Thursday, September 30, 2010

Watch Your Language: Should "intimate" be used to describe breastfeeding?

Yesterday one of my friends on Facebook posted this gorgeous photo of a mom breastfeeding her toddler.

The mom is an artist by the name of Catherine Opie. I love this photo because, like it or not, it’s subversive. So many of the images we see of a nursing mother and child are of a thin, conventionally pretty white woman who reads heterosexual nursing an infant. So to see a photo of a woman who is not only fat and has lots of tattoos, but is also openly homosexual and nursing an older baby was wonderful. I love this photo! And most of my Facebook friends loved it too. But then I got this comment:

“OK…breastfeeding is a very beautiful thing, but why do people expose themselves and publish pictures like that! It is a very private and intimate thing between you and your child. Gosh…this picture just makes me sick!”

My response, after checking my anger, was that breastfeeding isn’t intimate. This is a woman feeding her child, not having sex. Why should this photograph of breastfeeding, like breastfeeding itself, be relegated to the sphere of “private”? Then another friend chimed in to say that she does think breastfeeding is intimate. That intimacy is not the same thing as having sex, that it only means a strong emotional connection. I wholeheartedly disagree.

The word intimate has several meanings, including a close, emotional connection. It can also mean having sex. “My husband and I were intimate last night.” And, in my opinion, the way we most typically use the word intimate is with a sexual connotation. If you and your partner have been arguing a lot and not spending a lot of time together, you might say to him or her, “I miss the intimacy in our relationship.” But if you hadn’t spoken to your best friend in a while, would you say the same thing to her? My guess is no. You can definitely be intimate with someone without having sex. Of course, gazing into someone’s eyes, hugging, holding hands can all be intimate acts. But still, I argue that, if you are using the word “intimate” to describe them, you’re probably talking about a romantic relationship rather than a platonic one.

And isn't breastfeeding, at its core, about feeding your child? Yes, I know that breastfeeding creates an incredible bond between mother and baby. And yes, I believe that breast milk is more than just food, it's antibodies and comfort, it is liquid love. I have lived these platitudes for almost three years now. But sometimes, isn't breastfeeding just a meal? Although I did stare into my son's eyes and kiss his fingers and yes, cry, while he nursed, I also read books and magazines, fooled around on Facebook, watched TV and was downright bored. Sometimes ain't breastfeeding just a meal?

So I took to Twitter to ask my followers what they thought. A few seemed to agree with me.

And others thought that, although the word can have a sexual meaning, it is still fine to use to describe breastfeeding.

So what do you think? Should we be using the word intimate to describe breastfeeding? Or is this another case, as in Diane Wiessinger's famous article, where we need to watch our language?

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Aftermath of the Similac Recall

By now you've heard that Abbott, maker of Similac infant formula, has recalled about 5 million cans of its powdered infant formula because of the possibility that there could be beetle parts in the formula, after they were found at a production plant in Michigan.

But what will result from this recall? So far, Similac formula ads have been removed from all of the major websites they were sponsoring, from Babble to People's Celebrity Baby Blog. I don't know if Similac has pulled the ads, or if the websites have now refused to run them.

In addition, a mother in New Orleans has filed a class action lawsuit against Similac and Sam's Club, stating that Abbott marketed their product as containing ingredients that were safe for consumption by infants. She's even set up a Facebook fan page to recruit other families to join the suit. Plaintiff Kathleen Brandner is represented by her husband Michael in the lawsuit.

And it just keeps getting more interestinger, with Iowa Senator Tom Harkin sending a letter to Abbott questioning why they waited until September 23 to announce the recall when they discovered the contamination on September 16. Senator Harkin also questions if Abbott knew that the FDA had been receiving complaints about the formula containing bug parts before the recall. Similac had initially stated that the FDA had not required them to recall the formula and that it was a precautionary measure.

There is another question that still hasn't been answered, like why Similac did not just publish the affected lot numbers, instead requiring scared parents to frantically call a 1800 number and log onto a website that kept crashing before they could find out whether their can of formula was safe to feed their babies.

