This is one of the best rejoinders on the recent spate of “formula is better than breastfeeding” articles based on a study in Social Science & Medicine.
Here’s a quote from the wrap-up. This is my biggest fear, too:
“My biggest fear with articles like that is that it completely detracts from the push to make breastfeeding easier for those who want to do it (i.e., those fighting for greater support and leave and all the other things necessary for many women to have a healthy, happy breastfeeding relationship) and to make breast milk more readily available for women who don’t want to turn to formula but cannot breastfeed for whatever reason. I can only hope that flawed science doesn’t take us down a rabbit hole we have to dig our way out of yet again…”
One of my students steered this article my direction. Yes. Feed your baby this way.
Originally posted on Talk Birth:
Breasts are a scandal because they shatter the border between motherhood and sexuality.
––Iris Marion Young
After Hurricane Katrina, I read a news story about a young mother whose newborn baby died of dehydration during the days in which she had been stranded without access to clean water. Upon admittance to the hospital, the mother was asked if she needed anything and she replied that her breasts were uncomfortable and could she have something to dry up the milk. This story brings tears to my eyes and chills to my body. What does this say about our culture that it is actually possible for mothers to be unaware that they carry the power to completely nourish their own babies with their own bodies? As mammals, all women have the potential to be lactating women until we choose not to be. The genius of formula marketing and advertising is to…
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This is one of the best defenses of breastfeeding I’ve ever seen.
The link below leads to an interesting article by Arianna Huffington. She belongs to a group called the B Team, whose goal is to create a new business paradigm, one that focuses on people and environment along with profit. I’m all for this sort of thing, but no matter how influential the 14 founding members are, I’ll adopt a “wait-and-see” attitude. I’m pretty cynical about this sort of thing succeeding.
Go ahead and read the article, but there’s one aspect of this I want to talk about.
Now for my two-cents.
I hope the B Team succeeds. A lot of people will scoff about liberals and bleeding hearts. Others will scream about using their money to help the “lazy” people. But honestly, our current way of doing business is heading for a brick wall at full speed. We either do something proactive, or we wait for the crash and pick up the pieces.
But there’s one thing I hope the B Team includes in their paradigm. It’s not mentioned in the article, which, of course, is only a brief introduction to the Plan B concept. It goes back to my previous post about women having it all, and the idea that women’s workplace issues are not women’s issues at all. They are human issues.
So here’s a tip to Ms. Huffington et. al: Those issues need to be a big part of Plan B. Not as women’s issues. As worker’s issues. I see this as one big issue, really, but let me break it down a bit.
We need Paid Time Off. Plenty of it.
Not three days a year. Not a week’s vacation and ten days sick leave. Just time off, that every worker earns as part of their pay package and uses as they see fit. We can quibble about the number of days – I honestly don’t know what the right number might be. Four weeks? Six? Eight? It includes time off for illness, either the worker’s or someone the worker has to care for, time off for vacations, or for appointments, family crises, or to attend a baseball game. It’s the worker’s time, earned as part of a salary, to be spent as the worker decides. Of course, scheduling has to be coordinated, and compromise might be needed. However, if time is needed for illness or emergency, then obviously the employer has to allow the time whenever it is needed.
And? NO ONE is allowed to not use the time. None of this letting it pile up for years and taking it all in cash at the end. Of course this means that the business must allow employees to use the time, and can’t tell the employee there’s a deadline and they “can’t leave now!”
This one benefit will solve a great deal of the difficulties facing today’s workers. We have to take care of our children. Harriet is no longer at home while Ozzie works. She hasn’t been there for a long, long time, and it’s damn well time we started acting like it. Men and women both need time to be with the kids, without losing out on opportunities at work.
This has to apply to all workers, even those who do not have children, or those who have a Harriet at home, or a staff that functions as Harriet. I hear all the time about childless people griping because another employee got time off to attend a child’s event or take her to the doctor. “I don’t have kids, so I don’t get the time off.” Well, with this benefit, you do get the time off.
