Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Breastfeeding Often Avoided by Black Moms

Yesterday's edition of NPR's Tell Me More featured a conversation with Kathi Barber, the author of The Black Woman's Guide to Breastfeeding, Jamila Bey, a Washington, D.C.-based journalist, and Dawn Porter, a television executive. Host Jennifer Ludden discussed the reasons why breastfeeding rates are lower amongst African-American moms with the three ladies and the audio is embedded below (for those of you who can't listen at your computer, a transcript is available here.

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Breastfeeding & Race Intersect in New Play

While listening to NPR on our way to the mall this morning, a piece came on about playwright Sarah Ruhl's new play, In the Next Room. Also known as "the vibrator play," In the Next Room is the story of Dr. Givings, a 19th century physician who cures "hysteria" in women by giving them orgasms with a curious electrical device. Dr. Givings administers this treatment while his wife sits in the parlor with their newborn baby, wondering what is going on.

I was sort of paying attention to the radio while playing with my cell phone, but my interest was piqued when I heard that Ruhl wrote the play while she was breastfeeding her baby and found herself interested in the topic of wet nursing and decided to include it in the story line. When Mrs. Givings has difficulty breastfeeding her baby, she and Dr. Givings hire an African-American woman to come and nurse her.

Ruhl says her play is about "how we separate out bodily functions and labor and love." She says she's intrigued by "this notion of paying someone to do something that, ideally, one does for one's own child — or paying a doctor for the sexual treatment that ideally your partner is giving you in a more intimate way. So it's all these questions of intimacy."

I got a sense from the review of the play in the NY Times that the subject of race is broached tangentially, and since the play is a comedy, I can imagine it's not the focus of the plot. I still think the idea of exploring this type of working relationship really fascinating. Does anyone know if there's a novel or play about a white woman and her black wet nurse? If so, please send it my way.

Anyway, if you are lucky enough to live in New York, the play is running at the Lyceum
until January. If you can't make it to the play, you can check out a clip below.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Nicole Kidman on Breastfeeding

Nicole Kidman says she was cast in the movie Nine because she was breastfeeding.

"They're not very big, my boobs, so they just became normal size. I loved it!" she tells the December/January issue of Ladies' Home Journal. "I felt very Woman. When you've had a slightly androgynous body your whole life, having breasts is a nice feeling. [I had] big boobs because I was breastfeeding – I was perfect for it. I wouldn't get cast now."

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Breastfeeding Checks

How would you like to send one of these checks out to pay your mortgage?

Thanks to Heather at It's All About the Hat for pointing them out to me. As you can guess, these checks depicting a breastfeeding mother benefit La Leche League International. With every purchase of these checks, address labels and checkbook covers, 10% goes to LLLI.

If breastfeeding is not your cause, Message Products also sells checks that support NOW, Planned Parenthood, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and more.

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Formula Fed America

I learned about a new documentary called Formula Fed America on Twitter last night. There were lots of retweets of the link flying around, but I believe the first person to post the link was Anne from Dou-La-La.

Of course my first reaction to watching the trailer was, “Yes! Finally someone has made a movie about the dangers of not breastfeeding!” I am hoping the movie is going to be very accessible and informative without being so preachy as to be a turn-off to the average viewer. I am hoping it will be the breastfeeding version of Ricki Lake’s “The Business of Being Born” and will make a huge splash and be covered in the media.

I am tempering my excitement a bit for now. The website has sparse information on the movie so I have no idea when it will be in theaters or if it’s going to be straight-to-DVD or only available in huge markets. In addition to that, the trailer makes me a bit nervous.

Notice that it features three moms talking about their breastfeeding experiences and three doctors talking about the importance of breastfeeding. All of them are white. I’m concerned that the entire movie is going to lack diversity and breastfeeding will continue to be seen as something that only white women do when we know that’s not true. I hope that they don’t show lots of women of color formula feeding. I hope that the racial and cultural barriers to breastfeeding will be discussed. I hope that women of color won’t be completely absent from this conversation because our babies have the worst health outcomes in the United States and we’re dying of breast cancer and diabetes and obesity and heart disease at higher rates, too.

I hope this movie comes to my area soon. I will definitely be front and center to see it, but I’ll probably be holding my breath a little the whole time.

I emailed briefly with Leslie Ott, one of the makers of the film. She told me that they are still conducting interviews and hope to wrap the film in February. The film is still unedited and anything related to promotion is not yet set in stone. I have sent her some follow-up questions that I hope she'll have the time to answer.

