Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Breastfeeding in the U.S. -- view from my soapbox, part II

Back to this "freedom of choice" issue...watch some TV. Count the formula ads. Now, count the ads that promote breastfeeding. Wait! There are none -- those might SCARE someone or OFFEND someone! OK, turn off the TV and open a magazine. Count the forumla ads. Count the ads/articles that promote breastfeeding. I'm talking "mainstream" here, folks, not Compleat Mother or Mothering. How many mailings did YOU get during your pregnancy encouraging you to breastfeed? How many dollars-off coupons did you get for Mother's Milk Tea?

I don't think TRUE freedom of choice exists in this country over this issue. Women who choose to breastfeed have to swim against the stream. Heaven forbid they have problems and can't locate support. Women who choose to formula feed have all the support in the world.

By the way, next time you're in a hospital maternity ward, look at the small print on the "routine" items. The paper tape measure used to size up my newborn -- formula company. The little tag on her basinette that said "I'm a girl..." -- formula company. The growth charts her height, weight, and head circumference were plotted on -- yep! Formula company.

Baby dolls come with bottles unless you buy them from a "crunchy" website. Pacifiers are attached to baby shower gifts with ribbons as decorations. Find me a baby-themed item -- any item will do, blanket, cross-stitch sampler, baby book -- that represents a breastfed baby, a mother breastfeeding her child, etc. While we all agree that breast is better, why is bottle-feeding so pervasive and breastfeeding so "counter-culture?"

My point is this: some mothers who have chosen formula did so knowing all the facts. Good for them. They knew what they needed to do to be the best mother they knew how, quit breastfeeding or never start, whatever the situation was. However, I would contend that MOST women in this country who chose formula did so WITHOUT all of the facts. They weaned or didn't breastfeed because it was "easier" or "normal" to formula feed, because they didn't know anyone who had breastfed, because no one told them that formula ISN'T 100% the same as breastmilk, because every cultural representation of babies bears a bottle.

THAT is why I feel sad and frustrated. Not because someone made a decision I wouldn't make.

How to increase breastfeeding duration in the U.S.:

--longer paid maternity leave for breastfeeding moms
--more education of health care professionals
--get the AAP the hell out of bed with the pharmaceuticals so pediatricians can give unbiased information based on the health of children, not $$$
--increase breastfeeding support! Support La Leche League!
--Breastfeeding mothers, nurse in public. Talk about breastfeeding. Don't be apologetic about it! The more women I meet who do it/have done it, the more empowered I feel.
--Workplaces HAVE to receive training on the breastfeeding mother who works outside the home. Too many mothers feel like they are "getting away" with something because they pump at work or take advantage of flex-time...because their employers have a negative attitude toward breastfeeding.

I am in the (very slow) process of writing and proposing an Army Regulation governing the treatment of breastfeeding mothers in the Army. I have decided to take this on because, when my daughter was 8 months old, my job (band member -- not infantry!) required I spend 6+ hours at a football stadium, away from my baby.

I am a Staff Sergeant, which, translated, means I'm a big nobody with some seniority. The Chief of Primary Care at our health care facility, who was in charge of medical operations for the stadium on these days I had to work there, was a Colonel, which, translated, means he was a VERY HIGH RANKING, educated individual who had a lot of power in the Army, as well as a lot of experience.

I contacted him to request a clean, private place to use my breast pump. He told me I was lucky to breastfeed as long as I did, too bad the responsibility to keep it up rested on me, the individual, not the institution.

This, from a respected medical professional! I told him (bear in mind the difference in rank!) I was sorry he felt that he could not design a workplace that was conducive to my continued breastfeeding, especially considering that he, as a medical doctor, should be well aware that current recommendations suggest a child not be weaned, if possible until after the first birthday.

Knowledge is power.
There was a freshly-painted cubicle with an electrical outlet and a locking door at the football stadium that weekend.

My little corner of the world was a little more baby-friendly...what are you doing to make yours better?

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