Thursday, March 31, 2011

Model Jourdan Dunn: Breastfeeding Mom

Model Jourdan Dunn is on the cover of the Spring issue of i-D magazine. In an interview, the 20-year-old single mom discusses what the last year of her life has been like since having a son. On losing the weight and returning to top model form quickly she says, "To be honest, I didn't work out or follow an eating plan. I was loving my new body so much I was trying my hardest to keep the baby weight on! I breastfed for nine months though and people say breastfeeding helps you lose weight."

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Natural Trend: Is Breastfeeding Next?

Recently there has been a resurgence of the "natural hair" movement in the black community. More and more black women are choosing to stop chemically processing their hair and are wearing it in its natural state, whether that be an afro, dreadlocks, twists or kinky curls. In the last few years, women who’ve gone natural have blown up as beauty bloggers. One look at a site like AfroBella or Curly Nikki will tell you how popular the movement is. There are tons of products on the market now specifically for maintaining natural hair. Creams and conditioners that used to only be available online or in specialty salons are now sold at Target and Walgreens.  Many women have even started their own businesses selling botanical haircare products for their fellow naturalistas.

I have been thinking a lot lately about the connections between natural hair and breastfeeding. In her book At the Breast,Linda Blum conducted some interesting research with low income moms, both black and white. She found that for the black moms, the promotion of breastfeeding as the "natural" way to feed an infant was actually a turn off. The moms equated the term with being dirty and animalistic. Yet this is how we typically advocate for breastfeeding, as being natural. So I am curious now that many black women are embracing being "natural" will this change? Will the natural hair movement extend to pregnancy and birthing and breastfeeding?

The are already parallels between the natural hair movement and breastfeeding advocacy that are almost funny. For example, when actress Kim Coles decided to go natural recently she stated in an interview with Patrice from AfroBella, "I will try to stay away from debating what is more ‘natural.’ Nor will I be pushing others to take the steps that I am taking. I think that you get to choose your kind of beauty. I do however want us all to be honest with ourselves as why we make the choices that we do." On the website Nappturality, the introduction states, “If you are still relaxing your hair you are welcome here, however be warned...We don't debate the wonders of relaxing and we don't talk about the benefits of chemical or heat straightening on Nappturality because frankly, there aren't any benefits to using high heat or that caustic chemical.” 

It's very obvious from some of the discussions you see across the internet that this is a touchy subject. There are the women who say, "I am doing this for my own benefit and whatever choice you make for you is fine" and those who believe that natural hair is so vastly superior that it's obvious that every woman should go natural.

I personally have been natural (besides hair color and bleach) since I was 15. I didn't do it for any reason other than I was tired of the scalp and hair damage I was suffering after getting my hair permed. I didn't particularly love (or even like) my curly hair, but it was wash and wear and made my life simpler. Many of the reasons women give for going “natural” include health benefits (no more inhaling lye at the salon, no more hair loss or scalp damage) and financial costs (maintaining a perm is expensive). Many have never considered going natural until they saw another black woman at work or on the train who had beautiful unprocessed hair.

Again, you can see the parallels between breastfeeding. As more black women choose to breastfeed, their friends and family will be influenced by seeing them do it, as will strangers out and about in public. As more black women choose to breastfeed, they will talk about the health benefits to their babies. As more black women choose to breastfeed, they will how cost effective it is, saving them money on formula and bottles, as well as related medical costs.

So can we let this “natural” trend extend to pregnancy, birthing and breastfeeding? Because, really, it ain't all about the hair.

*Photo credit Dio Burto

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Seeking April Carnival of Breastfeeding Submissions

Join the April Carnival of breastfeeding: Extended Breastfeeding


The theme for our next carnival of breastfeeding will be 'Extended Breastfeeding.' Here's your chance to join in and share with us what your experience has been like nursing into toddlerhood! Please send your submissions via Google spreadsheet by April 11th. The Carnival will be on April 18th. As usual, we'll be looking for posts that are:

- Well-written and grammatically correct

- Thoughtful and directly on point for the carnival subject

- Submitted by blogs that pertain to subjects of interest to our readers (breastfeeding, parenting, etc.)

If your post is selected for inclusion, you will be asked on the day of the carnival to edit your post to link back to each of the other participants in the carnival. Examples of past carnivals can be found here.

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Monday, March 21, 2011

The Social Network

I’ve raved before about Brain, Child magazine. I really love it when it shows up in my mailbox and I usually sit down immediately and read it from cover to cover. This month there was an excellent in the magazine entitled, “The Village: How other parents influence your parenting.” As you may suspect, the influence of our communities is huge. Although many of us would like to believe that the way we raise our children is based on our own instincts, values and perhaps research and trial and error, you can’t deny that you are part of certain “networks” and that what is expected of you and your behavior can shift depending on which network you’re currently in.

