I was researching about breastfeeding in preparation for our first baby. I ran into a concept I didn’t expect to find. It startled and fascinated me. It’s what I like to call “The Perceived Normal.”
This revelation changed my life.
- I’m not against formula. I’m glad it exists. The thought of my baby dying due to complications outside my control is scary. Formula is my very last resort and I don’t like it, but it’s still better than the alternative.
- I understand that there are personal, circumstantial, emotional reasons for a mother to choose formula over breastfeeding (or a combination of the two). I’m not trying to shame anyone.
- Regardless of whether you agree with this controversial topic or not, PLEASE just focus on the concept I’m trying to convey by telling this story: perceived normal. It can be applied to many different things. I just happened to pick breastfeeding as an example.
Breastfeeding Used to Be “Normal”
Breastfeeding used to be a well-known skill, passed down from mother to daughter. A mother’s basic breastfeeding needs were well-supported by her family, job, and community.
Then Formula companies got greedy. They put out ads that claimed breastfeeding was bad for babies. They even paid doctors to say the same thing. So, out of their loving hearts willing to do anything for their babies, mother’s all across America abandoned breastfeeding.
American culture changed drastically in just one or two generations. The bottle became the universal symbol of babyhood. Pacifiers replaced the natural, build-in “pacifier” of the mother’s nipple. Even doctor’s growth charts had to be replaced (yes, breastfed babies have to have a completely different growth chart than formula babies).
Those who did still breastfeed had to do so in secret. They even formed their own secret breastfeeding group code-named, “La Leche League.” Those few mothers who still breastfed were ashamed to openly admit it.
Culture Changes Drastically
What comes to mind when you think of “breastfeeding”? No doubt a mother cradling a baby horizontally in her arms. That’s actually not the “normal” way to breastfeed. All across the world, women in every culture breastfeed holding their baby upright, not lying flat. The flat cradle position was introduced because this is the way babies are usually bottle-fed.
The flat cradle position actually causes a lot of problems for breastfeeding mothers. It’s hard to get a good latch that way. A poor latch is accompanied by painful or bleeding nipples, poor milk removal, poor milk supply, and one very unhappy baby.
Today, 70% of American babies–if at all–are breastfed only a few months. Very few are breastfed past 6 months, and fewer still make it to a year of exclusive breastfeeding. That’s normal, right? If you were to breastfeed, you imagine maybe doing 6 months or a year. Then it’s time for “real” food.
Not exactly. The rest of the world for thousands of years has actually breastfed a minimum of 2 years (it’s actually the recommended time of the World Health Organization). It’s not uncommon for a mother today to breastfeed up to 4 years old (in addition to solids). In ancient times, babies were breastfed all the way up to 6 years old.
Can you imagine breastfeeding a 2-year-old on American streets? Me neither.
But this is what is best for the baby, who doesn’t fully develop his own immune system until 2 years old! Until then, he relies on his mother’s immune system passed onto him through the breastmilk (nature’s original “vaccination”).
Don’t Trust Anyone Except a Certified IBCLC
Breastfeeding is a very complicated and beautiful relationship. Doctors, midwives, and even lactation consultants are not properly schooled about breastfeeding–despite what they might tell you. If anyone is quick to mention “just use formula,” they do NOT understand breastfeeding at all. Get an IBCLC and do not listen to anyone else.
Where did I get this idea that doctors, midwives, and common culture don’t understand breastfeeding? I didn’t get it from an obscure conspiracy site. This is what every IBCLC–people who have made breastfeeding their entire LIFE–will tell you. And once I understood the science for myself, I started to think they’re probably right.
The New “Normal” of Baby Health
We are a formula-fed culture. Formula babies, formula health, and formula issues are the Normal here.
It may surprise you–and it surprised me too–just how HUGE a difference there is between formula babies and exclusively breastfed babies. A baby is just a baby… right?
In our culture, this is a normal baby (assumed to be just “the way babies are” naturally):
- expect to poop regularly and watch out for constipation. Not pooping for a few days is a worrisome sign.
- spaced feeding every few hours. If baby wants feedings closer together, he’s not getting enough
- knowing how much baby is getting by the contents of the bottle
- pacifier for comfort and to reduce risk of SIDS
- everything needs to be extremely clean, as babies get sick easily
- sleeping long
But in Nature, this is a normal baby (when exclusively breastfed):
- feeding close together (cluster feeding) or far apart is normal and does not reflect on the mother’s milk supply
- Babies breastfeed for a hundred different reasons–for a drink, a snack, a meal, comfort, to fall asleep, for pain, for medicine when sick, etc.
- You know how much baby is getting by his diaper output
- Your body produces the exact recipe your baby needs. The baby’s saliva “backwashes” into the nipple and tells your body what to make for the baby’s next meal. If the baby is sick, your body will immediately produce antibodies (medicine) to fight the illness. Your body also automatically adjusts the milk for your baby’s growing body. No need to manually adjust feeding amounts as with formula.
- different growth chart
- night feedings and not sleeping as long
As a result, grandmothers and other well-meaning relatives may look at your normal breastfed baby and say things like, “He’s feeding too often! He must be starving! Are you sure he’s getting enough? Shouldn’t you use formula?” Or “Are you STILL breastfeeding?” Or “Nipple pain is just a part of breastfeeding. It’s normal,” (nipple pain is NEVER normal!! Get an IBCLC to help!).
What is “Normal”?
Are you starting to see what I’m getting at?
