Friday, August 27, 2010

Beautiful Black Breastfeeding Photos

Reposted with permission from Kiranda at Welcome to Mommyhood

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Review: The Politics of Breastfeeding

“The long journey from nutritionists’ theories to babies’ stomachs means the possibility for errors is endless. The bottles, teats and feeding paraphernalia may include such risky substances as bisphenyl A and phthalates which may contaminate the baby’s feed. Farm, factory, laboratory, packing, transport, storage and kitchen are all managed by human beings who have only a lifetime to learn their tasks. Nature has had millions of years.”

I recently had the chance to read The Politics of Breastfeeding: When Breasts are Bad for Business by Gabrielle Palmer. The book is the third fully revised and updated edition, and Palmer states in the preface that she wishes she didn’t have to write it. Twenty years ago when the first edition came out, thousands of babies were dying every day from lack of breastfeeding and unfortunately, it is still going on today. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, over 1.5 million babies die each year because they are not breastfed (how many of them would you bet are black or brown?) We have so much more knowledge now about the amazing properties of breast milk and all of the risks associated with formula feeding. Yet, our culture has embraced the messages from the formula companies, who are becoming ever more aggressive in their marketing campaigns in the face of the mounting evidence to support exclusive breastfeeding.

Palmer’s book should be required reading for everyone, not just women who are mothers or planning to become mothers. What people sometimes fail to realize is that formula is a $2 billion a year business, and the costs to us as a society when infants aren’t breastfed should be of concern to everyone. In fact, I think everyone should read this book for the chapter on the World Health Organization’s International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (WHO Code) alone. Palmer breaks down why the Code is necessary, the scope of the code and gives easy-to-read summaries of the 12 main provisions. For example, you will often hear people say that hospitals should be allowed to give women formula, because there are some who legitimately can’t breastfeed and NEED the formula. The WHO Code calls for no samples of artificial baby milk to be given to mothers, but does make an exception for the donation of formula in special circumstances. The stipulation is that IF a baby needs formula, then whoever provides it is responsible for providing a continuous supply for as long as the baby needs it, ie a full year or more. So bottle-feeding moms should be in full support of the WHO Code because they’d be guaranteed a full year of free formula if their babies truly needed it. But when was the last time that Enfamil did that? My guess is never. (FYI: the United States is a signatory of the Code, although we don’t actually hold any businesses to the standards set forth in it).

In addition to the Code, Palmer tackles everything from why breastfeeding is political, beginning with slavery and covering everything from wet nursing and the history of the infant formula industry, to modern complications like HIV, the global market, the value of mothering and the working woman to the greed inherent in the baby food industry and the Nestle boycott. Palmer has really thought of everything and explains how myths about breastfeeding, hospital births, kicking babies out of the family bed, racism, the WIC program, the cult of formula and on and on have conspired to sabotage women who want to nurse and wreaked havoc on breastfeeding rates around the world.

The book is so quotable I found myself highlighting and dog-earing nearly every page. Palmer gives you the real in a way that is certainly difficult to read, let alone internalize. For example, she says, “Next time you see a poor mother popping a bottle of infant formula into her newborn’s mouth do not sigh, just think how much that little one is contributing to the health of Wyeth, Abbott-Ross, Mead Johnson, Nestle and other baby food and bottle manufacturers. Both the wet-diapered philanthropists and the generous US taxpayer have those companies’ interests at heart.” Ouch!

By the end of the book you’ll be armed with more information than you can probably handle and more angry than you can probably imagine. Palmer herself says the hardest thing about writing this book has been coping with her own despair over the “progress” we’ve made over the last 20 years. She ends the book by saying, “The infant feeding companies and many misguided individuals spent a century telling women that their own milk was not there or was not good enough. Now many women have lost faith in their own bodies. They started by destroying our milk and making us believe their cocktail of coconut and cow juice was better. They will end by destroying our planet and making us believe their wasteland is what we want.”

