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We are currently blogging every day on babble.com on a blog called "Being Pregnant" so come read us over there...
Judith Warner, we love you, but you’re bringing us down.
Oh, Judith. You and Hanna Rosin both bring up a lot of great points. Pumping may not be the perfect answer to a working mother and hungry baby's needs. Breastfeeding advocacy can go way too far. Women should be given some flexibility on the question of what to feed their babies. Pressure and guilt are bad.
But your piece was laced with such disgust! Words like "grotesque" and "undignified"? How do those sound to the man on the street? To a pregnant mother, who’s thinking about whether to nurse or not? Who cares if your argument was ostensibly about pumping, not breastfeeding? The image of a lactating woman as a cow will linger a lot longer than those tiny disclaimers about how much you loved nursing. You say you wouldn’t have traded breastfeeding for the world. But you may well have made that trade for the women who read this piece and think, hmm, dignity vs. breastfeeding… maybe not.
We know there’s a strident voice out there saying “breast is best,” and we know it can royally suck to hear it when you’re struggling. But there’s a reason for that liquid gold fetish you’re talking about. It’s a defense against the much bigger fetish: breasts. As sex objects, not food sources. It’s easier for people to think in terms of science and statistics than think about where that fluid comes from. And let’s put this into perspective: Formula has been the primary food for the majority of babies in this country for more than half a century. There’s still a very squeamish attitude about nursing from the sexist camp (Bill Maher) and the old schoolers (Barbara Walters). If our New York Times feminist hero is telling everyone breastfeeding is disgusting, what will happen next?
We are more than sympathetic to the plight of the pumping mother. We have enjoyed many a bovine joke. But the pump is more than just a tool of oppression to help women strive toward some impossible standard of exclusive bf perfection.
Pumping is part of the reality of breastfeeding for lots of reasons: a premature baby; a job that resumes while supply is still being established (within the first 6 weeks postpartum); a life that includes random time away from the baby during which the mother doesn’t want to ejaculate milk on flight attendants, develop mastitis or otherwise suffer through engorgement. For these people, and for other women who may just like the idea of sustaining their babies on the milk their bodies produce, your piece was offensive. Is it necessary to take down breastfeeding to make it okay to not do it some of the time?
Pregnancy and breastfeeding challenge how we define our bodies and their purpose, and force us to see ourselves dually as we move forward as both mothers and women; animals and citizens. Pumping can make us painfully aware of these dualities. It can be annoying, emotional, enraging. Oxytocin—the bonding hormone—floods a woman’s body when milk is released. To feel all that bonding with no baby present can be hard. So is the solution to throw away the pump? Or throw away the job? Or throw away the baby? Or write letters to your congressperson demanding more maternity leave? How about women are given the choice to pump and/or feed formula as they see fit while we wait/fight for all the maternity leave and flexibility we deserve. What we don’t need is a guilt trip from the “breastfeeding Nazis” in one ear and a sneer from the New York Times in the other.
Yes, the breastfeeding zealots are a nightmare, but so are the backlashers.
What about the real women caught in the middle of all this?
ok, maybe i'll have the salad
All this scary health news has dragged us out of a months-long blogless inertia. Among the disturbing health findings this week is a new study reporting that one and a half cups of coffee daily can double your miscarriage risk in early pregnancy, much less than previously thought. And then there's the NYT exposé on mercury in tuna sushi (login required).
Tests of tuna from twenty purveyors (high end restaurants and stores) produced such high mercury ratings that a good 1/3 of the fish could have been seized by the FDA. According to the readings, a single plate of tuna sashimi could exceed your maximum recommended mercury intake for a week. And that's not counting the yellowtail app or the toro scallion hand roll that finishes up the meal.
Mercury quotas are calculated for adults. My four year old is crazy for tuna sushi. I've been letting him have a piece or two every month or so, thinking how much mercury could be in one little piece? So much for that. Even a bite seems questionable when you're thirty-seven pounds.
I've been pretty tuna-avoidant for the past five years since I've been pregnant or nursing most of the time. Even when we went to Masa, I only got a half portion of the toro parfait. But we're a sushi-loving family... I can't just blow the whole thing off. I try to consult the NRDC's incredibly useful mercury in sushi chart when I can, often while sitting at the table (thank you, iphone).
