Archive for September 2007


Required Consumption

September 30th, 2007 by MamaBear

I’ve been talking lately about corporations and corporate interests (regarding some of my posts on Prolacta and Nestlé), and I think a lot of what I say may be misinterpreted by some, and some of it may just not be registering at all for others. I have had the blessing of being educated by incredible influences in my life, and it is part of my life’s mission to impart some of this wisdom to the world. It’s one of the reasons why I blog. I am not trying to sound arrogant. If anything, I want to make sure there’s more equity in the world by making injustices be known so that they can be corrected. I always try, whenever possible, to include links to references so that you may be the judge of what I say. Ultimately, I want my readers to assess for themselves if what I’m saying is true. Don’t just take my (or anyone else’s) word for it.

I want to make sure that everyone is on the same page before I continue with my blogging, so in order to do that, I want to make sure you know what I know. I’m embedding this video, of a documentary called “The Corporation,” as a primer for starting to understand how things work in the corporate world. Incentives and motivation are key in people’s lives, for both individuals and corporations. While it is really hard to distill into one thought the wealth of information contained in this documentary, I will say that one of the important lessons I learned from watching it is this: “A corporation has all the rights of an individual, but none of the responsibility.” It’s a very powerful statement, and an apt assessment.

Please note: I don’t think there is anything wrong with making money. Money (and having to make a living) are necessary aspects of life. I have a problem with hurting others to make money, and I do not think it is necessary to hurt others in order to make a living. “Hurt” can be a matter of interpretation, where “deception” may be considered by some to be perfectly reasonable and not the same as “hurt.” That’s for you the viewer to decide. Personally, I think it depends on each individual situation (in some cases, “hurt” is pretty clear-cut and in others, not so much).

Also, some required reading (if you have the time after sitting through the whole 2.5-hour-long documentary): Blink (a book that is essentially an analysis on Occam’s Razor), The Tipping Point (about ripple effects), and Freakonomics (Yes, Jill, I know he’s your friend, but it’s a really good book on some of the hidden economies of life, so I’m recommending it despite that). ;)

“The Corporation” (first there’s a brief commercial of sorts, where the filmmakers ask for monetary donations for the film; after that, the film begins). Film is in two parts, both embedded here:

Part 1 lasts one hour, 26 minutes and Part 2 lasts almost exactly one hour. Total time is about 2:30 hours. Dedicating the time to watching it is time well spent. Cheaper than a college course, way shorter, and almost as informative (actually, depending on the course, probably more informative). You owe it to yourself to watch this.

Edited to add:  I’ve found some transcripts on some of the interviews seen in “The Corporation” on the official website.  I apologize in advance that I can’t find anything better for my Deaf and hard-of-hearing readers.  I wish closed captioning were available in the video itself.

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The “Just as Good” Argument Lie

September 28th, 2007 by MamaBear

The smartest argument formula manufacturers can make in favor of using formula is to imply, through clever marketing tactics, that it’s “just as good” as breastfeeding. But smart does not always means honest. The implications made by formula marketing tactics don’t have to be true, and in fact, they aren’t. The important thing, though, is that consumers believe the implications, that consumers believe the lie.

Analogies are imperfect; I’ve never met one that aligned exactly with what it was trying to explain, and because of this they can be a source of bitter quibbling over the details… Despite that, I will use one to describe what I mean: Formula is to breastfeeding as Coca-Cola is to eating a freshly picked ripe organic orange. There is NO COMPARISON.

So, for a formula manufacturer to say, for example, “Brand X formula now contains DHA and ARA, just like breastmilk,” is like saying, “Coca-Cola now contains the addition of Vitamin C, just like a freshly picked ripe organic orange does.” In both cases, an unfair comparison is made by association, implying that the addition of one discrete item (or two) makes the manufactured product “enough” like the original that it’s “just as good for you (or your baby).” It’s NOT.

I’m not trying to demonize formula itself. There are many legitimate cases where formula use (as in my own personal case) is necessary. However, that necessity has been grossly distorted by formula manufacturers and the trickle-down effect their marketing practices have exerted on the medical community. As a brief example, look at the formula give-aways at hospital discharge in most Western hospitals, maternal-infant separation at birth, and other baby UNfriendly practices that pervade the medicalized birth experience. These routines and practices are no accident or mere coincidence. They are couched as “safety” concerns, but the truth is they have come about out of fear of malpractice suits and the desire to control as many variables as possible in order to avoid being sued. Formula companies LOVE this and exploit it for their own ends, reassuring the medical community that one more variable can be controlled precisely: the baby’s nourishment. Most doctors, ignorant about breastfeeding (medical school dedicates about 1.5 total hours to breastfeeding education, out of FOUR YEARS), are happy about this control, because they perceive that it reduces the risk of malpractice suits, and one hand (medical establishment) washes the other (formula companies), willingly.

My point here and now is that the aggressive marketing of formula has convinced too many people, some of them doctors, that formula is “just as good” as breast milk. It is NOT. Not by far. This nonsense needs to stop right now. It never should have started.

