Breastfeeding Roundup

At the top of the list for weirdness in breastfeeding news this week, the UK’s biggest restaurant, Cosmo, charged a woman 3 pounds for her exclusively breastfed 6 week son to “occupy space” in the restaurant. To their credit, the restaurant apologized, indicating that the employee who charged the fee was in error.Next up, protests were scheduled to be held in Paw Paw, Mich., yesterday, following the incident in which a woman, Natalie Hegedus, was called out by Judge Robert Hentchel for breastfeeding her baby in court. “Do you think that’s appropriate in here?”  The baby was sick, she said, and he was hungry. And, for the record, breastfeeding in courtrooms is perfectly legal.

{I wonder, would the judge have been upset had Ms. Hegedus been bottle-feeding the baby?}

And in both the Daily Mail and Cafe Mom highlighted the unusual but admirable effort of adoptive mothers to breastfeed their adopted babies–sometimes with the help of medications, sometimes with supplemental feeding systems. Mothers who’ve breastfed adopted babies cite the desire for physical bonding–as well as health benefits–in explaining their decisions.

Rounding out the week’s breastfeeding news is this story in the Washington Post: Rhode Island has become the first state in the Union to eliminate those free bags of formula from its hospitals. Just 38% of RI mothers nurse their babies 6 months after birth, compared to 44% nationwide. Rhode Island’s health director hopes that ending the formula giveaways will bring the state’s breastfeeding rates up. Giving away formula in hospitals and at doctor’s offices sends a mixed signal, many health and lactation professionals say–with their mouths doctors and nurses say “breast is best,” but when they hand you a bag of free formula, it looks a lot like an endorsement.

And that’s the week in breastfeeding news! Clearly, breastfeeding sometimes complicated, sometimes messy, sometimes embarrassing yet still very, very worth it.

{You can read previous breastfeeding posts here (Breastfeeding and Justice) and here (Advertising Formula Works…But for Whom?}

On Being (or wanting to be) ‘Skinny Pregnant’

Twice in the last week I’ve been asked how I went from disordered in my eating and body image to joyfully (if occasionally) consuming pie for breakfast. And while I’m never quite sure how to answer the question–because no one, simple answer could really suffice and because I’m afraid of boring everyone by going into too much detail, for example:

(“and then there was the time I thought my shorts felt tight so I cut them into shreds with fabric scissors, and I realized ‘I may have a problem,’ which reminds me of the time I tried to live entirely off of Sugar-Free Jell-O, which made me think, ‘THIS can’t be good!’ which reminds me of how I was too chicken to use REAL laxatives so I just ate a LOT of prunes…”)

See? No one wants to go there. Not even me!

But there is one thing that I can point to for sure. Wait, two things, actually:Yeah, I know. Cliche, right?

In Waiting for Birdy, Catherine Newman talks about how pregnancy and parenthood brought forth all kinds of true and applicable cliches from her, such that she considered making pitches to Hallmark. I think that is kind of true for me, too. Eating disorders can be very, very isolating. If I was going to refuse to feed myself adequately, the person I would hurt worst was myself.

When I became pregnant, that was no longer true. I’m ashamed to say that at first, with my first pregnancy, I really didn’t want to gain weight. I didn’t even realize that “skinny pregnant” was a thing.

(I do remember reading this article about pregnant New Yorkers who worked out like crazy and counted every ounce and learning of this exercise program aimed at preventing and reversing the “mummy tummy.” And I learned of the oddly titled Pregnancy Without Poundsall of which taught me that “skinny pregnant” WAS a thing.)

Anyway, I was one of those pregnant women who get nauseous from breathing air and as it turned out, it was hard for me to put on weight at all. Apparently, I take after both grandmas, whose pregnant bodies were of the basketball-under-the-shirt variety, like so:

{Hey! That basketball is my mom!}

Even though I’m pretty sure this grandma, at least, stayed skinny partly because she was doing plenty of this throughout her pregnancies:{I know smoking is bad for you and all, but she sure made it look glam, no?}

Nonetheless, I fretted about getting a belly (will it ever go away?) and confessed to my husband that I “just didn’t want to gain weight.”

“If you don’t gain weight, Aidan will die.”

Well. That was painful.

And so I did the best I could. I ate. (And managed not to puke it all up.) I got bigger. And I had a really, really beautiful baby, whom I nursed. And as I nursed him, I felt a powerfully strong sense of our connection. To feed him, I had to feed myself. I wanted him to get bigger and stronger. I had a context for seeing feeding and weight gain as unquestioned positives. From there, I felt like exploring how my eating connected me to other people–to my son and my husband, to my neighbors and to the people who grew my food.

Having my baby showed me my unmistakeable connectedness.

I think that’s the thing that’s scary about the obsession with pregnancy skinniness, which I see reinforced everywhere–on Facebook, in conversations, and (certainly) among the tabloids, which seem always to be screaming about how skinny this or that celebrity just X number of weeks after having a baby. The obsession misses the point, which is that women’s bodies are capable of making room for, carrying, and bringing forth a new life.

