Monday, February 27, 2006

Course Correction

I told a friend that I’ve been self-censoring my posts, sometimes not writing about things that I feel strongly about out of respect for my readers. She urged less self-censorship, more faucet reactions. I’m concerned with adding to the cacophony of the sphere, but it’s somewhat self-important to think that these entries do anything at all to the sphere. In that view, I might intersperse the small life-moment captures with more stringent viewpoints and editorial opinions.

I am a lactivist.

I didn’t intend to be that way, I, or should I say, we, evolved into the pro-nursing camp. When Guille was born I had a goal of nursing until one year. I’d read all the literature about the extraordinary benefits of nursing and I knew that my mother had nursed all of us. Nursing was such a struggle in the beginning. A fill-in pediatrician, concerned that two day old Guille was jaundiced, recommended I supplement my nursing with an ounce of formula after each feeding. We stopped feeding him formula when the jaundice resolved. At his two week appointment he was still considerably under his birth weight. Since nursing is on demand, that ounce after each feeding (8-10 ounces a day) cut my volume significantly. I, of course, felt beyond horrible. I’d been starving my child. I sobbed and sobbed. We went to see the lactation consultants who helped us figure out a good latch. I had to pump after every feeding and supplement with a nursing aid (the tube + tape.) After a few weeks of that, my supply righted itself and we went on our way. We had other problems: nursing strikes, biting, colds and sickness. I had made a goal, however, and I was determined to stick with it. I am so glad I did. We reached one year and haven’t stopped.

As a result of all of those struggles, I began to research nursing. I was stunned with the discoveries I made.
I want to preface some things right here: there is a place for formula. Some of you reading this right now have used formula. I am not angry with formula. Adoptions, medical problems, specialized medication that preclude nursing, all are excellent examples of why we need safe baby formula. I remember Melanee, who was given heart medication that contraindicated nursing. Her heart broke because she wasn’t going to be able to nurse Maggie. Every time I see someone pulling out a bottle of formula, her example, and those of other mothers, is what reminds me to mind my own business.

However, I am angry with the formula industry. I hate that they provide every woman who delivers in a hospital a free diaper bag full of powdered, concentrated and ready to eat formula with incentives and coupons to buy. This makes it seem that hospitals and doctors actually prefer formula to the real stuff. Every pediatrician is sent loads of formula to distribute to women, even if the Doctor doesn't want it. These companies prey on the fear of women. Those corporations risk the health of babies and women to meet their bottom line.

Sounds like the most patronizing, misogynistic, and destructive mission statements on earth.

Babies who don’t breastfeed:
20% increased risk of Leukemia
60% increased risk of common and chronic ear infections
40% increased risk of Diabetes
Huge increase in upper respiratory infections which led to hospitalizations, increased risk of other types of cancer
The whopper is that 20% more likely to die in the first year.

So why isn’t this common knowledge? Well the government and certain health advocates thought you should know. So they made some commercials informing you of risks of not breastfeeding. The ads featured pregnant women riding mechanical bulls, competing in rollerball and log rolling competitions. The tag line: “You shouldn’t risk the health of baby before it is born, why start after?” followed by the statistics above.

I am filled with rage for our government. Rage is the only word I have to describe it.

The formula industry called the offices of Tommy Thompson (former Secretary of Health & Human Services) constantly until they were allowed to see him. The result? “Officials confirm to ABC News that HHS' Secretary Tommy Thompson met privately with formula industry representatives but turned down meeting requests from breast-feeding advocates.” You'll never see those ads the way they were intended to air. Why?

Because this administration is in so cozy with large business interests they’d rather see babies placed in literal mortal danger. As a result of industry pressure, Thompson had the ads revised to remove the statistics above. They focused not on the dangers of bottle feeding but on the benefits of nursing. Because, really, when you say it’s risky NOT to nurse is that it IS RISKY to formula feed. The industry can’t have that, oh no. The administration can’t have Nestle, Wyeth, etc, not contributing to the re-election campaigns, oh no. They make me sick.