Unfortunately, this is one of the primary goals of formula manufacturers, and they will stop at nothing to convince the entire world that formula is “just as good” as breastfeeding, even if it means lying about it. They have lied before and gotten away with it. Rest assured, they are not deterred by ephemeral negative publicity, and they will lie again. Negative publicity to a huge multi-billion-dollar corporation like Nestle, for example, is a mere trifle, a nuisance, like a gnat flying in its face it can swat away or squash with its hand. They can always buy back the hearts and minds of the public by (grudgingly and dismissively) paying lip-service to “breast is best” while talking out of both sides of their mouth and emphasizing that “our formula is ‘like’ breast milk.” It matters not to them that that comparison is a gross misrepresentation of the truth, as long as there is money to be made.

The real truth, that the difference between formula and breast milk is worlds apart, is the reason why I am skeptical when I read about claims that breastfeeding performs “like” formula for a given data set, even if these claims are published in a prestigious medical journal. It’s not that I’m not inclined to believe it if the science is sound. It’s that I’m not certain I know enough information about what happened behind the scenes to believe what I’m reading. And since it’s happened before, my skepticism remains intact.

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Incredible! And Great News!

September 26th, 2007 by MamaBear

Remember Sophie Currier? The Harvard medical student demonized over and over again on her own blog and in other venues for pursuing her case against the National Board of Medical Examiners?

I blogged about it, despite having my own misgivings about the case, and I just couldn’t allow the other accommodations made for her to cloud my judgment on the matter. I believe the dyslexia and ADHD accommodations made for her were completely separate from any accommodations made for her state of lactation.

Anyway, she appealed the Supreme Court’s initial decision, and she WON!!! Yeah!!! You go, girl! I knew you could do it!! This is an incredible victory for lactating moms everywhere. This decision will have positive ripple effects the world over, as insignificant as it may seem now. The judge that overturned the initial ruling, Judge Gary Katzmann, surprised all the naysayers by making the decision. I don’t know the man, but if he can come to that conclusion, he must have a profound understanding of lactation and how it all works, way beyond what the average person knows, which is almost unheard-of. Whatever female influences he must have in his life must have done a good job of educating him!! (Or perhaps he took the initiative and educated himself? Either explanation is possible, and either way it’s unbelievable and welcome good news. :)) Whatever it is, I am in awe of Judge Gary Katzmann and his ruling, and, though I had no idea who he was before the ruling, he has earned my respect and admiration now.

Unfortunately, the National Board of Medical Examiners is reported to be pursuing the matter further, to try to appeal the decision made by Judge Katzmann (Why??? Why would they go out of their way to pursue this??? How does it hurt them to give lactating moms more time for pumping/breastfeeding???)

It is so good to finally have something good to report. Finally.

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The Long-Awaited Breastfeeding Promotion Act Post

September 25th, 2007 by MamaBear

There is an important bill that is stuck in committee right now. The bill is named the Breastfeeding Promotion Act of 2007. (The following bullet points are my interpretation of the bill. You may interpret it differently.) The Breastfeeding Promotion Act:

  • asks that breastfeeding/lactation be protected by federal law, as an amendment to the civil rights act of 1964.
  • will provide employers tax breaks for supporting lactating employees (by providing them pumping rooms, time for pumping, etc.)
  • asks for a classification/quality standard for breast pumps (right now there isn’t any — for example: the words “hospital-grade breast pump” are essentially meaningless at this point because there’s no third party entity in place that has defined what “hospital-grade” means)
  • asks for a provision to be made so that tax breaks be given to those who need breast pumps and/or services related to breastfeeding (like the use of a lactation consultant)

If you have the time, read the full version of the bill. This bill was first proposed by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) on July 18, 2003. That’s over FOUR years ago. It has died numerous times now, never even being voted on in the House or Senate because it’s never made it past a committee. It probably never made it past committee because the public has probably not drawn enough attention to it to warrant consideration. It’s been re-incarnated numerous times (by Maloney and a bipartisan group of representatives) and was re-introduced most recently on July 17, 2007. As of this very moment, this bill’s fate is in the hands of these people (there’s a scroll bar underneath the pictures; if you slide it all the way across, you can see what most of the representatives look like). There is a total of 49 people in this H.R. committee, and I count only ten women among them. Perhaps if all the Representatives were contacted and urged to send this bill to the House for a vote, we could get this bill voted on in the Senate as well and then (hopefully) signed into law. Without getting past this committee, though, the bill will die once again and will have to be re-submitted. Again. This is getting tiresome, so, in order to avoid more needless delays, let’s get this show on the road, shall we? Let’s get the Breastfeeding Promotion Act made into law.

