October 3rd, 2009 • Comments: 0 • by Wendy • Breast is Best

Driving Without a Seatbelt - The Blinders of Our Cultural "Norms"


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I was recently in Las Vegas and took the Zappos.com tour.  When their bus came to our hotel to pick us up, I was both surprised and pleased to see that it had seatbelts (and yes I put one on)!  I can't remember ever riding on a bus with seatbelts and in fact, I always wondered why they didn't have them especially when you hear of the busloads of school children seriously injured or killed after being involved in an accident.smoking in the car with your kids in the back

This got me thinking about an oft-discussed, "remember when" conversation amongst my sisters and I... "Remember when we were kids and Mom and Dad both smoked in the car WITH THE WINDOWS ROLLED ALL THE WAY UP?  And remember how we used to tuck the seatbelts in behind the seat because no one wore them?  And remember how mothers used to ride in the front passenger seat with babies on their laps? And remember when Dad used to go out for drinks with the guys after work and drive home drunk all the way from downtown Vancouver?"

IT ALL SEEMS SO WEIRD NOW.  I feel quite uneasy if I ever ride in a motor vehicle without a seatbelt (e.g. in a taxi, bus or limo).  Our babies are in 5-point harness, rear-facing car seats.  My Mom NEVER smokes in the car - in fact, she doesn't even smoke in her own house, or anyone else's for that matter (even if the homeowners themselves do)!  In fact, many US States and Canadian Provinces (BC, Ontario and Nova Scotia) have passed laws prohibiting smoking in your car if you have children with you.  And who risks driving drunk anymore?  Not I, and I'm sure, not you either.

It's all what we're used to - the cultural norm.  These changes didn't happen overnight.  When the change first occurs, people resist because generally, people don't like change.  I remember HATING to have to wear a seatbelt when it became law.  Today, when I get into the car, I couldn't imagine even backing out of the driveway without a seatbelt.  It feels weird NOT to have it on!  So gradually things change and then everyone thinks back to "remember when" and how, in contrast, their past behaviours feel so odd and distant and CRAZY today!why do humans drink another species' milk?

And speaking of "what we're used to", what other mammals do you know that drink milk from another species?  And what other mammals do you know that drink milk past infancy?  The fact that we have been brainwashed by the Dairy Industry to think we should ingest cow's milk as the "norm" is a perfect example of the blinders we wear in our culture.  When you REALLY sit down and think about this, humans drinking cow's milk is NOT NORMAL.  Yet many of us do it without ever questioning it.

The same goes for the Formula Industry and their marketing campaigns that have brainwashed both health care professionals and consumers to really believe that artificial feeding is as good as breastmilk.  I believe that formula should only be available by perscription and in a tin with a generic label - no brand names, pictures or promotional messages such that it is in Iran.  But I digress.  That is a whole other post.

Another example is fashion, albeit a bit less significant societally, but may resonate with some readers all the same. Do you remember when skinny leg jeans came into style? (yes I know I am dating myself).  I remember thinking I would "never" wear them.  Yuck! I loved my bell bottoms!  But there we were a few months later enmasse.

So why then, when we hear of a woman cross-nursing a baby, something that was a cultural norm only a little more than 60 years ago, are we squeamish or worse, even mortified?

My sister sent me an article that she had ripped-out of the October 2009 issue of Canadian Family magazine entitled "Bunch of boobs".  It is a true story by Catherine Connors, citing a situation she found herself in - with painfully engorged breasts, sans a breast pump and an offer to nurse another woman's hungry baby - an act that would solve both problems - settling the hungry baby and relieving her painful engorgement.  The article also appears on her blog bearing the title, They Shoot Wet Nurses, Don't They?

I think Angie Felton of ParentDish sums it up quite nicely in her article, Cross Nursing - Natural extension or disgusting and weird?, in which she writes, "When I was in the midst of my own nursing years (I nursed all four of my kids) nursing a friend's baby wouldn't have been more intimate to me than giving them a bottle, simply a means to END THE CRYING. However, I was in a completely different mindset where breasts were purely utilitarian baby feeding devices. I'm no longer at that point, and can understand people being grossed out at the thought of breastfeeding someone else's child."