So what do you think the outcome of this will be? A victory in the lawsuit or some sort of settlement? More oversight by the FDA and FTC of the marketing and production of formula? And the biggie....will more women decide to try to breastfeed now that they have experienced a formula recall?

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So That's What They're For!

Do you ever feel like a television show says something as a personal shout out to you? That is how I felt while watching the Bronx Beat skit on SNL this past weekend. Enjoy!

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Babies & "Meaningful Work": Why must they be separate?

Most women in the United States are only offered a paltry maternity leave. If you work for a company that employs more than 50 people, you are guaranteed a 12-week unpaid maternity leave and your employer must hold a space for you when you come back. Many families can't go three months without a paycheck, so many women are back at work by 6 weeks. At 6 weeks post-partum, I had just stopped bleeding, was barely getting the hang of breastfeeding and was a sleep-deprived zombie. At 12 weeks I was a breastfeeding pro and I was sleeping a little bit better but there was no way I was ready to go back to work and hand my baby off to someone else to take care of for 9 hours a day. Thankfully, I was able to take a 6-month leave, but that is atypical and still, it was very difficult to trust someone else to provide the level of care for my baby that I would.

But why does it have to be this way? Why is it assumed that babies only belong in certain places, and that women can't produce good work while caring for a child? It's not feasible for all women, but I'd wager most women could continue to care for their babies while earning a living and contributing to society. I believe that if a woman is practicing the principles of attachment parenting (breastfeeding, babywearing, being responsive to baby's cries, etc) that bringing her baby to work can well, work.

Here is a photo of Italian Parliament member Licia Ronzulli wearing her baby while participating in a voting session.

Here is a video of spoken word poet d'bi.young being interviewed about her work while breastfeeding her baby.

CEO of Palo Alto Software Sabrina Parsons brings her baby to work and nurses him during meetings and conference calls.

Viv Groskop, a British journalist, has never really stopped working. She simply takes her baby with her and nurses on the go. I was told by a concertgoer that Rihannon, the lead singer of the band Carolina Chocolate Drops brought her baby onstage and breastfed her during a concert in Virginia today. And yet, the world kept spinning and no one died, the work got done and everyone was happy.

But why should the option of bringing your baby to work only be available to artists, CEOs and the self-employed? Why can't more of us do our most important job, mothering, while completing the tasks that earn us a living? Why are there currently only a couple hundred companies offering employees the option to bring their babies to work?

It seems these programs benefit everyone. Mom and baby get to stay together, with no damage to their breastfeeding relationship.Companies are more likely to retain good employees, and moms are more likely to return after maternity leave.

Have you ever seen a woman caring for her child while working? Was she able to get her job done? Why don't we trust women to do this? And will it ever change?

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Why African Babies Don't Cry

I recently read Gabrielle Palmer's book The Politics of Breastfeeding and reviewed it on the blog. One of the many passages that struck me was when Palmer was discussing the breastfeeding culture in Africa. She said that in the United States and other developed nations, we tell moms to feed "on cue," which should be about 8 to 12 times a day. But that to ask a mother in Africa how many times a day she breastfeeds is like asking a person covered in mosquito bites how many times a day they scratch. It's not quantifiable because it's done with such frequency. Most mothers carry their babies in a sling, with access to the breast 24/7. When the baby stirs, he is quickly latched on and mom goes about her business. None of this silliness about spoiling a baby or overfeeding. Just a baby's needs being met by his mother, as it should be.

So when Maya from Musings of a Marfan Mom sent me the link to a guest post entitled Why African Babies Don't Cry, I had a feeling I knew the reason. The author, Dr. Claire Niala, says:

In the UK it was understood that babies cry - in Kenya it was quite the opposite. The understanding is that babies don't cry. If they do - something is horribly wrong and must be done to rectify it immediately. My English sister-in-law summarized it well. "People here," she said, "really don't like babies crying, do they?"