OK. The people that need to be contacted are these. They are all congresspeople, in other words, members of the House of Representatives (The “Rep.” in front of their name stands for “Representative” and not “Republican”). They are all members of the House Committee on Education and Labor, which is the committee that will decide whether to let the Breastfeeding Promotion Act move on to the House of Representatives, or be ignored and die. This is how the House Committee on Education and Labor breaks down:

It’s important to contact these specific representatives and alert them to the importance of this bill because right now these people are all looking at hundreds, if not thousands, of other bills. It’s hard for them to know which ones to really give their attention to, and oftentimes, even important ones — like the Breastfeeding Promotion Act — get ignored in favor of other ones with a perceived higher importance (meaning, people have written, called, essentially hassled the representatives until the representatives got the message that a particular issue was important enough to warrant their attention). With enough emails, telephone calls, and letters alerting these representatives about the importance of getting this bill, The Breastfeeding Promotion Act, passed, it’s more likely they’ll approve it for vote in the House of Representatives.

Here’s a to-do list to help you focus:

  1. Find out your representative(s) from the above list (I’ve listed them by state, not by district) and contact him/her (them). Their contact information should be relatively easy to find on their official sites, which I have linked to if you click on their names. The representatives I’ve listed may not be your representative for the zip code in which you live, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying to contact them anyway. Some of these representatives don’t want you contacting them (and discourage you from contacting them) if they’re not representing the specific district you live in. Don’t let this dissuade you if your district isn’t listed. Call those representatives on the phone and let yourself be heard anyway; telephone numbers are almost always listed on representatives’ contact pages. If your state isn’t represented in the above list, contact one of the listed representatives anyway. Just pick one (or two or three) to contact and alert to the importance of this. Remember, it is the people listed above that have the power, right now, to move the Breastfeeding Promotion Act in to the House and get it voted on. It’s never been voted on before; it’s never moved past the committee phase (which it is in right now) since 2003. It never will move forward unless people bring it to these representatives’ attention. One last note: you can still contact your own specific representative and bring this to his/her attention. It will still make a difference, even if your representative is not a member of the House Committee on Education and Labor. Every email, phone call, and letter a member of the House receives that calls attention the importance of getting the Breastfeeding Promotion Act passed into law counts!
  2. Write an email to the representative you’ve chosen above (or use their online contact form, if applicable, or call them on the telephone) about the importance of getting the Breastfeeding Promotion Act passed and the relevance of it in your personal life. If you don’t know where to start with writing a letter, copy the following sample letter and paste it into the body of your message. Make modifications to it so that it reflects what you want it to say.
  3. After you send your message to your representative(s), tell everyone you know how they can do the same thing. (Link to this page to make it easy for others to find out more). Too many people don’t know they have the power to help change the law so that it is more supportive for lactating mothers. Often lactivists wonder how they can make a difference. Here’s a golden opportunity!

Sample letter (for email or snail mail):

Dear Rep. [insert full name of your representative]:

I’m writing in regard to a proposed bill, the Breastfeeding Promotion Act, which I think is very important. I am a(n) [breastfeeding mother, pumping mom, working mom who needs to pump, supportive husband of a breastfeeding/lactating mom, employer of a lactating mom, etc.] and I firmly believe that breastfeeding is essential to the health and well-being of babies and toddlers. However, there is no federal law that protects women from being fired for needing to pump while at work, nor offers protection to a breastfeeding mom from being harassed for breastfeeding in public, nor is there any support for employers who wish to help lactating mothers accomplish their breastfeeding goals. The Breastfeeding Promotion act, particularly in light of the lactivism protests you may have seen in the news lately, would be a very timely and appropriate response to these problems. The bill proposes, among other things, tax cuts for employers who provide accommodations for lactating mothers, amending the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (which is itself an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964) so that it includes lactating women. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 was originally intended to include lactation, but unfortunately, some courts have not recognized the need for pumping or breastfeeding a child to be protected rights. This Breastfeeding Promotion Act would clarify the intent of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act to properly include the state of lactation as well. It would also offer necessary legal protection to mothers from being discriminated against for breastfeeding in public.

I know that the Breastfeeding Promotion Act is in the House Committee on Education and Labor right now, a committee of which you are a member [only write this if this applies to the representative you’re contacting — all of the ones listed in this post are members of the House Committee on Education and Labor], and I implore you to pass the Breastfeeding Promotion Act on to the House of Representatives so that it can be voted on. As a(n) [breastfeeding mother, pumping mom, working mom, supportive husband, employer, etc.], as a resident of [insert your state here] and as a citizen of the United States of America, I thank you in advance for your consideration of this bill.

Sincerely,

[Your Name]

Edited to add: For more information, please see this page on how to lobby your elected officials.

Edited further:  My letter not easy enough?  Go to MomsRising.org and fill out their online form, which emails your elected officials directly.  So easy anyone can do it…  It would only take five minutes out of your day to read, edit the message, and email your representative, but it could make all the difference in the world for lactating moms and their babies.  Do it for our future.  Please.  The moms and babies of the future thank you.

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Feeling a Little Paranoid? You Will After Reading This.

September 24th, 2007 by MamaBear

On September 11, 2007, I was remembering that fateful day six years before, which changed the course of our history. I didn’t read until a few days later that a breastfeeding study had been published on the very same day. This study on breastfeeding made a surprising discovery. It claimed that “breastfeeding provided no protective benefits” for allergies and asthma (PDF). The story was featured in many online news sources, including an online TIME magazine article entitled “What Breastfeeding Can’t Do.”

