Even with access to just about every resource possible, breastfeeding can still feel like a challenge for new moms, including celebrities like Jessica Alba and Jessica Biel. This week both moms got honest about the unique struggles they faced with breastfeeding each of their four children—and say support from people in their village made all the difference.
“I had a very hard time breastfeeding and getting good amounts of quality fatty milk. For whatever reason, it was just harder for me,” Biel told Yahoo! Lifestyle at an event for the launch of The Nanny Connie Way: Secrets to Mastering the First Four Months of Parenthood.
Biel adds the baby nurse she used when Silas was born, nanny-turned-author Connie Simpson, was the one who provided reassurance—and the reminder that formula is a wonderful option, too. Alba said she had a similar experience—both with Connie and breastfeeding.
“I produced a lot of breast milk with my first, but my baby didn’t want to feed on me. My second child was into it, but my milk supply was not as much,” Alba said. “And with my third, my supply was not enough for him, so after three weeks I did a combination feed.”
For Biel and Alba, it was Simpson who provided a lot of support during the feeding challenges. While the rest of us might look to friends and family instead of live-in help, the bottom line is that whether you’re paying people to help or just accepting help from the ones who love you, having support is huge.
Research backs this up: In a recent study on the reasons breastfeeding rates are much higher in places like northern Namibia than in the United States, anthropologist Brooke Scelza says the difference is in the community. As Scelza told NPR in a June interview, Himbi women in Namibia have the same struggles as American moms, such as pain, difficulty with latching and supply issues. But, thanks to cultural traditions, they have support from other women 24 hours a day.
“I think that there’s enormous pressure to succeed with breastfeeding in the U.S. and that you feel like if you can’t do it that this is a huge failing as a mother,” Scelza says. She added widespread normalization of breastfeeding in Namibia also makes a difference—which is something Alba said she would like to see more of here.
“We should normalize breastfeeding. I nursed my son anywhere he wanted to,” said Alba, who recently made headlines when she fed her son in a Target fitting room. “Especially as a newborn, you have to feed them when they want to feed.”
Biel says she thinks part of normalizing is also destigmatizing the sharing of breastmilk. (A practice that is more common in other cultures.) “Back in the day, women used to help each other feed their babies,” Biel said. “If I had women in my community who I trusted and who would have shared with me—this may freak people out—but I would have 100% [had them feed my baby].”
At the very least, we as a society need to get better at asking for and accepting help, whether it’s professional or not. “One of the biggest stereotypes about my job is that women don’t need help or that it costs too much,” says Simpson, the celebrity nanny. “It can be expensive, but there’s always somebody in your community who needs extra change—they can come over and give you time to rejuvenate as a parent. Because every parent needs help. You will always run into that wall where you feel like you’re all alone and you need someone.”