31 Jul 2012

Public Health, Economics and Breastfeeding Goals

This morning I noticed that at the top of The New York Times' "most-emailed" articles list was yet another post about the hardships of breastfeeding and the bullies in the medical establishment who continue to berate us with the message, "breast is best." This particular one was entitled, "The Ideal and the Real of Breastfeeding," by Jane E. Brody. It closely mirrored the feminist arguments of Elisabeth Badinter's recently published book, The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women. These authors and their followers commonly suggest that doctors, nurses and public health officials should stop making breastfeeding seem like such an important factor in infant health so as to avoid inducing motherly guilt. It seems not to occur to any of them that perhaps what Americans need instead is a set of laws, government programs, and business practices that support babies and their families.

Telling us that breastfeeding isn't important because in some cases it's rather difficult to accomplish is like saying that, since they are having trouble doing it, our school-aged kids don't actually need to eat more vegetables and fewer fatty foods even though they are suffering from poor health. After all, we wouldn't want to hurt their feelings, would we? No, in this situation, I believe parents generally agree that schools should make an effort to remove nutritionally abysmal food and drink such as French fries and pop from cafeterias. We need to help our children develop healthy eating habits and we know that surrounding them with excellent choices will go a long way toward making this happen.

Why, then, do writers such as Jane Brody insist that we change our stated societal breastfeeding goals instead of doing better to support breastfeeding parents? In part, they argue that breastfeeding isn't really as beneficial for babies as parents are made to believe. After all, Brody says, "No randomized, controlled trials – the gold standard of scientific research – have proved that breast-fed babies fare better, at least in industrialized countries." This is in fact because such a study would be impossible to perform. No parent would agree to breastfeed or formula feed randomly as decided by a scientist. Even if they did, some in the group assigned to breastfeed would fail to do so since not everyone who wants to breastfeed succeeds.

Nevertheless, it's easy to find solid evidence that shows breastfeeding is good for infant health, and, not surprisingly, good for business. Breastfeeding support programs instituted by employers result in 62% fewer prescriptions as well as substantial health care savings and reduced absenteeism, according to the insurance company CIGNA. Companies with lactation support programs also enjoy much higher rates of employee retention than the national average. Of course, insurance companies exist to make money – if they are convinced that breastfeeding saves health care dollars, I'm inclined to believe them.

Another large part of Badinter's argument against breastfeeding concerns the time and energy that it takes on the part of the mother. As a breastfeeding dad, I have certainly experienced firsthand this kind of commitment. However, it has little to do with breastfeeding and everything to do with the fact that human babies are extraordinarily needy, dependent creatures who prefer a consistent caregiver. Infants cannot feed themselves, take care of their elimination needs, protect themselves, or move any real distance on their own. If I don't look after my baby, some other adult must do it for me regardless of whether he's slurping breast milk or formula. Rather than bemoaning what I have "given up" to take care of my baby, I try to consider his needs as an infant. After all, he didn't choose to be here; we brought him into this world. Fortunately for me, being Canadian, I was entitled to one year of parental leave with employment insurance that paid a decent chunk of my previous income.

I wish that these authors would demand longer paid parental leaves. The current US standard six week leave is laughable – it is hardly enough time to get to know and support a new family member. Most of my friends have said they didn't get into the groove of breastfeeding (or parenting!) until at least six months in. To meet the minimum breastfeeding goals outlined by public health officials, Americans need much longer parental leaves as well as workplace lactation support programs for those who choose to go back to work. Let's change our attitudes and programs to support family health rather than redefining good health to mean good enough.

24 Jul 2012

Sleep Deprivation Dreams

Last night involved tons of waking to nurse baby, so this morning my partner took him to the playground while I slept a bit. I had a dream that I was studying linguistics in university, and my bed was literally at the front desk of the department office. I kept being woken up by people talking to the secretary. It happened over and over again until I was furious. I put out a jar with a sign that said, "Each time you wake me up, please donate one dollar to the university's fund for building a new dormitory." Of course, I woke in real life from this dream to the sound of my baby crying and my partner saying, "I think he wants to nurse!"

