Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Accidental Lactivist

I have started a new job. I am my county's new WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor. A quick scroll through my little blog will reveal that I am a true believer in the benefits of breastfeeding. I've never thought of myself as a "lactivist" though. The issues are just too complicated, too personal, and at the same time too political for me to feel comfortable acting on my beliefs outside of my own home - or gingerly in my blog, and, once in awhile, Facebook page. Even this new job demands that I keep the issues on a very personal level. My role is about helping individual moms and their babies with their individual challenges. Period. No political agendas allowed - and I am comfortable with that. I do believe there is potential for a ripple effect that could impact moms and babies far beyond the few I will be privileged to know - but really even that is none of my business. I'm eager to work at normalizing breastfeeding within these strictly defined parameters - one mom and baby at a time.

And yet, you might have gotten the hint that I am a bit of a political animal. I love to wallow in the big picture. I get lost in it sometimes. So, bolstered by the recognition that I do have something to offer other breastfeeding moms that my new job has given me, I'm going to take my first tentative steps into lactivism by sharing the wise words of Dr. Jack Newman in his take on the breastfeeding wars. I do so still firmly within the context of building moms up and not knocking anyone down.  Forgive me for not offering my own original insights, but he says it much better than I could (and I don't have time to reinvent the wheel anyway). The original can be found here, but I've supplied the full text below. Enjoy.

Breastfeeding and Guilt

by Jack Newman, MD, FRCPC.

One of the most powerful arguments many health professionals, government agencies and formula company manufacturers make for not promoting and supporting breastfeeding is that we should "not make the mother feel guilty for not breastfeeding". Even some strong breastfeeding advocates are disarmed by this "not making mothers feel guilty" ploy.

Because, indeed, it is nothing more than a ploy. It is an argument which deflects attention from the lack of knowledge and understanding of most health professionals about breastfeeding. This allows them not to feel guilty for their ignorance of how to help women overcome difficulties with breastfeeding, which could have been overcome and usually which could have been prevented in the first place if mothers were not so undermined in their attempts to breastfeed. This argument also seems to allow formula companies and health professionals to pass out formula company literature and free samples of formula to pregnant women and new mothers without pangs of guilt, though it has been well demonstrated that this literature and the free samples decrease the rate and duration of breastfeeding.

Let's look at real life. If a pregnant woman went to her physician and admitted she smoked a pack of cigarettes, is there not a strong chance that she would leave the office feeling guilty for endangering her developing baby? If she admitted to drinking a couple of beers every so often, is there not a strong chance that she would leave the office feeling guilty? If a mother admitted to sleeping in the same bed with her baby, would most physicians not make her feel guilty for this even though it is the best thing for her and the baby? If she went to the office with her one week old baby and told the physician that she was feeding her baby homogenized milk, what would be the reaction of her physician? Most would practically collapse and have a fit. And they would have no problem at all making that mother feel guilty for feeding her baby cow's milk, and then pressuring her to feed the baby formula. (Not pressuring her to breastfeed, it should be noted, because "you wouldn't want to make a woman feel guilty for not breastfeeding".)

Why such indulgence for formula? The reason of course, is that the formula companies have succeeded so brilliantly with their advertising to convince most of the world that formula feeding is just about as good as breastfeeding, and therefore there is no need to make such a big deal about women not breastfeeding. As a vice president of Nestle here in Toronto was quoted as saying "Obviously, advertising works". It is also a balm for the consciences of many health professionals who, themselves, did not breastfeed, or their wives did not breastfeed. "I will not make women feel guilty for not breastfeeding, because I don't want to feel guilty for my child not being breastfed".

Let's look at this a little more closely. Formula is certainly theoretically more appropriate for babies than cow's milk. But, in fact, there are no clinical studies which show that there is any difference between babies fed cow's milk and those fed formula. Not one. Breastmilk, and breastfeeding, which is not the same as breastmilk feeding, has many more theoretical advantages over formula than formula has over cow's milk (or other animal milk). And we are just learning about many of these advantages. Almost every day there are more studies telling us about these theoretical advantages. But there is also a wealth of clinical data showing that, even in affluent societies, breastfed babies, and their mothers incidentally, are much better off than formula fed babies. They have fewer ear infections, fewer gut infections, a lesser chance of developing juvenile diabetes and many other illnesses. The mother has a lesser chance of developing breast and ovarian cancer, and is probably protected against osteoporosis. And these are just a few examples.

So how should we approach support for breastfeeding? All pregnant women and their families need to know the risks of formula feeding. All should be encouraged to breastfeed, and all should get the best support available for starting breastfeeding once the baby is born. Because all the good intentions in the world will not help a mother who has developed terribly sore nipples because of the baby's poor latch at the breast. Or a mother who has been told, almost always inappropriately, that she must stop breastfeeding because of some medication or illness in her or her baby. Or a mother whose supply has not built up properly because she was given wrong information. Make no mistake about it—health professionals' advice is often the single most common reason for mothers' failing at breastfeeding!

