Welcome to Episode 18!
Are you ready to have better conversations about breastfeeding? Are you prepared to really engage with people who have a lot of negative things to say about it? In this episode, I outline some talking points for highlighting the importance of breastfeeding and I offer some counter-arguments to some common anti-breastfeeding rhetoric. I've created a PDF of the talking points for you. Download it here.
If you like what you hear and you want to get involved in this conversation, join us over in the free Lactation Training Lab Facebook group at www.facebook.com/groups/LacTrainingLab/. Thanks for listening!
"Classes, courses, and certifications are only the beginning of your lactation learning journey, and they don't predict or constrain your ability to make an impact."
- Christine Staricka, IBCLC and Host of The Lactation Training Lab Podcast
Episode 18 - Elevating the Conversation Around Breastfeeding
Hi and welcome to the Lactation Training Lab Podcast! I’m Christine, an IBCLC and lactation career coach. I help current and aspiring lactation care providers optimize their lactation practice and career through resources, information, and mindset shifts that help them to clarify and re-claim their purpose and mission in lactation work. I’ve been in the lactation field for 20 years now and this podcast is my way of sharing with you what I’ve learned and what the future holds for those of us supporting families and babies. Whether you’re seasoned or studying, I hope this show will make you think and inspire you to act. Let’s get started.
Welcome to Episode 18 of The Lactation Training Lab Podcast. I am pleased to present to you today thoughts on elevating the conversation around breastfeeding. It is a topic which is near and dear to my heart. You know by now if you’ve been listening for a while that I love to talk about how we talk about breastfeeding. I think that our language and communication skills can always be improved. I wanted to share some thoughts today as we head into another World Breastfeeding Week event and, here in the United States, National Breastfeeding Month. National Breastfeeding Month.
I often think about this when this awareness time comes around. We hear a lot of people asking each other what are they doing for these particular events and I think that the answers often have to do with stuff. They have to do with creating things to attract attention and that is a critical part of what we're doing - if we want to elevate the conversation, that means we need to get people's attention and get them talking about breastfeeding. What people tend to focus on in their replies to that question about what are they doing - they happen to be the things that are tangible. There are things like cupcakes and balloons and posters and things that are going to be worn. It ends up being part of a competition of who's got the biggest party.
It seems like sometimes it's turning into a celebration of breastfeeding, which is part of why we do it, but we want to remember that the purpose of this awareness event is to raise awareness and elevate and promote conversation around breastfeeding. We want to remember that the focus really should always be on how we are talking about breastfeeding and how we are engaging people and organizations who normally wouldn't be part of the conversation.
There’s some specific ways to do this, some things to think about when we are heading into these types of events. But really this applies to every time around the year because as lactation care providers, and particularly as IBCLCs, we are given the responsibility to promote, protect, and support breastfeeding at all times. It is our 24-hour role, and as you know, when you are a lactation care provider, people who know you - they know that’s what you do, and they expect that from you. Whether they react to that negatively or positively is up to them, but they certainly expect you to be an advocate for breastfeeding. There really isn’t anyone else who’s going to do it. It’s up to us. We have to be the ones who are elevating the conversation.
Sometimes those conversations are not going to be comfortable, especially when we’re engaging people and organizations who don’t normally participate in the conversation or we’re engaging people who have an outwardly negative attitude about breastfeeding and are attacking the very fact that we hold these awareness events or that we advocate for breastfeeding.
I’ve created a download to go along with this particular podcast episode because I felt like it would really add to your learning ability. I thought it would be helpful to have this so you could print it out and keep these things as a reminder of how to counter anti-breastfeeding rhetoric, very simple things to say and simple ways to think about it, and the talking points that we are supposed to be using to promote breastfeeding.
I think that these are really universal. I think there’s a lot of noise, so what I’ve tried to do is distill it down to some of the most important things that we can share with people that hopefully will make the most difference.
I wanted to begin with the common themes to counter anti-breastfeeding rhetoric. You may encounter these from people in-person, and it’s very likely you will encounter these in conversations online. If you’re like most people around this time, you’re planning to have a good social media presence during these awareness times so that you can post a lot about breastfeeding and about World Breastfeeding Week, and even promote your events, parties, and celebrations that are happening.
