As Sara Savage and her pregnant daughter, Diana Hegarty, made their way out of a Manhattan boutique, they cooed at toddlers while Savage paid for her daughter's new breastfeeding gear. The two women beamed, enjoying another milestone in their rite of passage. Savage, a 68-year-old grandmother to six boys, was about to welcome her first granddaughter. Her 35-year-old daughter, Hegarty, was preparing for her first child.
When the women ventured into The Upper Breast Side, a veritable candy store for anyone nursing or about to nurse a baby, they had no practical experience but heaps of anxiety. "You hear so many negative stories," said Hegarty, who admitted to being worried about failure.
Surrounded by piles of mod-patterned nursing pillows and walls of breastfeeding equipment, Savage reflected on the lack of support she had in the '60s and her decision not to nurse. "Are you kidding me? There was nothing like this then," Savage said of what was available to her generation. "It was taboo. As a result, I didn't breastfeed. So I can't really teach my daughter about it."
A Breastfeeding Boutique
The experience at the shop is not uncommon — which is exactly what owner Felina Rakowski-Gallagher wants. With a motto of "You bring your breasts, we've got the rest," she stocks anything a woman might want to make her breastfeeding experience positive and comfortable, but emphasizes that all you really need is support and education (something today's grandmothers didn't necessarily have when they were new mothers).
"We are trying to bring it back to basics without it being a big deal," said Rakowski-Gallagher, a former New York City police officer and mother of two, who worked through breastfeeding hurdles including intense pain and one child who wasn't taking in the milk.
Breastfeeding Then & Now
In the 60s and 70s, half of all women in the United States didn't breastfeed, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Bottle feeding became the norm as women entered the workforce, marketing campaigns for infant formula surged, and the medical profession moved away from supporting breastfeeding, said Joan Younger Meek, M.D., who edited the AAP's New Mother's Guide to Breastfeeding (Bantam Books, 2002).
Significant changes in community support available to new moms, along with education and better equipment, make it easier to incorporate breastfeeding into modern lives. In 2004, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that about 75 percent of women breastfed newborns. And Hollywood stars such as Angelina Jolie, who have taken to breastfeeding, are helping to make it more mainstream.
What's changed in breastfeeding and tips to share with the new mom in your life:
Lactation consultants are certified health-care professionals specializing in the clinical management of breastfeeding. They can step in when grandmothers are short of advice or new moms can't figure out how to get into a good breastfeeding pattern. First certified in 1985, they have access to sensitive scales that weigh a baby's breastmilk intake.
Tip: If you live far away and are expecting a visit from a mom who's breastfeeding, find a local backup lactation consultant through the International Lactation Consultant Association.
Groups such as La Leche League International have been around since the '50s, but their membership has only recently blossomed nationwide. New moms can benefit from gatherings with experts at hospitals and at boutiques similar to The Upper Breast Side where they can commiserate and learn how to cope with sore nipples and exhaustion.
Tip: Grandparents should keep a list of organizations handy for new moms and offer to help coordinate visits if help is needed.
New technology makes mobility possible as well as shared responsibility for the baby's feedings if mom goes back to work. Today's breast pumps from companies including Medela and Avent are far better than anything from the past, said Dr. Meek. If you see your daughter becoming discouraged by cracked or bleeding nipples, call the doctor and ask about silicone nipple guards, which can help mom and baby transition through rough periods. Supplemental nursing systems even make it possible for adoptive parents to breastfeed.
Tip: If a nursing daughter is visiting from far away, consider renting a breast pump. One less thing she'll have to lug on the plane!
Companies such as My Brest Friend add comfort to breastfeeding with pillows that wrap around the waist and lift the baby up to the breast without straining mom. You can test-drive pillows for pregnant moms and recommend what works best.
Gone are the days of leaks that soak shirts and overly-expose private areas. Sweden's Boob brand is famous for making vertical slats a thing of the past by cutting a horizontal slit under the breast line of shirts for less exposure.
Chic muslin swaddling blankets by Aden + Anais can double as cover-ups, so moms don't have to feel like they are wearing a tent when the baby needs to be fed.
There are scads of nursing bras ranging from sexy lace numbers to no-nonsense cotton styles made by designers including Elle Macpherson Intimates and Anita. Companies now carry cup sizes as large as L, meaning moms of all shapes and sizes can have the comfort and support they need.
How well do you get along with your grandchild and other family members? Want to know if your personalities mesh?Find out here.