Breastfeeding Nation

Seems an auspicious day to start blogging about breastfeeding.  Today the Surgeon General, Regina Benjamin, issued an 80 page report advocating breastfeeding for American women.  Having been a mother now for almost 14 years, and having turned serving women in their childbearing year into a career, I am pleased with this report and the direction it moves us in as a breastfeeding nation!

You can read it for yourself and draw your own conclusions about the state of breastfeeding in America, how we support new moms, and of course the undeniable benefits of breastfeeding …

The press release:

http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2011pres/01/20110120a.html

The report itself:

http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/topics/breastfeeding/calltoactiontosupportbreastfeeding.pdf

And a neat fact sheet:

http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/topics/breastfeeding/calltoactiontosupportbreastfeeding.pdf

I want to talk about a single word though, which I’ll get to in a minute.

I’m about to launch Breastfeeding Arts as my new business.  In doing so I am spending a lot of time figuring out how social media might, or might not, work for me.  So at around 10am, at the time of the live press conference, I went on Twitter to see if there was any buzz.  There was.  Hashtags galore!  #call2action4bf if you want to catch up.

A post or two struck me.  Since I’m new enough to Twitter, I admit that I didn’t figure out where the thread started or with whom (so shout out if anyone reading this actually did start the thread).  The thread was about “choice”.

Choice in breastfeeding has always been a loaded issue for me.  If given the choice of how best it wanted to be fed, cuddled, bonded with and nurtured, I am certain the human infant would choose mama’s breast and mama’s milk.

I heard Dr. Jack Newman (one of my heroes) say at a conference about four years ago that formula should be available by prescription only. Meaning, it shouldn’t be a choice, but a medical need.  There was applause, raised eye brows, more applause and even gasps (but mostly the swooning type gasps of “holy cow, what a rock & roll star to say such a thing.”)

Back to choice.  I wish there were another word for it.  A word that wouldn’t come loaded with judgment, sanctimony, debate, shunning, shame, guilt, applause, opinion, opinion, opinion.

When my daughter Grace, that almost 14 year old I was talking about up there, was four months old I went to Mommy & Me Yoga on the Upper West Side.  It was filled with a click of mommies, many from the local LLL group.  Several of them I am very close friends with still.  Shout out to you, my dears, if you’re reading this.

But, back then … we were strangers.  And I’m not sure I ever told them this.

See, I was a poster child for “not enough milk supply.”  Nowadays, I work with so many women who were just like me back then.  I see myself in them, hear myself in them.  I was a new mom, who knew little, who got even less support and knowledge from her health care professionals, who did all the wrong things to build milk supply and had a dwindling, insufficient supply by 3 months.

My pediatrician was the worst offender as far as lack of support goes.  For the first six months, at each visit, every time he would walk in he would ask, “how much formula is she getting?” and I’d reply, “I’m trying to breastfeed” and he’d admonish and recommend a minimum number of ounces supplemented via formula.  He even recommended sugar water once.  I changed peds at six months.

After yoga class one day I offered her a bottle.  I forget all the dynamics, or who asked first or how it came up, but I remember my reply when asked about the bottle, “… yeah, I didn’t have enough milk.”

I can still feel the energy ripple in this warm, karmic yoga studio.  There was an awkward silence and all the women kind of averted their gaze with a cursory, “oh” reply.  Breathing stalled, hearts slowed, opinions formed, judgment cast …

I was formula shamed!

That’s actually the end of my story.  It is what it is.  And I thank Grace every day for the way she came into this world and the lessons she taught (and continues to teach) me.  I am an IBCLC because of our experience and struggles as a mother/baby pair.  So, thank you my dear daughter for guiding my path as a professional woman!

Here’s the thing though.  14 years ago if I had reached out and found, well, ME, as I am now, an IBCLC, we would have been a much more successful breastfeeding pair, Grace and I.  I know this to the core of my being.

I made choices as a mother, but what if I didn’t have to make those choices?  What if my post partum care and support had been better? I read a great quote this morning (Huffington Post) “How long a new mom breast-feeds can boil down to hassles at work, whether her doctor ever stressed how super-healthy it is, even whether Grandma approves.” So true!

If I didn’t have to worry about maternity leave, had an OB who cared (for normal, healthy childbirth only midwives should be catching babies, not OBs), had a ped who knew what he was talking about and had mothers, sisters, aunts galore who all had breastfed forever … like it was totally normal … it would have been a non-issue my feeding my daughter.

It’s not about choice in my opinion.  It’s about access to knowledge, support and a nation seeing comfort, beauty and normalcy in a breastfeeding pair.

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