Peer pressure. It's an incredibly powerful concept.
As humans, we are programmed to want to fit into our community and to be accepted. Back in ancient times, being separated from our tribe would likely have ended in death. That's why we are driven to find common ground and acceptance within our immediate social circles.
But what if our immediate circles are challenging our most innate instincts? What if the practices that our community holds dear actually directly contradict our instincts as mothers? Unfortunately, too many of us face this exact predicament.
Because breastfeeding our babies is more than just a nice-to-have, tick-in-the-box parenting strategy. Breastfeeding, for so many of us, is an instinctual aspect of motherhood. Quite simply, the drive to fit in pales into insignificance against the drive to nurture our young.
Yet that doesn't make peer pressure easy to navigate.
Mama Jennifer says:
"I've struggled to avoid giving in to peer pressure to stop breastfeeding. The pressure not to nurse my son in public (or even in my own house when guests are present), to never have started him on breast milk in the first place, or to make sure that he stops nursing soon so that he won't grow up "to be a sissy.""
It takes an enormous reserve of personal strength and self-belief to follow our instincts when we are faced with such harsh judgments and outward pressure, and for many sleep-deprived moms, this extra resilience is something that feels just out of reach...
Until we share our stories.
Because knowing that we aren't alone can feel like a double hit of caffeine and kale all in one booster. A door opens to a magical world of sisterly solidarity and empowerment every time that we share a picture or a few words of our individual stories...
Mama Jennifer continues:
"I'm proud of our nursing journey and that we are still going strong at 21 months; my boy is happy and healthy! My body made the only food my baby needed (and still does), which is the best magic I've ever done. I breastfeed because it keeps my baby strong, happy, and healthy, and causes him to fall into the cutest milk-coma at the end of a long, hard day."
Peer pressure can feel extremely difficult to navigate, but when we follow our instincts and our babies' leads, the words of the naysayers quieten over time.
And just knowing that there are other moms walking this same path can feel like the biggest of confidence boosts. We really can build our own community to find solace within...
We are many, as we nurse our babies to sleep.
We are many, as we nurse at the grocery store.
We are many, as we breastfeed past the age of 2.
We are many, as we pump our milk.
And there are a million different variants of the nursing journey, because crucially, this sense of shared solidarity doesn't mean that we all must walk the same road in exactly the same way. Each breastfeeding journey is unique. This is partly why I am teaming up with Lansinoh throughout the #NoShame project, to ensure that we can offer resources to support more moms and more journeys, as well as encouragement and sisterly support.
For moms who pump, Lansinoh have a wealth of resources here.
For moms who bottle feed, you can find bottles designed to prevent nursing confusion here.
For moms who are struggling with those early cracks, you can find soothing Lanolin here.
Perhaps the part of our brains that gravitates towards acceptance can find comfort in the fact that we accept each other.
Perhaps knowing that breastfeeding is supported and taken for granted as the norm in much of the world can reassure us.
Perhaps believing the fact that our society is actually making a big deal out of something so fundamentally basic can give us the strength to rise above peer pressure and follow our own hearts and minds instead.
And if you're ever in doubt, perhaps mama Jennifer's closing remarks will give you the reassurance you need:
"I really don't understand this fascination everyone else seems to have with my breasts."
Thank you to mama Jennifer for allowing me to feature her story in this piece. For more glimpses into real life breastfeeding, join the Mama Bean village on Facebook!
- The Problem With "Extended" Breastfeeding
- 4 Words Every Breastfeeding Mother Needs To Hear
- Why Nursing In Public Should Be No Big Deal