Hi, readers of Crunchy Domestic Goddess. My name is Hannah and I blog at A Mother in Israel about life with my six kids, parenting, and homemaking, along with social commentary about life in Israel. I also volunteer as a breastfeeding counselor. Last week I attended a conference with breastfeeding expert Diane Wiessinger. You can read my introductory post here.
Israel, aside from being a center of international conflict, is a developed country of seven million with a high birth rate. A lactation consultant told me that in her town of 30,000, enough children are born to fill six kindergarten classes every month.
In Israel breastfeeding is the default option, at least in theory. You don’t hear much about the choice to breast or bottlefeed, and mothers are expected to nurse in the hospital. But hospital routines are rigid, and in some cases babies still sleep in the nursery at night–with the mother needing to request a wake-up call that may or may not happen. Babies often get one or more bottles in the hospital. Outside of hospitals formula companies promote their products freely, even though Israel is a signatory to the WHO Code of Marketing Substitutes.
Israeli mothers receive 14 weeks of paid maternity leave, up from 12 thanks to a recent law. Fathers can replace mothers at home after the first six weeks. Mothers also get a “nursing hour,” working one hour less daily, for an additional four months and in some cases up to a year of age. (Bottle-feeding mothers get it too.) La Leche League and other volunteer organizations are active, and the number of IBCLCs (International Board Certified Lactation Consultants) has grown exponentially, but medical professionals lack knowledge and most mothers don’t make it past a few weeks or months.
A few years ago, several babies died because one type of imported soy formula lacked Vitamin B1. This caused a temporary upswing in breastfeeding rates. Unlike in the US, nursing in public is barely an issue.
One of Wiessinger’s talks is called, “Watch Your Language.” When discussing the talk with friends, I found that moms get defensive when they hear about the risks of bottle-feeding. But by exploring the connection between language and breastfeeding, we don’t mean to chastise mothers for giving formula. Mothers are subject to many pressures and make decisions that work for their families. Mothers who wean early are the last ones we should blame.
We need to change the way our culture looks at breastfeeding. The breastfeeding rates of the United States and Israel are behind those of other western countries. Since babies and mothers are fundamentally the same, the problem must lie in the culture.
In her talk Wiessinger showed how the language used to talk about breastfeeding ultimately harms mothers and babies. We use imprecise language because we are afraid: Afraid of making Continue reading →Stumble it!