Hm, I thought to myself when I read that. Maybe I should read the original study (PDF) to see what I can find.

So I read the study, and it looked pretty solid. But I did notice something strange. The study explained about how it was unethical to create a control group by asking women to formula feed, so they instead had two groups: one in which the mothers were encouraged to breastfeed and actively helped postpartum women as per the WHO and UNICEF baby-friendly hospital initiative guidelines (they called this group PROBIT), and the other in which the women were treated as most women are treated when they give birth in a hospital: as though formula were the “norm.” Unsurprisingly, the group that was encouraged to breastfeed had larger numbers of women breastfeeding exclusively and for longer. This was, in fact, the only thing that could be concluded definitively after reading the entire study: that the WHO and UNICEF baby-friendly initiatives work to encourage breastfeeding (and to thus increase the health and wellbeing of women and their babies universally). But that part was glaringly absent from news and media reports. The other part, the part about breastfeeding offering no protective benefits against allergies and asthma, wasn’t really as crystal clear, yet it made the headlines.

I had a few problems with this study. For starters, the control group and the experimental group both contained mothers who breastfed exclusively. It’s just that one group contained more of one than the other. The experimental group, the one where mothers were encouraged to breastfeed more, had higher incidence of family history of asthma and allergies compared to the control group, as well as a higher incidence of smoking. The difference was statistically significant enough that I wondered why that difference wasn’t noted explicitly when they were drawing their conclusions. It was actually spoken of as though the difference were trivial enough to be ignored, when it’s not. It could have invalidated the findings by introducing too many variables.

The way the data is presented, it’s not clear which of the children who suffered from allergies were the ones that were breastfed and which ones were the ones that were formula fed. Nor was there any mention at all about introduction of solids, which has been shown already to influence allergies. It was really a mess of an experiment, with the doctors aware of who was breastfed and who wasn’t (which could introduce a potential bias) and like I said, the only thing that can be definitively concluded from it is that creating baby-friendly hospital initiatives as per the WHO/UNICEF guidelines increases the initiation and continuation of breastfeeding and exclusive breastfeeding.

But I dropped it. I didn’t blog about it because I figured it was surely a fluke, and the study does look very tight at first blush, with prestigious McGill Universty as the University to claim it, I figured it was legitimate (and it probably still is, at least in part). It was hard to disprove its legitimacy, so I moved on.

And then today I found out about yet another study that lays a damaging blow to breastfeeding’s normally stellar reputation. Well, okay, not really damaging. But it’s not good news about breastfeeding. It’s a study that supposedly discovered that breastfeeding offers no protection for dental caries in school-age children. I thought to myself, That’s odd. The wording sounds almost like that other study. I wonder if… Nah, it can’t be. Surely it’s not the same people, studying the same two groups, coming to even more disparaging conclusions about breastfeeding. That would be quite the coincidence!

Well, it is. It’s the same PROBIT people, the gang’s all there.

Well, I started wondering who the heck funded these PROBIT people? It can’t be… Nah, not Nestlé. I mean, heh-heh, that’s almost like a cliché. You know, whenever something evil happens in the infant feeding world, some unscrupulous marketing maneuver in favor of infant formula, Nestle is always the culprit, right? Ha-ha-ha. It’s like a joke at this point. Surely they’re not still doing evil, sneaky deeds with the ole formula promotion, right? Surely.

Oh, I wish I could tell you it weren’t so, but I’d be lying. See, the PROBIT study (III) is being funded by two entities: The Canadian Institutes of Health Research and an entity that calls itself The European Union 6th Framework Programme. Oooo. Sounds official.

Why is it that nowhere on the website for the EARNEST Program (a division of the EU 6th Framework Programme, NOT the entire EU 6th Framework Programme, which is the “financial arm” of a lot of European research) is there any real positive mention of breastfeeding? Why is it that an entire website dedicated to “early nutrition,” complete with pictures of babies (none of them breastfeeding, but with one very young-looking baby being spoon-fed solid food), there isn’t really any talk of breastfeeding, but LOTS of talk about infant formula? What kind of an “educational” nutrition site is this anyway? Oh, wait. I think I know. After finding the members of the Consortium which make it up, I found one of the members to be Dr. Katherine Mace, from Nestlé, Switzerland. Nestlé’s headquarters are in Switzerland, and Nestlé is a multi-billion-dollar (or should I say multi-billion-franc? Eh, potato, potahto…) corporation which makes billions more every year selling infant formula and other foodstuffs around the world. You think that’s why, maybe, there’s no real mention of breastfeeding on the entire website? That breastfeeding is kind of an invisible afterthought, on a site that claims to specialize in early nutrition for goodness’ sake, and that lots of talk of infant formula, as though it were the infant feeding norm, doesn’t cause my hackles to go up? Yeah, it does. (EARNEST — “The Early Nutrition Programming Project” — is actually a consortium composed in part by European infant formula and cereal manufacturers, including: NUMICO, Ordesa, and Nestlé, S.A. It also includes other food manufacturers and food manufacturing research entities which appear to all be related to the food and/or drug industry in some capacity, along with a few neutral universities thrown in. You might also be interested in reading this “enlightening” and completely biased article, on the International Association of Infant Food Manufacturers website, by Alan Lucas, a significant player in the EARNEST program: Collaborative Research with Infant Formula Companies Should Not Always Be Censored. All I have to say to that is, “What the fuck kind of statement is that?!” And furthermore, “Yes, it should be censored.” And I am the sort of person that normally doesn’t like the idea of anything being censored, but I draw the line at having formula companies conduct their version of breastfeeding “research” and having people believe the conclusions they draw are unbiased).

