Brittney Kirton: Is breastfeeding a trend or the new standard?
By Brittney Kirton
In recent years, you may have noticed more discussion regarding breastfeeding in the news, on TV, out in public, and in social media. There are frequent reports covering some hot topic issues such as music artist Pink getting in a fight over her right to breastfeed in public. Salma Hayek was also reported to have nursed a malnourished infant on camera in Sierra Leone while on a UNICEF-sponsored trip. And, of course, there was that cover of Time magazine depicting a mother breastfeeding her three-year-old child. Ultimately the prevalence of breastfeeding in North America has changed substantially over the last 100 years, and rightly so. Every woman should not only have the right to breastfeed her children, but she should feel encouraged by society and her peers to do so.
Historically, breastfeeding was how infants and children received all of their nourishment. Unfortunately, in the late 1860s, social stigma started to equate breastfeeding with low social status, and as a result, the first commercial infant formula was introduced in Germany in 1867. The U.S. followed suit when infant formula was first produced in the late 1920s under the name of Similac (named for “similar to lactation”). By 1950, 50 percent of infants in North America were on formula. By 1970, this number grew to over 75 percent formula-fed North American infants.
In 2003, due to the research proving the superiority of breast milk to formula in regards to both physical and mental health, 73 percent of Canadian mothers began breastfeeding their children. But out of these women, only 31 percent continued to breastfeed past five months, even though the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding, along with appropriate complementary feeding, for two or more years. It is speculated that the reason women are unsuccessful with prolonged breastfeeding is because many women today don’t have older generations to look to for guidance and support, as the vast majority were raised on formula.
Today, more and more women are opening up to the idea of breastfeeding. With the implementation of mommy groups, breastfeeding support groups, mothers breastfeeding in public, nursing and family rooms in malls and other public places, and even breastfeeding sit-ins in retaliation to being told not to breastfeed publicly, now is truly the time for this generation of young mothers to embrace breastfeeding.
But it’s not just everyday moms joining this movement; celebrity moms are participating in the discussion by openly voicing their opinions and experiences with breastfeeding. In a Golden Globes acceptance speech, Mary Louise Parker thanked her “newborn son for making [her] boobs looks so good in [her] dress”. Angelina Jolie was featured on the cover of W magazine nursing one of her twins, dad Brad Pitt having taken the photo. Naomi Watts spoke to David Letterman about her “mommy brain”, which she referred to as a “lactose lobotomy”. Modern Family’s Julie Bowen proudly showed a photo of herself breastfeeding her twins in double football hold on the George Lopez show. Even Jersey Shore’s new young mom Snooki has tweeted about how much she enjoys breastfeeding her new son. The list of celebrity breastfeeding endorsements continues, proving that breastfeeding shouldn’t just be considered a fad, but a standard.
With celebrity trends heavily influencing today’s youth, and with the medical evidence that nature had it right all along, we can only assume that breastfeeding rates will continue to increase. The only question that remains is will the stigma rise as well, or will new moms be able to seize their right to not only nourish their young wherever they choose, but also be able to lead future generations of mothers by example?
Brittney Kirton is an International Board certified lactation consultant and registered holistic nutritionist at Elements Wellness Centre.