Is It Even Okay to Ask About Breastfeeding Anymore?

ByJessica Shortall
Contributing Writer
Updated
May 2018
mom breastfeeding newborn baby at home
Photo: Marishka Kuroedova

Meet Jessica Shortall, a working mom with a career dedicated to the intersection of business and doing good. As the former Director of Giving for TOMS Shoes, she literally circumnavigated the globe with a breast pump.  Pre-order her upcoming book by Abrams, “Work. Pump. Repeat: The New Mom’s Guide to Breastfeeding and Going Back to Work,” out Sept. 8.

Is it even okay to ask women if they’re breastfeeding anymore?

Serious question.

Because in 2015, there is so much baggage around breastfeeding. If you ask someone whether or not they’re breastfeeding, you’re probably one of those people. You know the kind: If the person says “no,” you’re probably going to launch into a “breast is best” lecture or give a judgy look. (Or, other end of the spectrum, if the person says “yes,” you say, “Fine, but remember that if he can ask for it, he’s too old.”)

A friend told me today that she is planning to order my book,  Work. Pump. Repeat., for a friend who is pregnant and will be going back to work after baby in November. But, she said, “First I need to figure out if she’s planning to breastfeed. Don’t want to be THAT person.”

That totally resonated with me, because I sometimes want to ask friends (especially those who are going back to work) if they’re planning to breastfeed, so I can give them a copy of my book, or be helpful to them in some other way. Or, in the past, I’ve wanted to find someone to give all my weird nursing clothes to. But I’m afraid to even ask, because the last thing I want is to be another stone on the crushing heap of pressure to breastfeed.

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This is all kind of a bummer. How did we get here? How did we get to a place where you have to tiptoe up to breastfeeding — sniff it out —  and walk on eggshells around questions about it? Breastfeeding is natural, normal and the biological norm. And even saying that has me worried that I’m going to come across as judgmental. I feel like I have to immediately asterisk that statement with a laundry list of caveats: It’s natural, but it doesn’t work for every woman, and it has never worked for 100 percent of women. It’s normal, but that doesn’t mean that women who work outside the home can actually make it work with all the stresses and demands of work. It is the biological norm, but woman have to protect their own pscyhological selves, and for some, breastfeeding just doesn’t work. All of those “buts” are normal too.

So how on earth do we solve this?  It is so depressing to me that we’ve screwed up baby-feeding conversations so deeply that now we’re scared to even ask the question. Is there a secret code we can use whenever we talk about breastfeeding? Something that says, “no matter what you think I’m implying, I am totally cool with however you feed your baby?”

What do you think?

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