108: Jennifer Grayson is an environmental journalist and the author of Unlatched: The Evolution of Breastfeeding and the Making of a Controversy, out now from HarperCollins. Her writing and commentary have appeared in publications including The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, American Baby and The Huffington Post, where she wrote two long-running columns for the Green section. A leading expert on environmental issues, she has been featured by MSNBC, WGN and NPR, as well as numerous online outlets and blogs.
She just looked at me and she said it was really only a few generations ago that nursing a child till two was the norm but until four it was only a few generations ago that every person earth could remember being breastfed When I tell you that that was an epiphany It took my breath away and I suddenly realized here I was debating how long should we breastfeed, is it normal I was so uncomfortable nursing in public the whole thig was frought with difficulty and she suddendly reminded that this was something that human beings have been doing since the beginning of time that the way we live now is not the norm.
Jennifer Grayson is an environmental journalist and the author of Unlatched: The Evolution of Breastfeeding and the Making of a Controversy, out now from HarperCollins. Her writing and commentary have appeared in publications including The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, American Baby and The Huffington Post, where she wrote two long-running columns for the Green section. A leading expert on environmental issues, she has been featured by MSNBC, WGN and NPR, as well as numerous online outlets and blogs.
After the birth of her children, Jennifer’s lifelong fascination with restoring our vanishing connection to the natural world led directly to her research for Unlatched. She lives in Los Angeles with her screenwriter husband and two young daughters—her most important life’s work.
Background history: Jennifer talks about having a wholesome upbringing. She was raised in Connecticut and with an old fashioned parenting style. She was told to get plenty of sleep at night, eat good food and get fresh air every day Jennifer spent much of her time out in nature, playing outside in the woods. She became fascinated with our modern day disconnection from the natural world. Bron in 1979 in an era before cell phones and sent a lot of time playing outside, only coming in for dinner.
Was she breastfed: Her mom shopped at the health food store, she made everything from scratch and she expected to learn that she was breastfed and realized that she was formula fed as a child. It is not something she had thought about before she had her first baby and it is not something she ever really thought about it. Her mom eluded to the fact that it had something to do with her father, but she was not quite sure she wanted to hear the details about how “her breasts were made for her father.” In preparation for writing her book, she sat down and had a serious discussion about this topic. The first thing that is important to know is that it was a different era and there was this general perception that breasts were not made for feeding babies as the overall belief was that breasts are for sex. Jennifer went a step further as she called her father and had this conversation with him. The reason this is quite interesting is because her parents had divorced when she was 10 years old and she did really not have a relationship with her Dad. She was nervous about this but he was happy to talk about it and have an opportunity to explain himself. He said that breastfeeding was not something that white educated people did. About 80% of the children born during this age period, were all formula fed. How her mom fed her was the norm in the 70s and 80s.
What impact did her research have on her decision to breastfeed: Jennifer gave birth at a Baby Friendly Hospital in California. Their were Lactation Consultants during her hospital stay. She had a lot of resources at her disposal during her pregnancy and yet it all still seemed daunting. Her midwives and the hospital staff were all helpful for her in the early days of breastfeeding. Jennifer did talk about how she feels there is still a lack of information given to parents about exactly how amazing, how beneficial human milk is. The details are often not talked about.
We talk about how we feel about the saying “breastmilk is best.” and how I feel this is one of the things that cause the mommy wars. We really need to be talking about how this food is species specific and that we should remove the guilt out of it and do whatever we can to support mothers in their breastfeeding needs.
First breastfeeding experience: Jennifer did not really have much expectations about breastfeeding as she just expected it to work and for her to make enough milk. She talks about how unprepared for the extraordinary amount of pain that she was in at the beginning. She gave birth at Kaiser Permenanet and went back to the hospital to visit with the lactation consults many times. These visits were free and she was grateful to have this connection so she could keep working at it. About 3 weeks into it, breastfeeding began to be more c omfortable and she now was able to really enjoy her experience with breastfeeding. Jennifer worked from home as a freelance writer and could easily nurse her daughter whenever she needed to. She first set out ot make it to the first 6 months and the breastfeeding relationship was so easy and so convenient and she breastfed far beyond that. Jennifer talks about easy it was to take her daughter to interviews and other work related activities and had no problems breastfeeding her daughter whenever she was hungry. For moms who have suffered with breastfeeding pain, it may help you to know that Jennifer addresses the intense pain that she did feel and acknowledged having times of the day where she thought she might give up. She just kept going, just kept trying, just kept asking for help and eventually it did get better.
Her epiphany, which led to her writing this book:
She shares a very funny story about her hospital stay with her second daughter. She was a bit worried about breastfeeding during the pregnancy and began to do some research and ask some questions. She was told by her provider that her 20 month old daughter would probably wean during the pregnancy as the milk supply drops. This definitely did not happen and her toddler is still nursing. She realizes at a certain point that she is probably going to tandem nursing. Jennifer tells a fun story about meeting the lactation consultant in the hospital and asked her about how she was going to go about tandem nursing. It seemed overwhelming to her and possibly not normal and whole host of worries and concerns.
She was a bit nervous to tell the LC that she had a toddler back at home waiting to nurse. She was feeling frantic and asked her: What am I gonna do ? How can I wean her? I can’t possibly nurse two. The LC said to me: You know it was only a few generations ago that nursing a child not just until they were 2 was the norm, but until 4 years old. She told me that there was a time only a few generations ago that every person on earth could remember being breastfed. Jennifer said that this was her epiphany. ” It took my breath away.” Here she had been spending time debating all these issues like how long she should breastfeed for and tandem nursing and nursing in public. And she suddenly realized that all this time she spent fraught with worry and she reminded me that this is something humans being have been doing since the beginning of time and that was the norm and the way we live now is not the norm. Jennifer states this this was the start of Unlatched.
Jennifer shares some funny stories about how she responds to people’s questions about tandem nursing and breastfeeding well beyond the recommended first year of life. We also talk about the normalcy of nursing a child past the first year and how it provides much more than the nourishment our children need. It can be a soother and a “home” base to come back to when they are feeling tired or overwhelmed or frustrated. In our society, breastfeeding is seen as a weakness and we are an over indulgent mother by breastfeeding a 2 year old. We forget that the breast does not make our kids more attached and dependent, but rather quite independent and this may be because the style of parenting that breastfeeding mothers have is to take care of our kids needs when they happen. This gives them a sense of security to go out into the world and become independent.
Jennifer’s research showed that tandem nursing was actually not quite common generations ago. Cultures had sex taboos so that after the birth of a child that sex was taboo for 3-4 years so she was able to sustain her 1 child. Perhaps this is because we live in a society that has an abundant an easy to get food supply, different than generations ago. Tandem nursing is more common now even though it is physically taxing. Women typically have babies closer together partly because they are not nursing as exclusively or as long as they did years ago.
Jennifer talks about having an experience when her first daughter became sick for the first time. She rushed her to urgent care and the physicians told her that she had to stop breastfeeding her because she was vomiting. Instead they wanted to give her Pedialyte ( a product made by the formula companies) which turned out to be disaster. She ignored what the physician told her and followed her mommy instincts and continued to breastfeed her daughter and a few feedings later she was just fine.
Jennifer has a few speaking engagements coming up and is now taking a bit of a break until she decides what her next project is going to be.
La Leche League Episode:
Jennifer’s contact info: [email protected]
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