Can we encourage breastfeeding without dissing formula?

One of the unhealthy things too many moms do is compare themselves to other moms and cast negative judgements – on themselves, and on the other moms. I’m as guilty of this as anybody.

And I have to admit that I was definitely guilty of it this morning as I read the Missoulian’s story about breastfeeding numbers being higher at Community’s maternity ward than the national average. Even as I applauded the findings, I couldn’t help but feel a little sting about my own failure to breastfeed my daughter.

The unhelpful voice in the back of my head kept chiming in as I read the list of advantages to breastfeeding:

  • “Breast milk is inexpensive and convenient, and uniquely tailored to meet all of a baby’s nutritional needs for the first six months of life. (I failed to meet all my daughter’s nutritional needs, and spent too many money doing it, too.)
  • “Breast milk contains antibodies from the mother that can protect infants from infection. (I failed to provide the utmost protection for my baby’s health.)
  • “Breast milk helps boost the baby’s own immune system. (I REALLY failed in the health department).
  • “Babies who are breast-fed have less frequent diarrhea, and have fewer ear or respiratory infections. (I made my baby prone to more diarrhea, and more ear and respiratory infections.)
  • “Babies who are breast-fed are less likely to develop asthma or diabetes.” (My daughter is more likely to develop asthma or diabetes because of my failure.)

And the real zinger: “Exclusive breast-feeding for the first six months of life has also been associated with higher IQ scores.” (Actually, I’m not worried about this one because I’m certain my 5-year-old is a certifiable genius.)

I remain an enthusiastic, committed supporter of breastfeeding. The science is pretty clear that breast is best, and I think that anything we can do to make breastfeeding easier for new moms and their babies, we should do. That’s a message I would love to see hanging in every maternity ward throughout the nation.

But alongside that message, I’d also like to see some reassurance that those of us who cannot or choose not to breastfeed our babies are not utter failures as parents. We are told over and over again that breastfeeding is the more natural, convenient option. Except that it’s not always – not for all of us. For some of us, it feels awkward and painful and most definitely inconvenient. Some moms simply cannot produce milk. Some babies simply cannot tolerate breast milk. In fact, there are a lot of reasons why breastfeeding is not more common, and a lack of information about the benefits of breastfeeding is only of them.

But even though I try really hard to stifle that self-destructive voice in my head, sometimes I just can’t ignore it when it insists on screaming “mom FAIL” at me. I know other moms struggle with this, too. Sometimes we just need someone else to say: Stop it. You’re doing the best you can, and the best you can do IS what’s best for your family.

If you haven’t gotten that message yet today, well, here it is. Repeat it as often as necessary. And pass it on.

– MM

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Breastfeeding mom knows her rights – and so should you

It seems a local mom was asked by a staff member of Currents to breastfeed her child in the bathroom this week. The mom protested, but the staff insisted that she stop breastfeeding in public.

Knowing her rights, the mom complained to Missoula Parks and Rec, which issued a prompt apology and pledged to correct the problem by running staff through training.

The three e-mails copied below should serve as an important reminder to parents to know the laws about breastfeeding in Montana. I know there was a time when I, as a new mom, felt rather meek about stuff like this. Time was, I would have obeyed the lifeguard at Current unquestioningly, and slunk off to the bathroom to nurse my baby. I am so thankful was have moms like Kris Laroche to stand up for all of us.

I also hope the conversation will serve as a reminder to businesses, agencies and organizations – both public and private – to brush up on Montana’s breastfeeding laws as well. It’s not enough just to post a sign in the window declaring your support of breastfeeding. You have to make sure you – and your employees – understand what that means. And that includes making it clear that moms have the right to breastfeed their babies in public places.

– MM

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Missoula business and breastfeeding

Today’s Missoulian carries the news that the Missoula Breastfeeding Coalition has signed on 100 local businesses to its campaign. This means that these businesses, which sport a sticker identifying themselves as “breastfeeding friendly,” support the goals of the coalition and the Missoula City-County Health Department in providing an encouraging environment to breastfeeding moms and their babies.

As the comments posted with this story online illustrate, this support is badly needed. I’m always a bit taken aback by the level of scorn heaped upon breastfeeding moms. These women have to decide for themselves and their children what age is best to stop breastfeeding, what level of modesty is called for in a particular situation and how to go about the delicate business of feeding a baby in a public place.