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Thursday, August 5, 2010

World Breastfeeding Week: My Story

I have a guest post up today at The Soul Mom's blog. If you'd like to learn a little more about me, why I started this blog and where I am in my nursing relationship with my son, check out my post.

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Where are the images of black mothers? On the Nestle site

I am frequently asked why black women's breastfeeding rates are consistently lower than every other ethnicity's and what we can do to correct this problem. Of course if I had the answer to that question, you'd already know it because you'd be seeing me at conferences the world over, selling my book and my exclusive "Black Breastfeeding Boot Camp" program. Honestly, when I think about this question, lots of things come to mind, like lack of support from family and friends, ignorance about the benefits of breastfeeding, the way black women's bodies have been hypersexualized, the desire from poor people of color to appear to be middle class, etc. But what I bemoan with the most frequency is the lack of images of black breastfeeding. When was the last time you saw a black woman breastfeeding in real life? When was the last time you saw a black woman on the cover of a breastfeeding book? When was the last time you saw a black woman used in advertising to sell a breastfeeding product? While there are some images out there (mainly created by government agencies who are actively seeking to increase black breastfeeding rates) for the most part, black breastfeeding is rarely seen.

In addition to the lack of visibility, we also have the formula companies who aggressively market to women of color. Of course all formula marketing is pretty aggressive but women of color are often disproportionately marketed to already if they are enrolled in WIC. So on top of that, we've also got the images that the formula companies use on their websites and in their magazine ads, which also disproportionately feature women of color.

Take a look at Nestle's Baby Milk website. The first thing you see are two images of women of color, a mom who appears to be black and another who is Asian. When you get to the main content page all you see is black women and babies. I literally had to rub my eyes to figure out if it was the same model over and over again, but nope, that is several different black women and babies. The only white person on the page is the doctor.

The Enfamil & Similac sites aren't as bad, but there are plenty of pictures of women and babies of color. Compare that with La Leche League's magazine, New Beginnings, where I was unable to find any pictures of black women breastfeeding in the recent issues. The seminal breastfeeding organization in the world, the go-to folks for breastfeeding information, and no images of black women.

In the last year many people have contacted me saying that they want to use images of black women breastfeeding for their books or websites or magazines, but they can't find any pictures to use. This is a head scratcher to me. I know many black breastfeeding moms on Twitter and Facebook. Were they contacted? Best for Babes managed to find a gorgeous black woman to pose in an ad campaign for them. Why can't everyone else?

So while I appreciate that breastfeeding advocates care about increasing breastfeeding rates in the black community, I think we need to concentrate on putting out more images of women of color nursing. Black women need to see themselves in this movement. They need to believe that breastfeeding is just as much for them as it is for white women. How can they do that if black breastfeeding is invisible?

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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Parent Is Born: Online Reality Show Series

About a month ago I learned about a new online reality series called, "A Parent Is Born." Sponsored by Pampers, Similac and Beechnut, the show follows three young families on their journey to parenthood. In the first episode we are introduced to everyone in the Favela, Smolinski, and Barston families. It's quite obvious that the Favela's are the "crunchy" family. Mom Bella went drug-free during labor and is shown reaching down to help catch the baby during the birth. She is also briefly shown breastfeeding in the introduction.

There are 14 episodes total in the series that cover topics ranging from discipline to sleep, potty training and babyproofing.  This week's episode is entitled, "Feeding Baby" and is billed as a breastfeeding video. Naturally I didn't have high expectations going in, and Similac didn't disappoint.

If you can't see the 5 minute video, it begins with us seeing Bella nursing her daughter first thing in the morning. She talks about how nice it is to have that time with her baby, when it's still slightly dark outside and the house is quiet and it's just the two of them, bonding. She's a very beautiful and glamorous woman and the footage of the two them together is very sweet.

But then  we see the three sets of families, sitting together outside, discussing breastfeeding and formula feeding.

Here is the transcript from the conversation. It's long but definitely worth reading if you can't see the video. Bolded parts are emphasis mine.