If mothers get the information about the risks of formula feeding and decide to formula feed, they will have made an informed decision. This information must not come from the formula companies themselves, as it often does. Their pamphlets give some advantages of breastfeeding and then go on to imply that their formula is almost, actually just as good. If mothers get the best help possible with breastfeeding, and find breastfeeding is not for them, they will get no grief from me. It is important to know that a woman can easily switch from breastfeeding to bottle feeding. In the first days or weeks—no big problem. But the same is not true for switching from bottle feeding to breastfeeding. It is often very difficult or impossible, though not always.

Finally, who does feel guilty about breastfeeding? Not the women who make an informed choice to bottle feed. It is the woman who wanted to breastfeed, who tried, but was unable to breastfeed. In order to prevent women feeling guilty about not breastfeeding what is required is not avoiding promotion of breastfeeding, but promotion of breastfeeding coupled with good, knowledgeable and skillful support. This is not happening in most North American or European societies.

Written by Jack Newman, MD, FRCPC

This handout may be copied and distributed without further permission, on the condition that it is not used in any context in which the WHO code on the marketing of breastmilk substitutes is violated.

Monday, April 19, 2010

One of those days

There are days when I feel drawn to him - to his physical presence - to all I have of him - to his grave. I often find myself wondering what would happen if I lay down on his grave and curled myself around his little marker stone. Would I feel closer to him? Would I feel connected to him in even a fraction of the way that I connect with Joni when I lie curled around her in our family bed and she finds my breast and nurses as she pleases? No, I don't think so. The ground is hard and cold. His marker is shiny cold and black. I want him to be there – somewhere where I can feel him - but he is not.

Sometimes my fantasies have me swallowed up by the earth at his grave - skipping the messiness of death, burial and decomposition and heading straight for elemental communion with my baby boy. This fantasy finds me on the days when my grief has been the hardest to face. On those days, being sucked alive into the earth feels like a completely appropriate, merciful and long overdue escape from the relentless saturation of my body and mind in missing him - but not really "missing" - "wanting him" is more like it. Of course I am needed here too much to let myself slip away, and so I don't let myself see where the fantasy would take me. But, the grief, and missing and wanting still remain.

Today is one of those days.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Hurt Feelings

This has been simmering under my skin for quite some time now.  I feel ridiculous at 40+ sounding like a 13 year old little girl, so my upper lip has been rigid, I let it go, slipping swiflty, effortlessly down my fowl-feathered back.....

Except that is a lie.  It doesn't go away. It stays and eats at my confidence - ravenously.

Many babylost moms talk about the way they feel abandoned after their babies die.  Family, but especially friends turn away from the raging grief, and so turn away from the person it is consuming as well.  I don't think that is what I'm talking about here.  I've worked too hard, and think I've been pretty darned successful at boxing up my grief , putting on a together face, carrying my sadness with grace, looking normal.  "I'm good how are you?".... with a smile on top.  No mention of my dead son, being poor, or making a slumlord rich - just the blessings of my wonderful husband and by beautiful living children :0)

I am really really sick to death of being ignored!  I'm sick of "putting myself out there" only to be.......well what else can I call it but ignored?  No response - nothing.  Not "thanks for calling but I've been so busy". Not "thanks for your email but I don't need what you have to offer". Not "thanks but you are way too fucking depressing (or weird, or needy, or boring, etc.)".  Just cold dead silence.

For months now I've been sucking it up and making excuses why I shouldn't take it personally.  People are very busy these days after all.  When I do bump into someone in person, they act as if they are happy to see me, right?  So I guess they are just too overwhelmed to respond to my quick "just thinking of you" notes.

The reality is though, that after so many months of the same thing happening with so many different people, both in my real life and virtual worlds, babylost and not, that it really is time to take it personally.  It has gotten to the point that I am wondering if I've developed some autism spectrum disorder that won't allow me to recognize my social misteps or gauge other's response to me.  I'm serious.  On top of that, well I'm not the most attractive person on the planet - that in itself makes one ignorable.  And my politics must be oozing out of my pores, even as I am gagging on the blood of my bit tongue.  Did I mention confidence chewed up and spat out?

Or maybe my phone isn't working right......and incoming emails have been inadvertantly blocked..... I'll go check.

....oh and.... screw spellcheck!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Other People's Blogs

I haven't been around much.  Well actually I have been, but I've been lurking on my own blog and reading and commenting on eveyone elses.

Reading other blogs gives me lots of ideas for things I would like to explore here, but I really struggle to find the time to put together a coherant exploration of a thought of more than a paragraph.  Babies are a lot of work, and as I say at least once a day in exasperation - I can't have a thought of my own.

But commenting on other people's blogs - well that should only take a few sentences.  That I can manage with one hand while I nurse the girl. And so that is what I've been doing.  It keeps me thinking and writing, but it does have limitations.  But I can't go there now......

......why the heck doesn't this thing have a spell check?