It all made much more sense when I finally delivered and my grandmother came from the village to visit. As it happened - my baby did cry a fair amount, and exasperated and tired, I forgot everything I had ever read and sometimes joined in the crying too. Yet for my grandmother it was simple - nyonyo (breastfeed her!). It was her answer to every single peep.

I loved this post not only for the glimpse at what breastfeeding is like in Africa, but also because breastfeeding was a life changing experience for Dr. Niala, the same way it was for me. While her friends' babies were eating rice cereal and sleeping through the night, Niala was waking every two hours to nurse a baby who had never tasted anything but breast milk. Breastfeeding begins to permeate her entire life, including the way she counsels her patients.

I loved the gentle wisdom she received from her grandmother. At a time when so many of us are advised to become hardened, to ignore our instincts and our babies cries, Niala's grandmother tells her to follow her baby's cues and to breastfeed, breastfeed, breastfeed.

No wonder babies in Africa don't cry.

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Guest Post: Michelle Obama Talks Obesity, Breastfeeding With CBC

I wrote a guest post for the Best for Babes Boob Tube blog about the speech Michelle Obama gave yesterday to the Congressional Black Caucus. She discussed her anti-obesity campaign, Let's Move!, and again brought up the importance of breastfeeding in the black community. I'd love to hear your thoughts on Michelle's speech and my post over at Boob Tube.

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

CDC Releases 2010 Breastfeeding Report Card

Yesterday the Centers for Disease Control released their 2010 Breastfeeding Report Card. The report card gives a state-by-state view of breastfeeding rates in the US, including initiation rates, rates at 6 months and rates at 1 year. This year's report card is especially important because the US government created a national health objectives program called Healthy People in 1979 to set goals for promoting health and preventing disease. The goals are assessed every 10 years so this year we would find out whether or not we had met the goals set in 2009 for breastfeeding.

So how did we do? Not so hot. Goals 16-19 were to "increase the proportion of mothers who breastfeed their babies." Based on a 1998 baseline of a 64% initiation rate, 29% breastfeeding at 6 months and 16% breastfeeding at 1 year, our goals for 2010 were a 75% initiation rate, 50% breastfeeding at 6 months and 25% breastfeeding at 1 year. (Notice that those 1998 baseline rates were taken from a survey conducted by Abbott Labs, the makers of Similac).

So we hit our goal for the initiation rate. We already knew based on numbers from 2006 that about 78% of moms breastfeed in the hospital. So it wasn't really a surprise that we met this goal. And while it is fantastic that so many moms are at least trying to breastfeed, I'm reserving some enthusiasm for these initiation rates because all it means is that a mom put the baby to breast before she left the hospital. While I do believe that most women do want to breastfeed, my guess is that some of this may be inflated by the pressure to at least try breastfeeding and that there are plenty of women who are nursing in the hospital who really don't have much intention of continuing upon discharge.

According to the CDC, 43% of mothers are still breastfeeding at 6 months. So though we narrowly missed meeting our goal of 50%, when you look at the exclusive breastfeeding rate at 6 months, it is an abysmal 13%. At 1 year, 22% of babies are still getting some breast milk.

It's also interesting to look at your own state's rates. I pray for Mississippi and wonder if Oregon could show the rest of us what we're doing wrong. I live in Florida and our rates across the board are way lower than the goals set by Healthy People. You can also find out how many infants are born in Baby Friendly hospitals  in your state, how many IBCLCs there are per live birth, if there is a Breastfeeding Coalition and how many infants are supplemented with formula by day 2 in the hospital (answer: too many!)

Although I'm disappointed in the report card scores, I can't say I'm at all surprised. What is the definition of insanity again? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? We aren't certifying more hospitals as Baby Friendly, we aren't providing paid parental leave, we're not requiring employers to have on-site daycare centers, we're not allowing women to bring their babies to work, we're harassing women for nursing in public and no one really knows how the health care reform will benefit working mothers. Nothing's really changed, so why should our breastfeeding rates?

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Monday, September 13, 2010

This Time NY WIC Gets It Right!

I know some of you liked the breastfeeding ad promoting weight loss as an extra benefit of breastfeeding, but here's an ad I think gets it right.