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Guest Post: Becoming Your Own Advocate

I'm pleased to present this guest post by Angel, a mom who had to become her own advocate in order to continue pumping at work. Her story is really inspirational and shows how one mom can make a difference for all the women at her job.

Working in the Health Department of a community college, and having a boss who had exclusively breastfed all 3 of her own children, I did not anticipate any barriers to pumping at work after returning from my maternity leave. My boss was gracious enough to provide me with a temporary office, so that I did not have to worry about finding a place to pump, or interrupting my work for frequent pump breaks. As a lactivist and aspiring lactation consultant, breastfeeding was near and dear to my heart, and I was so proud to be working full-time, and still be able to breastfeed my son with no need for supplements.

However, one day out of the blue, the dean called me into her office and proceeded to reprimand me for taking excessive breaks and violating college policy. Apparently, a coworker of mine had called the dean and reported that I was spending 2 hours and 45 minutes each day pumping! This was such a ridiculous overstatement, that I thought she must be joking, but to my horror, the dean not only believed the report, but threatened to cut my hours and pay in order to make up for the time I was allegedly spending.

I was speechless; the room was spinning. I saw all my intentions and personal goals thrown out the window, along with my innocent baby’s right to be breastfed. I started worrying about how our family would keep up our budget and get by with a reduction in pay.

Then I snapped back to reality and realized that this woman obviously had no idea what a huge can of worms she’d just opened. I told her that it was my right under Illinois law to pump at work, and that there was no way I could be in violation of college policy, since the college HAD no policy on this—I had checked. Furthermore, I couldn’t be in so-called violation, since the break times reported weren’t in any way accurate. I told her that she could check with my boss or any of my coworkers, if she needed confirmation. She seemed momentarily stunned into silence. I told her that I would email her the information on Illinois law, and promised to continue to keep my break times within the allotted time.

I was furious! I was shaking by the time I got back to my office, and of course, the coworker who’d ratted me out had called out sick that day. I racked my brain, trying to figure out how in the world she’d come up with 2 hours & 45 minutes, when at that time, I was only taking 2-10 minute breaks and a 25-minute lunch, which totaled up to the 45-minute lunch afforded to full-time employees. Even when I first came back from leave, and was using a dying secondhand pump, it was probably an hour & a half a day, max. Plus I worked through most of my pumping, so it wasn’t even exactly a “break”. To make matters worse, my other coworkers were all privy to what this meeting was about, since she’d been complaining about me to all of them. I realized at that moment that my boobs had been the latest topic of discussion around the office. I was mortified.

My boss was beside herself at what my coworker had done, & promised to back me if I ever needed her testimony. I contacted the college’s union rep, but there was no union available to classified staff. She did sympathize with me, however, and advised me not to allow the charges to go unrefuted. I decided to type up a letter of rebuttal. I submitted this to HR, along with a signed statement by my boss confirming my actual break times spent. In the letter, I wrote that I was dismayed that nursing mothers would now be portrayed in a negative light, as it had been my intention to schedule a positive, proactive meeting with HR to set up lactation rooms and implement a program and official policy at the college. I attached a copy of the Business Case for Breastfeeding which is a wonderfully thorough & educational packet for businesses on how and why to become a breastfeeding-friendly employer.

I set up a meeting with the director of HR, pleaded my case, and expressed my interest in creating a lactation program & space at the college. She expressed regret at my circumstances, but didn’t seem to understand the importance of a lactation program, or care much about finding space (even though I did offer to do all the work). She hadn’t even read the packet I’d sent. She requested a month to “research”. A month turned into 2, and before I knew it, she’d retired.

In the meantime, my coworker and I had not spoken in over 2 months. Workdays were horribly awkward and stressful, and pumping at work was now a nightmare, knowing that she was timing me and reporting back to the dean with her “findings”. My milk supply took a beating, and although I knew damn well from all my research that I could boost my supply by relaxing, I was incapable of doing that. I spent most of my breaks crying and wishing I could be anywhere else.

After weeks of depression, stress, and anxiety, I couldn’t take it anymore. I decided to take the high road and asked my coworker out for a cup of coffee. We addressed our issues and came to somewhat of an understanding. Work slowly become bearable and I found the strength I needed to follow through with my goals for the college.

