A follow-up in search of solutions.

KS wrote in comments below:

So my question is, how do we support individual women in their choices while still disseminating correct (and important) information about breastfeeding, and how much should we be responsible for our own reactions to that information?

I think these are great questions. I do believe it’s important to own your decisions, and if you decide to formula-feed, at some point it’s up to you to be okay with that and try not to feel offended by factual information. I hate seeing the “breastfeeding nazi” boogeyman come up, as it inevitably does in these discussions. I think most lactivists truly are trying to deliver important information to a vulnerable population – pregnant women and new mothers – and they don’t have the corporate backing or financial interests working for them the same way the formula companies do.

Of course, there are also some completely judgmental jerks around, and it’s okay to smack them down when they get all snippy about your personal choices.

What do you all think?

(Notice how I lazily avoided addressing the first question? Don’t be lazy like me! Brainstorm!)
(OH also yes I am dying of the pre-election suspense and DO NOT FORGET TO VOTE PEOPLE.)
(Unless you’re voting for the other guy, in which case, please forget.)

24 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Annika said,

    But being judgmental is fun and a good way to distract myself from the paralyzing election worries. Spoilsport.

  2. 2

    from away said,

    One approach is to genuinely support them, not just say you do while also saying, “gee it’s too bad you couldn’t/wouldn’t/didn’t do the *best* thing.” :P

    I think We do a disservice to women in general and to those who choose to use formula in particular if We assume they’re doing so because they don’t have enough good information or they’ve been brainwashed by the big bad corporations. (Because surely if we’re adult enough to have kids at all, we’re able to see through and resist advertising? No?) There are all kinds of reasons that women might choose to use formula, and you won’t know what they are unless you engage in the kind of intrusive questioning you mentioned in the original post.

    Am I the only childfree person commenting here? Because this issue ought to matter to women in general, not just the moms. (And to men, but I’m not even going there. ttthhbppt)

  3. 3

    uccellina said,

    I disagree with you here, fromaway. I don’t think there is full and adequate information about breastfeeding readily available to many women, particularly those without a lot of internet access or extended social support networks. One question I see come up frequently on message boards and parenting forums is this: “My/my sister’s/my friend’s milk hasn’t come in yet, and it’s three days after I gave birth, and the nurse/doctor/my mom says I have to start supplementing. What do I do?” In fact, it’s perfectly normal not to have your milk at that point and babies are built to survive on colostrum for at least that long. But women are misinformed, and they panic and start supplementing, which leads to their having a lower milk supply, which leads to more supplementing, and so on and so forth. If these questioners didn’t have access to these internet lists or to friends who happen to know about breastfeeding, they could lose their chance to breastfeed over something so small as that. So I think the question of how to get the information out there is totally valid.

    You’re not the only person without children who has commented so far, but I don’t know whether you’re the only childfree one.

  4. 4

    from away said,

    If women choose to ask and then take the advice of their nurse/doctor/mom/friend (or random people on a message board?), then that *is* their choice.

  5. 5

    uccellina said,

    But the choice is being made in a specific historical/contemporary context of formula use dominance. It’s not for nothing that doctors get free formula samples to give away all the time and receive very little training or information in medical school about breastfeeding.

    Look, I’m not anti-formula. I supplement. But I have the benefits of class and education and technological access/proficiency that mean I have been able to maintain my meager breastmilk supply and keep nursing/pumping. I’ve been lucky in those ways, but not everyone is. I think KS’s question is how to disseminate important information to those who don’t have the advantages I have without being all judgy. I think there has to be some way to do this.

  6. 6

    from away said,

    I know that’s what you meant. Maybe it’s just that I’m not into saving people from themselves. If people consult whatever best information they can, at some level that has to be ok. That said, the fact that some women don’t have the same access to (and/or are ill-equipped to actively seek) the “best information” as others is absolutely a problem we should work on.

    Good luck finding workable, non-judgy/intrusive solutions once people have been that cut off from good information for so long, though. Fix education and poverty… well, yeah, duh. Other than tackling and lecturing women as they reach for cans of formula? I thought the LLL and like-minded folks had the supposedly nonjudgemental approach covered. But they can’t be everywhere.

    Why should disadvantaged women listen to you/LLL/whoever any more than they’d listen to their doctor/mom/friend, anyway? (Not an actual question. I just mean that you can disseminate whatever info you want, and it still comes down to people needing to be able to evaluate that info. Which seems like a problem that needs to be addressed much earlier.)