And Sara Kate of The Kitchen (a fellow recent gestator herself) just wrote about Kona Kampachi, Hawaiian yellowtail that's supposedly toxin-free. I've got high hopes... and a lot of post-post-pregnancy cravings that need sating.
charlie sheen's aggressive breastfeeding campaign
Seems there are some porn addicts out there who support breastfeeding. (Scroll to paragraph eight).
harvard med student engorged and enraged
This is a bad week for breastfeeding. I just read that a judge has rejected a Harvard student and breastfeeding mother's request to be given a pumping break during her nine hour medical licensing exam. (A medical exam no less!) The AOL report I read includes a poll and at the moment the majority of readers are agreeing with the judge. So sad. This + Bill Maher = serious disconnect between much of the country and the reality of breastfeeding mothers. I think even those who consider themselves supportive of breastfeeding really DO NOT understand what it takes. And the only way they will is to institute some kind of basic national education campaign that doesn't JUST talk about the benefits of breastfeeding but literally explains how milk supply and demand works. It's sort of pathetic to have to get to this. But I can't see any way around it.
How about this: From now on ALL HIGHSCHOOL STUDENTS are taught how breastfeeding works in either sex education or ninth grade biology. Take your pick. But make it mandatory. It's too exhausting for us to have a debate with a public that just doesn't know the facts.
for the dogs
oh, bill. I have to say, i never liked you much. I guess I'm just suspicious of smart guys who don't seem to like smart women. But still, I never expected this. And Ceridwen, who watches you every week, felt truly betrayed. Apparently none of your bright young writers learned much about breastfeeding up there in Boston. Why should they, since it's a subject roundly dismissed by anyone who isn't directly faced with lactation. But a little homework would have been helpful. If someone had researched, you could have saved yourself the vitriol of many. Look, we know you're not into the kid thing. That much is clear. It's one thing to prefer your own relationships unencumbered by the burdens of reproduction, and another thing to publicly seethe with derision at those who choose to litter the world with their offspring. If you consider procreation a narcissistic act, fine. Say that, instead of foisting the blame on women who are fighting for their reasonable, legal rights: rights which are too often still challenged, no thanks to people like you. Your rant was bald misogyny, and it told us a lot more about you than we wanted to know.
Bill Maher on public breastfeeding, from YouTube (skip to middle at 2:59):
through the eyes of a pregnant woman, or the worst part about breastfeeding is all that pumping
We went to a beautiful country fair in Maine this weekend, and while Alfred was thrilled with the rides and cotton candy....
... I found myself drawn to other "attractions."
the cleavage theory of milk supply
I saw an old friend last night who wanted to talk to me about breastfeeding. She said she thinks that the idea that "all women can produce enough milk for their babies" is not true. She said she did absolutely everything to breastfeed her baby as much and for as long as possible-- her partner has severe, life-threatening food allergies so they felt that it was extra important and paid attention to "getting it right" from day one-- but her supply never picked up to the point where she could exclusively feed. She was pumping after every single feeding. She fed through days, though nights. At this point I asked her if she had heard about the "milk storage capacity" -- it's something we wrote about in our book and is not well known. She had heard about it and had also heard-- and this part was news to me-- that the cleavage of woman can indicate her storage capacity. Apparently if the shape of the boob is very round and long-- the kind that makes cleavage-- then there's more milk making apparatus. If they are further apart with less flesh there may be less milk. The lactation consultant who advised on From the Hips told us that experienced hands can "palpate" the breast to determine how much storage there is. She seemed to think that even with a small storage capacity, a woman can make enough milk. My friend definitely did not find this to be true from her experience. And speculated that perhaps wet nursing had something to do with the fact that some women simply could not feed their babies. It makes sense: before the days of formula, that busty dame down the street with the heaving cleaved bosom would have been a life-saver.
from the hips on sale today!!
After three long years of intensive study, outreach, debate and pumping we are so thrilled to be able to say our book, From the Hips, is finally on the shelves! We're really happy with the way the book turned out, and we hope you like it, too. Also, if you ever filled out a survey at thenewmom.com check the book for your own words-- we used tons of real quotes from real parents to show the many ways pregnancy, birth and having a baby can go down.
Check back here for press info, we'll be coming to an ivory leather couch near you sometime very soon.
no formula for obesity?
I have friends who are gay and adopting a baby who is due in three days. They're trying to gear up to be confident new parents, but with each Google forward they get another screenful about the health risks of formula. They've been offered frozen breastmilk from a friend. But it's for a much older baby, not a newborn. It's kind of hard to ship it and it wouldn't last that long. And is it really worth it?
They were starting to feel OK about the slightly less miraculous formula and then last week they called me in a panic after reading the ingredients: palm oil, corn syrup...