You know what’s really interesting, though? The President of Nutrition for Nestle Canada, Ms. Marilyn Knox, sat on the advisory board of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research in 2001-2002. Question: Why did the Canadian Institutes of Science Research allow the President of Nutrition for Nestlé Canada to participate as one of its advisory board members? I don’t know the answer to that question, but maybe the Canadian Institutes of Health Research does? Would be interesting to hear it. At the very least, I think there’s a conflict of interest in having an important employee of a multi-billion dollar international food corporation sit in on the advisory board of a national health institute. But that’s just me.

Oh, here’s another interesting tidbit. One of the professors in charge of securing funding for the study, Professor Michael Kramer of McGill University… Oh, wait, he’s not just one of the… He’s the first one listed, indicating he’s probably the main professor in charge of the study. He’s done research for The “Nestlé Nutrition Workshop Series” (PDF). Conflict of interest, much?

Nestlé is powerful enough to influence the truth. They’ve already done it (and continue to do it) fabulously well (for them) in their marketing practices in third world countries. For first world countries, a more sophisticated approach is needed, one that appears more credible than mere WHO-code-violating television commercials. The first-world approach seems to involve funding legitimate-sounding studies, and if not the studies themselves, then the conclusions drawn from them years later, with claims that they are the “largest randomized trials ever undertaken in the area of human lactation.” Pretty lofty, important-sounding claims! I suppose any conclusions drawn from them must be the truth, right?  Who knows?

Here’s an exercise to bring this concept of Nestlé’s pervasive influence around the world further home, especially for those of you who boycott Nestlé. These are some of Nestlé’s brands, some of which don’t say “Nestlé” explicitly on them. Can you honestly say you don’t have a single one in your home? Or that you haven’t bought one in, say, the last week?

Remember this: Always question. Never stop. If the conclusions drawn by a study were paid for (even if only in part) by someone selling formula (i.e., Nestle), those same conclusions may lack credibility.

(I am still finishing up that Breastfeeding Promotion Act action post I’ve been promising you, dear readers. Don’t despair.)

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The Breastfeeding Promotion Act and Women’s Suffrage

September 23rd, 2007 by MamaBear

For those of you who don’t know, suffrage is a quaint little term that has nothing to do with suffering. Women’s suffrage is a right most (not all) women enjoy around the world. It’s a right we US women take for granted. We don’t even think about it come November. Those of us gals who vote go to the polls, cast our votes, and don’t give it a second thought that 100 years ago we wouldn’t have been able to do that.

Yup, 100 years ago, in 1907, some whiny bitches dared to ask for the suffrage men enjoyed, the right to vote and take part in the legislative process. I only call them whiny bitches because I’m sure that’s what they were called back then, and I appreciate historical accuracy. See, now in all the textbooks and classrooms they’re considered heroines and pioneers. In 1920 they managed to finally succeed in their struggle. However, 100 years ago, when they hit the streets with their placards and unladylike picketing, causing unnecessary commotion on the streets with their parades and their desires for “special” treatment, back then they were bitches. And really, how dare they? After all, men were doing a “good enough” job of representing women’s needs and wants without all this …this… needless granting of power to the weaker sex. And come on, how ridiculous to give women the right to vote when everybody knows that a country is only powerful when it does things by force, and since women lack the capacity to show force in the same way men do, it’s only natural that society leave matters of government to the menfolk.

In the context of modern Western society, these hateful ideas, which were spouted by both men and women, are clearly ludicrous. But those were the arguments put forth in the anti-suffragist movement, among others.

What does this have to do with breastfeeding? Lately there has been a spate of breastfeeding discrimination cases which have given me pause (not to mention the completely ridiculous livejournal, mySpace, and Facebook breastfeeding picture-deletion/banning issues which have also popped up). Well, it just so happens that there’s this bill called the Breastfeeding Promotion Act, which is not yet a law and won’t be one unless it gets voted on in the House and Senate. It has been proposed as an amendment to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, which is itself an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Breastfeeding Promotion Act would include lactation as a protected right. What does this mean? It means a woman who works won’t be forced to choose between her job and continuing with breastfeeding, if her employer decides not to provide a room for her to pump in during her breaks. It means employers would have tax-break incentives to provide their employees with a lactation rooms, so lactating women don’t have to be relegated to a filthy bathroom to pump or breastfeed their children. It also means that as lactational issues become more normalized in the workplace and in public (I believe breastfeeding in public without harassment would also be protected under this bill, by proxy), the goal of getting the biological norm of breastfeeding to merge with the societal norm becomes more likely.