SUZIE: It's so nice to hear about a good breast feeding experience, because you know, in my life, I had, sort of the opposite. You know, for us, we wanted to so badly. He never latched. We went through seven different very expensive lactation consultants, um, and it wasn't until the last one we saw, who was really a God-send, who let us know that he had a restricted frenulum, which is that thing in your mouth. So we got it cut, it's a minor surgery, he still couldn't latch, so we ended up pumping exclusively. It was really heartbreaking, I mean, when Steve had to go back to work, a couple weeks into it, I mean, I would be sitting there in tears, because Leo would be screaming, you know?
STEVE: Oh, it was crazy-
SUZIE: And I would be sitting there, like, I can't attend to you, because I need to pump your food. Our doctor told us to give him twenty-four hours on just formula, and he was way calmer. Ultimately, we found out about six weeks in that he was allergic to all milk protein, including my own. And once we switched him to the special hypo-allergenic formula, he was a completely different baby, and I finally started enjoying being a mom.
LAUREN: We had, you know, a similar experience where I was breast-feeding, when he was, just, every night, from five to eleven, he was just crying uncontrollably. So I called the doctor, and I explained to him what's going on, that, you know, we were going to get a divorce because the kid just doesn't stop crying, and it's so stressful on our marriage. This isn't the joy that we envisioned. So then the doctor was, like, "Well, how set are you on breast feeding?" I said, "I want to breast feed, but I want what's best for my family and my child." He's like, this formula, it was the same thing, it was, like, a hypoallergenic formula, and he says, "If there's going to be a difference, it's going to be within forty-eight hours." Forty-eight hours, my child took the biggest poop, all over his nursery, and cleared out his system, and he was a new child.
SUZIE: Yeah, yeah.
LAUREN: Like, completely different child.
SUZIE: I just think, like, honestly, what it comes down to, because you hear an experience like yours, and it, I've seen it, so many of my friends had great experiences, it's a beautiful thing, and it's such, to me, you know, doing something that's natural, and not having to be slave to something that, you know, costs you money, or you have to run out to the store and get, gosh, more power to you.
STEVE: Absolutely.
SUZIE: But all the bonding benefits in the world aren't going to help if, if the feeding experience is something painful or negative.

Subtle. This is what we want new mothers or moms-to-be to know about breastfeeding? That 2 out of 3 moms won't be able to breastfeed because not only might your baby never be able to breastfeed, but he'll probably be allergic to your milk and be miserable anyway. Isn't it something that both of these moms had babies who needed to be on the twice-as-expensive hypoallergenic formula? And how about Lauren who, when she calls her pediatrician for breastfeeding advice, is told to switch to formula. Did anyone explain to her that evening fussiness is totally normal, as is clusterfeeding. Was she trying to schedule the baby's feeds? Did she meet with a lactation consultant? Talk about getting "booby trapped" by a health care professional!

If you think that these messages aren't damaging, think again. Bella, the mom who is enjoying the beautiful breastfeeding relationship with her 5-month-old daughter, sat looking somber during this discussion but didn't say anything. You may be thinking that as a breastfeeding mom she was probably wise to stay quiet because anything she would've said would have been misconstrued as being judgmental. But look at how quickly she internalized the message from these two women. The next time we hear from Bella she says:

BELLA: One of the things that I learned from Suzie and Lauren is that there are many choices to be made. Regardless of which choice you decide is best for you, it's OK, because ultimately, that's what's in the best interests of you and your child. At the end of the day, it may work for me now, but who knows? Down the road, it may change. I may not be able to breast feed, and I will always look back to these experiences that these women had, with their children, and learn from that. And know that, no matter what happens, it's OK, because that's just how Mother Nature works.

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Monday, August 2, 2010

Guest Post: Bye Bye Breast Burka

In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, I'm pleased to present a guest post today by Leigh Anne O'Connor, IBCLC. We've been talking a lot about nursing in public lately and every day we hear about another mom being harassed for breastfeeding her baby at the Y, the park, the mall or a restaurant. When nursing is invisible, it hurts everyone. Breastfeeding mothers don't feel comfortable nursing in public and the average person begins to believe nursing is too intimate an act to be done in public and feels justified asking moms to leave. Are cover-ups the answer?

