Sunday, 13 July 2008

Normalizing Breastfeeding: Ignore the Guilt, Feed the Baby

Confronted daily with ancient, ignorant and silly suppositions about the function and purpose of human breasts, I'd like to take a few moments to offer some basic facts.

Breasts are glands.

That means that they are not, say, fence posts or buckets, nor even bladders. 

Do many people know what glands do? Here's a simple overview: through interaction with the blood system, glands absorb blood components and create enzymes and hormones and a variety of complex fluids and then excrete what is created. We have salivary glands, men have seminal glands, we all have adrenal glands. They excrete things: saliva, semen, adrenaline... or, in the case of mammary glands: milk.

When you think of eating, do you say to yourself 'better wait for my salivary glands to fill up, so I'll be able to chew and swallow....' Hardly. Glands don't 'fill up' they 'produce.' So, just for real, blatant clarity: breasts produce milk, they don't store it.
Since they don't 'fill up' it is also not possible for them to 'empty.' If one more healthcare professional says 'empty the breast' within 100 yards of me, I am going to scream. What century, do you think it was, when it was 'discovered' that breasts were glands? Who, out of a random sample of professions that includes lawyers, research librarians, potters and physicians, do you think should know that? pineal glands and pituitary glands and sweat glands, mammary glands don't have an expiry date. That means that whenever those glands are triggered to start doing what it is that they do, they don't magically stop being able to do so at some arbitrary point in time. So, cue the screaming: the next time I hear a healthcare professional tell anyone that after X years or months mothers can no longer make 'good' milk, I'm just going to go completely banshee.

The changes that occur in breasts during pregnancy alter the function of the breast forever. From being a cute way to fill out a bra they become functioning glands. They do not revert to non-functioning glands, although their production without the necessary stimulation will reduce to virtually nil. So, whether or not this mommy is currently making any milk for anyone doesn't stop the gland from being fully capable of functioning at any time. It may take a while for the necessary stimulation to create a significant supply again, but demand (or the lack of it) is the only reason for the supply to diminish. Women who are decades post-menopause can continue to lactate. brings me to the next one: 'lost my milk'. Grrr. Shall I just scream now and save myself the suspense in waiting?

It is not possible to 'lose' milk. Well, after you've expressed it into something, you can certainly lose track of it... but 'I couldn't make any milk' is so incredibly rare a physical condition to be statistically-irrelevant for this diatribe. No matter what makes anyone feel less guilty about their choices, sorry to say.
[At this juncture I will just interrupt myself to point out that I happen to know there are a great many vile and unhealthy choices that rival even artificial breastmilk formula in terms of damage to baby's health and potential for loss of life that a great many children have survived being fed in infancy. I know that for many women breastfeeding is a tremendous struggle and for many more it is just about the most gross and disgusting thing they can think of doing with their bodies (which makes me wonder how they felt about the process of getting pregnant.... but, hey! whatever!). But, honestly, it would be so much less obnoxious if they just said 'I just didn't want to,' instead of repeating all the physically-impossible fantasies about how they 'couldn't.' If they can't deal with how guilty they feel about not wanting to (or about caving into the pressure not to, or by being ignorant enough of the facts to be convinced by someone that it was impossible, or didn't matter much anyhow), I am certainly not going to go to any trouble to cover up the accurate information -- first because it won't help them and, second because lying to another woman certainly won't make anyone's else's guilt go away, either. Get therapy, and leave the breastfeeding advocates out of it, k?]

So... 'losing' milk. Losing what is necessary to maintain a milk supply is closer to the truth. 

Just as no one measures the amount of saliva output when they're not eating (and then fret about how little saliva they make, oh my!) the measure of 'enough' breastmilk is based solely on the baby having unlimited access to the breast and being well-positioned to be able to do the job. 

Yes, I did say 'unlimited'.
Breasts need babies around to stimulate an appropriate milk supply (oh, what a surprise), and babies need breasts around to grow naturally and normally. Isn't it fortunate how breasts and babies tend to come all of a piece... 

When mom decides that baby can be 'over there' (in another room or city), she is gambling on her body's ability to respond to stimulus that is not present. Lots of women have those kind of breasts: make buckets of milk at the drop of a pin, pretty much no matter what is going on around them. 

Other women are less fortunate (and have drier clothes): they need the baby right there, hormones and all, for their bodies to respond to the stimuli necessary. Including [is everyone ready to shudder and shriek?] licking, bumping against and mouthing without sucking 'purposefully'.
Yes, that means that a baby with unlimited access to the breast is not going to be nursing 'down to business' 100% of the time. Restricted from the rest of the natural behaviours that increase milk supply, this mom is going to have a great deal of difficulty making her body do what would otherwise be natural. Pump or no pump. Period. No matter how uncomfortable it makes anyone else.

Breastfeeding, lactation and the function of the human breast are biological processes. 

Pretending that the social 'norms' or cultural discomforts are important is naive to say the least. Cultural lies actively impede healthy breastfeeding.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Is It Possible to Increase Confidence and Self-Esteem?

Following the post about a problem prodigies often face, I decided to write a little more about the book mentioned at the end. That post is here.

Carol Dweck wrote a fascinating book, MindSet, the new psychology of success, which described in detail a reality I was vaguely aware of for a very long time. I love it when smart people describe clearly things I've been convinced of, but have never found the words...

It explained why I'm mildly offended every single time someone tells me I'm 'lucky' (usually for being able to do something that I've spent considerable time learning how to do) or that they can't ever do... whatever... because they don't already know how to do it.

I swear, somedays, that the single biggest obstacle facing most people and their chance at success is the solid, unsupportable, immutable belief that they can't do.
As Dr. Dweck explains, there are two different views of the world: fixed (those 'lucky' comments) and mine. Well, she doesn't know me, but it is mine: the growth mindset. I assume that if people have learned how to do something, figured out how to do something or done something, I could, too. 

The only impediment I see is that I have not yet done it and that I haven't yet learned to do it or figured out how. 

I may never take the time or go to the trouble of learning or figuring it out... but I can, I'm sure of it.

Those other people have a completely other view of the world: 
they can't
If they haven't done it before, they can't. If they don't identify personally with someone who has, they can't. If someone hasn't invited them to, they can't. They can't.

The tragedy is that this mindset is learned. The good news is that both are learned.
No one is born with any belief. Beliefs are learned, assembled, adopted, conditioned and acquired. However cast in stone they feel, they are learned. That means that they can be re-learned. The only thing anyone needs to know is that it is possible.

A thing I know about self-confidence is that it is based on the things one believes one can do well... and the collection of things one thinks one can probably learn to do. 

While there isn't much anyone can do to increase the number of things they've accomplished in the past, there is a great deal that can be done about what they think they can do. It starts with believing it is possible
It is possible to increase self-confidence and intentionally adopt a growth mindset. It, like all changes to ingrained thinking, takes practice, intention and self-awareness. 

It is possible to take the things we thought were cast in stone and mold them into other things.