But today there's some news that may take the edge off as they shake that first bottle. According to a study conducted by Harvard University and published in the International Journal of Obesity, breastfeeding does not reduce the chances for obesity later in life.
"I'm the first to say breastfeeding is good. But I don't think it's the solution to reducing childhood or adult obesity," said the study's lead author, Karin Michels of Harvard Medical School.
The study included 14,500 women who were breastfed as babies and more than 21,000 who were not.
Days before this study was announced, there was another story about British scientists who are trying to develop a formula that includes leptin-- an ingredient in breastmilk that suppresses hunger and may minimize obesity later in life. We'll see what happens with the leptin...
In the meantime, I hope the obesity study gives my friends some reassurance. That and the fact that they are quite possibly saving a life. Isn't that miraculous enough?
more breast feeding = less breast cancer
There's been a lot of news this week about breastfeeding, fertility and delayed pregnancy. NPR did a story this morning about a new study showing that breastfeeding reduces the chances of breast cancer for women who "delay childbirth." Basically, having kids later in life increases the chances for breast cancer, however breastfeeding voids out that risk. Luckily, older moms are more likely to breastfeed and rates of breastfeeding in general are slowly climbing. It's also good because--and no matter how many times I hear this I will never get used to it--1 in 9 women get breast cancer.
Also, over at Slate Amanda Schaffer takes a good, long look at the research about breast cancer and fertility treatments. This line drew me in:
"But there is little or no evidence that fertility treatments raise the odds of getting the disease. In other words, don't panic."Older moms rejoice ... even if you are chained to the couch for months on end.
from attachment to neglect in a few easy steps
So here's my unsolicited advice to parents: take a step back. Relax. Enjoy. Your baby will sleep without an expert consultant coming to your house. Your toddler will eventually leave diapers behind. I promise... Let your preschooler play in the dirt, and your kindergartener deal with the classmate who pinches her.
Of course, hearing all about the importance of a hands-off parenting style involving what she calls, "benign neglect" may seem a little surprising coming from someone who has spent so much time extolling the virtues of demand feeding, co-sleeping and baby-wearing. But, it seems, the two aren’t mutually exclusive.
I have often described my parenting philosophy as "benign neglect." Responsive parenting means just that: we respond to children's needs. It's not the same as over-parenting, in which we anticipate, preempt, or take control of our children's needs and developmental tasks.
In my extensive research of three actual bonafide AP moms, the switch from “intensive mothering” (literally years of demand breastfeeding, co-sleeping) to a completely non-hovering approach (kids doing the crazy sh*t on jungle gyms, moms gasp, yards! away) in the older years was pretty seamless.
I was talking to Robin Aronson (who co-wrote The Whole Pregnancy Handbook) about all this AP/OP jazz and she was noting that the AP approach is all about reading cues. So, it would make sense that when the kids get older the parents would pick up on the fact that they need to be left alone. (Still I can hear you crying out, What about the AP moms who breastfeed till 5??? Is that leaving them alone? I encourage you to duke it out in the comments box.)
AP shenanigans aside...
... the transition from anticipating the baby’s every need to letting the kid suck on a dirt-encrusted thumb, and climb every mountain so he won’t be afraid of life is neither a bad nor new idea. In a previous decade of intense over-parenting (the 1950s), British psychoanalyst DW Winnicott treated a lot of anxious kids and their over-bearing mothers. His research led him to the concept of the “good enough mother.” Though "good enough" mothering has come to stand in for anything a mother does that's less than ideal or perfect, Winnicott was talking about something very specific. He was describing the healthy psychological process by which the mother gradually withdraws her attention from her child over time. Though she starts off with "an almost complete adaptation to her infant's needs" she gradually eases up and "adapts less and less completely." The mother who resists the impulse to withdraw and be "good enough," and instead stays hovering over that child, is pathological. I find that theory explains how one could go from All Night Breastfeeding to to Benign Neglect without contradicting oneself. (I like to think I have made this transition myself-- I breastfed for an eternity and my two-year-old is currently eating a dirt cake while dangling from the ceiling fan).
It's worth noting that Winnicott also came up with the idea of the “transitional object.” I have a hunch that his timeline for healthy separation came a tad earlier than it does for Attachment Parents for whom the transitional object is a big no, no.
