…Contemplating the Core Elements of a Modern Breastfeeding Lifestyle
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Breastfeeding in Public: Eye Candy or Not?

This summer the pedestrian mall between Herald Square and Times Square in New York City is home to a unique art installation, Sidewalk Catwalk, promoting the fashion district.

The mannequin below was designed by Kenneth Cole.  Its tongue in cheek message made me think of the topic du jour…Breastfeeding in Public.

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Lily O’Brien’s Chocolate Cafe near Bryant Park is just a few blocks away from the “eye candy” above.   A New York mother claims in a law suit filed this week  that she was harassed there last summer while breastfeeding her 5 month old infant.

In the past 24+ hours her story has been trotted out on all the local media. Read more here.

Cathal Queally, the Irish candy man proprietor of Lily O’Brien’s Chocolate Cafe, told the local NBC interviewer that it was a misunderstanding.   He said he grew up with sisters and was surrounded by breastfeeding women. He added that the target audience for his confections are mothers and children.  Indeed, there were signs welcoming breastfeeding mothers on his store front window.

It is Breastfeeding Awareness Month so any buzz on breastfeeding gets traction.  The comments on the blogs, news articles online and those solicited from New Yorkers on the street were mixed.

A cynical analysis might be that the entire episode is being “milked” for all it is worth by the parties involved.  On the whole. the impact of this publicity seems positive.

The media news blitz is educating the public about the law allowing mothers to breastfeed anywhere, rallying other breastfeeding mothers to have confidence to openly breastfeed and publicizing an establishment now very openly declaring that they are breastfeeding friendly.

I still find it quite amazing that breastfeeding in public ruffles so many feathers.   Breasts are mammary glands perfectly designed to feed human babies.  Their function as eye candy is contextual.

We have lost touch with the naked truth.  As the Kenneth Cole mannequin reminds us…Underneath it all you are all naked.

Human bodies are works of art in their own right.  When a mother breastfeeds her baby that stark beauty is expanded into a very sweet and tender tableau…

Eye candy in the eyes of the beholder.  What do you think?

August 17, 2010   3 Comments

Breastfeeding Office Memorabilia

It has been many years since I first donned this button from the Florida Lactation Consultant Association (FLCA).  I found it doing the August Cleanup suggested by Dr. Jeanette Cates on her blog.

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I wore it on my lab coat while I was the first lactation consultant at a major NYC hospital.  It was a conversation starter.  People were intrigued and wondered what it meant.  The nurses thought it was a great button for me to wear as the representative of breastfeeding on our maternity unit.

I have to laugh as its message was unclear to anyone who was unfamiliar with my passion for breastfeeding promotion and support.  One day on the elevator a man asked me, “Are you a vegetarian?” His companion chimed in, “Are you Hindu?”   My Irish eyes were smiling as I explained to them the meaning of my button.  “Human babies should not drink cow’s milk which is for cow’s.  They should be breastfed by their mothers.”

Believe it or not, not long after that comical incident, I was called into the office of the Director of Maternal Child Health.  She told me that I was offending formula feeding families with my FLCA pin and demanded that I should remove it from my lapel.  I explained  its purpose in detail, but my protests fell upon deaf ears.

It should be of no great surprise that I resigned soon after that encounter to go into a full time private lactation consulting practice.  I figured I would be better able to help new moms and breastfeeding families on the “outside”.

To still keep a foot in the system, I  moved to another hospital to teach all their prenatal breastfeeding classes.   I felt that empowering mothers with information before birth, one of the Ten Steps, would be the best way to set them up for success.

What continues to distress me after all these years is that there still seems to be a need. here in NYC, to temper the endorsement of breastfeeding when dealing with the consumers of maternity hospital services.

You’ve come a long way baby or NOT?

Is this an only in New York phenomena?  Or have you also received  mixed messages about breastfeeding in the hospital or from members of your health care team?

Can you share what approaches helped or hindered you as you began your journey as a breastfeeding mother?

August 15, 2010   5 Comments

Breastfeeding Postcard Speaks Volumes

I received this postcard as a holiday thank you note from a family that I had helped in the early years of my private lactation consulting practice.  It has hung in my office for two decades.

Sergei Vassilev’s 1988 photograph “In the Maternity Home” captures the stages of profound connection that develop between mothers and their breastfeeding babies.  This group bonding moment is understated, yet quite powerful.

In recent years, there have been many nurse-in’s staged to make political statements.  Mothers have descended upon stores and businesses to protest unfriendly policies toward breastfeeding.   During World Breastfeeding Week celebrations each year there are often large groups that assemble in public places to breastfeed in numbers.  One of my favorites was the group nurse done on the A train in NYC.

Whenever mothers breastfeed it touches my heart.  I believe you cannot help but be inspired by the wonder of breastfeeding when you get an opportunity to witness the kind of very positive and primal energy that flows from my treasured breastfeeding postcard.  It speaks volumes.

