A few weeks after my son was born my mom asked me if I didn’t feel like a slave breastfeeding. This wasn’t meant to offend me. It was an honest question. At the time I didn’t understand why she would ask me such thing or why she had promptly suggested getting formula to top off my feedings as the baby had a low weight at birth and the paediatrician was concerned.
My mom and me are from quite different generations. This might happen to you too with your mother or grandmother depending on your age, background and country. My mother is a career woman. My mother is part of the generation of women who started working office jobs not to find a husband but to success as a part of the workforce. It took me a while to understand her point of view.
If you are going through the same I suggest you watch Good girls revolt (the book is excellent too) and from 9 to 5 to understand the world our mothers (or grandmothers) had to fight to be recognized as valuable employees. She is obviously proud of her forty plus years working at the same bank, going through some departments and promotions (and then quasi-demotions when her generation was considered old and with too expensive to pay, but that’s another story).
In the 1970s, the Quiet Revolution started. Women flooded Universities and got many corporate jobs. The pill allowed woman to take control of her life and to postpone (or avoid) motherhood. Feminist movements at the time requested more kindergartens so that woman could continue working.
By then, formula manufacturers were well stablished and implemented an aggressive marketing campaign against breastfeeding. Breastfeeding had been highly devaluated since XIX century, when upper classes hired wet nurses. The first manufactured infant milks were purchased by the families who couldn’t afford wet nurses: “Society’s negative view of wet nursing, combined with improvements of the feeding bottle, the availability of animal’s milk, and advances in formula development, gradually led to the substitution of artificial feeding for wet nursing” “Although the breastfeeding rate was 90% in the 20th century, it has decreased to approximately 42% in the 21st century”.( A History of Infant Feeding by Emily E Stevens, RN, FNP, WHNP, PhD, Thelma E Patrick, RN, PhD, and Rita Pickler, RN, PNP, PhD).
All these factors: women in workforce, alternative means of nurtures (formula, kindergarten, bottles) and a devaluated opinion on breastfeeding finally led to its decline. Decades after doctors and women associations like La Leche League are still fighting to erase the myths about breastfeeding and to support new moms. The World Health Organization (WHO) encourages breastfeeding and demands governments to implement measures to ensure that mothers can nurse their children.
I’m not working right now. I see my mother worried. Work is vital for her. It is not that I’m no longer ambitious. It is not that I don’t want to be successful. I want to mother, and I want to work but I don’t see how can I do both in a corporate job. I might explore other job possibilities that allow me to have an income and have more flexible hours. There is a world of possibilities from Etsy shops, to yoga instructor, to Spanish teacher via Skype, etc). What worries me sometimes is that all these mom-jobs live outside the corporate ladder. We risk losing visibility. On the other hand, I think of all the business that mothers are creating thanks to the new technologies. I think of the as the beginning of a change. If what we have doesn’t work, we need to create a new system. Every mum starting her own business is helping. Every mum going up the corporate ladder is helping. Every mum asking for better work-life balance policies is helping. I’m hopeful that little by ltle we will be able to complete the task started by our mothers, grandmothers and finally be equal in rights not in a system designed for some men to their benefit, but in an inclusive system that acknowledges that profit isn’t what matters the most.
As for my mother, after two years, I think she is starting to understand why her daughter still breastfeeds. It took a lot effort on her side. So, be patient and loving.