Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Breast Feed or Else - How about some support?

The New York Times has an article today on the new U.S. push to encourage breastfeeding.

"Warning: Public health officials have determined that not breast-feeding may be hazardous to your baby's health."

That's the first sentence of the article, and it goes on to describe the health benefits for mother and baby of exclusively breast-feeding for at least the first six months. The article also talks about the governmental media campaign to encourage the behavior.

Given considerable weight in the article are stories from moms who breast or bottle-fed and the voices of critics of the new campaign. Those critics point out that women who don't or can't breast feed are made to feel inadequate And they point to the societal obstacles to breast feeding.

"Moreover, urging women to breast-feed exclusively is a tall order in a country where more than 60 percent of mothers of very young children work, federal law requires large companies to provide only 12 weeks' unpaid maternity leave and lactation leave is unheard of. Only a third of large companies provide a private, secure area where women can express breast milk during the workday, and only 7 percent offer on-site or near-site child care, according to a 2005 national study of employers by the nonprofit Families and Work Institute.

"I'm concerned about the guilt that mothers will feel," said Ellen Galinsky, president of the center. "It's hard enough going back to work."

Public health leaders say the weight of the scientific evidence for breast-feeding has grown so overwhelming that it is appropriate to recast their message to make clear that it is risky not to breast-feed."

So, fine. It's important to breast feed (if you can). So important that the government is spending millions(?) on a PR campaign and Tom Harkin is proposing legislation to put warning labels on formula.

But what seems to be missing from this discussion are ways not to lay all the burden on new mothers. How about requiring companies to allow lactating mothers pumping breaks (and private places-not bathroom stalls)? How about a PR campaign to destigmatize breastfeeding in public? How about incentives for on-site daycares? How about longer maternity leaves?

This seems to be one of those all words, no action things that blow out of Washington on a regular basis. Sure, it's great to provide education and lipservice support. But don't expect to see a significant increase in breast-feeding women without something more than that.

Still, it's a decently written article, with a nice summary of the health benis of BF. If you don't already know, it's worth a read.


Writer Chica said...

Welcome back! This got me steamed. I'll comment more later.

trillwing said...

Nice post. I'd like to add "How about 24-hour lactation specialists?" I could have used some of those.

And how about removing some of those chemicals in our environment that accumulate so easily in breast milk? (Have you read Our Stolen Future? Scary stuff.)

Breastfeeding is by far the most difficult thing I've ever learned how to do.

I'm breastfeeding and supplementing with formula. It has saved my sanity. It also saved me a lot of pain in the first three months, as I had thrush and mastitis. Ouch!

I've been surprised how little grief I've received from people in my left-leaning, very breastfeeding-friendly town. I thought more people would question my use of formula. I'm glad they haven't because the guilt I was feeling at first was tremendous.

I'm ambivalent about a PR campaign to encourage breastfeeding. On the one hand, it could push some women who might find breastfeeding to be surprisingly easy to go ahead and BF. On the other hand, it might just push those of us new moms who were already perched on the edge of insanity and full-fledged post-partum depression into that gulf.

jo(e) said...

I agree that support -- on-site daycare, free lactation consultation, longer maternity leave, etc. -- would be far more effective than scare tactics.

Propter Doc said...

And its how long before a woman is prosecuted for not breast feeding their child for the required quantity of time? Make it easy for us, make it 'normal to do' but please government dont create a social stigma the other way. There will always be women who can't do it - what if the child is adopted?

I'm glad you're back to blogging!

B said...

Breast milk sounds great, but they are claiming an awful lot here. The children that are more likely to be breast fed also have a lot of other things going for them. As the article states families with higher incomes and higher education levels are more likely to breast feed, thus the babies that they measure as being breast fed, are probably also more likely to have better nutrition overall as well as other resources for baby raising. Might these other factors make a difference in some of the things suggested in the article such as obesity, etc?

Annie said...

In our case, Norah cut ME off - at about 5 months old, she decided she wasn't havin' any more boob-food, and would have been one hungry puppy if I had tried to force it. I felt devastated, guilty, ashamed, inadequate... and all of this was before this whole ad campaign came out. If it had been after, I would probably be taking long deep breaths from my car's tailpipe. I wish the government and all those who think they know best would just step back and let people be. When it's time for you to practice one of these options, don't let anyone blow you any sh*t, no matter what winds up being best for you. :)

angiebean said...

I agree with trillwing. I had to supplement along with breastfeeding and it made me feel guilty. I can't imagine what I would have felt like if there were constant commercials telling me I was inadequate. I already feel in inferior in most aspects of my life, please don't add another.

I thought my boss was cool with the breast-pumping breaks. He helped me locate several lactation rooms where I worked and never said anything about me taking time away from the bench. I haven't been pumping for several months. Last week he tells me my fellowship isn't being reviewed. And that I may need to consider changing careers because I don't work long enough hours (he has no idea that I come in hours before everyone else) and my extended "coffee breaks (pumping breaks)" need to stop. Then he says this has nothing to do with me having a child.
Hah! It has a lot to do with his lack of having a clue about what is going on.

Better support in the work place would help promote breastfeeding. FYI, if you are on an NIH fellowship/training grant, you are given only four weeks maternity leave and two weeks of sick leave.

Rose Connors said...

Good post. This is a side of the question I'm not used to looking at. Just to be difficult, I'd like to add: Why not just let new mothers bring their infants to work? I know, it wouldn't work in many jobs; but it would in many others.

I learned much useful information on this and similar questions from ethnopediatrist Meredith F. Small's book "Our Babies Ourselves."


Anonymous said...

I'm 35 years old - got my Ph.D. by 31 - had a 1.5 year post-doc and then got an associate research position. I had my first darling baby just 8 months ago. I am still breast feeding routinely. Hwever, I am so used to working constantly that it has been hard just to slow down and do what I need to (and want to!) to take care of her. My husband is great, and helps a lot, but he has thought I worked too hard anyway. Probably right, but it feels weird to slow down. And now I really feel like I am barely keeping up at work. Lousy feeling. I debated giving her formula for at least a month, and realized that I was putting my job ahead of her health and my health. What put it into perspective was when I thought about what my contribution was going to look like 5 or 10 years from now - would society or my personal goals have benefited from me working more, or from her and I continuing to bond, her to get the nutrition, and me the benefits of reduced risk of breast cancer (what ever that may be)? And who really mattered more? I realized ultimately - and I can't believe how hard it was to realize this (I feel slightly crazy for even considering otherwise - but should I?) - our health and relationship was really far more important.
What is rough though is that even the people at work who have had kids stuck them in full time day care at 3 months, and although they seem supportive, I get the feeling that they think I should've done that also. (My husband decided to work from home, so we have a hand off in the afternoon.)

its a relief to express this - thanks for the place to do it!