It was just reported that an enzyme in babies' mouths when nursing prevents the contraction of HIV from infected moms. Your milk concentrates fat and protein content after the first year, tailoring itself to what your toddler needs. Children who nurse past the age of one score, on average, ten points higher on IQ tests than children who are nursed less. Antibodies pass through your milk make sick babies healthier and prevent illness entirely. The WHO and UNICEF have reported that one to one and a half MILLION babies die every year because they were not breastfed. Basically, every 30 seconds a baby dies from dehydration, diarrhea, vomiting, respiratory infections, or malnutrition as a result of being bottle-fed.

Let’s talk about you! 30% decrease in your risk of ovarian cancer, 50% decrease in risk of breast cancer. Uterine and endometrial cancers also decrease. The longer you nurse the more your risks drop, the results are often cumulative as well (nursing more than one child, even if for shorter than a year, cuts your risk.) If you choose not to nurse, you’re choosing to endanger not only your child’s life, but also your own.

When I see a bottle of formula I see misogyny.

I see the Dr. who told my grandmother that formula was better for her children (thankfully, she looked at him and said, “Are you calling God a liar? God didn’t make a mistake when he made me. I was built to nurse.”)
I see the nurses in the Swiss hospital arguing with my mother as she demanded that her baby not be fed artificial milk.

I see the companies that decided that when formula sales dipped they would go into the third world.
I see the women in third world countries that were told artificial milk was better, so they mixed the expensive powder half strength to make it last longer, starving their babies to death.
I see the poor water supply that they used to mix the powder, killing their children with cholera, dysentery, and e coli.

I see the triumph of marketing over women.

So, yeah, I’m a lactivist. Want to make something of it?


c jane said...

Bravo Carina! I believe in half moons and smart babes and mothers doing what is natural and real. Marketing is messed up.

Keep sending the photos!

P.S. Aren't we all Nazi's of some sort?

La Yen said...

Well, well, well.
I am glad that you are not censoring yourself anymore, and also glad that you are not teaching neo-natal classes. Because there is nothing more depressing to a woman who can't breastfeed than to be told she is ruining her baby's life.

Yes, you made provisions for me and the infected and the anti-biotical, but there is also a place for formula in the lives of "healthy, normal moms." I did not have a choice in the outcome, but I am glad that the options are there. I think that it is mysogynistic to tell women that they are bad for choosing what is best for their families. Can't we all just get along and support eachother? Women should be defending eachother and our choices, not making us feel guilty for them. I have never met a woman who used formula because it was easier--it is more expensive, and the guilt involved is tremendous.

The gov't also does not pay for formula--WIC only will give moms enough to supplement, not to feed the baby full time, unless you get a doctor's note.

We love formula. Jooj loves formula. I love that my boobs are in the same place that they were a year ago. I love that both W and I got the chance to feed her, and that I always know how much she has eaten. I understand your rage, and I am proud of you for voicing it, but I refuse to be made to feel bad for something else--I am full up with the gospel, the army, not working, working too much, and all of the other things that I am doing wrong in my life.

That being said, I still love you and I am glad that we are friends, and when you go on Art Bell, let me know, I'll call in!

Azúcar said...

I think you misunderstand where my anger was directed. I am unhappy with the way the formula industry does business. When the government colludes with business to make it harder for women. It saddens me when women don't have help and education on how to nurse, or give up at the first obstacle.

That being said...
If someone weighed their options and made a decision on what was best for their family, that's great. Absolutely none of my business!
You've done nothing wrong and you've done everything right. Know what's better for a baby than breastmilk? Being in a healthy loving home with parents that adore her. Nothing can replace that. Jooj is the luckiest.

nie nie said...

good post!

Queen Scarlett said...

Bravo Carina. I felt the same thing when having a hard first few weeks with Kalea breastfeeding I was bombarded with free formula.

We did have to supplement formula at the beginning what with recovering from a c-sec and Kalea and I learning how to get the breastfeeding thing going.

The companies totally prey on us during those first few weeks of fumbling, vulnerable emotions and all that ... but I made a goal that I would breastfeed because it was best for my baby and because I knew my Mom did the same.

That's why when I had friends that were going to be first time moms I told them to push through those first few weeks and warned them about how the formula companies would bombard them with free samples to mess with their emotional state.

