If you notice more articles than usual about breastfeeding in your Facebook newsfeed this week, it’s because World Breastfeeding Week kicks off today. The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) spearheads this annual awareness campaign with the goal of creating a “vibrant global movement for action to promote, protect, and support breastfeeding by anyone, anywhere, at anytime,”
It turns out, that for most women, despite differences in geography, culture, religion, and politics, breastfeeding is hard. NPR reported on a study Brooke Scelza, an evolutionary anthropologist, conducted that verified this wholly unsurprising fact. Scelza also revealed the secret to making it easier.
For the study, she traveled to Namibia to interview Himba women, an ethnic group that is largely isolated from the modern world and are well-known for being super star breastfeeders. She was surprised to discover that these women struggled with many of the same problems that American women do, like pain, trouble latching, and issues with milk supply.
The major difference between us and them was the amount of support they had from their community to learn how to properly nurse and care for their babies. “When a woman gives birth, she typically goes home to her mother’s compound in the last trimester of pregnancy and stays there for months after the birth,” she says.
Think about that for a second:
These women begin their new role as moms expecting not to know anything and to learn it along the way. Actually, everyone expects them to need help, and they give it to them.
It’s the exact opposite to the mentality we have here in America. Whether we place it on ourselves or it’s thrust upon us, there’s an omnipresent feeling that we should instinctively know what we’re doing as mothers and be able to handle it all from day one. Reproduction may be natural, but a world-renowned anthropologist just confirmed that taking care of babies is not. It’s a learned behavior.
The Himba women may not have to contend with the modern obstacles to breastfeeding that we do, like social stigma and insufficient paid maternity leave, which undoubtedly add complexity to the breastfeeding equation, but, at the heart of the matter, it’s comforting to know they experience the same physical challenges with breastfeeding that we do.
American women may not have the luxury of moving in with our moms for several months after birth like the Himbas (and, let’s face it, depending on your relationship with your own mom, this may be a relief), but there are still plenty of opportunities for support, if you want it. Check out Newborn Connection’s list of events this week and remember that you can always connect with one of their lactation consultants any time of day by calling 415-600-6243.
Believe us, the first-time moms who tell you breastfeeding is easy are unicorns. Most of us had trouble with it for one reason or another. If it’s your goal to keep at it, know that there’s plenty of support out there for you to do it, and it’s okay to ask for help.