But that's another story! For now, I'm happy to just remain benignly neglectful. And, as always, grateful to anyone who tells me I'm perfect for being that way!
epidurals and sucking
A new study links epidurals with low breastfeeding rates and suggests that it's the effects of the drug on the baby that are responsible. (Babies initial sucking abilities may be impaired from the chemicals in the epidrual). We're all for investigating epidural side-effects and for breastfeeding for that matter. But the link between epidural use and low breastfeeding surely has something to do with the mother's personal choice in the matter?? It seems reasonable to expect that the woman who does everything under the sun to have a drug-free birth will likely pursue breastfeeding with the same determination. Of course we have no study to prove this, but it seems logical to at least take the priorities of the mother into account. We also know plenty of women who breastfed for ages and ages (and soon) after an epidural birth. Maybe they are all the excpetions? Or maybe they are people who just wanted both epidurals and breastfeeding?
pumping and dumping, per security
Being who we are, the recent ban on carry-on liquids immediately turned our minds to milk. An uncharacteristically un-annoying Modern Love column in today's Times confirms our suspicions: mothers are no longer able to travel with breast millk unless they are also traveling with babies (which would, as the column's writer pointed out, largely negate the need for traveling with bottles of breast milk). Pumping and transporting milk is a way of life for many working mothers, making it possible for them to keep nursing while fulfilling the travel responsibilities of their jobs. The writer wonders, as do we, whether this rule is an oversight or a calculated decision based on risk assessment. In any case, it looks like it just got a little bit harder for working mothers to juggle things. Thanks a lot, terrorists.
The New York Boob, part 2
A Daily News reporter takes her baby and boobs on the town to test local attitudes toward public breastfeeding. From Le Cirque to the bus to the Met to the Apple Store, no one bats an eye. The only flak comes when she tries to feed her baby at the damn baby store...Babies R Us, that is. A spokeswoman says the saleswoman who asked her to stop was out of line, and they're considering some employee education programs. I'd say. They may also want to consider a little reparative PR, what with the double (D) infraction.
One of the most distressing of the potential benefits of breastfeeding—that it increases IQ in the breastfed child—has been refuted in this new study.Though breast milk has been proven beneficial for child and mother’s heath, it’s nice to know that the tricky issue of intelligence can be left out of the equation. The whole notion of making your child “smarter” with every let-down or, worse, withholding IQ points by not breastfeeding (for whatever reason) can get new parents off to an unnecessarily competitive and insecure start.
Of course mom is still to blame if the kid turns out to be a dullard: this study also suggests that a child's IQ is more determined by maternal IQ than anything else. I guess that means all the breastfeeding in the world will not save my son from a C- in geometry.
This is New York?
Another breastfeeding in public showdown, this time in our own backyard, Toys R Us Times Square. But this one leaves a particularly bad taste in my mouth (and it ain't just the pregnancy hearburn talking.) For the past couple of years that we've been tracking these nursing stand-offs, we have considered ourselves lucky to live in such an evolved, open-minded city. The shocker, it seems, is not so much the affront of the mega-store; I'd expect no more from a bastion of plastic. But I expected more from New Yorkers. If this is how the biggest, bluest city in the country thinks about breastfeeding, we're a lot worse off than I thought. How depressing.
the same story, this time in pictures
A magazine dares to put a breastfeeding breast on its cover. Predictable outrage follows. "What if my teenage son sees this?" "She should cover herself!" Preferably, with a dripping bikini top, or a filmy white tank. Even a couple of greased up palms will do.
the gray lady talks titty
We've been so consumed with our book deadline that we almost missed the latest breastfeeding controversy. Seems like those scary commercials that have been talked about for ages are finally going to see the light of day. Talking about formula feeding's risks rather than breastfeeding's benefits makes people all kinds of anxious. The Times has a bunch of irritating quotes that beautifully illustrate the problem: A woman was told by her doctor that some women just can't make enough milk (not untrue, but rare enough it suggests that it may have been worth trying other solutions) and a somewhat sanctimonious Attachment Parent who hasn't spent a night away from her breastfeeding children in six years, except to have another one. Apparently this was the most emailed Times article of the week, and it's started a nasty debate on Gothamist too. If we weren't so damn tired from editing the breastfeeding chapter over here, we'd probably have something really important to say on the subject.
booze n boobs
More confusing recommendations on the drinking and boobing front. A new study published in the Journal of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests abstinence for nursing mothers—but then goes on to define that as no drinks for a month (because alcohol suppresses the milk ejection reflex which may interfere with successful breastfeeding) followed by a limit of two drinks a day. Isn't that called moderation?