What do you think?

August 8, 2010   5 Comments

World Breastfeeding Week 2010: Health Care Worker Call To Action

This is the 19′th annual celebration of World Breastfeeding Week.  The Theme of 2010 is commemorating the Innocenti Declaration made by WHO and UNICEF policy-makers in August 1990 to protect, promote and support breastfeeding.

In the past 20 years there has been some progress in the rates of  initiation of breastfeeding.  Yet, only 28% of Maternity facilities world-wide have fully implemented the Ten Steps and have been certified by the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative.  Were this an analysis of anything else, this would not be a passing grade.

 I’ve been in the trenches throughout this period and beyond.  At first glance, it appears as though we have made great strides.   According to the NYC Dept. of  Health and Mental Hygiene report put out in April 2009,  an impressive 85%  of women initiate breastfeeding.  However, after 2 months the number falls to 32% who are still exclusively breastfeeding their babies.  Surveys reveal that the top two reasons for stopping were related to concerns about the milk supply either having enough (39%) or that it was adequately satisfying their babies (39%).

The fall off rate here in NYC is quite dramatic, but not surprising to me.  Despite health code regulations that prohibit formula discharge packs, many families will leave the hospital with generous samples of formula in tow.  Mothers who have had cesarean sections report that their babies were given at least one bottle, if not more, of formula during the first few days after delivery.  

Many of the New York hospitals have lactation consultants on staff or nurses “trained” to support breastfeeding.  Nonetheless, their focus seems to increasingly be on feeding a measurable amount of fluid to the newborns.  They get  moms to sit on the pump getting drops of colostrum and encourage them to give their babies formula until the “milk comes in”. 

 Using the pump as a  first line of breastfeeding support relegates direct breastfeeding to the back seat.  New mothers leave the hospital knowing how to pump rather than how to achieve a deep, pain-free latch.

New parents are set up to believe that artificial baby milk or formula and human milk can be exchanged ounce for ounce in bottles without consequence .  Unwittingly they are weaning from the beginning or setting themselves up to experience the top two reasons many of them will choose not to breastfeed beyond two months.

Without a doubt, the Ten Steps are a helpful tool to focus our attention on the importance of consistent breastfeeding education and support.

To pack a punch and ensure successful breastfeeding beyond the first few weeks, the Ten Steps must be embraced by unequivocal  and truly breastfeeding-friendly health care workers:  nurses, doctors and lactation consultants. 

To be continued…

August 2, 2010   2 Comments

Breastfeeding Success: Less Than Six Degrees of Separation

Living in NYC, there are many opportunities to interact with celebrities.   However, one of the reasons John Lennon loved it here is that, for the most part, his privacy was respected.   

I stood on line behind Kevin Bacon at my Starbucks.   I could feel my father desperately channelling through me an urge to engage him in conversation.   Although I inherited my dad’s ”gift of the gab,” I could not utter this joke forming in my mind.  “So, this is what they mean by six degrees of separation?”   If only I had remembered at that moment that his wife Kyra had breastfed.   Given my penchant for marketing at Starbucks , who knows what I might have been able to say. 

All kidding aside,  I have found that there is less than 6 degrees of  separation for breastfeeding success.  

  • Your mother, partner, a sibling or close friend, doctor (pediatrician or obstetrician), lactation specialist can all impact your choices and the trajectory of your experience. 

Six Degrees of Separation For BF Success

One of the most important considerations is surrounding yourself with positive breastfeeding role models and enthusiasts.   Given the barrage of hormones, any lack of support, whether real or imagined, can shake your confidence.  Those who love you do not want to see you exhausted and overwhelmed.  They may try to relieve you by offering to give a bottle or encourage you to consider an exit strategy. 

Breastfeeding is natural, but it is also a learned skill for both mother and baby.   Tensions can build when couples are not on the same page about this essential aspect of caring for their newborn.  Attend a breastfeeding class together if at all possible.   Remember that coaching does not end after labor.  

Many of you will defer to the “authority figures” such as the doctor and lactation consultant.  

  1. No Pediatrician will hang out a shingle saying they are opposed to breastfeeding.  However, early supplementation with formula is a big clue about their knowledge and support of breastfeeding. 
  2. A survey of Pediatricians published in late 2008 verifies that their promotion of breastfeeding is down.
  3. Lactation consultants that rely too heavily upon gadgets and pumping may further overwhelm a mother. 
  4. Check out your local parenting boards and read them carefully.  Look for someone who has the clinical expertise to fix your latch rather than manage your pumping.
  5. Ask your friends to  honestly share their breastfeeding experience and judge if you want some of the same.
  6. Follow me on twitter or become a member of  The Breastfeeding Salon

We live in an interesting period of human history where popularity and affiliation are highly valued.   With some preparation you can assemble your dream team of breastfeeding support within six degrees of separation.

June 27, 2010   No Comments