For the most part, I appreciated the article by Cecil Adams (“The Straight Dope”, May 5-18, which appeared in the Hawai’i Island Journal … and is published in many alternative weekly papers around the country) in favor of breastfeeding for healthier babies, but I couldn’t stop myself from focusing on how he (and we as a society) continue to reinforce the rationale of many in our country that formula feeding is acceptable. This will only change as we all become more informed and help to support breastfeeding and breastfeeding mothers, and as our media stops making counter-productive statements.
Cecil’s statement that “newborns occasionally fed formula will survive,” is one case in point. The fact is that babies exclusively fed breast milk for the first six months of life have fewer illnesses and less severe illnesses. And yes, I’m not a breastfeeding Nazi… I can see that a baby who is fed formula on occasion will not die, but why take the risk of formula feeding at all which will increase the risk of SIDS, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, asthma, high cholesterol, allergy, vision deficits and more (nevermind the mother/child bond intrinsic to the process). For the very small percentage of women that are unable to or think they are unable to breastfeed, there is help for them in the form of medications and herbs to enable production of milk or to enhance production of milk, lactation consultants that can help women through the hard times, and the resource of milk banks which can ship breast milk to anyone, anywhere, with a doctor’s prescription. The WHO states that breastfeeding is best, the second choice is the mother’s own milk expressed and given to the infant in some way, the third is the milk of another human and the fourth and last choice is artificial baby milk.
If a multinational company developed a product that was a nutritionally balanced and delicious food, a wonder drug that both prevented and treated disease, cost almost nothing to produce and could be delivered in quantities controlled by the consumers’ needs, the very announcement of their find would send their shares rocketing to the top of the stock market. The scientists who developed the product would win prizes and the wealth and influence of everyone involved would increase dramatically. Women have been producing such a miraculous substance, breast milk, since the beginning of human existence… –Gabrielle Palmer, in The Politics of Breastfeeding, London: Pandora Press, 1988
Cecil further reinforces formula-feeding by telling women “good luck trying to solely breastfeed and hold down a job.” While for some it may be harder to express milk and bring it home from the office, it is by no means impossible. I know a woman who works in the forest fencing out pigs in Pohakuloa Reserve that took her cooler and breast pump with her into the field and would stop during her hikes at the appropriate fullness and express her milk, bringing it home later just to make sure that her children had the best she could give them. It is not impossible, it just takes determination. There are many resources available on the internet if you need help along the way – a good one is my sister’s site at thebfclinic.com .
Formula feeding is the longest lasting uncontrolled experiment lacking informed consent in the history of medicine. — Frank Oski, M.D., retired editor, Journal of Pediatrics
Cecil failed to mention the reason that the rate of breastfeeding in the ’50s “had dropped to 20%” was due to the newly developing formula industry and the pressure put upon women through the physicians and hospitals in those times, which (despite a slight reintroduction to breastfeeding) are still prevalent today. Formula companies constantly push their products on doctors and hospitals in the form of freebies to be the first to market themselves to the parents. Formulas are made to be cost-effective for the formula industry and are full of hydrogenated/low-quality oils, poorly absorbed nutrients, intestinal irritants and micro-deficiencies, not to mention based on dairy and soy which are two of the most common allergens for children, but also the cheapest most available source. (As well there are legitimate concerns with hormones, estrogens, and other factors which render the substitutes improper replacements). Breast milk, however, is a dynamic fluid with over 1000 different nutrients (specific to human beings), and it changes in composition throughout the day and throughout the course of lactation. It provides for the baby the specific nutrients that are needed at each age and in each situation. Formula will never be able to compete with that!
Would you go to the bathroom to eat your lunch?…As a rule, if you have a right to be somewhere with your baby, you have a right to breastfeed,” says Elizabeth Baldwin, a Florida attorney and La Leche League leader who is a national expert on breastfeeding and the law.
Cecil also says that “you risk society’s wrath if you publicly suckle your kid.” Wow…if that doesn’t help reinforce the fear of breastfeeding, I’m not sure what does. Potential mothers that haven’t yet been through this process, let me reassure you now. I breastfed both of my children (for three years each) in public as needed, without anyone ever even looking at me funny. Maybe I just never cared enough to notice other’s attitudes. Yes, there may be the few who are uniformed, uncomfortable, or those with problems with their own sexuality, that may look on in disgust or even make rude comments, but why emphasize fear that society is truly against breastfeeding mothers (“society’s wrath…”)? This perpetuates the promotion of the breast as sex object while downplaying it’s proper purpose as the method for our children’s healthiest start in life. If a woman has modesty issues due to our country’s fascination with breasts, then they have the option to make themselves more discreet and wear a shawl or remove themselves from public view – but mothers have the right to breastfeed anywhere and should stand up for themselves if anyone tells them otherwise and feel supported by society to do the right thing!
This week, our nursing mothers in Hilo went to have a “nurse-in” at the Hilo Public Library, which recently got some press when a librarian told a mother to go somewhere else to nurse, as there were young boys nearby that may be distracted. Despite Hawaii Law stating one can not discriminate against nursing mothers, the library’s position prior to the nurse-in was that they allow mothers to breastfeed but only if they breastfeed discreetly (i.e. hide in a corner somewhere or go to the bathroom — like every breastfeeding mom is just dying to pop one out and show the world). But after public response to their public position starting filtering in, the library soon changed their tune and their policy. It’s interesting that in this day and age mothers around the country -from the YMCA to Starbucks- (and even around the Americanized world) still have to protest for such a simple right.
It is high time that society changes its social attitudes and explains away breastfeeding myths. Why are kids distracted by a breast in the first place? As one Hilo mother put it, “It’s time to heal our breast-repressed, breast-obsessed culture.” Breast-feeding is the most healthy option for our children. It is also a self-sustainable action, with no bottles, containers, washing or waste (unless you pump and bottle feed which may increase the need for dental work in the future, but at least save in doctor’s expenses with healthier constitutions). It saves over $1000 per baby in just the first year in feeding costs. And it can be done anywhere, at any time, without any preparation. Let’s start to make things right by being informed when we speak and then saying the right things to help women instead of perpetuating the repression.