This headline, Most New Moms Exhausted: Study, is so obvious it looks like it might have been ripped from the pages of The Onion. But it's no joke. A new study from the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota shows that nearly 1 in 6 women are back to work within ONE MONTH of having a baby and concludes that women need way more support (and time off) for post-partum healing. Too often the focus shifts radically from mom to baby, and she's left in the dirt (or at least in the office bathroom, sweating and tending to plugged ducts, hemorrhoids or who knows what). Maybe this study will help spread the word that for many of us, bouncing back is much more complicated than fitting into pre-pregnancy jeans.
slate on breastfeeding
Two articles in Slate today on the ups and downs of breastfeeding:
One, from a pediatrician saying yeah, breast is best, but maybe not as best as we think. The other's about pumping, personally and historically. Includes a highly informative slide show about one of the least illustrated aspects of motherhood.
breast pump mystique
New mom and Brokeback Mountain actress Michelle Williams recently told USA Today: "I love being a young parent ... It's me, the baby and the breast pump." So nice to hear reference to the breast pump! The pump seems to be such a weird sort of secret. I get why we use it in private but I just still cannot get over how little (NOTHING) I knew about the breast pump until fairly close to the point where I actually needed one. When I first saw one in use I was shocked and thought it was actually pretty hilarious. Like something out of Woody Allen's Sleeper. I have since told non-mother friends about the pump (the suction cups, the tubes, the squirting of the milk into plastic receptacles, the "hands free" bra contraptions, the signs on my office door, the swirl of teary hormones in the middle of a workday, the freezer packs, storage guidelines... ) and they laughed, too. Surprised not so much that we do all this stuff but that it's so UNKNOWN to the uninitiated. Some reasons I can think of that it's meant to be mother's little secret:
Dairy farm imagery is too big an affront to Madonna & Child breastfeeding fantasy.
The pump is like a box of maxi-pads--something women need but details of usage need not be aired.
We're supposed to "cover" our identities as mothers when in workplace (where many women pump).
Boobs are just not supposed to be functional... and nothing says functional like a battery operated suction cup clamped to an engorged teat.
man boobs and boob jobs
Some celebrity, perhaps but not necessarily Tom Cruise, is extolling the virtues of male breastfeeding, saying he hopes to nurse his baby himself. It seems uncharactersitically progressive of Tom to give this option a whirl— maybe it's a little known part of the Scientologist doctrine? He would not be the only man to experiment with lacation. This hotty (with a conveniently hair-free chest) produced milk through the power of positive thinking. More on nursing fathers over at "the center for unhindered living."
Will the celebrity milk man have to worry about droopy man boobs? Fellow famous über-parent Gwyneth Paltrow has a solution: "reconstructive" breast surgery. Does this mean a tummy tuck and labia shaping qualify as repairing the damage from childbearing? What about botox to erase the stress of child-rearing? Isn't all plastic surgery reconstruction from the wear and tear of... life?
French Women Don't Do Gravity
Having observed a lot of scantily clad French women recently, I found, not surprisingly, a large proportion of skinny, non-surgically altered bodies. But also, a large subgroup of those women had completely flat chests, like prepubescent. Slinking along bralessly, often with several kids in tow.
Knowing that France has the lowest breastfeeding rate in what amounts to the measurable world, this raises a question: What if the idea of tit expansion (and subsequent sagging) being the result of pregnancy rather than breastfeeding is actually lactivist propaganda? Otherwise, what gives? Do all the flatchested American girls just get balloons implanted, so we have no examples of these gravity immune physiques?
backlash cool or same old-school?
This week's Observer features an article by a super educated "in the know" pregnant writer describing her decision to bottle feed once her baby is born.
She's pretty articulate about her reasons, too...pretty much the usual ones: wants her body and time back, wants to get some sleep, thinks the whole thing's a little icky. But her justifications do tend to bristle with images of endlessly and hopelessly sacrificial breastfeeding women-- like we're all just masochistic sickos for playing along with all these pesky recommendations. Or pathetically desperate to be perfect moms. She does admit to rationalizing (albeit through the babydaddy).
Fact is that bottle-feeding by choice is not all that disturbing or rebellious. Yes, the more educated you are, the more likely you are to breastfeed, so this Yalie might feel like an anomaly. But most of America still bottlefeeds, using her exact reasoning: breastfeeding, besides being miraculously beneficial, possibly enjoyable, and aggressively encouraged, is also a serious pain in the ass.
We give her props for doing what she wants, and not being afraid to shout it. But we're always a little wary of pregnant proclamations...wonder if she'll feel the same way in 6 months??
and canada's usually so much cooler about this sort of thing...
