How Taking a Pro-Mother Stance in the Breastfeeding and Motherhood Debate Changes Everything

In honor of this month's National Breastfeeding Awareness Month we invited two experts, Tasha Muresan, a Maternal Psychology researcher at Columbia University and Elizabeth Seckler, a Mental Health Specialist and a mom of two at Maven, an innovative digital clinic for women to discuss why it is important to take the 'Pro-Mother Approach' especially if we want to improve both infant and maternal health. This year, “World Breastfeeding Week” has focused its mission on empowering working mothers to practice breastfeeding. It has been encouraging to trace the handful of companies’ ‘pro-parent’ initiatives— like the ones recently put forth by IBM and Netflix— to support women juggling a career and new motherhood. I like this, because if I learned anything during the years in grad school I spent combing through thousands of articles in Nursing journals, I know that social support plays a huge role in a woman’s experience of breastfeeding. 

The breastfeeding debate has taken on many forms and had its share of spotlight in our social media newsfeeds. And in response, many articles and blog posts are emerging that request an alternative to the question, “Are you breast or bottle?”

I’ve been a part of the academic community that studies mothers for the past three years, and have consequently learned the importance of understanding the language mothers use to describe their subjective experience. Breastfeeding is one component of the larger, lovely, multifaceted motherhood journey. And here, I want to know: What is a woman’s decision-making process regarding breastfeeding? How can she best be supported? What does it look like to be ‘pro-mother’? 

First, I think it’s important to acknowledge that women may internalize these debates about breastfeeding as pressure to conform to one absolute way of childrearing. They hear, “If I can’t breastfeed or chose not to, I’m not giving my baby their best chance.” It can feel like a moral imperative instead of an opportunity to make a well-informed decision. Further, women who bottle-feed report feeling shamed by other mothers; I come across this theme often when moms hash out their stories in online discussion forums. This assumption that breastfeeding is the ‘obvious choice’ can translate to feelings of isolation, maternal guilt and low self-esteem. 

It is assumed that mothers who decide not to breastfeed are acting selfishly, when in reality, most mothers would argue their decision to breast- or bottle-feed is based on a decision process informed by their baby’s needs alongside their own. Each story is unique, and there are many situations where the act of breastfeeding may trigger disturbing emotions or traumatic recollections, and others where mothers need to turn to formula for health reasons, to name just a few. 

How can we promote breastfeeding in a way that encourages and empowers all mothers? Can we encourage mothers to be similarly sensitive with fellow mothers? 

How can we promote breastfeeding in a way that encourages and empowers all mothers? Can we encourage mothers to be similarly sensitive with fellow mothers? 

Many studies on adjustment to motherhood use the term ‘self-efficacy’, which is essentially the degree to which you believe in yourself. The American Psychological Association (APA) says that, “self-efficacy reflects confidence in the ability to exert control over one’s motivation, behavior, and social environment. These cognitive self-evaluations influence all manner of human experience, including the goals for which people strive, the amount of energy expended toward goal achievement, and the likelihood of attaining particular levels of behavioral performance.” The theme that echoes through all studies measuring self-efficacy in new mothers is something like, “If a woman feels she is surrounded by a strong support system, she will feel confident and able to live out her vision of motherhood.” 

“Support system” typically refers to a combination of the baby’s other parent, family members, friends, mother-specific support groups, and health professionals. 

Still, many mothers who do choose to breastfeed stop when they return to work. This is where I argue that society at large can enter into this support system. We promote breastfeeding according to World Health Organization(WHO) guidelines and ever-emerging research, we pass initiatives that make it easier for women to choose breastfeeding, we host support groups and seek out the wisdom of lactation consultants. There is a strong support system in place for women who decide to try breastfeeding, and this is wonderful. But though these resources seem accessible enough, many women still grapple with decision and are not given much direction at the front lines of prenatal care. Just last week, the National Institute of Health (NIH) released a study suggesting many women are not given the information they need about breastfeeding by their healthcare provider. Again, given the important role of support in a mother’s confidence sense of her own abilities, it’s crucial that women are offered the space and tools to make a well-informed decision. 

When we take a ‘pro-mother’ stance on the topic of infant feeding, we are participating in the larger support system that enables mothers to flourish. This in turn has positive implications for both infant and maternal health. When we as a society use empathy-driven language to talk about our mothers and children, we are given them their best chance.

Mitera is proud to collaborate with Maven, a digital clinic for women’s health in mobile app form (AKA godsend). We invited mental health specialist Elizabeth Seckler to weigh in on this topic. 

“While breastfeeding can be a wonderful and healthy experience for both mother and child, equally important is flexibility - the flexibility to do what you need and what your baby needs. Social support is also critical for women as they navigate motherhood. Maven provides a supportive, nonjudgmental platform for new and seasoned mothers as they experience motherhood. For new mothers, accessing a broad range of services through a mobile app such as Maven can be particularly confidence boosting and reassuring.”
— Elizabeth Seckler, a Maven practitioner

How Taking a Pro-Mother Stance in the Breastfeeding and Motherhood Debate Changes Everything

We'd like to hear it from you: How do you feel best supported as a new mother? What influenced your decision to feed your baby the way you did (breast, bottle, combination of the two)?" 

How Taking a Pro-Mother Stance in the Breastfeeding and Motherhood Debate Changes Everything

Tasha Muresan, MA is a graduate of the Department of Clinical Psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University, where her adventures in maternal psychology began. She has been a part of Columbia's Maternal Psychology Laboratory since 2011 and serves as Managing Editor of the lab’s online magazine, KHORAI. Not yet a mother, she has been fortunate to accompany other women on their motherhood journeys as a long-time nanny and newly-minted birth doula. 

How Taking a Pro-Mother Stance in the Breastfeeding and Motherhood Debate Changes Everything

Maven, the digital clinic for women. No need to go to the doctor’s office for everything, especially after you’ve just given birth–Maven gets your pregnancy questions answered with video appointments from qualified health providers whenever, wherever. Maven gives you access to all the prenatal and postpartum support you need–think post-birth support from a doula, breastfeeding advice from a lactation consultant, nutritionist consults, even therapy from the comfort of your home.

August 05, 2015 — Mitera Collection