Why I Breastfeed: A Q&A with Mayim Bialik
Mayim Bialik gets real about breastfeeding and shares expert advice for nursing moms
Emmy®-nominated actress by day, lactation counselor by night? Yep, you read that right! Mayim Bialik, the star of The Big Bang Theory and Blossom, author of Beyond the Sling, and mother of two, also moonlights as a certified lactation education counselor. In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, we asked Bialik to give us the real deal on breastfeeding—and share advice from the trenches.
A study just came out that found most women plan to breastfeed for at least six months, but don’t reach their breastfeeding goals. How long did you set out to breastfeed each of your boys? Did you reach your goal?
Same thing here: my original goal was six months to a year. I had known about the notion of child-led weaning, but I don’t know that I pictured that would be me (laughs). However, that’s kind of what I ending up doing with my second child mostly—the first I had other complications. My first son breastfed until just over 2. My second still breastfeeds, though it’s much more rare now. He’ll be 4 soon and I’m pretty sure he’s almost done!
Most nursing moms have moments when they think, “I just can’t do this anymore!” Did you ever think about quitting?
I had tremendous difficulties nursing both of my children. The first six weeks were extremely difficult with my first and with my second, we experienced a variety of difficulties for the first three months. So yes, during this time, I had many, many, many dark moments when I considered quitting.
What helped you stick it out?
Having support from other women who were breastfeeding. I found a mentor through La Leche League who had successfully nursed three of her children. I was made to breastfeed my children, I just needed more support. And really, that’s how it’s been through all of time—women learning from other women and receiving support from them.
My husband’s solution was to tell me, “Pretend like there’s no such thing as formula.” And, honestly, those words gave me strength to power through some pretty trying times. Now that I do breastfeeding consulting for women, I think it’s important to realize that when a new baby is going through a growth spurt and it’s been an hour and they won’t get off the breast—all of that will pass. Usually when you think you can’t take anymore, something shifts.
What about nursing in public? Why is it such a big deal?
Weirdness about breastfeeding in public is an extension of how sexualized the breast is in our culture; it’s part of a general social anxiety that we’ve created, especially concerning women. The fact is, it really doesn’t matter what other people think of you. I’ve gotten dirty glances for all sorts of things in public that have nothing to do with breastfeeding. You can get glared at for laughing too loud, drinking too much, wearing too short or too cute a skirt… it’s not just about nursing.
Having breastfeeding in public become as normal and everyday a thing as bottle feeding is important. The more natural and happy we look nursing our babies, the more people will see that there is really nothing to be afraid of, either with breastfeeding in general or specifically nursing in public. I’m a pretty modest woman—maybe a little more modest than most—but there are many waiters in the city of Los Angeles who may have seen a little bit of my breast. It’s not that big of a deal, to me. And it’s much more palatable than me walking around in a bikini and a g-string!
How do you handle the comments?
As I teach the women I work with, if someone is glancing at you while you nurse in public, make eye contact, smile politely, and then turn your head towards your baby. If people choose to say something to you about nursing, have a few simple responses ready. From other La Lech League members, I picked up that when people say “Isn’t he done nursing yet?” it’s pretty effective to just smile and say, “Well, I guess he will be after he finishes this side!” or “Thanks for your interest—we’re doing fine!”
I’ve also realized that a lot of people don’t want to have a conversation about breastfeeding—they simply want to be right. If someone is honestly curious about breastfeeding, you can usually tell by the kinds of questions you get asked. But when people come in with the assumption that breastfeeding is unnecessary past a certain age, or that it’s gross, remember, you don’t have to continue the conversation. Just say, “Thanks for your opinion. We’re going to go with our doctor’s recommendation.” You don’t have to be right, you just have to nurse your kid!
You’ve said that your husband was very supportive early on. What’s his reaction to extended breastfeeding? Do you consider this a co-parenting decision, or something that’s just between you and your nursing child?
Breastfeeding really is a family experience. Obviously, the breastfeeding relationship is largely between a mom and her baby. But the dynamics of breastfeeding—and the politics of breastfeeding—are a family issue. My husband considers breastfeeding normal, natural and beautiful, and the best way to feed a baby, but he does have feelings about what people might think or how long a child should nurse. It’s important to realize that these are things you work out in the family. Breastfeeding and natural or attachment parenting are not intended to make any divides between spouses or partners.
What’s your advice for nursing moms?
We hear from new moms [that] they’re told they don’t have enough milk or they are pumping and nothing is coming out. So these women end up believing they won’t ever make enough milk. Learning the simple mechanics of breastfeeding—and this means how you build a milk supply and how you maintain a milk supply in the first three months—will give you more information than even most pediatricians are trained to tell you about! Only a very small percentage of women are not able to produce milk. But if you aren’t told how to build and maintain a milk supply, then absolutely; you will have difficulty breastfeeding. Joining your local La Leche League group is an easy way to access this information.
What is your proudest breastfeeding moment?
When my kids have been sick … when they can’t eat and they can’t drink and they can’t stand up and can’t smile … their oldest reflex is to breastfeed. It’s something they get tremendous comfort and nutrition from during moments like this. Of course, hugs are great, vegan chicken soup is great, but there’s something about being able to comfort your child at the breast when nothing else works. Even if they throw it all up five minutes later!
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