Via blogging baby a fine example of culturally-sanctioned messedupness about breastfeeding. An actual photograph of a baby breastfeeding on the cover of a Canadian magazine caused the issue to be recalled and slapped with a new cover: a goofy illustration of a baby NOT breastfeeding. Never mind that the image doesn't actually illustrate the article anymore since it's ABOUT BREASTFEEDING. At least it's not icky yicky booby stuff. Plus, the chick in the illo is really hot, looking kinda like a cross between Jessica Simpson and the Evil Queen from Snow White. The editor was supposedly fired for this, but it seems upon further investigation that she had already quit.
Is it just us, or do all those fables we read as hippie children about man destroying the earth seem to be coming to fruition a lot sooner than everyone expected? First, there's the fish problem. Then, this terrifying Greenpeace report. This workshop dedicated to analyzing the toxins in human milk offers a bit of good news...
According to The Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, moms should not be scared off by chemicals in breast milk:
"We strongly emphasize that the mere presence of an environmental chemical in human milk does not indicate that a health risk exists for breast-fed infants...All information gathered to date supports the positive health value of breast-feeding for infants."
Still, it seems like by the time our kids are reading The Lorax, It's going to feel less like a warning and more like the truth.
a better formula for discussion
Thought we were going to put breastfeeding to rest for a while but this article caught our attention, and well, we just can't.
From our POV, the Nurse-In was NOT about reiterating the superiority of breast milk. It was about raising awareness so people won’t feel so uncomfortable when moms breastfeed in public.
We've said this before, and we'll say it again: Yes, "breast is best" from a biological perspective. But though lactation may be a beeline to our mammalian roots, we are cultural animals. We work, we have lives, we have relationships and "issues". Most moms have work environments that don’t cater to the pumping necessary to manage a full breastfeeding load. Breastfeeding is often hijacked by lousy hospital policy (too many bottles, or even just one at the beginning). Lactation consultants are not covered by insurance, so many moms are unable to afford the support they'd need to get their problems sorted out in the early days. In fact, the only support most women encounter for breastfeeding is from people they describe as "fanatics"...we've certainly heard women complain of being harrassed for bottle-feeding in public. And we're all for paternal involvement, but we don't think a bottle is the only way to make it happen. Feeding formula is not a bad thing. We agree with the writer of the L.A. Times piece that sometimes it's just too hard to breastfeed. But we don't think the solution is to just accept the crappy status quo and shrug it off as no big deal. Clearly breastfeeding is a big deal or it wouldn't be inspiring such hardcore passion from both sides. Activism (with or without an L preceding it) exists to effect social change. We're calling for more support for breastfeeding mothers, not less support for bottle-feeding ones. It's not mutually exclusive.
sacred yet...somehow sickening
Today was part 2 of my stint as a pro-public breastfeeding pundit, this time on Ron Reagan's Crossroads on MSNBC. Ron and I were Team Pro. Team Con was the blonde host-woman whose name I can't remember, and Charlotte Allen, of the Independent Women's Forum. Ron rocked it with a general attitude of disbelief and confusion about why anyone would possibly be bothered by seeing breastfeeding.
Team Con was concerned mostly with two seemingly contradictory issues:
1. Breastfeeding is a sacred act and must be treated with sanctity (in the privacy of ones home, or under the sanctity of, for example, a diaper, if home is not an option)
2. Breastfeeding is yucky and no one should have to see it. Why not go sit in a bathroom stall or your parked car (always comfortable, especiallly in the warmer months...and a nice safe option in parking lots and poor neighborhoods too!).
If it's so sacred, why should it happen in the toilet? These and many other arguments against breastfeeding in public continue to puzzle me.
And while I'm on the subject of hypocrisy... When I suggested that discouraging women from leaving home with their infants was not realistic or beneficial for anybody trying to exclusively nurse for 6 months (as per the AAP), Team Con suggested that working mothers seem to do "just fine" by pumping. I disagreed. And imagine my surprise when I found this little nugget in something Charlotte Allen wrote last week:
OK. This breastfeeding stuff is starting to bore even us "fanatics" now, so unless something significant happens, we're going to make a real effort to move on to other pastures tomorrow. In the meantime, if you want to check out the current breastfeeding stats here's a good place to start.
We feel a little bad for Barbara Walters. It's not her fault that breastfeeding makes her uncomfortable.
If you did a cross-section of women in their 70s, you probably wouldn't find too many of them feeling warm and fuzzy about the nurturing power of the boob. And it's no wonder, considering the crap they heard about it. We had a woman stop us on the street yesterday and tell us how she wanted to breastfeed her child in 1958, but was told that her husband's feelings were more important. Even when discouragement was not explicit, women who tried to buck the formula trend were often sabotaged by misinformation. In the 40's, one woman in our family was told she had no milk. Another was told her milk was "no good", that it was "the kind that turns to water."