The author of the piece, Jennifer Niesslein (who is also an editor of Brain, Child) talks about how we are all products of our villages, in part because we’ve chosen them (think about the neighborhood you live in, the church or synagogue you attend, the school you send your kids to) and in part because our friends and relatives have a lot of influence over how we think and behave. She uses a great example to underscore this idea, Lisa Whelchel. You remember when Lisa (Blair from The Facts of Life) wrote a parenting book that encouraged what she called “hot saucing,” or placing a few drops of hot sauce on your child’s tongue as punishment for things like talking back. In her conservative Christian network, this kind of discipline is perfectly acceptable. This is why that mother from Alaska felt comfortable going on the Dr. Phil show, where footage showed her hot saucing her children, and was shocked when she was subsequently charged with child abuse. While to those of outside this network this is obvious abuse, to those inside the network, it’s simply an authoritarian style of parenting, which is a good thing.

What about breastfeeding?

The entire time I was reading this fascinating article, I was thinking about breastfeeding and our advocacy efforts and how and when they are truly effective. Think about programs like the WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselors, which has shown time and again to drastically increase breastfeeding initiation and duration rates. It is obviously very powerful when a woman within your own network, especially if you are marginalized, has been successful at breastfeeding and can talk to you about the hows and whys. I was thrilled that when Niesslein spoke to social scientist Nicholas Christakis, co-author of Connected: The Surpising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, she specifically asked about how our views of breastfeeding have changed pretty drastically, in a fairly short period of time. Christakis confirms what breastfeeding advocates have been saying for a while: if your friends and family are breastfeeding, and you see it around you, you are more likely to do it yourself. This is why breastfeeding advocates encourage nursing in public, preferably without a cover, in order to normalize the act.

Interestingly, Christakis points out that top-down messages can work, but they really need the influence of friends to take off. So for example, you may read an article in the paper about a study that says breastfeeding is healthier for moms and babies or your pediatrician or even Oprah may convey the same message. However, you’re much more likely to pay attention to the message if a friend says, “Hey did you know recent research shows breastfeeding is best?”

Those of us with what social scientists call “high transitivity” are what social media folks call “influencers.” And if you’re the influencer in your network, if you breastfeed and talk about the joys of breastfeeding and nurse in front of your friends and family, they are much more likely to breastfeed too.

Negativity about breastfeeding online

As we already know, many women are living in communities separate from their family and long-time friends. In this day and age, a lot of women turn to the internet to find information and support, particularly on personal blogs and parenting websites. Although there are personal bloggers with a decent amount of “trust capital” and influence online, the websites with the most influence and high transitivity tend to be the major parenting sites. And a quick scan of them shows that most are much more likely to paint breastfeeding in a negative light than in a positive one.

Of course there will always be women for whom breastfeeding was not a good experience, and those women’s voices and stories are valid. But what happens to our breastfeeding advocacy efforts when the women who have a wonderful breastfeeding experience are made to feel like an anomaly and quickly learn to keep quiet lest they make anyone else feel bad, and the stories that get the most airplay are about how difficult breastfeeding can be? Today alone I found an article on Yahoo!’s Shine parenting website entitled, "Six Things No One Tells You About Breastfeeding.” The six things include “clogged ducts might haunt you” and “your body will not know how much milk to make.” That is reassuring.

Or how about a recent post on Babble’s Strollerderby blog, “I Quit Breastfeeding After Doing it in Public. Once” which describes a baby who “wouldn’t latch” for a mom who “had very little milk” (yet somehow still managed to get mastitis). This mom stopped breastfeeding and went to exclusive pumping for 4 months after a bad experience trying to nurse in public (no one harassed her, the baby just couldn’t latch on right and was crying). Every major parenting site, from Mom Logic to Parent Dish, has their own version of these horror stories and because they elicit such a huge response, they get run again and again.

Even the rare time when you find a positive article about breastfeeding, the comments section will almost immediately be derailed with a chorus of “not everyone can breastfeed!” and “I was unable to make any milk” or “all of my friends who breastfed have sick kids, mine have all been formula fed from the start and are the healthiest in the bunch!” The comments are so consistent that it’s almost eerie and the feeling you get is that no one wants to hear about how wonderful breastfeeding is.
So how can we, as breastfeeding advocates, combat the negativity? Is the online network becoming more influential than our real-life networks? And what happens when we’re getting polar opposite messages from our networks? As Niesslein states in the article, “It’s a little scary to think that decisions we consider our own can be swayed by people we don’t even know, especially when those decisions affect our children.” And what happens if we’re swayed to do things that aren’t best for our children, based on someone else’s bad experiences?