But shouldn't we all take a step back, adopt a similar mindset and realize that breasts ARE utilitarian baby feeding devices?  I know it is hard to wade through all the sexual images we are inundated with in our culture to achieve clarity on this, however, this is the reason women have breasts and men don't.  Think about it.  I also realize that this task may be more difficult for non-moms - I didn't become a mom until I was 38 years old and thus had formed opinions (albeit misinformed ones) about many subjects around breastfeeding and motherhood.  For example, my opinion about the length of a mother's breastfeeding relationship with her child was summed up in a statement such as, "If they're old enough to ask for it, then it is time to wean."  How naive was I?  Today I am quite irritated by the term "extended breastfeeding" because it labels it as an "outside the norm" activity.  How can we view breastfeeding a toddler as "weird" when the experts at the AAP, the AAFP, Health Canada and the WHO all recommend exclusively breastfeeding your baby for the first six months of life and continuing to breastfeed for up to two years and beyond?  I was wrong.  I was misinformed.  Educate yourself.  It's your responsibility to do so before voicing an opinion.

I too am finished breastfeeding my children, however, if I had milk today and found myself in a situation similar to Catherine's, I'm certain I would partake.  As far as how I would feel about it, I think it "could" feel a little weird, almost illicit (only because of the cultural perception) to breastfeed another mother's child, however, I don't think that feeling would last more than a few seconds before it changed into exhilaration, empowerment and inspiration!  I believe I would actually feel quite proud - as though I was a trailblazer for all women!

With regards to HIV and other communicable diseases, the "knee-jerk" reason most commonly heard in opposition of this issue, I trust that the mothers of today are intelligent women and will use her common sense in choosing a wet nurse or a cross-nursing partner that she trusts.  I simply don't accept that as a valid reason not to cross-nurse.  Mothers will protect their child in every aspect of parenting including this one.  Case closed.

So the next time you witness or read something in the media that makes you feel uncomfortable or upset, perhaps take the time to do a little research.  Find out the where's and the why's; if it has ever been the "norm" in the past, find out WHY it went "out of fashion" (for lack of a better word) and decide for yourself if that reason is something you agree with or if its the result of unfortunate shifts in our cultural thinking.  Change isn't ALWAYS for the better.

So would you nurse another woman's baby?  Tell me about it below.

{"easyJet Seatbelt" by Christopher Doyle is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0}

{"Cow-Milking Demonstration" by Judy Baxter is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0}

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Esther Crawford says:

I'm a first-time mom and I didn't even think twice about asking an acquaintance to nurse my son when he was a newborn (he's now turning 5 months old this week).

I was one of the unlucky moms who had to struggle & fight with all kinds of supplements and pumping to get my milk supply up to a normal level. In the meantime, I was worried my son would give up on nursing because of his frustration with my dysfunctional boobs. So, when an acquaintance (who was nursing her 10 month old) was over at the house I asked her if she'd spend some time nursing my boy too. Without skipping a beat she smiled warmly and put him to breast.

During those first few weeks I also used donated milk from another friend who pumped extra for me. Thankfully, after about 6 weeks everything worked itself out and we haven't had any issues since... but I'm so grateful for those ladies who helped me out during that rough patch.

My feeling is that breastmilk is still the healthiest option for a baby, and our bodies are very good filtration systems... so I didn't see any issue with having someone else feed him, and I'd be happy to do the same for someone else's baby.

Posted on October 4, 2009

Wendy Armbruster Bell says:

Esther,

Thanks for sharing your wonderful story and for gently reminding moms that there are other options available (besides formula) when you have problems establishing breastfeeding.

Once moms and their babes hit that 6-7 week mark, usually they are home-free and breastfeeding gets a whole lot easier.  If they can just persevere until then and ask for the help that they need...  I'm so glad it was a happy ending!

Posted on October 4, 2009

Diane Sam says:

I would have without hesitation. No problem. Never did, because no one ever asked me. But if the mom wanted me to, sure. I loved breastfeeding, It wouldn't have felt much different than giving someone else's child a hug or kiss or cuddle if they were upset. It's natural nurturing behaviour that wouldn't have felt weird about in the least.