Why did I mention the term “bitch?” Because one of these breastfeeding discrimination cases in the news today has generated a lot of vitriol: The case of the Harvard medical student who wasn’t granted twenty lousy minutes per test day to pump. There are a lot of details to this story which make it very difficult for people to sympathize with her position, namely that she’s being granted a lot of extra time for some disabilities she’s been diagnosed with (dyslexia and ADHD). Here’s my take on it: if she weren’t granted any extra time for her disabilities, would it be reasonable for the testing board to grant her an extra twenty minutes for pumping? The answer is YES. Definitely. Of course. It is absolutely 100% reasonable to be given twenty minutes to pump per test day (and even that is a bare minimum), because pumping is something she would have to do in addition to whatever else she would have to do on her break (eat, go to the bathroom, stretch, close her eyes, make a phone call, etc.). Most of the other test takers are not lactating, and therefore do not have their breasts painfully (and distractingly) filling up with milk. They don’t need the extra time to relieve themselves of engorgement and simultaneously provide enough stimulation to their breasts to continue with lactation. Sure, she could squeeze the pumping in with all the other things she has to get done before the next section of the test is to begin, but why should she have to? Pumping is unpleasant enough. Truth be told, it is an ordeal, one that other (non-lactating) test-takers don’t have to undergo. Her other option (which imo is not an option at all) is to stop lactation entirely, to sacrifice it (and the health of her child) for the sake of completing her degree. Why should she have to do that?! Here’s the answer: She shouldn’t! She is being called a bitch, among other things, because she dares to “have her cake and eat it too.” She dares to strive for a healthy child, a healthy body (breastfeeding prevents disease in the mother, too), and a healthy career, and wouldn’t you know it? Asking for a reasonable accommodation to make all those things a reality constitutes bitchery. (I am not factoring in the accommodations made for dyslexia and ADHD because, as far as I’m concerned, those have nothing whatsoever to do with lactation.) Anyway, all this bitching wouldn’t have to be done at all, it would be a moot point, actually, if the Breastfeeding Promotion Act were passed.

So, this Breastfeeding Promotion Act, how do we “bitches” get it turned into federal law? That’s coming. Stay tuned.

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Working on more important posts… But for now… “Africa.”

September 22nd, 2007 by MamaBear

Listen to and watch this guy. The following is not a video about breastfeeding, but if you’re nursing at the keyboard (nak) or pumping at the keyboard, it might help with let-down. It’s worth a shot. :)

Anyway, this guy is so completely bad-ass. He totally rocks and, whenever possible, everyone should listen to him play pwn his guitar. His name is Andy McKee. Notice how for the song “Africa” he not only manages to recreate several instruments’ worth of sound on one acoustic guitar, he also captures the vocal track as well. Brilliant talent taken to its full potential. Awe-inspiring.

I love the internet.

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There’s a reason why I don’t watch television (not about lactation, but worth reading anyway)

September 20th, 2007 by MamaBear

I don’t watch television like a normal person. I’m not aware of schedules, or of trendy shows that come out, unless I read about it somewhere (usually online) or if a close friend recommends it. This doesn’t mean I don’t watch. I love television shows: I pick and choose which ones to watch, and then I watch them when I want to, without commercials. I do this through the magic of the internet, awesome computer geekery, dvds, and dvrs (which are one of the best inventions ever).

The average child is exposed to 20,000 television commercials in a year. While I cannot eliminate all television commercials and their influence from my family’s life (sporting events are usually viewed live and, unfortunately, with commercials, though often muted), I think we do pretty well. This is a pretty insular existence, but one I’m happy to have (and one which I wouldn’t trade for the alternative). When I try to watch television with commercials, I am very quickly annoyed with (a) the constant, unceasing interruptions to the plot of whatever show I’m watching and (b) the sheer volume of crap I’m forced to watch of someone trying to sell me something I don’t need. It could be anything: a burger, some new gizmo that’ll promise to make my life easier, room deodorizer (probably the most useless product on the market today)… It doesn’t matter what the product is; years of living virtually commercial-free make going back to the banality of commercialized television insufferable.

This is all a preface to the video below.

So I am aware that there’s this show called America’s Next Top Model. I know, I know, this is the sort of statement that makes people say, “Well, duh,” because it’s been around for a while. It’s not one of the shows I watch. I watch a lot of shows, but this one doesn’t pass muster. Not that ANTM would have had much of a chance anyway at making it onto my (really long) short list of shows that I watch, but this video seals the deal for me. The video, in my opinion, is NOT appropriate for watching in front of children, and I don’t consider it safe for work either. It depicts battered models playing dead, complete with blood spatter and sexy poses. I don’t know who thought this was a good idea, the sexualizing of violence, and I don’t consider this “art.” Obviously “art” is in the eye of the beholder, and if this were to be found exclusively in a modern art museum, I’d think, “It’s distasteful, but it is in a museum, after all.” When you go to a museum, you expect to get shocked sometimes.