30 years later, the same thing was still happening to our own moms:
"The main thing is that I wanted to, I had no support, I didn't know what the hell I was doing... and then I got 105 fever and the moronic doctor, obviously knowing nothing (since I recall a red tender spot on my breast) said I had pneumonia and I had to stop breastfeeding." Some women, through sheer resolve, support, disposition, or any combination thereof, were able to tune out the noise and make it happen; Ceridwen's mom breastfed 4 kids (one with a cleft palate) through the 70's, but encountered her own share of crap."When the hospital matron (head nurse) at the hospital in London (1972) objected to my nursing Tom (aged about 3 weeks) in a children's ward, my mother taped a notice to the window of our room which said: 'Caution! This animal suckles its young!'"
So now that we know better, it's time to move on from these anachronistic (and essentially bigoted) views. It's time for our culture to evolve...and to provide a little support for all of those women trying to follow the medical recommendations about the benefits of breastfeeding. So we'd like to thank Barbara for giving voice to the discomfort many people feel about this issue, and for giving us a wider forum for discussion ... which gives us a chance to change people's minds.
the political is (still) personal
In the wake of the nurse-in, and the accompanying press, I've overheard a little grumbling: it's not a problem in New York... women don't actually give up breastfeeding because of social pressures, but because of their own personal "hang-ups".
Though NYC may be on the tolerant end of the scale, I'm guessing that millions of viewers of The View are not all living in such receptive environments. And hang-ups don't grow on trees, either. These feelings may be personal, but they're influenced, in varying degrees, by what goes on in the world around us. They seep in from some source or other, and affect us when we're vulnerable. And a particularly toxic attitude can impact generations to come...not unlike those genetically mutated rats in Seattle. Barbara Walters is of a generation that was environmentally posioned against breastfeeding. We're still trying to clean up after that mid-century mess when women were told that nursing babies was a bad idea, whether or not it was what they wanted to do.
Assuming that people's weird feelings about breastfeeding are only a "personal" problem is socially irresponsible in the long term. Until breastfeeding is accepted as a normal, healthy practice—one that's condoned culturally as well as medically—the mistakes of the past continue to dictate the future.
nursing protest postmortem
We just got back from the nurse-in, which was inspiring, hot, sweaty, and of course, milky. It was amazing to see so many moms and babies representing...not to mention the sling fashion show. We're curious to hear whether there will be any response from The View...and we'd love to hear anyone else's impressions of the event.
Apparently the hosts of "The View" recently expressed distaste over public breastfeeding (calling it "gross and disgusting"). This info quickly spread throughout various mommy internet communities and within days a volunteer-run NURSE-IN was scheduled. We don't watch "The View" and don't know exactly what was said, but we can understand why everyone is talking...
Squeamishness over public breastfeeding, and even breastfeeding in general, is a major reason for low breastfeeding rates in this country. The small percentage of breastfeeders is not entirely due to a lack of education: "breast is best" is no longer secret information! The medical community has totally embraced breastfeeding and yet most women still don't take it on... or take it on for more than a few days or weeks.
One interesting fact for you to consider: Most breastfeeding books (La Leche League publications excepted) do NOT show breastfeeding on their covers. We are being told to stay under wraps in a systematic way. The "blanket" solution (cover your baby and boob with a blanket) simply confirms the idea that our breasts are only meant for the bedroom (property of our “darling husbands,” to boot). Even despite the endless silicone-filled, or otherwise enhanced, breasts seen on half the billboards looming over every highway in the land, we're still expected to cover the "functional" breast (and the forbidden areola! let alone the sacred nipple!) when nursing. If we want breastfeeding to take off we need to see more images of regular old moms breastfeeding ... in life... on billboards... at least on the covers of a few breastfeeding books.
Although the words "Nurse-In" may conjure images of crazy hippies,the fight for acceptance of public breastfeeding isn't in the same league as picketing for nude beaches or burning bras. This is not just some leftie attempt to loosen sexual or moral values. It's not, in other words, a *lifestyle* issue. It's a medical issue. It's really quite simple: Making breastfeeding logistically possible is crucial to its success.
If you live in NYC and want to attend the Nurse-In, here's the info .
doing it on the subway
Yesterday I breastfed my ten-month-old at a subway stop in Brooklyn, on the Q train in Manhattan and on the W train from Manhattan to Astoria.