Katherine, a new mom, called me to discuss her milk supply. She was concerned with keeping up the demand of her baby. Then she asked me other breastfeeding questions. She was not sure how to nurse Sadie outside of her house. She thought it was because she needed her “special pillow.” The truth is she doesn’t know how because few women really breastfeed in public anymore.

There was an orangutan at a zoo in Boston. The zookeepers mated her and she became pregnant. Ms. Orangutan had been raised in captivity. She had not lived among sister orangutans so she did not know what to do with her baby when he was born – the baby orangutan died.

The second time around the zookeepers asked volunteers from the local chapter of La Leche League to nurse their babies in front of the primate.  When the second baby was born the primate placed her baby in her arms backwards but with some guidance from the staff quickly learned to feed and care for her baby.

This is how we learn. We observe the behavior of others. When I was pregnant with my first baby I had met a few breastfeeding mothers along the way including my sister-in-law. I took a breastfeeding class to learn as much as I could before my baby arrived.   

When Phoebe was born she was placed in my arms and we nursed for the first time for about twenty minutes. And then we nursed  - a lot. I felt awkward. I fumbled to unlatch my nursing bras, some of which were too big, some of which were too tight and one that broke. I bought dowdy nursing clothes. I wore button shirts. I still felt awkward. Phoebe was born on a hot summer day.  I am a gregarious person. I am best chatting with a group. As a new mother I felt isolated. I hungered for company.

That summer we had a few social events – a wedding, an engagement party – “showing off our baby” weekends. I noticed that wherever I went the host always had a “nice air conditioned room with a comfy chair” for me to go and nurse Phoebe. And Phoebe nursed all the time. I was even isolated in my socialization.

Sandra, my brother’s wife, had recommended attending a La Leche League meeting. The meetings had been a great resource for her as a new mom. I found the meetings helpful but even more important were the lunch dates after the meetings. Phoebe and I joined other nursing moms monthly at the Thruway Diner. We always sat at the big round table in the center of the bustling eatery. Six to ten moms and their babies smack in the middle of business suits, ties, skirts and silk blouses.

This is where I learned to nurse out and about with confidence. I watched the moms with older babies. I saw unspoken communication between them. I saw how a baby might start to wiggle a bit and like Houdini the mom had unhooked her bra, lifted her shirt and latched the baby in seconds flat. It looked effortless and it also looked like there was a baby in her arms – no breasts hanging out, no cover ups – simply a babe in arms. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to feel that assured. I wanted to look that smooth and at ease. As I expressed my envy at their mastery they all assured me that they too had been awkward. They encouraged me to nurse Phoebe in front of a mirror and I did. I grew confident in my ability to nurse Phoebe whenever she needed.  At the next social gathering Phoebe started rooting and I said to Rob, “I am going to nurse her here.” He put his arm around me and kept talking. From there I declined offers for the “air conditioned room with a comfy chair.”

I eventually became a La Leche League leader and then lactation consultant. I gave birth to two more children. I nursed them all over the place: the bus, the subway, Saks, Barnes & Noble, fancy restaurants, diners.  Usually no one except other mothers knew I was nursing. I was not hiding behind anything, just nursing my babies.

When my youngest child, Finn, was about 6 months old I was at the pediatrician’s office for a well check up. In the waiting area were two new moms discussing a new product they had just discovered – “The Hooter Hider” one of them said in an embarrassed giggle. Then I started seeing breastfeeding covers everywhere. This was the antithesis of the Thruway Diner experience. A baby begins to fuss, the mother searches her bag for the cover, the baby fusses more, the mother opens the cover, ties it around her, by now the baby is wailing, the mom fumbles with the cover and the baby, the baby kicks about, perhaps not wishing to be under a tent. Now everyone knows what is going on under the fabric.