These pictures are NOT in a museum; they’re on a television show, a show which is probably watched by millions of little girls all over the country, aspiring models or merely fans of them. Normalizing these images only serves to perpetuate violence against women, with the added “bonus” that the women-to-be victims of the future might think the abuse is to be expected. After all, they’ve already become desensitized to seeing bloodied half-naked women in lingerie. Even when you’re getting beaten half to death you should look your very sexy best, don’t you know… Anything less would be criminal.

For more information, including how to take action, read “America’s Next Top Rape Victim.”

And while we’re on the subject of television, don’t even get me started about Kid Nation.

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Breastfeeding Accommodations

September 18th, 2007 by MamaBear

One story that’s been in the news lately is causing me some concern. It’s about a Harvard medical student, Sophie Currier, who isn’t being allowed to take a pumping or breastfeeding break during an exam which is required of all medical students. This news story has caused a division even among lactivists, with some people saying Currier has been offered “enough” accommodations due to her dyslexia and ADHD and therefore doesn’t need the “extra” time to pump/breastfeed. My opinion is that if she has ADHD and dyslexia, then accommodations made for those circumstances aren’t related at all to her lactational state, so why is that being brought up at all? So she’s being given accommodations. Big deal! If a man were to have ADHD and dyslexia, he’d be given the same accommodations. If the same man were to also have cancer, for example, he’d be given accommodations for his ADHD and dyslexia, and, I would think that additional accommodations would be made for his cancer condition as well. And if they weren’t, I wouldn’t be outraged if he tried to rectify that. I wouldn’t say, “Well, he just wants attention!” And I don’t think anyone else would either… Well, not compassionate people anyway.

Why is this case any different (other than the fact that Sophie Currier doesn’t have cancer or other life-threatening condition)? Well, because this is a woman’s issue. And when something is a woman’s issue, then it’s “women needing attention” and “women wanting special treatment.” It doesn’t ever seem to be interpreted as, “Even though it’s never been done before, this is a legitimate issue that needs to be addressed.” Oh no. That would be way too reasonable.

I don’t think letting a woman take pumping breaks during a test, no matter how big and important, is an unreasonable accommodation, given that she’s lactating. I think any woman who is lactating should be allowed pumping or breastfeeding breaks, period. The time between them shouldn’t be longer than three hours, because that’s about the longest a nursing baby would go without breastfeeding (if it’s during a growth spurt, it could be as often as every ten minutes, but I’m compromising here for the sake of reasonableness). Lactating breasts that aren’t emptied regularly, whether by breastfeeding or pumping, become engorged rather quickly, and this engorgement can range from uncomfortable to painful and can be very distracting. I can only imagine what it must be like to take a high-pressure test like the United States Medical Licensing Exam while dealing with a constant throbbing pain in the breasts… Not to mention, if the breasts aren’t emptied, it could cause problems like plugged ducts and a breast infection called mastitis. I’ve experienced dozens of episodes of plugged ducts personally, and a few cases of mastitis. They are both debilitating and painful conditions which I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. It’s much better to prevent them than to cure them. In severe cases of mastitis, a breast abscess (link to picture which may not be safe for work) could occur, which could require surgery. It’s a terrible idea to not allow a lactating woman to pump/breastfeed when it’s clear an accommodation must be made for this.

(It’s actually more than a little ironic that an exam which is a requirement of becoming a doctor wouldn’t make accommodations for a lactating mother given that the AAP and AMA both recommend breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of a baby’s life, and thereafter, continued breastfeeding for twelve months (in addition to the introduction of solids). Most medical institutions don’t give an upper limit for breastfeeding, leaving it at the discretion of the mother and child — “as long as mutually desired by mother and child.” Currier’s baby is four months old now, and in need of exclusive breastfeeding, as per the AAP’s recommendation.)

Some comments I’ve read on the web regarding this: “But she shouldn’t have had kids in the middle of medical school if she was going to need accommodations!” Here’s my response to this: Try being a twentysomething woman who wants to hold off on having kids for x, y, or z reason (could be as simple as “haven’t found the right partner yet.” … Or it could be that she did try to have kids earlier, but she couldn’t get pregnant until she reached her thirties. Not everything in life can be controlled!) Then try being a thirtysomething woman, with your biological clock ticking, while you’re in medical school. Sure, you could wait another decade while you sort out your career fully and then try to have kids…. But you know that if you do that, you’re taking a grave fertility risk. Statistics show that it is much harder to conceive after forty than when you’re in your thirties. It’s actually pretty common knowledge, which is why so many women wind up having kids even while they’re getting their careers sorted. True, some women sacrifice one for the other, as is their prerogative, but other women want to have both, and work hard to achieve both, …and why is that wrong, exactly? Ohhhh… That’s right. I almost forgot. It’s the old “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” conundrum. Of course.