18 Jul 2012

Thank You!

We want to extend many thanks to all the people who have offered to help us with freezer space when we come to Toronto. The response to my last post has been amazing! Wow.

Megan Jackson's comment about dry ice really got us thinking. Ian phoned Air Canada, had his call dumped twice, and waited on hold for ages. Finally, the person he spoke to said, "We've never had a situation like this before. This is so interesting for me!" After much consultation with others and re-reading of her handbook, she put a note on our file stating that we had permission to travel with not more than 5 pounds of dry ice, for the purposes of keeping our baby's human milk frozen. Since dry ice immediately turns into a gas as it warms, our cooler must be vented.

It is necessary to work all this out in advance and only carry a limited amount because too much dry ice could asphyxiate animals that are traveling in the hold. Who knows how many gay men might be flying with coolers of breast milk and dry ice? I'd say hopefully more and more, as people continue to learn about the tremendous benefits of human milk for human babies!

We will store Jacob's milk in the top freezers of three different, very generous families, all located close to where my brother lives in Toronto. The day that we fly to Halifax, we'll buy the dry ice and pack up our cooler. We need to add a layer of cardboard in between the dry ice and the milk because the dry ice is so extremely cold that it could burn the milk bags.

Many thanks again to everyone who asked friends, relatives and friends of friends about freezer space! We'll let you know how it all turns out.

15 Jul 2012

Traveling With Our Stash

We've flown a few times with donated breast milk in order to visit our relatives in Vancouver. Next week, we'll be attempting something rather more challenging. A mission in the Apollo Program comes to mind - we need to pack necessities to support life far from home and we'll be depending on technology to make it all work out. I can see the worried look on Tom Hanks' face: "The freezer appears to be... offline."

Joking aside, we haven't yet figured out what to do to secure baby Jacob's milk. We will stay in Toronto for four days with my brother while Ian, my partner, does a bit of work in town. Then it is on to Halifax. Our flight is late in the evening, and we'll stay in a hotel near the airport upon our arrival. The next day, Ian's birth mother will pick us up and drive us to her home near Lunenberg, a two-hour trip.

All this is to say that we need to pack our cooler of human milk so that it will stay completely frozen on a potentially very hot summer's evening, overnight, and well into the following day. We will take our most densely-stored milk and try to have as little air space around it as possible. We'll carefully tape the seams of the cooler. Best of all would be to ensure that at the beginning of our trip to Halifax, the milk is as cold as possible. Unfortunately, my brother in Toronto has a small freezer on top of his refrigerator, not a deep freezer capable of going down to a lower temperature.

Thus we find ourselves using the internet and Facebook not just for finding donated milk, but also for helping us store it during our stay in Toronto. Someone in Toronto must have space in a deep freezer they'd be willing to share! I've put out a call on my personal Facebook page as well as Emma Kwasnica's worldwide group, Informed Choice: Birth and Beyond. Hopefully, someone will come to our rescue - Kevin Bacon, maybe?

6 Jul 2012

Google Bomb: "Breastfeeding Is..."

Motherwise pointed out on Facebook this week that when you Google "Breastfeeding is", the search engine comes up with some very disappointing suggestions:

- child abuse

- gross

- creepy

- exhausting

- agony

- a nightmare

- offensive

This is absolutely NOT what somebody looking for information about breastfeeding needs to see. Those who are new to breastfeeding or who are struggling to breastfeed deserve to find encouragement, good information, and positive attitudes.

A few weeks ago at a La Leche League meeting I attended, participants were asked to say in one word what breastfeeding meant to them. Admittedly, the word "hard" did come up a few times, but people also said "convenient," "easy," "natural," "amazing," "beautiful," "bonding." Now, this is more like it!

If you have a couple of minutes to spare, type in a few of your favourite positive descriptors. Let's Google bomb breastfeeding!