant two days after we were discharged for a weighted feed. Lactation consultants were not a thing when I was born. I honestly do not know how I would have figured out breastfeeding without their ongoing support.
There are many challenges women face with breastfeeding, and in the ’80s, there weren’t many answers or solutions. There weren’t many options to troubleshoot if you came across difficulties, so it was easy to give up. Take tongue ties, for example. My mom had never even heard of this term. In fact, I’ve met quite a few moms who’ve been diagnosed with a tongue tie the same time their baby is. This was not something people were looking out for in the past.
Beyond lactation consultants, there’s a lot of information online (maybe sometimes too much information), plus helpful mom forums to turn to for advice. Thanks to research and support, women who do face challenges with breastfeeding can take steps to improve the situation and continue with nursing if that’s what they want.
2. We’re more open to talking about it
Breastfeeding wasn’t a topic that my mom discussed with other women. On the flip side, every mom meet-up I attend has at least one mention of breastfeeding. More often than not, the majority of the discussion turns to breastfeeding. Women feel very comfortable sharing their struggles and triumphs and aren’t afraid to ask for advice. By speaking more openly about the challenges, we’re helping each other through the tough elements of motherhood. I can’t imagine that my mom talked to her friends about cracked and bleeding nipples, but my friends very openly discuss this (and offer solutions!).
3. It’s more accepted in public
Motherhood can be lonely, and not being able to nurse in public can definitely add to this. My mom didn’t feel comfortable breastfeeding in public or in front of other people. Every time she had to nurse, she’d leave the room or head home from where she was. This made her feel isolated and was one of the reasons she gave it up. You didn’t really see women in the ’80s breastfeeding in public.
I’m proud to share that I’ve breastfed my child at restaurants, in coffee shops, in a ski lodge between runs, on a plane, on a train (is this the start of a new children’s book I should be writing?), and more places I can’t remember. While I know some people are still behind the times and think women should not breastfeed in public, it is far more common than it was in the past. All 50 states have laws that allow women to breastfeed in public.
And for women who prefer privacy, there are more and more nursing pods popping up in airports, train stations, sports stadiums, and shopping centers. Plus with the right gear, nursing in public isn’t quite as an exposing experience as it once was.
4. There are so many amazing products
And speaking of the right gear, another thing that makes breastfeeding possible and convenient: all of the products! Without the accessible items—from nursing bras, to support pillows, to tracking apps, to pumps—I’m not sure I could keep up with a breastfeeding lifestyle. There are tons of stylish nursing-friendly clothing that are functional and make you feel good in your postpartum body.
This has all come a long way in the 30-ish years since I was born. All of the innovations have allowed me to breastfeed in comfort and with relative ease. My day isn’t completely dictated by my daughter’s nursing schedule because more often than not I can nurse her on the go thanks to my nursing wardrobe.
And thanks to efficient pumps and storage solutions, women can continue breastfeeding and pumping once they return to work.
But with all of these positive aspects, there is one aspect of my mom’s experience with breastfeeding that we’re still missing now.
There wasn’t the same pressure to breastfeed as there is today
There are more studies today on the benefits of breastfeeding, but it’s not the only way to feed your child. We believe that “fed is best,” but still, many women feel an intense pressure to make breastfeeding work.
When preparing for the birth of my baby, the discussion around breastfeeding was more of “you’re going to breastfeed, right?” instead of a question of whether it was a path I wanted to go down. It was assumed that I would at least try.
I explained to my mom that women can be very emotional about breastfeeding. The emphasis that is placed on it can make some women feel that if they cannot make it work, they are failing their child. It’s a common occurrence in my mom meet-ups that at least one mother is brought to tears explaining how exhausted and stressed she is about breastfeeding. The pressure is overwhelming. I admire the women who work so hard to make it work, and back when my mom was deciding between breastfeeding and formula, there wasn’t the same pressure attached.
As I explained this to my mom, she was surprised to hear that women get emotional over it. She said when she was a new mom, if someone tried and it didn’t work, they simply switched to formula. There wasn’t a fear of judgment or a feeling of failure attached.
Mom judgment isn’t a new thing, and I’m sure it existed in its own way in the ’80s, but I do think we could learn from the lack of judgment and worry my own mother felt about breastfeeding versus formula.
That aside, I’m happy that for those mothers that do decide to breastfeed, we’ve come a long way.