Breastfeeding in the 1970s and 1980s

Image by Kristian Thøgersen under Creative Commons License

I had my first baby in 1978 in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was what you would call a “hippie” back then and I was able to have my baby “naturally.” And when it came to feeding her, there was no question I was going to breastfeed. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Nowadays I would be labeled crunchy granola and I would wear that tag proudly.

Breastfeeding was not easy for me to begin with. I had no one to get information from. My mom bottle-fed me and had no advice to give. My one close friend who had her babies before me had tried and gave up breastfeeding within a week. The hospital where I had my babies, Stanford Medical Center, was very supportive, but all they did was give me some brochures on breastfeeding. The swag bag I got to take home after I gave birth actually had formula in it— Lots of it.

There were two organizations available to me back then that promoted breastfeeding; La Leché League (LLL) and the Nursing Mothers Counsel. LLL was very fanatical back then and I felt they put a lot of pressure on new mamas to breastfeed no matter what. It seemed to me the guilt they heaped on was just more than I could bear. They didn’t give me advice other than “just keep at it,” and “it’s natural and easy.”

The Nursing Mothers Counsel (NMC), which offers free breastfeeding support through volunteers in the San Francisco Bay Area, was much more to my liking. I felt they promoted breastfeeding, but also gave me support and encouragement rather than buzz words and guilt.

So after our adorable baby girl was born, I started breastfeeding her immediately. She had a good latch and was doing great. Such a good latch, in fact, that my nipples started getting raw, cracked and sore almost from the get-go.

It would have been so easy to have quit at that point. It really hurt! The volunteer counselor from NMC was awesome. She was at the other end of the phone whenever I called and talked me off the ledge more than a few times. She kept encouraging me to try different soothing remedies for the soreness, that my nipples would toughen and it would actually get easier. She even came to my house to offer her support. I’m not sure what I would have done if it hadn’t been for her.

Image by Daquella manera under Creative Commons License

Another issue I had to deal with had to do with the size of my breasts. The girls are pretty substantial and it was hard at first to get the hang of feeding our baby without the breast covering her entire face and threatening to smother her. This same great counselor from the NMC helped me remedy this by having me hold my daughter in a football hold. Instead of her lying across my lap I tucked her under my arm on the side with the breast that she was nursing. The breast then would kinda dangle and she was able to latch and not get buried in breast tissue.

This is usually a position suggested to mamas who have had C-sections because of their tender tummies. 

As the weeks went by, I was happy to see that my counselor was spot on. My nipples toughened and my beautiful baby girl was eating like a lumberjack and flourishing. It was actually pleasurable to nurse her and I was darn good at it.

The only drawback; I was producing enough milk to feed an army of babies. There’s nothing quite like dressing up to go out in a nice outfit and leaking all over the front of it.

What to do? 

The Nursing Mothers Counsel had a program where I could donate your breast milk through them to mamas and babies in my area who needed it. And I had plenty of milk to donate. The process was simple. You called them; they sent a counselor to your home and gave you small sealed glass bottles that had sterile water in them. You unsealed them, dumped the water, and filled the bottle with your breast milk, sealed it again, then stashed it in the freezer. The counselor would then come back with new bottles, leave them, and pick up the frozen breast milk. 

Next I had to master pumping my breast milk. We didn’t have nice electric breast pumps like mamas have today. The ones we had were torture devices; a strange bulb syringe that looked like a modified turkey baster and another that used two hands and a plunger. Both were very painful and not very effective. I found it easier to express my breasts by hand similar to the way you would milk a cow. Find the right spot, then squeeze and pull. I know it sounds painful but it really didn’t hurt at all and I was able to express four to six ounces of breast milk in about ten minutes. And I expressed right into the sterile bottle. So my routine was to feed my baby until she was full, hand her off to her daddy to burp and cuddle and then grab a bottle and express the breast milk. Pretty simple and it was a good feeling to know that a mama who couldn’t breastfeed her baby was able to avoid formula.

Image by singleback under Creative Commons License

When the second, third, and fourth babies came along, needless to say, breastfeeding came very naturally to me and it was so much easier to get back into shape for the task. Funny how the breasts and nipples somehow remembered what to do. When my last baby weaned herself at about a year old I was so sad. I loved nursing our babies.

Note from Sandy’s daughter, Alex T.: Turns out the excruciating pain Sandy felt when nursing me was mostly caused by a tongue tie that wasn’t discovered until 2014 when my youngest son was found to have one. My own struggles with nursing my oldest were also caused by a tongue tie (also discovered in 2014), which can be hereditary. In my older son and myself, our frenulums stretched enough so we were able to breastfeed effectively and the pain when nursing eventually went away, but this doesn’t happen with all tongue and lip tied babies. 

If you are struggling with a lot of pain while nursing your newborn, fussing with a bad latch, or they aren’t gaining weight well, ask your lactation consultant, midwife or pediatrician to check for a tongue or lip tie. Some are hard to diagnose and some health care providers aren’t skilled on diagnosing them. It’s not always necessary to clip a tie as some are thin enough that they will stretch on their own. 

4 Responses to Breastfeeding in the 1970s and 1980s

  1. Sorry, I was so rough on your nips Mom! Glad it worked out though, your support when I was first nursing my son was tremendous!

  2. Thanks for sharing your experiences! My mom had her three children in the late 80′s and early 90′s and she formula fed two of us exclusively and tried to breastfeed once for 3 weeks. It just didn’t seem to be as “in vogue” or talked about as much as it is now.

  3. I was born in the early 80′s and my younger brother was born in the late 80′s. My mom breastfed both of us (I’m not sure if I was exclusively breastfed, but I remember clearly that my little brother did get formula supplements, as she said he didn’t really quite get the hang of latching on), and she got support from La Leché League. I remember her saying once that they were rather fanatical about it. I’ve heard, anecdotally, that back in those days, formula feeding was definitely the norm and breastfeeding was for the hippies and those who couldn’t afford to exclusively formula-feed.

  4. Pingback: Donating Breast Milk: Alex T's Story Mama Say What?! | Mama Say What?!

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