I also know women who refused to breastfeed because they considered it gross/unnatural and had their own selfish reasons, which they gladly share, for why they didn't breastfeed.

I have no problem with women who find that breastfeeding doesn't work for their family. I do have a problem with women who refuse to even try because they care more about their own selfish/ill-conceived notions than the good of their child. I thought you wanted to be a mother?

I love breast-feeding... I find it a miracle how much milk I was able to produce. I thanked God everyday I had the milk to care for my baby. I had to stop recently with the antibiotics I've been taking. Makes me so sad. Can't wait to breast-feed again when the next one makes it's grand entrance.

Love the post. Bravo!

righteous mama said...

interesting post, carina. i agree that breastfeeding is totally best for baby and even though i had bleeding nipples and excruciating pain for the first 6 weeks, i stuck it out because i knew that it was best for bubby. however, what strikes me as sadder than any of this information that you provided (which, interestingly, is all over the place in Boston--none of this is new to anyone who lives there) is the way women are more often than not, each other's worse enemies. why are we constantly competing, comparing and categorizing each other? (who breastfeeds longest? who works outside the home? etc.) i think it's one of satan's greatest tools to pit us against one another! i would love us to support each other's decisions more in mothering--THE hardest job out there!

lisa v. clark said...

I have also been following how the formula industry markets in third-world countries and it's incredible! It reminds me of the tabacco industry in several ways.
Every woman in the world should have all the information she can to make the best decision for her family.

It's good to be passionate about things! Too many people don't say anything about anything. . .

fijiangirl said...

I appreciate your post and just have one comment to add. I was lucky enough to be able to breast feed partially with my first-born son. Surgery prevented me from breastfeeding full time. However, when we moved to California we found a wonderful pediatrician who encouraged me to nurse more than bottle feel when my daughter was born, the result... I nursed my daughter twice as long as I nursed my son almost a full year! I appreciated having the formula on hand when I just couldn't get any milk out and understand the struggle for women who can't nurse as they would like. How thankful I am for a doctor who lovingly pushed me to keep nursing my daughter and didn't make me feel like a failure when I had to use formula. Nice to know there are some physicians out there who won't be bought by big business! Cheers for great pediatricians!

Rachel said...

this is a very interesting post. i agree with a lot of what you said. at the same time, i think i've become a lot less "nazi" about almost everything in my life lately. i don't know why. i'm not saying that this is because i've come to some more exalted state, or that i'm more tolerant or . . .

i used to be somewhat judgmental of women who didn't nurse. i was curious as to why they weren't doing it, and just assumed that selfishness was to blame. and than i had leah and started to nurse. i had NO idea how much it would stress me, drain me, and make me feel somewhat anxious. the reclined mother cooing with baby to breast was not my experience. i often felt alienated from groups when i was nursing. i hated the "blanket over" technique and ditched it after i was hiding under a bright orange tent/blanket at a restaurant trying to get my 3 week-old to nurse. and since i lived in davis, ca, i could nurse whenever and wherever. park, restaurant, shop...thank goodness for the openess, or i would have never lasted a week!

i nursed leah for 16 months--because of her food allergies, and because of anxiety of what would happen if i DIDN'T nurse her for that long...however, there was obviously some pay off for me to keep me doing it so long.

and so, with esther, i decided that i would just take it as it came. i made no nursing guarantees. it felt so liberating to know that i didn't have to nurse if i didn't want to...for selfish reasons, for anxiety, for whatever. i needed to feel in control, and the thought that i HAD to be the sole provider of this baby stressed me out. and so i nursed esther anyway, with less stress, for one year. and i was actually quite happy when i was done. FREEDOM!

so, not that you wanted my life story in your comments section, but while i know it is emotionally and physically most beneficial for mother and child in stats, sometimes the stats just don't add up for some women. and to them, i want to shout from the rooftops, "honey, you can still be a fabulous mom with or without nursing. go home and love your baby up...and don't think about it for another second." so i guess i might be nazi-ish about something: letting women feel fine about whatever decision they make, and for whatever reason they make it, be it for saggy boobs, anxiety, depression, feeling trapped, or pain. nursing is hard business for a lot of us. and having a baby is the least selfish thing we do already.

i guess this same discussion could be made about epidural/no epidural, but i'll wait to air my feelings until you actually post about it. :)

keep uncensored--it's good food for thought.

