Breastfeeding Histories

German Mum Nursing

German Mum Nursing Her Child; Bonn, Germany – Photo by Werner Bischof, circa 1946

I breastfed each of my children. For me, there was no question. It was a no-brainer, something I didn’t even have to think about. I’m not entirely sure why, to be perfectly honest, because I was not breastfed. My mother had me in the early 70’s, a time when feeding babies with formula was at the height of popular pressure and influence for new mums. Mothers were pressured (mainly by doctors, but advertising played an unfair part) to turn their backs on “old fashioned” methods like breastfeeding, especially if they wanted to be “modern” women. Not much has changed these days, other than the added nasty aspect of an effort to shame women who do breastfeed, and particularly for those who breastfeed in public. (le gasp!) If you even look at Faceblock Facebook anymore, you’ve probably heard of women having their accounts suspended, or even removed, for sharing photos of breastfeeding, either of themselves, or others throughout history. Adding insult to injury, you don’t have to search very hard to find scantily clad women of a loose persuasion advertising their services/bodies for sale on Faceblock Facebook, but these women are untouched by the “Suspending Hammer-Hand” of Faceboink tyrants. Indeed, they go untouched. Maybe it’s because such women are too much like a village bicycle, and Faceblock Facebook doesn’t want to risk the ride? Or, maybe Faceblock Facebook has already been there – done that, and just doesn’t want to bother? Or, maybe Faceblock whole-heartedly approves of the sexual objectification of women, and breastfeeding is an inappropriate use of a female breast? Either way, Faceblock Facebook wreaks of injustice!

Despite the obstacles my mother faced, my family has a wonderful history of breastfeeding stories, including, but not limited to, my own.

My grandparents immigrated from Germany to Canada in 1953. In 1955, not long after they had settled near Calgary, Alberta, my grandmother gave birth to a baby girl whom they named Ingrid. My grandmother produced so much milk, that she was happy to donate all of her excess to a local Milk Bank. I remember my grandmother telling me how happy the Nurses were each day my grandmother came in with more bottles full of milk. They would tell her of the babies who’ve benefited from the donations, and my grandmother was so very proud and honoured to help. When Ingrid was 6-months old, she fell ill. I don’t recall what it was, but baby Ingrid spent a lot of time in hospital. My grandmother continued to bring the bottles of milk each day, as some of the milk was going to her own baby; however, this time, she would stay for as long as she could to nurse baby Ingrid directly from her breast. Sadly, baby Ingrid did not survive. My grandmother told me that she kept pumping and bringing bottles of milk to the Milk Bank for a little while afterward, because it helped her heal. She knew there were other babies who still needed the milk she had. My grandmother is my Mother Goddess Hero.

The mother in the photograph above is not my grandmother, but there are so many things in the photo that remind me of her: the style, colour and texture of her hair; the waves in her hair; the width of her face; the furrows in her brow; her beautiful nose; her eyebrows; her cheekbones; everything about her. I often find myself wondering if the woman couldn’t actually be my great-grandmother, as she did have a child later in life, in Germany, right around the time WWII ended. I imagine her looking up and smiling at me, confirming that she either is or isn’t my ancestor. I have no way of knowing for sure, but it’s fun to think about.

I had my first child when I was 18. Of course I was impressionable, and I was absolutely aware of the looks I’d get as a young mum. I recall one time while I was at a mall with my mother, and my daughter became fussy, so I sat on a bench, and discreetly began to feed her. It wasn’t long before an older woman approached me, and very matter-of-factly stated: “They have rooms for you to do that here.” I was slightly taken aback by her forward manner, but smiled sweetly, continued nursing, and politely replied: “Yes, but those rooms are also connected to bathrooms. I don’t eat in a toilet, and neither will my baby. Thank you, we are comfortable here.”

I remember discreetly nursing my middle Elfling, while seated in the grass at a birthday party my eldest was attending. I was watching my older child socialize and interact with her peers, when the mother of the birthday girl (incidentally, the mother also happened to be in nursing school) came over to ask me “if there would be somewhere else I would be more comfortable to do that?” Like somehow nursing was something I should not be doing while other children were present, and I knew it was her own discomfort bringing her over. I just smiled sweetly in return, and said: “It’s beautiful out here today. We’re good. Thank you for asking, though.” I still shake my head at that encounter.

Last but not least, my most humorous breastfeeding-in-public memory is while nursing my twins at the Zoo. Yes, I nursed them tandem. I couldn’t nurse one and let the other fuss! Besides, human beings are uniquely designed to successfully nurse two babies at once. It wasn’t so much that I had anyone come up to me and say anything in particular, as both of my babies were discreetly nursing (breastfeeding clothing had come a long way by the time my twinnigans arrived!), but there were some very peculiar looks cast my way. Honestly, when I think about it, I vacillate between laughter at the looks, and pity for the look-throwers.

My own breastfeeding stories are not so heroic as my grandmother’s, and I didn’t have any opportunities arise to share milk with a needy mum, but I’m sure I would have if I could have. Although I’m not exactly sure when it closed, it’s a sad fact that the “local milk bank” no longer exists. There used to be one in every major city, but over the last decade or so each milk bank has been systematically shut down. For many, funding was cited. I’m not entirely sure that was an untrue reason, although I’d wager it wasn’t a lack of funding, but an abundance of funding by formula manufacturers to buy the closures. Formula manufacturers are scum-sucking, capitalist troglodytes, with only profits on their minds, after all, but that’s another post. ;0)


10 thoughts on “Breastfeeding Histories

  1. Steve says:

    Wow we could practically be related as far as family histories go. That picture looks like it could be my grandmother and her child as well. Good for you to be natural. What an unnatural suggestion that there is something shameful about breastfeeding.