“Normal” is often synonymous with “Right” in our eyes. We judge everything good and evil through a perception filter called our sense of “normal.”
It is normal for objects to fall to the ground when dropped. It is normal for the sun to rise in the east and set in the west. It is normal for water to have three states of matter.
Normal is what happens every single day, consistently, and will always be that way no matter what the circumstance.
It is normal for a baby to feed every few hours and sleep through the night… right?
Wrong. That’s not a “normal” baby (normal according to Nature). That is a formula-fed baby, a very common practice in our culture. But that doesn’t make it normal.
Compared to Mother Nature, history, and the rest of the world, American Formula Culture is very strange indeed (go figure–we’re Americans! It’s what we do).
We tend to think that normal can’t change–that if a major disaster were to happen, we would spot the inconsistency immediately and take action. Normal has always been the same for generations, hasn’t it? This is what we’ve always done, right?
Normal CAN change. Normal DID change! It changed on such a MASSIVE nation-wide scale that no one even realized it was happening.
“Weird” happens when something stands out in stark contrast to the rest of its surroundings. Like a black spot on a white dress. But if the entire dress were to be dipped in ink, no one would know that it wasn’t supposed to be a black dress. Not unless someone remembered it’s original design.
The original design for babies IS breastfeeding, regardless of what culture may believe about what’s “normal” for babies.
Again, as I said in the Disclaimer, I’m not here to shame anyone or to bash formula. I’m simply trying to explain a concept by using this interesting drastic culture change as an example.
The Dangers of Perceived “Normal”
Here’s what it all comes down to. I saw this one day during a breastfeeding class and it suddenly clicked–this whole idea of “perceived normal”:
When listing the benefits of breastfeeding vs formula feeding, people usually say things like “breastfeeding reduces the risk of SIDS.” But we shouldn’t say it like that. That’s assuming formula babies are normal and breastfeeding is weird. It should actually be said: “Formula increases your baby’s risk of SIDS.”
Do you see the difference?
I was shocked. I love breastfeeding so much, and even I never thought about this before!
I started to think about other things I thought of as normal. How about rambunxious “rebellious” little kids? How about diabetes, cancer, infant death rates, or asthma? How about struggling to make ends meet, living paycheck to paycheck? Are those “normal?”
Getting food exclusively from a grocery store–is that normal?
What about this: feeling groggy getting up in the morning. Is that normal? How about feeling fearful, anxious, worried, or even depressed? How about labor pains?
It’s hard to make the effort to change what we perceive as normal. Our mental filters need to be changed in order to see the real truth.
In order to make a real change in the world, we have to have a different perspective. The RIGHT perspective.
What is the culture’s perceived normal?
What is the REAL normal?
Even more importantly: what on earth happened that cause us all to get so off track in the first place?
My Perceived Normal
I grew up super isolated from the world. No internet, TV, or friends. We lived in super small towns and were not allowed to have much freedom at all. I had extreme authoritarian helicopter parents–and they were proud of it.
I had no idea until just this past year that my childhood was NOT normal.
Normal to us was getting up in the morning to make our own breastfast, then wash an hour of dishes, then do school until lunch. Then we’d make our own lunch, do an hour of dishes, and finish school until dinner. Then we’d make our own dinner and do another hour of dishes. Somewhere in there, we’d also fit in cleaning the rest of the house and doing all the laundry. We also had to create our own work schedules, maintain the house, keep the pets cared for, get exercise, and more.
Yes, we had parents. But when the oldest was just 12, they had us do all those things for them. There were 4 of us kids total–you do the math. And we had no dishwasher.
Normal was not having enough food to eat and going hungry night after night. Normal was being 20 pounds underweight and still feeling fat and ugly.
Normal was hearing one of us–often me–taken to the parent’s bedroom for common child mistakes or misunderstandings. You could hear the loud, swift snap of the spoon (or hand) and the responding guttural screams echoing clearly throughout the house. Everyone could hear it. It usually went on for at least a full minute.
Normal was being on high alert for Mom to come in with a bad mood and want to be appeased, but we all knew deep down that was impossible.
Normal was feeling depressed, suicidal, alone, terrified, unloved.
Normal was a very scary place!
Not one of us kids though to stand up to our parents for fear of being beaten. I wanted to run away all my life since I was 2 years old, but I knew whoever I ran away too would deliver me back to my parents and I would then get beaten mercilessly.
Worse still, none of us kids ever thought to ask for help. Because of THIS that I’m highlighting today: we never told anyone we were being abused because we thought it was all normal!
I had no idea how bad we had it growing up. I knew something was wrong, but I hid those feeling deep down because they only got me beaten even more.
Why were we beaten? Because my parents were zealous traditional pastors. “Spanking” is just what good Christians did. They wanted to raise perfect kids and keep us safe (noble desires, really), so they did everything they thought was necessary to do that.
They scoffed at “soft” parents who “gently” spanked and yet had upset kids in Walmart. “Give your kid to me,” Mom would say proudly to herself. “I can cure that in a week. My kids only had a tantrum exactly once.”
Quiet, reserved, uninteresting “adult” kids were normal in our family.
I’m so glad I started questioning my perceived normal. I’ve gotten so much healing from my past wounds! My parents did their best out of their own perceived normal–largely inspired by Christian culture’s normal.
When Tradition’s normal crosses what God’s Word (and science) says should be normal, I’m going to trust what God says. Even if it means changing Christian culture.