  7. 7

    Mom said,

    At this point, it might be worth returning to the llink U provided regarding the Nestle controversy. In many parts of the “underdeveloped” world, such as South Asia and South America, powdered formula has been aggressively marketed to women who a) can’t read the directions; b) don’t have acccess to clean water for mixing; c) can’t afford to buy enough formula anyway. (For an in-depth look at the results, see Nancy Scheper-Hughes’ book, Death Without Weeping, regarding infant mortality in Brazil.) Clearly, few U.S. women suffer the same conditions (though our infant mortality rates are quite high, compared to other industrialized countries).

    In thinking about how parents make choices, we should certainly look at the marketing process, as well as about the cultural acceptability of breast-feeding as it relates to such factors as race/class/ethnicity/religion. If we think of feeding options as culturally shaped, as well as economically driven, then perhaps we can remind ourselves not to be ethnocentric – that is, judging others’ values and actions as inferior to our own.

  8. 8

    Allison said,

    LLL was the most pushy, “nazi-breastfeeding” group of women I have ever encountered. No one in there was like me; they were all nursing their 4 year olds, which made me uncomfortable. They were really bossy and unsupportive of my feeding choices and schedule for my son. After one visit, I felt beat up and incompetent as a mother. It almost drove me to stop immediately.

    I am skeptical of a lot of the information out there, since it seems it comes from either of the extremes; the LLL types or the corporations.

    So to your point, “I think KS’s question is how to disseminate important information to those who don’t have the advantages I have without being all judgy. I think there has to be some way to do this.”

    I agree. I wish I knew the answer, too. But I think there needs to be even better information out there.

  9. 9

    julie said,

    Generally, people are most comfortable with the familiar. And since a good portion of the baby boomers were raised on formula, they mostly used formula with their kids. So there’s a huge generation/population gap in exposure to breastfeeding, never mind actual factual/correct/supportive information on breastfeeding.

    Most births in the US tend to be medical events, so it would fall to the medical professionals to disseminate breastfeeding info–that means medical schools need to be up to date on what they’re teaching their students (not just ob/gyns, but also pediatricians and general practitioners, as well as nurses). In the meantime, there’s one or two generations of doctors/nurses who were raised with the formula mindset (and who freely pass out those free sample cans) who are not breastfeeding friendly. And as we know, it doesn’t take much to discourage a new mother from breastfeeding. Support is critical–hence groups like LLL, (which aren’t supposed to be militant).

    But if you’ve never seen anyone breastfeed, and you don’t know anyone who breastfeeds, you might think it’s an even smaller percentage of the population than it is…and might not realize that there are support groups out there (or there might not be any in your area). Or that there are lactation consultants who can help. So it’s not just having the info available–it’s raising awareness that the info is available and easy to obtain.

  10. 10

    akeeyu said,

    “I think KS’s question is how to disseminate important information to those who don’t have the advantages I have without being all judgy.”

    My problem with the “Feedin’ Ur Baybee, Ur Doin It Rong!” brigade is that…well, shit. If women don’t have the advantages and protections in place, all the information in the world isn’t going to keep their babies on the boob.

    If you’re poor, the government will help you pay for daycare and formula so that you can go back to your job (or three), but they won’t pay you to stay home and breastfeed your child. If you’re flat broke and working a crappy job (or three), chances are that you are not going to be able to find the space/time/support to pump at those jobs, so it doesn’t make a difference. Do you really think that women working at McDonald’s and Walmart are provided with cozy pumping rooms? I doubt it.

    Every time I hear “But we need to provide more/better INFORMATION about breastfeeding,” I want to split my skull on a cinderblock. I didn’t give my children formula because I’m a blithering idiot, but because…well, I had to. So did a lot of women.

    I don’t think we need more information, we need more advantages.

    Crap. I think I sound crabby. Uccellina, I consider you to be on the same shelf as those little round truffly chocolate balls. Adore you, dear. This topic just makes me cranky.

  11. 11

    uccellina said,

    Akeeyu,

    I think we need information and advantages. Because you are completely right that one isn’t good enough without the other.

  12. 12

    Nora said,

    I think the way to do it is to be available to each other and to encourage conversation (go Uccellina for being such a good example in this department). There IS a cultural context that includes a lot of misinformation. The main thing I think is to let others know you are available to them and to offer support. There are probably a lot of women who would seek out someone to talk about this issue with and to ask questions and voice concerns– if they weren’t afraid they’d be attacked, made to feel stupid, etc. It’s the same reason families don’t talk about need-to-know information about sex, resulting in 1 in 4 sexually active teens contracting a sexually transmitted disease every year. Talking promotes information, and while some may take information and go their own way, at least they are not making the decision without the facts.