    • Veggiewitch says:

      Wow! That is so super-cool! :0)

      It really boggles my mind, that breast feeding has taken so many hits. I am happy that mothers are pushing back, so to speak, and standing up for breast feeding rights.

      After all, formula is for suckers! ;0)


  2. Rachel in Veganland says:

    Great post, Denise! I’m always so outraged by how people treat breastfeeding mothers. It’s blatant discrimination and I think THAT, not breastfeeding, should not be tolerated. Thank you so much for sharing your stories!


    • Veggiewitch says:

      Thank you, Sweet Rach! ❤

      I agree. It’s frustrating that our cultures (primarily in North America) have embraced the sexual objectification of women, and opted to demonize the natural nurturing and feeding of a child and the breast. It should be the opposite. Even in places promoted as “Breastfeeding Friendly,” there are secluded rooms away the general population of wherever you happen to be. That is, by definition, not “Breastfeeding Friendly,” in my humble opinion.


      • Rachel in Veganland says:

        I agree wholeheartedly! There is a wonderful book you might enjoy by Marilyn Yalom called A History of the Breast. It talks about the sexualization of the breast in visual culture and the move away from breasts as nurturing organs with a specific biological function to sexualized objects. I think you’d really like it!


        • Veggiewitch says:

          I will look for it! Thank you so much!

          I believe the book will contain and confirm my own musings and suspicions, and be a wonderful addition to my book collection. ❤

          As a woman, I resent the efforts of Hugh Hefner et al for normalizing the objectification of women, and sexualizing every aspect of womanhood. It is anti-feminine and exceedingly harmful and detrimental to every woman alive and yet to be born.


  3. It's a Wiccan Life says:

    I understand where you’re comming from. I believe that women should breast feed where ever they are comfy. Whether it’s behind closed doors or out in the open. It’s nice that they’ve “built” private rooms so to speak for breast feeding mothers who are more modest and prefer to not feed in public. However I don’t think it’s right to shame formula feeding. My mother had twins, (myself and my sister), and hardly produced enough milk for one. She was unable to nurse so she relied on formula and cows milk. Being a women and gender studies major I’m able to read, hear, study, listen and learn about various women’s issues, breast feeding vs formula feeding being one of them. I think that in order to have breast feeding viewed as natural and normal, shamming formula feeding and mothers who use it isn’t the way to go because it will only anger people who can’t or don’t want to breast feed. Which in turn will creat a debate and take away from the issue at hand. I believe that the way to have breast feeding seen a natural and normal and not sexual should be to focus on the breast itself as being the natural tool used in feeding babies and not whether or not it’s the right or proper way to feed a child. Though having people view the breast in any other way other then sexual is a very challenging task which will take an emance amount of time!
    Sorry for the long comment. I hope I make some sense. I hope you understand what I’m trying to say.
    Blessed Be!!


    • Veggiewitch says:

      So many men are anti-breast feeding, too, which creates another negative dynamic for women who would breast feed, but do not have the support of their partners. This is twisted, in my honest opinion.

      For what it’s worth, I feel very strongly that formula companies are amongst the most despicable and evil companies operating today. The ingredients in “modern” formula, is far more toxic and dangerous than the formula available to either your mother, or mine. This is because of the GMO content, and the lowest, cheapest quality additions available.

      I’m not sure many women who opt for formula are aware of the actual composition of it, and I’m positive there are also women who simply don’t care. I also understand lack of support is a huge detriment to breast feeding, which is also very sad.


  4. paulaacton says:

    While I fully support women who choose and are able to breast feed I do get a little annoyed at people who assume that you are neglecting your child by giving them formula there are often many considerations that have to be taken into account which are not actually acknowledged, You mention that in the 70’s many mothers were pressured to formula feed my mum was one but it was not always about being a ‘modern woman’ my grandad had returned from the second world war like thousands of others that had been held in POW camps with TB my mum was conceived after his recovery because of his infection the medical knowledge of the time believed that actually breast feeding the baby would past on the disease and be therefore harmful something which may no longer be considered an issue but at the time my mum and thousands of others would have done what they believed was safest for their baby in my own case I did not breast feed my two my daughter as she was born prem and I had an emergency c-section which resulted in an infection and large doses of painkillers and antibiotics for me hardly what you would suggest would be healthy to give to a 7 week prem baby who needed her own concoction of steroids and anti-biotics to keep her alive, with my son I think it was the attitude of people who had slated me for not breast feeding without bothering to ask why that made me possibly a little stubborn though as I slipped three discs just after having him I could not have breast feed anyway with the drug cocktail once again. I think it is great if you can and want to breast feed but would ask that every remember every mother does what is best for their own child and you cannot judge unless you are in receipt of their full medical and personal history


    • Veggiewitch says:

      Modernity was only one of the pressures women in the 70’s faced, but the anti-breastfeeding machine got its start long before, more like the late-50’s. Up until right around WWII, doctors were still leaving much of birthing to midwives, and that included the feeding of babies. I mentioned the 70’s era, as that’s the one I was born in. ;0)


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