Azúcar said...

Nie - Your original post is one of my favorites, I read it often. I love to hear other women's experiences.

Lindy, I concur. A sisterhood would be much better than a catty take down of our fellow-fair gendered. We all struggle with a shared commonality.

Dear LVC, I, unfortunately, have a problem with saying too many things to too many people. One of my many weaknesses which I am trying to modulate.

QS- I know exactly how you feel. Those post-partum weeks are so fraught with emotion and delirium; those are the times we are most vulnerable to the impositions.

Fijiangirl (I know who you are) I'm so glad you found a doctor that was encouraging of your abilities. I know it was hard with number one son.
In addition to the industry, I find that doctors are some of the worst sources for nursing information. If they are older they subscribe to silly theories, and if they're younger they may not even know how to pull their collective heads out of you know where (not Fiji, that's where.)
A supportive doctor is hard to find. I wish I could remember the name of that Dr. that originally caused us so many problems. I could throttle him (ok, I'd probably just bulldoze him. HIM.)

Rach, I have a lot of friends who feel the same way; freedom! A mom that is healthy and happy is the best thing for babies. As long as we're striving for both and shedding self-perceived inadequacies, good on us.

Don't we love a discussion? Let's do it again!

La Yen said...

Dearest Bosom Nazi:
I felt bad that I took umbrage--didn't sleep a wink and cried out one single tear from my mammory in your honor.
firm but fallow in El Paso

Anonymous said...

As an adoptive mom, I find it very sad that there are women out there who are outright judging me at first sight for bottle feeding my baby. I know it isn't wrong, but why do women have to be this way? Especially since most adoptive moms go through a long greiving process about not being able to breastfeed.

I completely disagree with looking down on anyone who quits breastfeeding because it's painful or inconvenient or whatever. People should mind their own business.

On that note, good for you for saying what you believe. It's your blog, you say whatever. It's wonderful.

I guess I'm extremely naive about breastfeeding mother's thoughts. But I am greatly disturbed right now. I agree with Lindy who said we should all just stick together.

However, I do understand the anger you expressed about the formula companys, etc.

I adopted a 2 month preemie baby. I wanted him to be healthy. Heavenly Father sent to him a wonderful woman who donated TONS of breastmilk to him for 5 months. It was freaking awesome.

Azúcar said...

Anon, I know people judge me just because I AM nursing! We're in the same boat, just on opposite sides. I have known some close friends who wished so much that they could have nursed that I try not to judge anyone who is using formula.

But again, it's not that I'm denegrating women who bottle feed, it's that I wish the formula companies wouldn't conduct business in the way that they do.

I wish that women who DID choose to nurse would educate themselves on the process to make it an easier, more empowering experience.

La Yen said...

I promise that wasn't me, C-dog. Also, to that anonymous lady, I find that the best way to get a leg up on the critics is to pull out the "Well, if only I weren't barren, then I would be able to nurse. Luckily, though, I was blessed by the Lord and have been given a child. I suppose, though, that it would be better to let him grow up in a crack den than to give him formula, though" card. It always works for us. Or just say "I would, but I was born without breasts. Up until last year my name was Steven. Thank heavens for Amsterdam!" That also tends to shut them up.

Petit Elefant said...

Very well written, my love.

Several points:

We aren't trying to take each other down in the breast vs. bottle debate, at least I'm not, and I don't think you are either. What is wrong here, what no one wants us to talk about, is where the fault lies with a lot of the misinformation floating around out there: the formula companies. They're not in it for what's best for the babies and mothers, they're in it for the bottom line, and it can have devastating consequences.

Also, the formula companies are in cahoots with the pediatricians by *un-educating* doctors about the benefits of breastfeeding in order to promote their agenda.

I was more discriminated against as a nursing mom than I ever have been in any arena of my life, mostly by bottle feeding mamas and stupid doctors and nurses.

Bottom line: we really all CAN get along, we just have some listening to do first.