Sonya Rumpf (Fierst): ‘Choosing to breastfeed exclusively is still very much a choice of privilege’

  •   AP PHOTO/MARTHA IRVINE  

Published: 8/12/2019 10:34:58 AM

Breastfeeding is less about choice, more about circumstance. In response to Annemarie Heath’s recent article, “Breastfeeding: Good for baby, empowering for parents”: Breastfeeding can be hard. For many mothers, the early stages of breastfeeding can be fraught with physical pain and doubt.

Our daughter was born thick tongue-tied, which made nursing particularly challenging. What I learned in the three months since is that breastfeeding challenges are common and often excruciating. Within two months, we saw lactation specialists ($100-$250/session), craniosacral therapists, and ultimately a pediatric dentist who performed a fronotomy, a one-minute procedure to release the lingual frenulum ($500 after insurance).

We live in the Bay Area, and while these prices are inflated, they represent the extreme costs that can be associated with lactation support. Our success ultimately was due to a generous maternity leave of four paid months from work, support from a loving partner and family (my mom stayed for one month), and economic resources to afford the specialized help.

Many women don’t have such privileges, without which we might not have prevailed. While breastfeeding has its known benefits, many women can’t do it — often not by choice, but because our society doesn’t afford them time and resources to nurse exclusively for at least six months, recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Breastfeeding might require a mother up to 10 feedings in one day. Many women don’t work in environments that support the frequent pumping breaks essential to exclusive breastfeeding. The promotion of breastfeeding should go alongside with improving maternity-leave policies and breastfeeding practices in all work environments.

We assume that breastfeeding is simply a choice of the mother, leaving out the sadness and shame many mothers experience who do not have the option. We need to ask “how, as a society, can we create circumstances for women to make the choice without economic setbacks?” 

The International Lactational Consultant Association claims that “breastfeeding is a universal solution that levels the playing field, and gives everyone a fair start in life.” In reality, choosing to breastfeed exclusively is still very much a choice of privilege, and until we create policy changes and address economic disparities in this country, it will continue to be unavailable for many.

Sonya Rumpf (Fierst)

Oakland, California 

(On maternity leave, visiting my parents in Northampton)




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