You may be surprised by what Melinda Gates writes about the realities of breastfeeding.
Most of us are very well-educated on the many benefits of nursing babies for as long as possible. And yet, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), less than half of babies worldwide are breastfed until 6 months of age.
Melinda Gates knows why, in part. In an essay she penned in honor of World Breastfeeding Week, the mom declares that while it's natural, nursing is challenging to say the least!
Her piece, entitled, "It's Natural, But It Sure Ain't Easy," which was originally published on Refinery29, Gates writes that she decided to breastfeed her kids, and it has been an important cause for her. But she adds, "I'm also deeply aware that no matter where you are in the world, the conversation about breastfeeding can get a little one-sided. It tends to focus on all the ways breastfeeding benefits a child, while glossing over just how hard — or even impossible — it can be for a mother: physically, emotionally, and logistically."
As a mom of three who chose not to breastfeed due to these very challenges, I was immediately compelled to keep reading the essay because I felt Gates was speaking directly to me. She goes on to express exactly how I felt when I became a mom, writing that many of us think the idealized images of nursing your baby is what we expect it will actually be like. Ha!
More like sore, bleeding nipples, scary-aggressive breast pumps, and being terrified your baby isn't getting enough milk. And don't forget the pressure to breastfeed that comes at you from all angles: your doctor, nurse, mom, friends, neighbors, and the Internet to name a few.
As Gates writes about new moms, "There are plenty of people telling her what she's doing wrong or what she should be doing better. There are fewer who show up to actually help her—or who are designing policies with her and her family in mind."
Gates then addresses the special challenges working moms face, writing, "If she works outside the home, there's a good chance that even though she's been advised that she should breastfeed for at least six months, she's not getting anywhere near that much time off. A growing body of research shows that one of the many benefits of paid family and medical leave is that it helps women who want to breastfeed do so longer."
We all know six months of maternity leave isn't a reality for most moms, at least in the U.S.
I love how Gates ends her essay, offering this takeaway: "Motherhood is a tough balancing act, and every mom deserves the chance to do what's right for her and her family. If that means breastfeeding, great. If that means formula feeding, that's totally fine, too. I just want to make sure that every mom truly does have both options."
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Amen! Finally, someone who acknowledges that to breastfeed is a great, awesome choice, but that if it isn't for you, or doesn't work out, you aren't a criminal. Thanks Melinda, for this empowering and empathetic essay, that is sure to make more than just this mama feel like someone gets us, and doesn't just think we are falling short of some study or statistic.