I recently attended a baby shower, having not been to one since getting involved with lactation education and advocacy, and was taken off guard by the prevalence of bottles and pacifiers in décor and activities. Sure, they are just decorations, but it led me to think about why this might be a problem, and just what can be done about it.
More and more, I find myself disturbed by the notion that the symbol of a bottle or a pacifier would be appropriate as symbolic of a baby. It's not that breastfeeding mothers are unilaterally opposed to bottles – without bottles, to feed expressed breast milk, some mothers with early breastfeeding difficulties (like me!) would never breastfeed at all, and mothers who go back to work might have no option other than artificial milk. A bottle is a tool, sometimes necessary, but is a bottle a celebration of babyhood? No more than a nail clipper, or umbilical cord clamp or diaper rash cream, but I don't see anyone putting those images on a cake!
The concern is that bottles on practically every piece of baby shower paraphernalia at a shower store sends the implicit message that bottles are a *must have.* The prevalence of bottles undermines the notion that exclusive breastfeeding is preferable or even possible.
Pacifiers everywhere imply that they are a harmless baby toy – just something that babies like. We are told that babies satisfy a baby's seemingly endless need to suck. But pacifiers interfere with the development of a healthy milk supply (the very *reason* for that constant need to suck). They are also seen as a way to stop babies from crying – but crying is how babies communicate, most commonly hunger.
Artificial milk delivers too many calories in too short a time, which means that mothers must turn to a non-productive nipple like a pacifier to satisfy the baby's sucking need, but the breast offers just the right amount of nutrition. Babies are biologically programmed to suckle the right amount to get the proper nutrition and stimulate an increasing milk supply to meet the baby's needs at he or she grows. Even if not offered artificial milk, the pacifier interferes with the baby's natural nursing pattern and can lead to low milk supply for the mother. Not so harmless…
The truth is that both bottles and pacifiers, used for convenience or supplementation along with the breast, sabotage early breastfeeding by interfering with the establishment of milk supply. Their overexposure at baby showers is at best misguided and at worst subversive to the health of babies and mothers.
There are many, many other images that can be used at baby showers that are breastfeeding friendly and still celebrate babies. Images to look for include blocks, booties, tiny socks, carriages, rattles, foot and handprints, blankets, dolls, babies(!), rocking horses, teddy bears, safety pins, ducklings, any sort of baby animals, cute toys – cars, sports balls, etc. There is no shortage of available images!
So if the mother-to-be at your shower plans to breastfeeding, support her commitment to do what's best for her baby by passing up the decorations featuring bottles and pacifiers.
Looking for great breastfeeding-friendly breastfeeding support? Here are two of my favorite books: