Tuesday, July 31, 2012

What a Boob!

I try to keep things on this blog light-hearted and non political but after reading about the "breastfeeding initiative" that New York City's Mayor Bloomberg is trying to push, I can't shy away from something controversial this morning.

It's been weighing on my heart because my journey with breastfeeding was wrought with frustration, guilt, depression, anger and completely intertwined with my Postpartum Depression.  It's something deeply personal to not only myself but to every mother because at the core of the issue it comes down to wanting and doing the best for our children.

First of all - the science is definitely out there that breastfeeding for any length of time is beneficial to the development of infants.  There is a whole host of yummy, healthy stuff that is contained in breastmilk that you just can't quite recreate in formula.

BUT.  Life is not Star Wars.  Things are not divided into good and evil.  If breastmilk is good, that does not equate formula to being evil or poison.  For many women it is a viable and lifesaving option for their infants due to an inability (which could be for several reasons, none of which are up for judgment) to breastfeed long-term or even at all.  Choosing to breast or formula feed a child does not determine the "greatness" of a mother.  For many mothers, myself included, the decision to quit breastfeeding and instead give Natalie formula was actually the BEST thing for her because that moment of decision was the moment I began to climb out of a dark hole and back into the sunlight.  Giving up breastfeeding allowed me to become the present mother I needed to be so that I could bond with my child and be nurturing, patient, kind and loving.

Bloomberg's initiative states that formula in NYC hospitals will be locked up in a cabinet much like the strong pain medications that some women require after delivery.  All mothers in NYC hospitals will be encouraged to breastfeed.  THIS is the good part.  Encouragement is supportive, compassionate and genuine.  But what happens next is where I have a problem.  If a woman would like to either supplement or 100% feed their child formula, that mother will be "talked to" by the nurses about why they should not "opt out" of breastfeeding and then the mother will be forced to sign a paper in order for them to receive the formula for their children.

Excuse me?

I am almost 29 years old.  I am an educated woman.  I do not need to be "talked to" by a nurse or any other person about my choices and decisions.  If my principal has an issue with my performance at work, we have a private dialogue in his office.  If I inadvertently hurt a friend's feelings, we meet for coffee and have a heart-to-heart about the issue at hand.  Maybe it's the phrasing, but "talked to" invokes images of being a young child sitting in a desk with a stern teacher standing over me, her face taut with anger, wagging her finger in my face as she tells me what exactly I've done wrong.  Not the experience most women want to have in those emotional hours after the delivery of their child.

Mayor Bloomberg, have faith in the women of your city.  Have faith in mothers in general.  We know ourselves and our bodies far better than you.  We instinctively know what is best for our children and for our families.  Breastfeeding, for some, is not the best option and those women should not be lectured in the first crucial days after birth as to how they are already not up to par on the course of motherhood.

The supporters of Bloomberg's initiative are crying out that this is not a judgment against formula feeding mothers but instead a plan to keep the mass marketing of formula to mothers in the hospital at a minimum.  Now this is just anecdotal evidence based on my own personal experience, but I didn't really notice any big push by the pharmaceutical companies to get my baby hooked on a certain brand of formula while we were in the hospital.  If anything, when I mentioned the slightest frustration with breastfeeding, I was quickly shut down and reminded of all the benefits of breastmilk compared to formula.  Sure there was formula floating around and stashed in the bassinet cart but quite frankly, I couldn't tell you what brand and whether or not Natalie liked the little bit that she received when getting her to latch on.  My whole experience in the hospital was so foggy and full of information, long nights and visitors that I couldn't tell you the color of the walls, the food I ate or the formula they stocked.

I've also found that in life, whether it is with friends, family or in my professional career, you will attract far more bees with honey than you will with vinegar.  Approach women about the topic of breastfeeding with concern, respect, and most of all - caution.  You don't know where in life that woman has traveled.  You don't know what type of pain and suffering she has experienced that might have changed her world view on breastfeeding.  Putting women on the defensive who are in a vulnerable state, such as right after the birth of their child, will do nothing to promote the cause of breastfeeding.  Making women feel judged, less than, or a failure for not complying to the supposed "gold standard" of motherhood will only alienate those who you are trying to persuade.

Personally, Craig and I have tossed out the possibility of me not breastfeeding any future children based on the fact that it played such a large role in my PPD after Natalie was born.  Our first priority with a new child will be keeping me focused and present with my family and my infant.  A sane mother is much more effective than one stuck in a fog.  If I were to be in a hospital where this was the practice and I had to be lectured and then sign a waiver of some sort before my child was allowed to have nutrition, both Craig and myself would be livid........and I would be embarrassed and humiliated.  And most likely, an experience like what Mayor Bloomberg is proposing would most definitely be a huge trigger for someone who suffered as I did after the birth of my first child.

Is this how new mothers need to be treated?  Absolutely not.

Hand new mothers a pamphlet and offer compassion, encouragement and respect.  Then live and let live.


