By Bev Benda-Moe
Issue 137, July/August 2006
A blond, blue-eyed child sits in her mother's lap in a rocker at the Campbell Library in East Grand Forks, Minnesota. Bethany is two, and she's pointing to a picture in one of her favorite children's books. "Look, Mommy, there's a baby nursing! Just like you and me!"
Her mother smiles and pulls her daughter closer. "That's right, honey—just like you and me!"
The book is The Best Gifts, by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch, illustrated by Halina Below. It is the story of a young mother who was breastfed and who, when she has a child of her own, carries on her family tradition of breastfeeding by giving her daughter the best gift a mother can give: the gift of love through mother's milk. Other books on the Campbell Library shelves contain images that present breastfeeding as natural and beautiful. All of them were donated to the library by the Greater Grand Forks Breastfeeding Coalition, whose members believe that breastfeeding should be promoted as the norm and that children need to see images of breastfeeding. As one coalition member—Joan Camburn, LRD, IBCLC—stated, "Children need to see breastfeeding in their culture in order to believe it is the way to feed babies. With so many bottle-feeding images, and so many women who feel uncomfortable breastfeeding in public, American children are at a great disadvantage. In Third World countries, where breastfeeding is seen openly and frequently, it doesn't evoke a negative response. It is simply a natural part of the culture."
Camburn points out that little girls who grow up seeing breastfeeding have an easier time with positioning and latch when their turn comes. It is common for these children to be seen practicing positioning by "breastfeeding" their dolls in imitation of their mothers. Such role-modeling builds their confidence to commit to breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding images in books are vital to promoting breastfeeding in a society that views bottle-feeding as the norm. Pictures of babies and toddlers nursing also assure breastfeeding children who might read the book or see the images that they, themselves, are normal.
A number of excellent books are available for children today that should be available in every school library in order to show that all children should be expected to be breastfed. Children need to see breastfeeding images in books if they are to believe that that is the healthiest, most natural way to feed a baby. When children see their own mothers breastfeed but see only bottles in books, they get a mixed message, and may even wonder, "What's wrong with our family?" When they see nothing but bottles, they are taught that bottle- or formula-feeding is the norm.
Two-year-old Bethany is already at a great advantage to breastfeed when she is older. Her own nursing experience, the support of her mother, and seeing breastfeeding images in books at home and in the local library will all reinforce her belief that breastfeeding is a positive and natural experience. People who think that images of breastfeeding don't belong in children's books would do well to read some of the best pro-breastfeeding books out there. The books listed below teach about the beginnings of life. Open some of these wonderful selections and share with children the miraculous act of breastfeeding. Your actions will create a legacy for generations to come.
The Best Gifts, by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch, illustrated by Halina Below (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1999). The key phrase in this book is "the best gifts can never be bought." When you see the cover image—a baby snuggled at her mother's breast—you know which gift is meant. Halina Below's beautiful illustrations clearly show the love that begins with breastfeeding.
Will There Be a Lap for Me?, by Dorothy Corey, illustrated by Nancy Poydar (Albert Whitman & Company, 1995). When Kyle is bumped off his pregnant mother's lap by her bulging belly, he wonders if he's lost the special spot he has occupied since birth. When the baby comes and takes up much of his mother's time, Kyle continues to wonder if he will ever sit in her lap again. A beautiful picture of Kyle sitting with his mom as she breastfeeds the new baby shows the normalcy of breastfeeding in this family's home. Nancy Poydar's exquisite watercolors make this book one for the permanent family bookshelf.
Look What I See! Where Can I Be? In the Neighborhood, by Dia L. Michels, photographs by Michael J. N. Bowles (Platypus Media, 2001). This delightful book is written from the point of view of a baby whose parents carry him around the neighborhood (no infant car seats, thank you!), where he wakes up to find all sorts of cool things. Michael Bowles's photographs are sharp and bright—you truly feel you are this baby, enjoying everything from fresh produce to fish in an aquarium to flowers in the park to his mother's breast.
We Like to Nurse, by Chia Martin, illustrated by Shukyo Lin Rainey (Hohm Press, 1994). This simple book for young children shows various animals enjoying their mothers' milk, and ends with mom and baby nursing. On the back cover, Mothering editor-publisher Peggy O'Mara states, "Any work of art that celebrates the profundity of the breastfeeding relationship is worthy of note. The art of this book is especially tender and vulnerable—the way that breastfeeding is—and opens us up to the deeper feelings of this intimate relationship." We Like to Nurse belongs in every school library, to help teachers and students alike move past the comfort level of discussing only furry creatures nursing, and on to celebrating the naturalness of human breastfeeding.
Michele: The Nursing Toddler—A Story About Sharing Love, by Jane M. Pinczuk, illustrated by Barbara Murray (La Leche League International, 1998). This rhyming book tells the tale of a toddler who is "normal" in every way: she runs, jumps, plays, eats—and enjoys breastfeeding. Michele grows from infancy into a toddlerhood full of the confidence that comes of being loved. Barbara Murray's soft watercolor illustrations add much appeal to the book.
Sophie and the New Baby, by Laurence Anholt, illustrated by Catherine Anholt (Albert Whitman & Company, 2000). This book realistically depicts what one little girl feels when her new baby brother arrives. The images of breastfeeding are precious and greatly appreciated—Mom actually looks postpartum (no size 5 jeans for her!). The enticing watercolor illustrations are full of warmth and detail.
The Cuddlers, by Stacy Towle Morgan, illustrated by Marvin Jarboe (La Leche League International, 1993). This is the story of four children who like to crawl into bed with their parents at night. The pictures of the little ones in their cozy sleepers, padding down the hall to be with Mom and Dad, are precious and sweet. The story grows almost hilarious as the bed becomes a wild mess of bodies—Dad's leg hangs off the bed, Mom is squeezed to the edge of the mattress, and children flop every which way in between. Author Stacy Towle Morgan got the idea for The Cuddlers one night when she fell out of bed herself. All that's missing is an image of breastfeeding—but you can just feel that this mom still breastfeeds her toddler.
Only the Cat Saw, written and illustrated by Ashley Wolff (Walker & Company, 1996). As a family gets ready to settle down for the night, their cat begins to explore, and ends up casually observing many things, including a breastfeeding mother and baby sharing special time together at dawn.
Breastmilk Makes My Tummy Yummy, written and illustrated by Cecilia Moen (Midsummer Press, 1999). With colorful illustrations and simple rhymes, this book depicts not only nursing, but tandem nursing as well.
Bev Benda-Moe is a licensed registered dietitian and certified lactation counselor practicing in Grand Forks, North Dakota.