On the other hand, childless employee gets all the promotions, raises, and bonuses because she doesn’t have a life outside of the office. With this benefit applied to all workers, childless employees no longer have opportunities denied to parents. And of course, this also helps people with ailing parents or siblings. Even if you have no family at all, there may be someone you are close to who depends on you. If you don’t, too bad. You don’t get to work 18 hours a day at the expense of your colleagues.
Another part of this issue is pregnancy.
Now wait, you say. That IS a women’s issue!
In your dreams.
You were born, weren’t you? Someone conceived you and carried you for 9 months. And the last time I checked, women don’t get pregnant alone. At the very least, she needs a turkey baster and something to put in it.
So yes, Virginia, this is an issue that affects all workers. But I don’t consider it a part of the PTO policy I talked about above. It’s a special case – the pregnancy year – that requires special provisions.
This is one of those flash points of controversy among women, so I know there will be many women who won’t agree with me. It’s something I hope we can fix.
I’ve been pregnant. Several times. I teach natural childbirth classes. And you know what? Women need special consideration during pregnancy. That’s not a popular belief. We’ve had to fight hard to get people to view women as competent and strong and as able as any many to do a job. In order to do that, we’ve had to pretend that pregnancy should not be considered a “condition.” We’ve insisted we don’t need special treatment, because if we did need special treatment, society would just put us back in the kitchen. Barefoot. As if the truth were either/or – either we don’t need special treatment, so we can do any job we want, or we do need it, and therefore, women shouldn’t be allowed to work in a job, unless she swore on a stack of condoms that she was never going to have a baby.
It’s time to grow up, folks.
This is the heart of having it all. Pregnancy is not an illness, but it does take energy and effort to grow another human being. And women deserve both special treatment during pregnancy, and equal opportunity.
Don’t like that idea? Tough noogies.
Let me repeat it. Women deserve both special treatment during pregnancy, and equal opportunity. How much special treatment? What kind? It depends. So the answer is, whatever she needs.
Some pregnancies are harder than others, and there’s not usually any way to predict it. We need a business policy that allows for this flexibility. So in addition to her regular PTO, a pregnant women needs maternity leave. With pay. Because how many women can really afford to take three or four months off without pay?
And the maternity leave may need to cover extra time off due to pregnancy complications before the baby is even born. In fact, severe morning sickness in the first 3 to 5 months may be one cause of this.
Point for debate: Should partners of pregnant women get extra time off? The same amount or less?
Now let me get really controversial.
Women need special consideration for the first year of breastfeeding.
Do you know why we ignore pregnancy and breastfeeding? Why we consign these women to the house and don’t want to give them equal employment opportunities? It’s because we’re ashamed of our bodies. We don’t want to admit that we are animals, that in fact we are mammals, who gestate, give birth to a live, helpless infant, and feed that infant milk from our bodies for up to four or five years.
Once again: grow up, folks.
This nonsense has to end, and Plan B is the perfect place to shoot it dead. We are mammals. I don’t give a damn about our technology, our infants prosper best when fed milk from their mothers, and only milk from their mothers, for the first six months of life, and mostly that milk for the first year. They need it even beyond that, but by that time, they are mature enough to handle several hours away from Mom, without any milk.
Yes, yes, I know all about why you couldn’t breastfeed, or you didn’t make enough milk, or any other argument. I’m not saying it’s not hard as hell sometimes. I’m not saying you didn’t have a legitimate problem. I’m just saying to go back to what I said earlier about our bodies. You’ll find the cause of 99% of all our problems in this area, right there.
We’ve made it hard. More, our thousands of years of patriarchy have made it hard, and we women have contributed to it by agreeing to be ashamed of our bodies and what they do. We make it worse by fighting with each other over it.