Anonymous said...

If you go to the NYC links to the initiative, here is what you find is actually happening:


"By joining this voluntary initiative for NYC maternity hospitals to support mother’s decision to breastfeed participating hospitals have agreed to:

-Enforce the NYS hospital regulation to not supplement breastfeeding infants with formula feeding unless medically indicated and documented on the infant’s medical chart

-Restrict access to infant formula by hospital staff, tracking infant formula distribution and sharing data on formula distribution with the Health Department

-Discontinue the distribution of promotional or free infant formula

-Prohibit the display and distribution of infant formula promotional materials in any hospital location.

“Latch On NYC” has been formally endorsed by the New York State Department of Health, Greater New York Hospital Association, Academy of Family Physicians, New York County Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics, District II, New York State and the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine, New York State Chapter."

That doesn't really resemble what's being put forth in the media, does it?

Laura said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laura said...

Enforce the NYS hospital regulation to not supplement breastfeeding infants with formula feeding -->unless medically indicated and documented on the infant’s medical chart<--

This is mainly what I have an issue with - I shouldn't have to defend why I would choose not to breastfeed. "Medically indicated" is left up for a lot of interpretation and judgment. Are the nurses going to find my "reason" for not breastfeeding good enough?

Women shouldn't have to justify how they choose to feed their child. I stand by my last paragraph - give women the information and then support them in whatever choice they make.

Heather said...

I'm so glad you posted this. I had no idea about this initiative, so now I'm interested in looking it up! Based on the wording that it seems you're struggling with, I'm interpreting it to mean that the hospitals can't feed *breastfeeding* babies supplementary formula without documentation. Not sure what that means for moms who choose formula from the get-go. I kind of agree with hospitals needing to lay off of supplementary formula when moms are trying to breastfeed because that doesn't help their milk come in (and it's usually slow to come in at first). The formula becomes an unnecessary crutch.

However, I'd prefer that the government stay out of the issue altogether. You're exactly right that it should be a mom's choice without her being made to feel inferior about said choice. (Although I really would love it if all moms would at least TRY breastfeeding, we should have the freedom to make the choices that we feel are best for our kids.)

I've been wanting to write a breastfeeding post lately anyway just to contrast the differences between my first and second kids, so you may have just inspired me! I barely made it 3 months with my first, and there were a LOT of tears. I hate it and felt so relieved when I finally gave up. Although I wasn't suffering from PPD, I know what you mean about being a much better mother afterward. The choice to breastfeed is SUCH an individual one, even just between kids. My second latched on perfectly from day one and I just finished nursing him at 13 months. If you'd told me I'd nurse over a year, I NEVER would've believed it!

I'm ramblings, but just wanted to tell you thanks for the post. :)

Laura said...

From what I read on the NYC website, it looks like ALL formula will be locked up and any mother who chooses to formula feed will have to speak with a nurse, provide a medical reason and then sign paperwork to receive the formula for their child. But then again, the information provided to the public is somewhat vague and definitely open to interpretation - which is what bothers me. Some nurses might have no problem accepting a woman's reasons for not breastfeeding while another might use this opportunity to be unnecessarily hostile and judgmental towards a new mother.

There's a little part of me that wonders if breastfeeding a second child might be different from Natalie just because of how much more confident I am as a mother now.......but I'm still not sure if attempting is worth the risk of spinning myself back into PPD.

I think the government, special interest groups and hospitals have to be super careful when promoting and encouraging women to breastfeed because there is definitely a line past which people's good intentions can come across as judgmental, demeaning and superior which will do exactly the opposite of what is intended.

Anonymous said...

I personally support this initiative. I had to tell the nurses over and over and over until I was blue in the face that they were NOT to give my children any formula. Period. The end. I personally saw no reason it would be medically neccesary unless the baby was in the NICU and even then I would have pumped and provided colostrum. My babies were small and it seemed like every time I turned around someone was telling me they weren't getting enough, or needed supplementation, or formula would help with jaundice, etc etc.

I had several friends that set out to breastfeed but then in the hospital they were also inundated with this formula push and then once the baby got home, after several bottles of formula, the baby wouldn't latch. Well of course not. The baby had a bottle for two days, why would he nurse? Bottle feeding is much easier for him! I think this can go both ways. If you want to formula feed that's your choice, but it was not for me and I felt like I had formula shoved at me from day 1!

Now having it locked up and having to be checked out like narcotics is a bit much, but in general I felt pretty unsupported in my choice to breastfeed. I even had one nurse tell me to just send my baby to the nursery and she would bottle feed him so I could sleep! No thank you!

Laura said...

I guess it depends on the hospital. My daughter went to the nursery during the night but they brought her to me every three hours to nurse...or more if she needed it. I'm all for women making the best choice for themselves and their family and not being bullied either way...which this initiative sounds like it might do between locking up formula and requiring a "talk" and signature before allowing a mother to feed her child.