Sophie Currier started her own blog and stated her point of view very eloquently. So far, just one entry, but worth reading.

Personally, I don’t see how giving her (and every other mom who takes that test — and other tests like it for that matter) the very reasonable pumping/breastfeeding accommodation would affect her ability to be a good doctor. If she passes the test, she passes, and she should move on to residency, etc. I just don’t see why giving her this reasonable accommodation is turning into such a tooth-pulling exercise. The only reason why she’s asking for it is because she’s lactating, and stopping lactation is out of the question. It is discriminatory (and hypocritical, considering the institution which this test is for) to not allow pumping breaks. Full stop.

Update: Not surprisingly, the judge ruled against giving her the twenty minute breaks. She asked for twenty minutes for each day she took the test and was not granted them. Ridiculous that she had to go to court to try and get this time, and even more ridiculous that she wasn’t given it, but there you go.

Washington Post article (update).

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Bill Maher = Woman-Hating, Child-Hating Idiot

September 15th, 2007 by MamaBear

I’ve seen his stand-up. I’ve watched his show, “Politically Incorrect.” I never was much impressed with either. Sure, he was funny at times — who isn’t if given enough airtime? — But for the most part, he always struck me as a misogynistic ass.

I was not wrong, apparently. Last night, Bill Maher spoke out on breastfeeding and lactivism, making fun of the latter and criticizing the former. Apparently, in Bill Maher’s world, it’s totally okay to show tits if they’re being used ornamentally, but start feeding a baby and suddenly that’s totally inappropriate. He compares public nursing to masturbation… because…Well, because he’s an idiot. I’ll break it down into more digestible pieces for the idiots out there, like Bill Maher, that compare breastfeeding to masturbation because they are both “natural” acts.

Breastfeeding is compared to masturbation, defecation, urination, spitting, and a whole slew of unappetizing but ultimately natural acts by morons everywhere. Here’s a newsflash for you: breastfeeding is natural, yes, and those other things are also natural. Death is also natural, but lactivists are not advocating for public death. “Because it’s natural” is not the only reason to breastfeed. It’s a minor one, not sufficient to fully explain why breastfeeding is better than formula feeding for the infant, just the tip of the tip of the iceberg.

Yes, breastfeeding is natural, but that’s not why most people choose to do it. Women choose it for their babies, and work so hard to make it a reality for themselves, because it’s the best, most healthful feeding choice available to them. Many women who breastfeed successfully cannot pump enough milk to make a full bottle for their babies, a fact that is completely ignored by these (usually men) who criticize women who breastfeed in public by saying they “don’t plan ahead” or are “lazy.” Additionally, a lot of breastfed babies would refuse to drink from a bottle even if their moms did manage to squeeze out enough milk to feed them. You cannot force a baby to eat, either at the breast or from a bottle. What are these women expected to do? Stay at home for two years plus? Never go anywhere, because Bill Maher and others like him deem breastfeeding moms a “nuisance?” (Post-partum depression due to isolation…? Nah… Just tell those ‘whiny’ post-partum women to pop a pill to ‘deal with it,’ right, Bill?) Oh wait, I know what you really want… You want these mothers to wean their babies prematurely so that you don’t have to bother with averting your gaze when you see their babies eating in public. That’s more like it, right? (Remember, many babies refuse to nurse if you cover them with a blanket, so that’s not an option either.)

So, Bill, our cause isn’t “important” enough? This is a public health crisis, as far as I’m concerned, apparently a much bigger one than I initially thought with influential people like you poisoning the minds of your audience members with this dreck, yet you don’t think it’s “important” because you can’t appreciate the effect it has on society? At least tell me you received a check from the IFC, or that you have shares in formula stock, so that the selling of your soul actually made you some money. I wouldn’t be surprised either way, actually. Your stand-up has always had misogynistic overtones, so you probably did this (and gave the formula companies a foothold, probably without even intending to) for free.

Look, I’m all for global warming awareness. There’s definitely enough evidence to indicate that’s a real problem. This awareness of global warming and other salient issues does not preclude me from also being aware of the importance of getting more mothers to breastfeed, and for fighting for the rights of these same mothers to be openly accepted in society when they take their children out in public. How does one negate the other?! I don’t follow your line of (completely irrational) thinking…

Here’s video of Bill Maher making a complete ass of himself. The anti-lactivism segment starts when the YouTube counter reads 2:51. (Those of you in the know will notice Bill Maher is extra clueless since he states that the Applebee’s nurse-out was the “world’s first.” My previous post dispels that bit of fiction definitively.)

Update: The blog response has been overwhelming regarding Bill Maher’s anti-breastfeeding-in-public stance. Salon featured an article about it (in which this blog, as well as others, were linked) entitled “Bill Maher: ‘Don’t Show me Your Tits!’” So, is the next step a nurse-in at the “Real Time with Bill Maher” studio?  This ought to be interesting…

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