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Sponsor Spotlight: The Button Babe

I'm pleased to announce that The Button Babe is a new sponsor of Blacktating! Marla is a mom, freelance writer and all-around crafty gal in Atlanta. She creates fun and funky buttons, jewelry and accessories with vintage art, ephemera and her own unique designs, including pithy sayings that will appeal to your inner birth junkie and lactivist. My favorite of her offerings is the Crunchy Mama button set, which includes a button that says, "I'm pretty sure she'll wean before college." She also offers a range of custom items for business incentives, party favors and beyond. These would be great for fundraising or gifting to the granola moms in your life. To sweeten the deal, every order includes a free button. Check out her store today!

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Breastfeeding & Work Research Study

Florida International University, located near me in Miami, FL, is conducting a study on the impact of workplace support, job attitudes and well-being of women who are breastfeeding or pumping at work.

The study consists of two surveys completed one month apart. Moms who work in the United States and breastfeed or pump at work are asked about their perceptions of workplace support, their job attitudes and behaviors. If possible, the researchers would also like to ask a coworker about his/her perceptions of policies for the breastfeeding mom.
Participants will be compensated with a $20 Target gift card for each of the two questionnaires (a total of $40 in gift cards). Coworkers will receive a $10 Target gift card.

Questionnaires are completed online and take approximately 25 minutes to complete. To get started, just click on this link.

Please feel free to forward this message to other moms who are breastfeeding/pumping at work. If you have any questions, you may email Dr. Valentina Bruk-Lee at

Update:  I spoke to Dr. Bruk-Lee this morning. She said the response to the study has been so overwhelming that she and her staff haven't had a chance yet to get confirmations sent out to everyone. She said in the survey it said a confirmation can take up to 3 weeks, but that they're working hard to get confirmations sent out to those who completed the survey within two weeks. Don't fret, it's not a scam! She also said if you are concerned, to feel free to email her. I was able to get through to her email address but you can also try 

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Red Cross #FAIL

Every time there is a natural disaster, breastfeeding advocates will step up to remind everyone how important it is to protect breastfeeding in order to save lives. Inevitably lots and lots of formula donations will roll in and it always causes problems. We saw it after the tsunami in 2004, when breastfeeding rates plummeted and young children died of diarrhea. The same thing happened after the floods in Pakistan, and formula donations to Haiti after the earthquake contributed to infant and child death, especially after the cholera outbreak.

And yet this is the image the Red Cross has decided to use to garner donations for Japan?

I guess they assume the image of an infant being bottle-fed will tug on the heartstrings? I do understand that there are some babies whose mothers may be dead or missing or were already bottle-feeding (although most women breastfeed in Japan), but this image is inappropriate. This reinforces the myth that breastfeeding is not sustainable during disaster and encourages formula donations when the emphasis should be on protecting breastfeeding. I can't believe the Red Cross doesn't know better.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Miles has an announcement!

Yes, we are expecting baby number two by the end of the year! We are, of course, very excited and looking forward to a new addition to the family. It's part of the reason it's been so quiet around here lately. Although I must say I've gotten very lucky in the pregnancy department twice so far (knock on wood!), I was feeling that general first trimester yuckiness. A lot of nausea that came in waves all day long. Super tired, yet difficulty falling asleep at night. Strong food cravings and intense aversions to smell. I'm finally starting to feel like myself again, which is nice. I'm sort of sad my general superstitiousness around pregnancy didn't allow me to bitch more in real time, but I'm sure there will be a lot more pregnancy-related indignities to complain about down the road.

So far this pregnancy is not unlike my first. I'm lucky in that I don't vomit, but I'm unlucky in that I tend to gain more than the recommended weight and quickly. I'm trying to be better about nutrition this time and keep the weight gain to a minimum. I'll let y'all know how that works out.

We've decided to go with a midwife and an out-of-hospital birth this time, which I'm excited about. My first birth was not bad for a hospital birth, but I am looking forward to having more choices, being mobile, not being separated from the baby, and hopefully having an easier start to breastfeeding. The midwife we've chosen came highly recommended, and in addition to being a fab birth attendant, she's also a La Leche League Leader.

As anyone who's used both an OBGYN and a midwife can tell you, the midwifery model of care is so vastly different, and in my opinion, superior. My midwife has actually gotten to know me in a few short weeks and I know a lot about her as well. She talks to me about her pregnancies and birth and her kids. She gives me a hug after every visit. I never wait more than a few minutes to see her and I am never rushed through an appointment. My visits take place at the birthing center where I lay down on a bed while she takes my vital signs. I think I've been to 3 or 4 appointments already and nothing invasive has been done to me yet. On my first visit to the OB last time around, I was laying eyes on this man for the first time ever while wearing nothing but a paper blanket with a matching half top. So yes, two totally different experiences so far and I imagine the differences become even more profound once you've actually given birth.

I'm really looking forward to sharing this new journey with all of you, and starting all over again with a new baby. This will most likely be our last, so I am going to try and treasure every moment.

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