A grandma praising her daughter for breastfeeding! She acknowledges that in her day everyone used formula, but she's proud of her daughter for being determined to breastfeed and is going to support her.

What do you think? I say it's a hit!

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

New NY Breastfeeding Campaign: Effective or Obnoxious?

Yesterday on Twitter, @Sistertoldja posted a picture she took of a new breastfeeding campaign that recently debuted in New York. Created by the Department of Health, the campaign slogan is "Breastfeeding....For My Baby. For Me." Here is the photo she snapped at a bus shelter in NYC.

Gorgeous picture, great slogan, wonderful message. Yes, breastfeeding is wonderful for the baby, but more and more we are finding out just how beneficial breastfeeding is for moms. From the recent study that showed that breastfeeding for even one month can cut your risk of diabetes by 27%, to the decreased rates of breast and ovarian cancer in moms who've breastfed, to lowering your risk of heart disease, not breastfeeding has consequences for both women and babies.

And then of course there is one of the most lauded benefits of nursing, the weight loss. We've all heard that breastfeeding burns an additional 500 calories a day and that moms who breastfeed lose the post partum weight quicker and are able to keep it off longer. Of course, breastfeeding didn't help me or Salma Hayek lose an ounce, but I know it has worked for many women. And I've never had a problem with people touting weight loss as a benefit to breastfeeding. After all, if we want women to breastfeed, it has to be appealing, and what is more appealing than the guarantee of getting back into your skinny jeans within a few months without having to clock any time at the gym?

But what about this ad? Is it effective or obnoxious? Does it rub you the wrong way?

It's like they took the script from a Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers commercial and replaced "meetings" and "sensible meal plan" with breastfeeding. After loving the print ad so much, I was disappointed to see this TV ad.

So what say you? Was this ad a misstep or will it appeal to some women? Is it smart to promote weight loss as a reason to breastfed? Is this too cheesy to even get upset about? What do you think?

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Supports Breastfeeding

In addition to offering computers and software to support low income communities in the United States, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is involved in efforts to support breastfeeding across the globe. Melinda says that "breastfeeding programs are among the best investments in global health." Smart woman! She recently visited the Dowa District Hospital in Dowa, Malawi where a successful government program is helping women to exclusively breastfeed by providing post partum home visits.

They are also helping to fund The Living Proof Project, a global media initiative intended to highlight the successes of US-backed global health initiatives. Their hope is that by highlighting the good things that the US is doing around the world, it will reframe the current conversation about foreign aid. So much of what we see about life in places like Africa looks like complete and total misery, that many feel that their tax dollars that are going to help people there is a waste. The problems appear insurmountable. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation hopes that the Living Proof Project will dispel that myth and show just how much countries are able to do with the very little aid that we provide.

Here are some photographs I loved from the work that is being done in Ghana to encourage mothers to exclusively breastfeed.





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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Quote of the Day: Anti Eating In Public Rant

There are few things less attractive than a person eating. People who
do so in public should be charged with indecent exposure. At the very
least, they should apologize to all the other folk in the vicinity. If
they can't cover their naked mouths then they should stay at home!

I don't see why people can't either eat before leaving the house, or
just take an IV with them. It is a simple matter to carry the
necessary equipment and liquid nutrients in a small cooler. For
goodness sakes, companies give away the coolers for free! And did you
know that the growing trend is to wear a permanent hep-lock in your

Who wants to see people put food in their facial orifice in public?
Come on, we all know what mouths are for, and THAT is most
appropriately done in private!

If people insist on eating in public, the least they can do is to use
a head cover. There are so many attractive covers now available that
you can even match one to your outfit as a fashion statement. It is
easy to make your own from a yard of knit fabric, and you don't even
need to hem it.

As for this law I keep hearing about, prohibiting the harassment of
those who feed in public, well, that is just ridiculous! We need to
return to the good old days when public decency was more common.

--Norma Ritter, IBCLC, RLC
Breastfeeding Matters in the Capital Region

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