How challenging this makes everything. Breastfeeding by its very nature is designed to be simple. We have complicated it. We have made it shameful and difficult.  Like the orangutan new moms today have no real life positive breastfeeding images.

Courtney, another new mom, asked me a question about nursing in public. 
I asked her, 

“Do you have any friends who are breastfeeding?

"Yes,” she replied. "So go hang out with them, learn from them," I offered.

“They use a cover or expressed milk in a bottle,” she answered. 

            “Go to the Thruway Diner!!!” I want to scream. But that was another time, another place.

I walk down the street and look into the windows of Victoria’s Secret, American Apparel and Abercrombie + Fitch – this is our provocative world yet we must put a tent around us to feed our babies? We flaunt our breasts to sell products. Breasts are sexy - until they become functional. Then we hide them.  

A few years ago I could spot a breastfeeding mom because I had a keen eye and I had been there. Nowadays anyone can tell a breastfeeding mom – she is the one hiding behind the overpriced piece of calico.

Leigh Anne O'Connor is a private practice lactation consultant and La Leche League Leader living in NYC with her husband, Rob, and their three children. Her other interests include acting, writing, yoga and baking. Connect and learn more about her on her website,

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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Surgeon General's World Breastfeeding Week Statement

Surgeon General Dr. Regina M. Benjamin released a statement on Friday in honor of World Breastfeeding Week about her hopes to reduce disparities in breastfeeding rates. Dr. Benjamin is an African-American woman from Alabama, a state with one of the lowest breastfeeding rates, particularly among black women. Currently, less than 45% of black mothers in Alabama initiate breastfeeding. The CDC's Healthy People 2010 goal is for a breastfeeding initiation rate of 75%, with 50% still breastfeeding at 6 months, and 25% at one year. We've got a ways to go.

World Breastfeeding Week provides an opportunity to highlight the benefits of breastfeeding and to make people aware of how we can lend support to mothers who want to breastfeed.
I am committed to promoting and supporting optimal breastfeeding practices with the ultimate goal of improving the public's health. This is because breastfeeding is the best source of infant nutrition, and it provides immunologic protection and health benefits both to breastfeeding mothers and to the children they nurse. 
The Affordable Care Act that was enacted earlier this year takes some significant strides in support of breastfeeding.  The new law requires employers to provide time and a safe space for women employees who want to express their milk.  It also requires health plans to offer certain preventative services without cost-sharing requirements, including counseling and support for mothers who want to breastfeed and for nursing mothers. 
This fall, I will release a Surgeon General’s “Call to Action” that will draw from the best available science to explain how all sectors of the community can help create an environment that is supportive of mothers who choose to breastfeed.  It will show how a community-wide approach can help reduce disparities among breastfeeding mothers and children of all backgrounds, and how to improve support for nursing women in their workplaces and communities.
I hope World Breastfeeding Week will help Americans become more aware of these resources and use them throughout the year.

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I Breastfeed Because....

In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, breast pump company Ameda has launched the "I Breastfeed Because..." campaign to give moms a voice and allow them to share their stories. Mothers who have breastfed in the past or are currently breastfeeding are encouraged to share a 20-second video on why they breastfeed.

Here's me discussing why I breastfeed. (Please excuse the nasal tone...I've been suffering from a sinus infection for weeks and I'm already pretty nasally as is!)

Want to share your story? You can, on Ameda's website, and they'll donate $5 to the Human Milk Bank Association of North America (HMBANA) for every video and $1 for every Tweet or comment on the site! In addition, everyone who uploads a video will be entered to win the grand prize of a $2,500 nursery makeover, or one of 25 $50 American Express gift cards.

Even better news? My pump of choice, the Ameda Purely Yours, is now available on and will be available in stores soon. Before you had to order online or know an Ameda rep locally, but now the Purely Yours and all of its accessories will be available at a store near you!

So what are you waiting for? Why do YOU breastfeed? If you make a video and want to share it, please upload it to Youtube and leave a link in the comments so we all can see!

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