You’re going to have these opportunities there, if people complain or post negative things, then you are going to have this conversation in a way that is going to be logical and not personal, where it’s going to keep out the personal aspects and you are going to be able to use these common themes for countering the rhetoric and the talking points to actually promote breastfeeding.
Let’s begin with the first common theme for countering: the first thing that people often bring up - their first protest is that there’s “too much pro-breastfeeding talk.” I encourage you to question people on this one. Is there really too much? Most of the parents that I work with in my practice are mostly getting exposed to the marketing of products and tools for breastfeeding and formula. THey hear very little about breastfeeding.
If you ask people what they’ve actually been exposed to, what they’ve actually seen and heard, if doctors told them that they should breastfeed or if they actually got any information that would help them, many people will tell you that, no, they didn’t get much but they’ve sure seen a lot of ads for stuff that they might need.
The argument that there’s too much pro-breastfeeding talk doesn’t really hold up when you ask people to question that. Of course there’s going to be plenty of posts on social media about breastfeeding - that it’s good, that people enjoy it, that it’s something that’s valuable and worthwhile - there’s plenty of positive things being said about breastfeeding on social media. There’s also plenty of negative messages about breastfeeding.
So if somebody is seeing everything that is out there as being one way or the other, they’re probably not looking at a very large amount. They’re not really using a wide lens to check that out. That argument doesn’t really hold up very well.
The second one that you might encounter is, of course, the argument that it’s a personal choice. Well, of course it is, and that’s a good response - of course it’s a personal choice, and that choice needs to be an informed choice that’s made using facts and accurate information. Again, another opportunity here to bring up the fact that many people are exposed to marketing rather than information that they need to make a choice about how they’re going to feed their baby.
Another argument you may encounter is that it doesn’t really matter in the long term. Well, we know that’s not what the research reflects, and that’s really not physiologically plausible. It’s biologically normal, and it’s actually what most parents want to do, so whether it matters long term is not really the point. The point is that if this is what parents want to do, then we need to be able to support them to do that in the same way that we make the argument that if parents want to feed their babies, formula, we need to be prepared to teach them how to do that as safely as possible. It doesn’t really hold up to say that it doesn’t matter long term because that just doesn’t make any sense biologically or physiologically. We really need to make people think about that, to make them stop and think.
Next you might hear “Well, I know a baby” or “I know a mom who had this problem” or “who encountered that problem.” Yeah, structural barriers lead to problems for individuals, especially the structural barrier of lack of access to quality support. That’s why we’re bringing this up. That’s why we’re having this awareness event. That’s why we’re talking about promoting breastfeeding - so we can work together and we can engage more people and more organizations to make breastfeeding possible for more people. Sure, people are going to encounter problems - that’s why we need to have a good support network to make sure that they’re getting the help that they need.
Another argument that you might hear is the “Some people don’t want to.” When you hear someone say “Some people,” sometimes they will use a group or population - they’ll name it - and sometimes they’ll just say “Well, some people don’t want to.” And I’m going to tell you right now - that’s just racism in disguise. Even if they’re not coming out and saying it directly, that’s still what they mean. That’s the reason that they’re saying it to you. Don’t play their game.
In fact, most new mothers and parents do actually want to breastfeed and removing the structural barriers in their lives is the way to help them. Creating an environment where people actually can breastfeed - that’s our goal. That’s what we’re supposed to be doing here - not picking out and picking and choosing like “well, this group of people doesn’t really want to” or “they don’t want to enough” or “they don’t work hard enough.” That is just a way of discriminating and it doesn’t help us get anywhere, so let’s not even get involved in that particular conversation. We know from research that most people actually do want to and most people actually do initiate breastfeeding when they are in the hospital with their new baby.