{Grandma was so ridiculously beautiful.}

That is–or can be–a powerful, miraculous, transforming thing. It was for me. And it had nothing to do with being (or not being) “skinny pregnant.”

For once, it had very little to do with me at all. (And that was a good thing.)

And now for some more pie.

Advertising formula works…but for whom?

Well, whadd’ya know? Formula advertising reduces breastfeeding rates.

A World Health Organization study in the Philippines has shown that mothers who have been influenced by advertisements or their doctors to use infant formulas are two to four times more likely to use those products. The study, published by the Social Sciences and Medicine Journal, also reported that mothers who saw ads for infant formula were “6.4 times more likely to stop breast-feeding babies within one year of age, a move that increases the risk of illness and death for the infant”–particularly in and among at-risk population groups.

See also my post Breastfeeding and Justice.

Breastfeeding and Justice

Last week, the popular Christian blogger and writer Rachel Held Evans drew her readers’ attention to mothers living in poverty in places like Bolivia. These women, whom Evans met in person, daily face crucial decisions–educate this child or that one? can we afford books or can we afford food? Evans contrasted these decisions with North American “mommy wars”–debates like breast or bottle (feeding), cloth or disposable (diapers), and Sears or Ezzo (gurus). Such choices, in light of the life and death decisions of mothers in the developing world, may seem unimportant. But that doesn’t mean they don’t matter–they do, and maybe even on a global scale.

nursing Graeme just after his birth

Of course, our ability to make choices about parenting styles is a direct result of our relative economic security and privilege. But that doesn’t mean that this ability is trivial or unimportant in light of extreme suffering. In fact, I think that how we choose to live–including how we spend our money and our time (and eating’s a big part of that)–is organically connected to suffering and justice both here and elsewhere. It’s also connected to how we view ourselves in relationship to the Creator and the rest of creation.

Graeme, 1 week old, in cloth diapers. (& missing a sock. It's so hard to keep socks on babies.)

I am fully aware that there are many women for whom formula feeding is the right choice. I have had a number of friends who were (for various reasons) unable to breastfeed their children, either wholly or in part. These women bottle-fed, or supplemented with bottles, and they deserved exactly NONE of the criticism and judgment that all of them faced from breastfeeding advocates who made them to feel that they were inferior mothers for using formula.

Nonetheless–

1. everyone (even the formula companies) know that ‘breast is best.’

This isn’t debated! It’s even on the formula labels! The composition of  breastmilk is incredibly complex; it contains all kinds of things that science can’t even UNDERSTAND, let alone replicate. It is a wonder of God’s creation.

ALSO? It’s kind to creation. There’s no transporting, no trash, no waste. It’s the original ‘local food’ choice. (Not to mention the choice of those too cheap  thrifty to spend $ on formula if they don’t have to…)

2. NEVERTHELESS, formula companies worm their way into women’s minds…

Used to be, in the ‘progress’-loving Eisenhower years, that people thought of breastmilk as “backward and old-fashioned” and formula as “scientific and progressive.” While that’s faded away, the reach of the formula companies’ ads is still long. I have known many women who, thanks to the long reach of formula marketing, seriously doubted their bodies’ ability to produce enough milk for their babies. 

While this is a ‘lifestyle choice’ for most of us in the West, for women in developing nations, “breast or bottle” is a life-or-death choice. Years ago, Nestle (along with other companies) came under fire from breastfeeding advocates for giving free samples of formula to poor women. But formula must be mixed properly WITH CLEAN WATER, and this was not always available to Nestle’s target consumers. Plus, bottle feeding meant that the mothers’ milk would dry up. And THEN what happened, when the money to by formula dried up?

(I can’t seem to find an owner; I discovered it here–the mother in the picture is reported to have said, “use this picture if you think it will help [raise awareness].”)

Creating dependence on formula among at-risk populations without reliable sources of both clean water and cash is unethical, if not criminal.

designed by Rebecca Clark, http://www.babymilkaction.org

And so…

3. Supporting breastfeeding IS an ethical act.

It’s a responsible way to live as a member of the community of God’s creation. It’s a way of living lightly on the planet while choosing solidarity with the members of our global community who do not have the luxury of choice.

{And if you’re thinking, “hmn, does breastfeeding really even need advocates?”, read this recent piece-on how U.S. hospitals do a “bad job” of encouraging breastfeeding–and think again!}

Some of our ‘mommy choices’ in the West seem trivial in light of the extreme suffering and struggle of mothers elsewhere. But I don’t think they necessarily are trivial–they can have impacts going far beyond our own households. (Imagine if every American chose to borrow or buy used of consuming endless piles of NEW baby stuff?) We who have the luxury of ‘choice’ also have the responsibility to live in such a way so as not to consume so many more times our fair share of global resources.

So by all means, do give aid if you’re able–but consider changing the way YOU live, too. Your choices matter to more than just you.