I scheduled a meeting with the new director of HR, and offered my assistance in starting a committee, finding space, and handling the logistics myself. She, like the previous director, had not even bothered to read the packet I’d sent, and just couldn’t imagine that there was a big enough need to justify creating a lactation room, let alone 7 rooms campus-wide, as I’d suggested. She insisted that there was no space on campus, but I gave her the names of several college employees who’d suggested places for such a room, and a list of pregnant employees who would use such a room if it were available. I told her stories of what other nursing mothers on campus had gone through in order to breastfeed (discrimination, harassment, pressure to wean, isolation, etc.), and insisted that it wasn’t right.

I left the meeting thinking that she, too, had blown me off. But a week later, I got an email letting me know that she’d found a room, and was working with maintenance to make the space appropriate! I was incredulous! In the 30+ years since the college had opened, no one had been successful in getting a lactation room built, despite countless requests. But now, we had one! I felt nothing but exhilarating joy at the thought that all future mothers on campus would not have to go through what I did just to breastfeed their babies. I had thought this an impossible situation, but somehow, I got someone to listen.

Finding a room turned out to be much easier than HR had anticipated and they’re now willing to work with me on creating a lactation program and an official college policy. I’m so happy that some good came out of this horrible situation, and that other nursing mothers will benefit from my experience. If I could offer any advice to moms out there, it would be to educate yourself about your rights and the law, be proactive about getting your employer’s support, and don’t give up at the first sign of resistance. Most employers find that accommodating their nursing employees was surprisingly easy—it’s just getting them to agree to do it initially that can be tricky. You shouldn’t have to deal with discrimination, and if you don’t fight it when it happens to you, you’re also enabling your employer to mistreat the next nursing mom.

You have resources! Contact La Leche League and a leader would be happy to work with you or your employer to make your company breastfeeding-friendly. All the literature is on your side! Do what’s best for you and your baby and advocate for breastfeeding whenever possible! I’m so glad that I did, and I’m happy to report that my son is one year old today, and is still a happy booby baby, with no intention of stopping any time soon.

Angel is a wife and mother of two who works full-time and attends classes part-time at the same college. Soon to pursue further education as a lactation consultant, Angel currently assists new mothers as a post partum doula while also raising awareness as an unwavering breastfeeding advocate. When given a moment to relax, she enjoys napping, reading, playing board games with friends, and beating her husband at Guitar Hero.

Want to learn more about lactation programs on US college campuses? Click here.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Feel the burn?

You've heard it countless times from countless celebrities. From Rebecca Romijn to Kimora Lee to Jessica Alba, all claiming they dropped the pregnancy weight with little to no effort thanks to breastfeeding. Salma Hayek famously disagreed, stating for her, breastfeeding did not make the weight fall off.

So does breastfeeding really help you shed the pounds? We know breastfeeding burns about 500 calories a day, but a new research study suggests it won't necessarily get you into your pre-pregnancy clothes any faster. According to the study, a few factors determined how much a new mom lost: whether she was overweight before pregnancy, what she gained while expecting and duration of nursing, said Kathleen M. Rasmussen, an author of the study and a nutrition professor at Cornell.

So what does this mean for the average breastfeeding mom? I think the take away is that if you gain sensibly while pregnant (no more than the recommended 35 pounds or so) and breastfeed, you'll probably lose the weight quicker. However, I don't think women should concentrate on the numbers on the scale. I think the most important thing to remember is that you're doing the best thing for your baby and improving your health at the same time.

Is it OK to breastfeed in order to get back into your skinny jeans? Absolutely, it can definitely factor into your decision, and as Marsha Walker is quoted as saying, "We deserve it. She ought to get into those jeans after 9 months of pregnancy and 20 hours of labor. That’s what I tell mothers.” At the end of the day, no woman looks the same after having kids as she did before, not even Heidi Klum. And that's OK (or at least, it should be).

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat?

I have a review and giveaway of a copy of the new book Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat? by Claire Mysko and Magali Amadei up at Blacktating Reviews. Claire, a beauty activist, and Magali, a former model and ED sufferer, interviewed over 400 women and men about the effects of pregnancy and motherhood on a woman's body and self-esteem. The book aims to show:

- How you can learn to trust your changing body, appreciate it, and yes…even work it!
- Why you should be wary of the Hollywood "bump watch" and post-baby weight loss stories– and how to take the focus off the scale
- How to deal with your raging hormones—in the bedroom and beyond
- How to recognize when your body issues get extreme—and how to get help

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