"I decided to try breastfeeding pretty much from the time I got pregnant," says Valery Upson, 32, of Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. "I'd heard the whole 'breast is best' cry often enough to know it was something I should be doing." The Obama administration agrees. In January, the Office of the Surgeon General issued a call to action to support breastfeeding, and in February, Michelle Obama announced that she would promote breastfeeding as part of her campaign against childhood obesity.
Upson's son Peregrine was born in September of 2010, and at just over four months, he is hitting his marks in height and weight on an exclusive diet of breast milk. "I love the doctor's office because then he gets weighed and he's my little prize pig," Upson says laughing.
According to the surgeon general's office, breastfeeding protects babies from illnesses like diarrhea and ear infections. And the American Academy of Pediatrics says babies who are breastfed exclusively for six months are less likely to become obese. But in the U.S., only 13 percent of babies are still being exclusively breastfed at six months. Among African-Americans, that number drops to eight percent.
Neither Upson nor her husband Chauncey were breastfed. "My mom was supportive but a little bit like 'oh, that's interesting.' She didn't have any wisdom for me," Upson says.
Maria Paciullo, who is a group leader at La Leche League, suggests one way to get that wisdom is to meet other mothers who are currently nursing. And for new moms who are shy about breastfeeding while out and about, she says: don't be. "Your baby's needs come before the needs of 'the public,'" Paclullo writes in an e-mail. "People need to see breastfeeding so that we can become a breastfeeding culture where it is normal and expected."
But the surgeon general's call to action points out that the decision to breastfeed is a personal one.
Upson says she thinks the idea to support the choice to breastfeed is great—as long as it doesn't create guilt. "If we don't couch it in terms of 'You really should be doing this,' because then you feel guilty, and it is a whole spiral," she says. "And sometimes you don't have the choice."
Upson would also love for other people to be able to feed the baby with a bottle, but she hates pumping breast milk. "When he's sleeping and I have time to do something, the last thing I want to do is sit down and pump for 45 minutes," Upson says.
Upson, who loves to cook and eat, looks forward to her son being able to eat solid food, which usually happens at about six months. "I have enjoyed breastfeeding so much now that I'll probably keep doing it," says Upson, "but I would love to maybe have a little bit more mobility." She plans to stick it out for at least six months. "He's thrived on breast milk so far, so I don't see any reason to stop it yet."