I have always been nervous about feeding on the subway. I've done a lot of pumping and bottle-toting to avoid it. But the trek from Brooklyn to Queens was just too long. I found a seat at the end of the car, asked my husband to stand guard and let Alfred stretch out on my lap... within minutes he was drifting off, all that screeching train noise lulling him to sleep.
I remember when my baby was born I was so frightened that I would never be able to “get out” that I insisted on dragging my wounded postpartum animal self to the nearest subway—tiny, days-old, crusty-bellybuttoned baby in arms—so that we could enjoy a summer afternoon at the Frick. What could be more civilized? Well, turns out they wouldn’t let us in with the stroller, so we spent the afternoon in Central Park. The sun was very healing. Alfred and I, both squinty-eyed, vulnerable and pale, fell in and out of sleep under a tree. I was sore and scared, but the trip made me feel that “getting out" was still possible. That Alfred could be my buddy in life rather than an obstacle to my life. Feeding Alfred on the subway yesterday gave me a similar boost. In fact, getting over the feeding-on-subway hurdle has made me feel more confident to try it again. Maybe soon I can try it without the husband?
food and failure
So we've been debating all week about whether we really are "all for" the AAP recommendations after all. The big news is that we are all encouraged to breast feed for at least one year and for the first six months exclusively (that means no additional formula, or food).Of course, it is the American Academy of Pediatrics, so their agenda is Best for Babies. And breast milk is clearly better in almost all cases, as their heavily footnoted studies on the superiority of breastmilk to formula prove. But beyond the biology it gets a whole lot murkier.
On the one hand, if we don't make it clear that breastfeeding is important, people won't do it. But on the other, there's the fact that breastfeeding is something many women find really, really difficult...both because it sometimes just is, and because there's still not much in the way of supoprt for it. Policy is one problem, but the lack of support goes way deeper: professional, medical, emotional, cultural. It’s hard to pump all day long, it’s hard to breastfeed in public, it’s hard to lasso the energy it takes to be your baby’s sole food provider for six months, it’s hard to breastfeed when neither your OB nor your pediatrician can talk you through the problems… And yet so many of us feel that if we don’t breastfeed we have failed in some way. So what does this new mandate mean for moms? More pressure, and more guilt for those who are unable to undertake this "natural" process turned cultural shitstorm. Moms who give up breastfeeding for perfectly valid reasons feel huge guilt. Moms who can't breastfeed feel desperate to conjure up some magical milk elixir, even if it's from an uncertified source. It's good, but is it good enough to justify the damage?
If not breastfeeding feels like failure, we need to make it easier to succeed.
take this job and leave it
We're all for the AAP's new gung-ho stance on breastfeeding. But now it's time for the rest of the country to put their money where the kid's mouth is. If breastfeeding is so crucial to the baby's well being, let's make it a little more possible for women to breastfeed. How do we reconcile the AAP's call for 6 months of exclusive breast milk with maternity leaves that max out at 3 months? Considering the high percentage of women who work and the low percentage of women who are able to find a private, clean, convenient place to pump (every two to three hours, as recommended) in their workplace, we say:
If this country is serious about upping breastfeeding rates, we need to back up the pressure with some policy.
Ted Greiner, PhD (breast feeding scholar, advocate, researcher….), delivered this paper at a UNICEF workshop in 1990, but we haven't made nearly enough progress in maternity leave policy since then.
In striving to find the optimal maternity leave policy the following aspects should be considered:
1) Maximum flexibility, or choice should be allowed to the woman so that the only leave taken before delivery is that which is really needed. (Most health professionals support women's common preference to work up to nearly the date of delivery, except in certain states of ill health.) This allows the bulk of leaves to be taken after delivery.
2) At least four but preferably six months leave should be provided at nearly full pay, to enable women to practice exclusive breastfeeding during this period. Employers should not be asked to pay for this, or if they do, should be given tax credits for it.
3) A small sum of money could be provided to women who wanted to take a longer leave than this, at least for a few months, with no risk of losing their job or their seniority.
4) Flexible and/or shorter working hours for another period of time, should be provided for those women who want it, especially if the total length of the maternity leave is less than four months.
5) Paternity leaves should be encouraged for men to be present at the time of delivery and to assist at home during the time of mother's recovery. In several countries parental leave is offered after the maternity leave and the father is ncouraged to spend time at home later in his infant's life. Besides the obvious benefit for mother, father and child, parental leaves would help reduce the bias against hiring women.
See the whole paper here: