Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Interesting Breastfeeding Articles

The first interesting article has to do with the "Breast is Best" campaign waged by formula companies worldwide. Basically, it says that the message if flawed and shouldn't be used. It is a subtle way of suggesting that formula is normal and breastmilk is slightly better, when in fact, breastmilk is normal and formula is worse. "Formula is Worse" isn't really a good way to sell a product, after all.

The second article involves a potentially revolutionary find by an Australian scientist. He wanted to study breastmilk and find out what's in it besides nutrients. One of its ingredients appears to be stem cells. Further research is necessary to determine if those stem cells can be used for medical treatments, but if they are, it would present an easy and ethical way to harvest them for study. The theory he's working on is that breastmilk takes over for the placenta once a baby is born. There is nothing in baby formula that can come close.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Extended Breastfeeding?

The term "extended breastfeeding" is used constantly online and in parenting books. It isn't meant to be offensive, it is merely used to label breastfeeding a baby past their first birthday. If you pay careful attention to the power of the words chosen to describe this parenting choice, you might be surprised. When something is extended, it goes on past it's normal stopping point. Breastfeeding past the first twelve months is normal. There is evidence from the fields of anthropology, biology, zoology, archeology, and evolutionary biology that tells us how long human beings were meant to nurse our young. This isn't a case of being able to find a study to back up whatever your particular stance is on a topic. There is no evidence that humans should only be giving our children our milk for twelve months.

Kathy Dettwyler, an anthropologist who has studied this topic in depth, says that the minimum duration for human breastfeeding is two years. The normal length of nursing is between two and four years. In anthropologist Meredith Small's latest book, Kids: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Raise Young Children, she discusses the theories on the origin of the human childhood. It turns out that no other animal has a childhood stage between the infant and juvenile ones. She points out that it is thought by some to have come about because biologically, we should be nursing for seven to ten years! That would get our offspring from birth to being juveniles. We started nursing for the shorter two to four years so that we could ovulate and produce more babies over our lifetimes.

Based on the work of these two women and countless other scientists, how can we call nursing past the first birthday "extended"? I think we need to reframe the issue and stop using words that imply we aren't doing something normal. What about calling anyone who breastfeeds for less than two years a premature weaner or partial breastfeeder? Can't you just see the internet firestorm that would cause if you suggested it on a bulletin board? I don't advocate that, but I do believe that if enough of us refer to ourselves as mothers or breastfeeders, without the qualifying terms, we might help phase out the not-so-harmless extended breastfeeding.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Milk Anyone?

My youngest has a new habit that I find charming. She will occasionally stop nursing and suggest that one of her siblings have a drink. Since she doesn't have a large vocabulary yet, her suggestion consists of pointing at my breast and then saying one of their names. She still gets jealous when I hold one of them in my lap, so her willingness to share her favorite things is sweet. She has also had me nurse several dolls and stuffed animals. Sometimes, she nurses them afterwards. The cutest part is that she makes little sucking sounds when she does it :)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Misinformation is King

I have recently been privy to several new mothers' breastfeeding struggles. It is so frustrating to know these women, but not well enough to give them the straight facts about what is really going wrong with their attempts to nurse their new babies.

Mommy #1 is a friend of a friend. She had a baby born "tongue-tied", which apparently lead to her problems. I have a little experience with this condition, where the tongue is connected to the bottom of the mouth closer to the front than normal. It can prevent a baby from sticking their tongue out, which is necessary for breastfeeding. My nephew was born with this problem; his tongue was connected so close to the front that it looked like a little heart (the middle was pulled in). His was a severe case, and he did have some trouble latching on to the breast. After a week at home, my sister went to see the lactation consultant at the hospital. With her coaching, my nephew and sister were able to breastfeed without problems. The pediatrican wanted her to get the connective tissue clipped because if it wasn't, he would have speech difficulties later on. My sister was scared to have the procedure, so she put it off. The doctor warned her that once he got older, it would become a surgical procedure done under general anesthesia at the hospital. If she did it when he was an infant, it was a simple matter of going to an Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor's office. She finally did it when he was nine months old, and still successfully nursing. My own son was born with connective tissue closer to the front than normal, but not as close as his cousin. He had absolutely no trouble latching on to the breast and nursed successfully for almost three years. His pediatrician mentioned stretching the tissue, which sounded awful to me. She also said that we could leave it alone and see if it interfered with his speech. We left it alone, and he has had no speech issues.

This new mother I mentioned was given all sorts of information about how to get her daughter to latch on properly. She was told to give the baby a bottle first and then switch to the breast. She also used nipple shields, which covered her nipples with plastic. Her pediatrician had her newborn put under general anesthesia to have her tongue clipped, which is contrary to the information my sister received, as well as the research I've done into treatment options. She was still doing the bottle switch thing after the procedure, which isn't generally indicated. The entire protocol she was told to follow does not jive with what I've read should be done. As new breastfeeding moms, we rely on the help of lactation consultants, nurses, and pediatricians. Unfortuneatly, even lactation consulants can be misinformed about the best course of action. I think that many people, both in and out of the medical profession, look at breastfeeding as a hobby you are trying to pick up. If it works, then you have something to do with your baby. If not, you switch to bottles of formula, and your new hobby can be sterilizing plastic, rubber, and silicone and coordinating cute bottles with baby's outfit. If they understood the differences between breastmilk and formula, maybe they wouldn't set women up for failure so easily. The sad thing is that all of that information is readily available, if they only cared to look.

Mommy #2 is a cousin. Her little boy was born very small (5 lbs). He was jaundiced and went back to the hospital for treatment. My oldest was treated for jaundice while she was in the NICU for her first week. My son developed it, and we treated him with phototherapy at home. She has him home again now, but is having difficulty with breastfeeding him. Apparently, he nurses sometimes and refuses at others. When he refuses, she gives him a bottle of pumped breastmilk. She is tired of pumping already and wants to start giving him formula when he doesn't want the breast. What she doesn't understand is that with every bottle, she is moving further away from breastfeeding her child. Milk flows more quickly from a bottle's nipple; the baby has less work to do to get milk. He will begin to prefer the faster flow; people are lazy, even tiny people :) By giving him the bottles, she rewards the laziness. If she nips this in the bud, then he would have no choice but to nurse.

Mommy #3 is another friend of a friend. She worried that the baby wasn't getting enough milk. Her doctor suggested supplementing with formula. Breastfeeding is a supply and demand system. Every time she gives her hungry baby a bottle of formula, her body is not getting the demand for food. How in the world is that supposed to build up her supply? What she needs to do is drink lots of water, relax, and nurse the baby every time he's hungy. Don't give him a pacifier when you think he only wants to suck, and definitely don't give him a bottle of formula! It won't take long for your body to build up the correct supply of milk.

I think that one of the most frustrating things about these situations is the contributions of misinformation by the doctors involved. These women will fail at breastfeeding and truly believe that it was out of their control. They will have their doctors' assurances that there was nothing they could do. That sets them up for failures with their next babies as well. What's worse, they will share their stories with other pregnant women and new mothers. The poor information will spread like a plague and women who would otherwise have had great breastfeeding success will struggle and give up.

Another aggravating issue is the mother who really doesn't want to continue to breastfeed, but won't own up to it. She uses all sorts of problems to explain why she can't instead of admitting that she won't. The problem with this approach, other than being dishonest, is the same as with the misinformation. Other women will hear their stories and believe that they too cannot nurse.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Breastfeeding and Adoption

For years now, my husband and I have talked about adopting. We like the idea for so many different reasons. We are now at the point where this discussion has come to a head. We definitely do not want anymore biological children (world population, as well as difficult pregnancies for me). If we were to adopt, the baby would be either bi-racial or of a different race from us. One thing that is very important to us is that I breastfeed the baby. Besides the health benefits, we both believe that the bonding aspect would be paramount. He or she would receive the same love and bonding from me that my biological children have. We would want to adopt while I'm still nursing my youngest so that I have an established milk supply. That puts us on a timeline because she's already 20 months old. I know that many people, especially ones adopting in the US would tell you that the wait could last for years. From my research and experience, though, that isn't really an issue if you aren't waiting for a white baby.

When our middle child was about a year old, we requested an info packet from a local adoption agency. I never even spoke to anyone; it was all online. I checked off the box saying we were looking for a minority newborn. Within two weeks, we got a call from the agency. Keep in mind that I had not filled out any forms or contacted them after receiving the info. The woman was offerring me two different babies! One was a three month old African-American girl and the other was an unborn, bi-racial baby. I had to tell her that we weren't at the point yet to adopt. One thing that struck me was the cost for the babies. She said that it would be about $22,000. I had already looked into prices at other agencies, and that amount was way out of scale for what other places charged. It sounds creepy to talk about baby prices, but the reality is that white babies are much more expensive. We were a bit outraged that these two unwanted (by the adoption community) babies were being priced this way. From what I've seen , no one would ever pay that much for them when other agencies use a scale based on your income for their minority programs. Can you imagine finding out that you might have had a family if you hadn't cost too much? By the way, cost has nothing to do with our choice. We are just open to a baby of any race.

Since then, we had our third biological child. Our discussion now is about having a fourth child. We are both on board with the idea of adoption, but we wonder about the costs of raising four children. I recently found another local agency and requested info. When the woman emailed me and said that the newborns are cared for by volunteer families for the first five days (until the birthmother can legally terminate her rights), I asked her about allowing us to take the baby home from the hospital instead so that I might breastfeed. Sadly, she has never had anyone ask her about breastfeeding their adopted child before. She was caught off guard by the whole thing. She wondered if it would turn off a birthmom because if she changed her mind during that first week, the baby would have been nursed by someone else. In a world that wasn't ignorant about breastfeeding, a mother would be happy that her baby was receiving human milk instead of a synthetic product. In our world, she would be weirded out. It wasn't that long ago that rich women or families of women who died in childbirth used wet nurses to feed their newborns. How far we've come :(

The happy news is that I looked into the possibility of nursing a newborn who has been bottlefed for the first five days of her life. My contact at the La Leche League told me that it was totally possible. Someone gave me a link to a website totally devoted to breastfeeding adopted babies, which I haven't had a chance to read. There is a wealth of knowledge out there about the benefits of breastfeeding adopted infants and instructions on how to accomplish it. It's really too bad that a woman in the business of adopting out children has never head of it...

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Breasts at Mardi Gras

Today was Mardi Gras down here in Louisiana, and we took the kids to the parades. For those of you not from around here, I'm not talking about the craziness on Bourbon Street that you see on the news. There are plenty of family-friendly parades too (if drunk teenagers and women with underwear over their jeans counts as family-friendly to you; it does down south). As I sat in my folding, canvas chair nursing my daughter and hoping the news cameras directly across the street wasn't getting shots of my breast, I realized that I have now nursed at seven out of the past eight Mardi Gras. Can you believe that I watched a woman stagger by with beads decorated with penises and wondered if I would get any dirty looks for what I was doing?

I didn't, by the way.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

101 Reasons to Breastfeed

Here's a great list I just came across that lists 101 reasons to breastfeed. It's got it all; medical, social, emotional, economical, etc. reasons that breastfeeding is the best way to feed babies. Print it out and keep it handy so that when your mother-in-law/ ignorant nurse/sister/ friend start going on about how there's no difference between breastmilk and formula, you have facts to back you up. Of course, if those women have gotten this far without understanding the information is true, there may be little hope for them.

I read a great book that explained one of the identifying traits of Progressives. We believe that if only everyone knew the facts about a situation (Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, for example) then they would change their minds. Sadly, people don't usually work that way. We like to believe things, even if they have been proven false, because we already believe them to be true. Think about it; you are less likely to believe that someone you like has done something wrong than someone you don't like, right? If you believe that formula is as good as breastmilk (especially if you have formula fed your own children), you don't want to believe that formula isn't as good. It is hard to take the facts and change your mind, which might mean admitting you were wrong.

Maybe this list will help convert some people. If it doesn't, at least you'll have more information about the great choice you have made!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Slimy Subliminal Sabatage

Like a lot of women my age, I get the news online. I scan headlines and read articles that interest or impact me, people and places I love, health, etc. I occasionally watch news channels like CNN, but they drive me nuts with the flying text and wild graphics. I can't stand those "news" shows like Nancy Grace (who is so much crazier than her caricature on Saturday Night Live it's scary). I do watch my local news channel to find out what's happening in my area, and I often watch Nightly News on NBC with Brian Williams. My parents always watched NBC's evening news when I was a kid, so I guess it's a holdover. I usually make it through a broadcast without too much aggravation, but not last night.

The big health story was about new findings that women can prevent prematurity by taking folic acid supplements for a full year before conceiving. The March of Dimes wants to get the word out that all women of child-bearing age should take the supplements every day because you never know when you could get pregnant. Interesting study, legitimate organization's recommendation, so what's not to like? I'll describe the opening of the piece; see if you can spot the problem: While the narration starts, we see a new mother in her hospital gown, cradling her newborn. She is gazing into the baby's face while feeding her a bottle of formula (one of those little premade bottles they have in hospitals). The title flashes on to the bottom of the screen, just below the baby and bottle. It reads, "Healthy Start".

Did you spot it? Did you suddenly have the urge to rush out and buy your baby formula? Does NBC get money from formula companies? I don't know if they do, but they might as well. They could just have easily shown this piece with the mom holding her newborn. I'm not optimistic enough to expect them to show a woman breastfeeding her baby on national tv, but since feeding had nothing to do with the information, why not steer clear of it? Do they honestly not understand the difference between breastmilk and formula, or are they actively promoting the fake stuff? Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization have goals they've set for initial breastfeeding rates at hospitals (they have goals for continuing breastfeeding too, but we're dealing with just making it out of the gate). Flashing the words "Healthy Start" over a woman formula feeding her brand new baby in the hospital makes it normal and acceptable. Hiding breastfeeding moms makes breastfeeding strange and secret.

Okay, so I've ranted about the irresponsible news, but what about the mother. I could not believe that she could look at the camera and say that folic acid was soooo important to her because she wanted to give her baby the best health...good luck with that.