I think I would have felt like Angie described. Like hey, I got these feeding devices, let's give it a try!!! :)

Bring back the respected profession of wet nurse!

Posted on October 5, 2009

CaroLyn Jimenez says:

If I didn't think there would be any risk to my child, absolutely. I'm thinking low but potential risk could include my child's nutritional needs or communicable disease, but other than that, if I've got milk to share and there's a need, I'd love to share it!

Posted on October 5, 2009

Wendy Armbruster Bell says:

Thank you for your comments CaroLyn and Diane. If you haven't already, I invite you to read Catherine's story and all the comments by following the link. There are some great viewpoints!

Posted on October 5, 2009

Diane Sam says:

Wendy! you've got to read this fascinating article about the cultural experience of breastfeeding in Mongolia. It'll really bring home the point the have the blinders on!

http://drmomma.blogspot.com/2009/07/breastfeeding-in-land-of-genghis-khan.html

Posted on October 22, 2009

Wendy Armbruster Bell says:

Thanks Diane! AWESOME article!

Posted on October 22, 2009

Marilyn says:

This is such a great post, while breastfeeding my own children a friend of mine had her baby prematurely. I offered my breast milk to substitute while her milk came in without batting an eye and would also have nursed another baby. Great to see other people think along these lines too, at some stages I felt like a bit of a freak. :)
Thanks for the food for thought (literally)!

Posted on October 29, 2009

Wendy Armbruster Bell says:

Thank you for your comment Marilyn! I wonder if we would still feel like freaks if we were impermeable to our culture's pressures. I also checked out your "All About My Mom" post by your son. Too much fun! Thanks for visiting.

Posted on October 29, 2009

Elizabeth says:

Just recently over the holidays, while we were staying with family, I half-seriously offered to nurse my nephew if he woke up while his parents made a late-night solo run to Wal-Mart. My sister-in-law took me up on it. My brother-in-law said "I don't want to know either way." :-)

Several hours later, just as the little guy started making sad noises, his parents walked back into the house. I was glad I offered--they had a chance to get out on their own, and we were both happy with the outcome. :-)

Posted on January 7, 2010

Wendy Armbruster Bell says:

@Elizabeth - thanks for the comment. Your simple act of kindness took the pressure off your BIL and SIL so they could shop stress-free.  In my mind, you offering to breastfeed their son is no different than offering to bottle feed him.  Kudos!

Posted on January 7, 2010

Diane Sam says:

I ranted about this again on my posting today:
http://www.moboleez.com/wetnurse/

Did you know La League policy is officially against cross-nursing? I was surprised at that, as I figured they'd be more supportive.

Posted on January 7, 2010

Her Bad Mother says:

Just seeing this post now: thank you for directing me to it, and thank you for writing it. It's very true, I think, that we wear cultural blinders that skew our vision, our outlook, when it comes to things that we're not used to. And yes, we need to work to get those blinders OFF.

On the intimacy of co-nursing - it WAS intimate. but I think that the intimacy came from cradling another baby in my arms and nourishing her, rather than from the fact that it was breastfeeding. I think that it would have been equally intimate had I held her so close with a bottle. It was the closeness, and the caring, that made it intimate. Not the boob.

Telling, I think.

Posted on January 28, 2010

Wendy Armbruster Bell says:

@Her Bad Mother - thank you for your comment. I totally agree with you regarding the intimacy of nourishing a baby. I remember the time my husband gave each of our two daughters their first bottle of expressed breastmilk. He cried (both times). It's a feeling like no other to give a baby what they need. I am honoured that you visited my blog.

Posted on January 28, 2010

Shara says:

I have nursed other women's babies before, and also pumped milk for one mom who ran out of formula.

At one point I was very sick (stomach flu) and another mom tried to nurse my daughter, but she'd have none of it. She was pretty old though, at a year, and was just used to me, I think.

I see no problem with it, and have even said that if they had wet nursing jobs, I would take one, as I usually have more milk than my kids can drink. I'm pretty uncomfortable for the first few months postpartum.

Thank you for writing this!

Posted on December 20, 2010

Wendy Armbruster Bell says:

Thank you for your comment Shara. And thank you for spreading the word about cross-nursing and wet-nursing!

Posted on December 20, 2010