So I don’t want to fight with women about this. I want us to reach a consensus of what the problems are and how we solve them. Plan B is all about business and how to create a new paradigm that focuses on people, the planet, and then profits. How we handle our human resource is the #1 issue related to that. And we absolutely must face up to these issues, and apply them to all workers (even the managers and executives), or Plan B will never work.
Well darn, I’ve got you all riled up and I haven’t even said what special treatment we need for the breastfeeding year. I guess I can’t get you any madder. In for a penny…
Simply put, breastfeeding employees need access to their babies. I know that many women successfully pump milk and are able to breastfeed for two or more years. But pumping is hard and it doesn’t allow for the incredible intimacy of the breastfeeding relationship. That is a long and complex topic, which you’ll be happy to know I won’t get into right now. But it is at the heart of this issue.
The B Team must not ignore it. I implore the founding members to take this seriously and approach human resources with the bold and confident knowledge that humans are mammals, with biology that must be addressed without denying anyone equal opportunity in the workforce.
This is a very important and useful resource for parents and parents-to-be. I will always insist that breastfeeding on demand is the absolute best way to feed a human baby, but if you ever have to give your child formula, this is information you need. Please bookmark this page!
Here’s a perfect example of how breastfeeding should be viewed, and what’s wrong with how it is often viewed.
It’s been in the news lately (see here and here) that tainted baby formula in China has created a global shortage of the good stuff, due to Chinese parents (by the millions, evidently) buying and hoarding reliable European brands.
You’re not going to be surprised at my take on this.
I do feel sorry for all those parents and hungry babies. They are caught in a web, and for most of them, there’s simply no escape. Without formula, the babies will die, or at the very least, become sick or malnourished due to improper substitutes (like plain cow’s milk).
Some will escape the web because their babies are over a year old and are eating enough solid food to survive without formula. Some could escape if the mother is willing and able to put in the struggle to start her own milk up. It can be done, but it’s not easy. It’s also not quick, so wouldn’t solve the immediate problem.
So the world’s current parents are in a seriously difficult spot with no good solutions.
But all you future parents out there? The ones who are pregnant now or hope to be at some future time?
You, folks… you lucky people have a REAL choice. You can relax, smile a small, secret smile to yourselves, and calmly go about your business. Because you have no worries.
Because you can choose to breastfeed.
Right now, before there’s a hungry baby in danger of dying from contaminated formula or from no formula on the grocery store shelves. You can make a choice that will put you forever above the fray, out of the web of bad and worse choices.
Sometime in the weeks before your baby is born, your body… your amazing mammalian body… will start to make milk. At first, it’s this thick, sticky, incredible mix of proteins, carbohydrates, and antibiotics called colostrum. This is exactly the thing a human baby needs for its first few days of life.
Exactly the thing.
Not even the formula companies can claim to do that.
Then, a few days after your little bundle puts in an appearance, that colostrum turns into real, human milk.
For real, human babies.
Isn’t that amazing? Uncontaminated, fresh, always available, always-the-right-temperature, real, human milk.
Did I mention it’s free?
What else can you do with the few thousand dollars you would otherwise spend on formula and baby food? I’m sure you can think of something.
Did you know that your milk changes its composition, depending on the age and health of your baby? You don’t need to buy “infant” formula, then switch to “older baby” formula, then switch to “toddler” formula, or whatever other marketing gibberish the formula companies are putting on the shelves. Within the intimate breastfeeding relationship, your body determines the specific needs of your baby, and adjusts accordingly.
It is amazing.
People, trust the female body. It will never be perfect, but after millions of years of evolutionary trial and error, it’s damn close. It’s miles ahead of anything a scientist can come up with in a food lab. The human female body can feed a human baby without any other additives. You don’t need iron, vitamins, rice cereal (shudder), or anything at all except your breast.
Convenient, perfect, and free.
Learn about it. Practice it. Go hang out with women who are doing it.
And trust your body.