Kudos to the Breastfeeding 100, as I hereby dub them, for being among the first businesses in Missoula to officially declare their awareness of this reality.

– MM

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Pregnancy and infant health info

The Living Well insert in today’s Missoulian is a must-read for pregnant women and new moms. The issue tackles infant massage, breastfeeding, infant illness prevention (“If babies could talk they would say ‘Wash your hands!'”), the days and weeks following neonatal intensive care, doulas, tackling that “baby bump” and more. Almost all the articles are written by local health professionals.

– MM

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Breastfeeding in bathrooms a thing of the past?

A little-discussed nugget of law tucked into the federal health care reform act directs businesses that have more than 50 employees to give lactating mothers a private space in which to pump milk or breastfeed, as well as a “reasonable” amount of (unpaid) time to do so.

This Free Press article forwarded to me this morning discusses it in more detail, and got me reminiscing about all the gross places in which I struggled to pump milk for the short six weeks I breast-fed my newborn baby girl.

Bathrooms, mostly. I was struggling to wrap up my journalism degree at the time, and if the University of Montana had a dedicated lactation room, I was not aware of it. I was also working at the Kaimin, and have fond memories of sitting with my back against the door (because it didn’t lock) of the old editor’s office – a room so filthy I had to scrape what looked like crusty old macaroni and cheese off the windows just to get a little natural light – praying no one would barge in.

The article also got me looking around the Missoulian, pondering places I might pump if I were lactating now. Hmm. Looks like the bathroom again.

Which brings me to my favorite quote from the article. Here’s what Michigan Breastfeeding Network cochair and Children’s Hospital of Michigan pediatrican Rosemary Shy had to say about breastfeeding in bathrooms: “I want every employer who says (pump in a bathroom) to be forced to eat his lunch in the bathroom for a month.”

The law creates a lot of questions – how will this work for non-office staff? – and will no doubt lead to many more as the details are hashed out. But I think it’s a positive thing that the nation is acknowledging its lactating labor force at all, and I, for one, welcome the long overdue discussion.

– MM

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Physical activity and breastfeeding help MT’s kids avoid obesity

The 2009 Montana Kids Count Data Book info was just unveiled, and as expected, contains some interesting tidbids. Here’s the full text of the news release I just received in my e-mail in box:

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Breastfeeding news and legal trends

Breastfeeding is one of those topics that never fails to attract controversy, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out why. Babies need their mothers to feed them, and babies don’t have any grasp of social concepts like modesty or delayed gratification. While moms most certainly do have that understanding, I still would expect any mother to put her baby’s need to be fed ahead of … well, ahead of just about anything else.

So when hunger calls, moms must deliver. Unfortunately, most moms also understand that the wider world – and more than a few judges – don’t always see it so.

For one critical look at a recent court case on breastfeeding and workplace discrimination against pregnant women, check out Cleveland Plain Dealer Connie Schultz’s latest syndicated column.

Fortunately, Montana has pretty strong laws protecting a woman’s right to pump breastmilk and breastfeed at the workplace and in public: Montana Code Ann. § 50-19-501 (2002) “provides that the breastfeeding of a child in any location, public or private, cannot be considered a nuisance, indecent exposure, sexual conduct, or obscenity.”

And efforts to strengthen those laws continue. Two years ago, for instance, Missoula’s Carol Williams, a state senator, introduced a law to the Montana Legislature that would require public employers to provide a private room to lactating mothers for the purpose of pumping or breastfeeding.

And following the most recent legislative session, Gov. Brian Schweitzer signed a law saying that lactating women may be excused from jury duty.

However, not everyone in Montana is up to speed on these laws. In an earlier post, I mentioned the Missoula Breastfeeding Coalition, which aims to educate Missoulians on the rights and responsibilities of breastfeeding. There’s also a statewide coalition that acts as a handy clearinghouse of information and additional resources.

Missoula Mom

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If you have questions about breastfeeding …

… check out this profile of the Nursing Nook, a one-stop shop for breastfeeding information and other helpful tools. It’s run by Missoula lactation expert Jennifer Stires, whom you might recall is also chair of the Missoula Breastfeeding Coalition.

Or, check out the Nursing Nook Web site, or drop by the place at 1900 S. Reserve St. – but be sure to time it just right, because the nook is only open Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays from 12:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

However, if you have a question that just can’t wait, give Stires a call at (406) 721-5440 or (406) 396-6092.

– Missoula Mom

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