Our grandmothers, and our great-great grandmothers for that matter, did not take a breastfeeding class. They experienced "on the job" training, guided by their own mothers, their sisters, and their aunts. I'm sure personalities and opinions sometimes clashed, just as they do today, but they always had each other's back, and they all worked to get breastfeeding up and running. It was a group effort, as there was no (reliably safe) formula (especially for your great-great grandmothers), and unless you had a lot of money, you couldn't afford a wet nurse. In a pinch, your own sister or aunt would step in to breastfeed your baby if you couldn't (which is a lovely model, IMO….to allow the new mother a rest and to feel like everyone is a part of the "team"). Breastfeeding happened everywhere, and it was just a normal part of the day (just like bottlefeeding is a normal thing to see when we are out and about nowadays).
In just a few generations our culture changed a lot. Extended families don't often live together, or on the same block, or even in the same state. Women are left alone to figure it out. We all know how to bottlefeed babies (as every doll we ever had growing up came with a bottle twist-tied to its wrist) but we rarely have had the chance to see what breastfeeding looks like—UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL. We may see someone across the way with a Hooter Hider on, and we know they are breastfeeding under there, but how often have we really SEEN a nursing session start to finish? If you have, you're lucky. You will have a mental image/memory to call upon when it comes time to feed your own baby. But for most of us, we are left Googling latch videos online (which is actually more exposure than even the last generation had, so that's not a bad thing).
Substitutes for breastmilk came on strong in the early 1900s with the industrial revolution; they were viewed as scientifically superior (because the ingredients could be measured, which is something science REALLY likes to do---measurements), and thus promoted by the medical community. Lots of social changes occurred at this time (too many for this post) that also affected breastfeeding rates, but long story short, breastfeeding rates kept gradually dropping each decade until hitting the lowest point in the early 1970s when only 22% of women breastfed. Crazy to think about, but breastfeeding was nearly made "extinct"! What happened in those few generations is that the "art" of breastfeeding and knowledge about how to hold baby, how much to feed, how do you know if baby is hungry or full, what to do about sore nipples or breasts…..every question a mother still has today in 2019….was lost. Luckily, a group of ladies in the 1950s had the foresight to keep the light burning, and thus La Leche League was formed, which is a group dedicated to supporting breastfeeding. Today, support groups abound and can be a lifeline for many women who are sitting at home alone struggling, with more questions than answers.
If you are pregnant, I highly recommend getting to know where those support groups are and when they meet. In Grand Rapids, Michigan, there is a breastfeeding support group every day Monday – Friday (and just like the Fight Club, you can bop around from group to group until you find your answers, and your tribe). If you prefer a more private setting, schedule a one-on-one telephone consultation or home visit and I'll help you sort through the many thoughts and questions you are having. Don't sit at home alone. Breastfeeding is meant to happen in a social context, with other women surrounding you, supporting you, helping you with this big, big transition. Having an experienced person to help you find your way can be truly invaluable.
The hardest part is getting in the car to go to group or picking up the phone to call someone….but I promise, it can make a world of difference and you'll be glad you made the move. And if you'd like to get a head-start on breastfeeding, to learn as much as you can before baby is at your breast, sign up for my Getting A Strong Start breastfeeding class. A little knowledge about what to expect and what is normal can go a LONG way toward boosting your confidence.
Photo credit: By c[between 1900 and 1920] Melchers, Gari, 1860-1932, artist - http://blogs.babble.com/being-pregnant/2011/10/24/vintag-breastfeeding-photo