The final one I wanted to discuss here is when someone says “You know, I’m a healthcare provider myself, and I’ve seen how hard it is for some people, so I just don’t like to promote it because I feel like it makes people feel bad and it’s really hard for them.” Well, here’s what I say to that: it’s really nice and it’s excellent that you’ve observed how challenging it can be for people - it’s good that you’re paying attention. But that’s why qualified support is necessary. That’s why we’re talking about this topic again. Please refer people for qualified support. Don’t let people struggle. If you are working with somebody, if you have a patient who is struggling, if you know someone who’s struggling - let them know that help is available. Don’t let people suffer alone.
Saying that something is hard doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t do it. There’s plenty of things that are really hard that we do, and we seek training, support, and the help we need to make those things happen when we want to do it. Saying that it’s hard isn’t a reason for us to say not to do it.
Those are some of the arguments that you often hear. I know that sometimes it feels pointless to engage these people. Sometimes it feels like you’re just arguing back with them, but it can be productive in some cases. It really is the only way we can elevate the conversation beyond those narrow beliefs and help those people come to a place where they can reflect more and maybe use a wider lens to view the topic of breastfeeding.
If you keep that broad worldview, that global context that I always talk about, and you leave the personal stories out of a public conversation, that can really help. If you encounter somebody, when you’re trying to engage people, who begins telling you their personal story or really needs to talk about it, engage them privately because if you’re a lactation care provider, that’s what you do. Definitely provide that support that they need, but that doesn’t have to happen in a public forum. You can let them know that you’re doing that for their protection. If they don’t want to talk about their personal story in public, they really shouldn’t.
That’s another way that we can engage people who are having difficulty talking about breastfeeding in a way that’s positive.
Here we come to speaking positively about breastfeeding, and that’s how I want to wrap up this conversation. I want to remind you of some talking points that we can use that you can just keep handy so that you always feel prepared to answer that question of “Why breastfeeding, why is it important?”
The first talking point really is that breastfeeding is important. Avoid the benefits trap. Avoid talking about the benefits of breastfeeding, why it’s good, why it’s better - it’s physiologically normal, so we want to focus on the fact that it’s important and the fact that it’s the biological norm for mammals. It definitely matters.
And that’s our next point - breastfeeding matters to both the parent and the baby’s health. It’s a key contributor to infant immunological and nutritional development. It’s a key contributor to the mother or parent’s reproductive and cardiovascular health. These are important health strategies.
And that leads us to the next one: breastfeeding is the best strategy we have for individuals. It’s unmatched in terms of supporting the immunological protection of infants as well as the nutritional foundation for lifelong health.
In addition, breastfeeding is a public health strategy. It matters greatly to the health of a community whether many people breastfeed and for how long they do.
Overall, we can continue, once this World Breastfeeding Week is over and past, we can continue to remind people that everyone has a responsibility to promote and protect breastfeeding and refer people for proper support.
They don’t really need to spend their time arguing about whether we should be promoting it. They need to spend their time learning more about it, helping us break down the structural barriers, and making sure that people are being referred to and that they understand that quality support is actually available.
I created this in a PDF format for you. You can download this here and keep it. Print it out and hang it somewhere. I wanted to make it easy for you to have this handy, not only during World Breastfeeding Week or National Breastfeeding Month but around the year. You’ll always have some talking points in mind when you have a conversation, particularly with someone who is either negating what you’re trying to say or what you’re posting on social media OR someone who is simply uninformed. There’s a lot that people could learn if they’re willing to listen to these talking points and if they’re able to stay out of that narrow view that we tend to see with the anti-breastfeeding rhetoric.
Thanks for joining me today. I hope your celebrations are wonderful. I hope your delicious cupcakes and cookies are great treats. I hope your balloons keep their air for a long time so that they can help you decorate the space that you’re working in. I really do appreciate what those tools do and how they can help us engage people, and I urge you to remember that they are only part of the solution. They are only part of elevating the conversation. I really look forward to hearing from you about the conversations that you have - especially some of those uncomfortable moments that you might encounter during these coming weeks and months.
Thanks for being here! If you take a look at my website, which is www.ChristineStaricka.com , there’s plenty of new things on there for you to enjoy. I look forward to hearing from you very soon! Have a wonderful day.