If Men Couldn't Breastfeed
If men couldn’t breastfeed they would be really sad.
They wouldn’t just want to give the baby a bottle instead. They would feel like pumped milk in the bottle or formula in the bottle shouted failure at them.
They would wonder why their bodies couldn’t accomplish a natural and manly function.
They would wonder what went wrong.
They would get angry.
They wouldn’t want to talk about it.
They would pretend to breastfeed in public, while secretly bottle feeding under the cover.
All those famous edifices erected to celebrate the male breast would mock them: Coit Tower, The Leaning Tower of Pisa, The Eiffel Tower- they all seem to laugh at you when you are a man who can’t breastfeed.
If men couldn’t breastfeed, nobody would say things to them like:
“At least the baby is getting food. It doesn’t really matter how.”
Or, “You can still bond with your baby without breastfeeding,” because everyone would honor the loss of that experience for that man. Everyone would understand how important it was to him to breastfeed his baby from his own breasts.
The man’s partner would never say, “This is great! Now we can both feed the baby. So much more convenient,” because she would understand the sadness that comes when something we felt like we “should” be able to do doesn’t work out.
If men couldn’t breastfeed then there would be great outpourings of money searching for a cure so that all men could enjoy the benefits of breastfeeding as could their children.
There would be money, sensitivity, and attention paid to this important issue.
Over the years working as a childbirth educator I have seen plenty of women have trouble with breastfeeding. Sometimes that trouble is the ever common “latch” issues or a tongue tie that needs to be clipped.
I have seen women with painful mastitis in their breasts. Then, when they get treatment, they present with painful yeast infections that cause stabbing pain during breastfeeding.
I have seen women struggle to recover from an expected cesarean, only to find that breastfeeding was also negatively impacted by their hard birth experience. (Here are some tips for breastfeeding after cesarean.)
This only compounds their pain.
I have even seen women with Raynaud's of the breast that caused excruciating pain and which was difficult to diagnose.
I have seen women with IGT (insufficient glandular tissue) who simply could not make enough milk no matter how furiously they ate oatmeal and supplemented with fenugreek. They could reek of maple syrup and still not produce enough milk for their baby.
I have seen these women fight as hard as they could to accomplish something that they felt was biologically normal and which they felt was best for their babies.
I have seen their suffering as they tried and tried. I have seen women subject themselves to great physical pain in an attempt to breastfeed against great odds.
Some will blame these strong emotions regarding breastfeeding trouble on the “lactivists” of the world who needlessly “shame” women who bottle feed. There have even been articles in recognized publications like The Atlantic Monthly deriding the “supposed” benefits of breastfeeding. These people blame the pro-breastfeeding community for sadness or feelings of failure when women can’t breastfeed.
Of course, there are no men who breastfeed.
Breastfeeding isn’t something that men normally do.But often, when a woman struggles with breastfeeding, the people around her are less than supportive. Maybe they are trying to help, to ease her burden, to get her to stop beating herself up, but I don’t think dismissing these strong feelings helps her.
And while there may be mean “lactivists” out there who work tirelessly to shame women who don’t breastfeed, I think they are more rare than some would have you believe.
When I talk to real women, in real life, who are dealing with breastfeeding struggles, their sadness comes from within, not from without. They genuinely want to nurse their baby at their breast. They are sad at what feels like a deep failure of their own body. This is compounded if birth did not go as they planned.
Let me be clear, I don’t think not breastfeeding by choice or need is a failure- but we should not discount the real feelings of failure that women sometimes have. These feelings are valid and very real and powerful for women.
So what if men couldn’t breastfeed?
Why did I talk about a world in which men breastfed?Let’s look at the world of erectile dysfunction.
I think the comparison is apt.
If a man is having trouble with erectile dysfunction, nobody would ever say to him, “It’s OK. Your partner will still love you even if you can’t have intercourse. There are other ways to make this work and have a healthy relationship and intimate life. Don’t beat yourself up. It isn’t important anyway.”
Of course there is some truth in the above statement, but it is in no way helpful.
No, the ability to perform in this area is highly prized and applauded. There ARE buildings built in honor of the penis. There ARE drugs available in order to help things work in that department. They are advertised widely. Entire cultures have many natural and expensive remedies to encourage robust health in this area.
Yet, when a woman struggles with breastfeeding and cannot do so as she desires, we tend to be dismissive.We tell her it doesn’t matter.
We tell her not to listen to the crazy “lactivists.”
We tell her that breastmilk isn’t that important anyway.
We fail to address the underlying birth culture of high cesareans, high interventions, and separation of mother and baby after birth that we know contributes to the myriad of problems with breastfeeding. (Research is clear- natural birth does help with breastfeeding.)
Who cares anyway? It’s not like men can’t breastfeed. That would be a serious problem.I, however, refuse to act like breastfeeding doesn’t matter, isn’t important, and isn’t healthy and ideal.
Let’s not sweep it under the carpet and act like it doesn’t matter when it doesn’t work.
Breastfeeding matters to women and babies and it should matter to us.
We should treat breastfeeding difficulties in women with as much compassion as we would treat erectile dysfunction in men.