August 2016


Author: Becca Edwards

When it comes to history, even as it relates to breastfeeding, I’m—wait for it—a sucker. (Yep, pun intended.) Given the fact that August is National Breastfeeding Month (which, for your first fun fact, was proclaimed in 2011) and recent news stories of irate people yelling at moms breastfeeding in public, celebrities posting pics of themselves nursing, and the debate over when a woman should stop, I felt compelled to learn more about the origins of one of the most natural and frankly biologically cool things a female can do.

My research led me to an article in The Journal of Perinatal Education. It reported, “In Israel, as early as 2000 B.C., children were deemed a blessing, and breastfeeding was considered a religious obligation.” But because breastfeeding was not always possible, due to poor lactation or death during delivery, “wet nursing began as early as 2000 B.C. and extended until the twentieth century.” (Note: In “The Papyrus Ebers,” an Egyptian document written in 1550 B.C., mothers struggling with milk production were encouraged to have someone, “warm the bones of a sword fish in oil and rub her back with it,” or “let the woman sit cross-legged and eat fragrant bread of soused durra, while rubbing the parts with the poppy plant.”) The article shared other interesting insights. For example, French obstetrician Jacques Guillemeau wrote, “Redheads were known to have a hot temperament that was harmful to their breastmilk”; and “Evidence suggests that artificial feedings were also used in ancient times…. Crude feeding bottles and issues with their cleanliness were written about through the Roman Era, Middle Ages, and the Renaissance. It was not until the Industrial Revolution that a refined, hygienic feeding bottle became available.”

In addition to history, society has impacted breastfeeding. Throughout the decades, the cultural perception pendulum about mothers nursing their babies has swung between en vogue to gauche—multiple (as in Octomom multiple) times. One could argue that one reason for this is female breasts are often viewed as sexual objects rather than maternal organs.

I asked several mothers if they felt pressure to breastfeed, and the resounding answer was yes. However, their reasons were different. One told me her mother-in-law instructed her to not “ruin her breasts because she had a baby.” Another was told by a friend, “If you truly care for your baby, you should breastfeed.” And yet, a doula client of mine named Maureen Hueyo admitted, “Yes, I felt pressure to breastfeed, but it wasn’t societal. It was my own. The first six weeks were very difficult, and even though on the outside or verbally I would say, ‘I’m giving up,’ on the inside I knew I should and could do it.”

Hueyo did, in fact, have a difficult experience initially with breastfeeding—getting thrush, then painful engorgement and eventually mastitis. “I came into breastfeeding expecting it was going to be super easy, especially because, when he was born, the first thing he did was latch on,” she said. “But it became very painful. Every second of the 45 minutes of feeding every few hours was so painful.” In addition to being honest, Hueyo is pragmatic. Before having her baby, she thought about her birth plan. “I had every intention of having a natural birth, and I did, but I knew the epidural was always a choice. It was the same with breastfeeding. You have to know there are choices and that it takes time, trial and error and trusting your motherly instincts,” Hueyo said.

What also helped Hueyo was the breastfeeding support group at Hilton Head Hospital and lactation guru and local godsend Jean Magarelli, RN, CCE, IBCLC. “Jean really helped me. I called her a million times and went to see her a million more times. I had it in my mind to not give up, and her encouragement and the support of her boob group let me know that at some point it was going to get better.”

Magarelli started lactation consulting 27 years ago. Now she is leading the charge for Hilton Head Hospital to be a certified baby-friendly hospital. “We are so excited about this. We will be the first hospital in our area to be BFHI, or Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative,” Magarelli said. “We are in the process of teaching the staff and doctors and should earn it in 2017. Our goal is to promote breastfeeding and give you all the education you need including all the benefits of breastfeeding.”

Magarelli continued by giving a long and compelling list of reasons to breastfeed. “It helps with bonding, helps to prevent you from getting ovarian and breast cancer, fights osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease, promotes [postpartum] weight loss, and stimulates uterine contractions, therefore reducing chances of [postpartum] hemorrhaging. Plus, it’s free.”

Magarelli will also tell you breastfeeding doesn’t come without its challenges. “The most common problem I see is mom having a difficult time getting a good latch.” Other problems include sore nipples, inverted nipples (which is rare), or low flow (which is often associated with long births in which the mother lost a lot of fluid or had excessive bleeding). “As soon as the baby is born, I encourage mom to start with the cradle hold on the left side so baby can hear her heartbeat. Point the nipple toward the roof of the baby’s mouth, because it elicits her or him to latch on, and you want a good amount of the areola area to be covered by the baby’s mouth,” she advised.

Both Magarelli and Hueyo say the true key to successful breastfeeding is support. This support comes from your spouse or partner, other family members, your friends, other moms, and from society. Looking through other documents about the history of breastfeeding, reading other current snippets about the topic, and considering all the varying opinions, I’ve come to believe that support comes in the form of letting the mother decide what is best for her and her baby—perhaps one of the most age-old practices. 

Becca Edwards is a wellness professional, freelance writer and owner of b.e.WELL+b.e.CREATIVE (

Breastfeeding Tips:
• It takes three to four days for true (not just colostrum) milk to come in.
• When nursing, it’s important to empty at least one breast so that the baby gets the hind milk. On average this means 25 minutes per breast.
• Depending on the baby’s needs, for the first several weeks of breastfeeding, you will feed 8-12 times day.
• Baby Wise was written by a male. Don’t expect a schedule immediately, and go with the flow (pun intended).
• There are several ways to hold a baby while nursing including the cradle hold, football hold and reclining position.
• The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for six months.

Breastfeeding Checklist:
• Breast pump from Medela
• Nursing bras and tanks from Bravado Designs
• Nursing pillow (Boppy Pillow, My Breast Friend or a firm pillow)
• Burp clothes or swaddle blanket
• Baby carrier such as the Maya Sling or Baby K’tan
• Black yoga pants

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