    I absolutely think there is a way to promote breastfeeding as a viable option by addressing the misconceptions without putting down others. I also think that working to address the cultural issues that make breastfeeding “inconvenient” or “impossible” for some make a lot of sense. Asking your place of business or community center to enact breast-feeding friendly policies. Protesting, lobbying, and letter-writing about these issues, and working to make sure the information is out there so women can make their choices with accurate information and models of women who make it work despite the challenges can make a difference. And yes, akeeyu is right– breastfeeding will not be seen as viable without working getting American women the “advantages” they need to be truly free to choose what they feel is right for their child.

    I mentioned my sister before, and I’ve thought about it– if I had been pregnant before and breastfed, then maybe I would have been able to help her at least consider breastfeeding as an option. But I didn’t feel… qualified. And she really didn’t have other resources she trusted to get that. Maybe I’ve failed as an activist (maybe some would say as a sister/aunt) by not working harder to get her in touch with someone who could have at least modeled it as a possibility for her and answered her questions. It’s entirely possible that she could have been persuaded in the other direction if she had had such an opportunity for a safe space for conversation. Maybe I needed help with having such a conversation and would have been reassured/inspired to do so with some encouragement and strategies from another. Having been raised by parents who on an airplane several years ago freaked out when a woman near them started to feed her baby– I guess *I* didn’t have someone to go to in what seemed a private family matter.

    Related to that, I think the level of “embarrassment” people feel about breastfeeding is clearly part of the problem– but I think it can’t just be responded to with an eye roll that says others SHOULDN’T be uncomfortable about something natural. Breastfeeding will continue to be a “taboo” issue for a lot of people unless they have the opportunity to get used to it, get over it, and hear from (respectful) others who have had success with it. Honestly I think that is one of the great things about the internet, that people can ask questions and find information about subjects that make them uncomfortable in relative anonymity– certainly for this and other pregnancy/baby related issues.

  13. 13

    Nora said,

    p.s. i have no children, but definitely not childfree

  14. 14

    KS said,

    Allison, calling anyone a nazi who is not actually a Nazi is offensive and trivializes the atrocities commited by actual Nazis. Furthermore, I have now read no less than three accounts (not counting numerous mentions) of your one (1) experience with LLL and while I’m sorry that you felt judged and weren’t comfortable with what you were seeing, I am tired of seeing you call them militants and nazis based on that one experience. I have been to hundreds of meetings and read most of their literature, and most of the advice/information I have seen given was done so gently and even impartially (as in, “if you choose to do x, then y may result” rather than, “don’t do x!!! then y will happen!!!”). It is widely agreed upon that scheduled feeding has a negative impact on milk supply and you were never going to find support for that at a meeting that is promoting breastfeeding. I’m sorry it was hard for you to hear that but you went to them for advice and they gave it to you. You don’t have to agree, but the information LLL promotes doesn’t come out of left field. It is backed by countless scientific studies. And the information is geared towards people who want to develop a solid nursing relationship. If a woman wants to supplement but isn’t opposed to the possibility of her child weaning early or developing latch issues, then so be it. But if she doesn’t want those things to happen, then it’s important that she knows that supplementing may cause those things to occur, especially when she is seeking out advice.

    Akeeyu, I have read many of your blog posts, including the one Uccellina linked to in her last post. I recognize the variables in your situation, but I think that for every woman (like you) who needs to, there are more women who might want to nurse and actually be able to based on more/different information. Uccellina’s example in post #3 is a perfect example. Another example is a friend of mine who came to LLL when her daughter was 6 months old for weaning advice because everyone was telling her it was time. The leaders basically said, “well, you don’t have to wean” and gave her info about worldwide averages, and she wound up nursing for close to two years. She never felt judged for wanting to wean, and could have easily gone home and made the choice to wean with much support from her family and friends, but instead, with more information, she was able to make a different choiuce, and it was one she felt good about.

    I know that I personally don’t care about changing anyone’s mind. If someone wants to use formula or feels they have to and they aren’t asking any questions about it, fine. But it’s not just a lack of information available, it’s also that there is misinformation, or an assumption of parenting goals (docs who assume that you have a certain outcome in mind and give advice for that outcome as if it is the only way to do things). I hear stories and read blogs where women mourn their inability to nurse, and sometimes the reasons given are ones that are based on this misinformation. If those women keep telling those stories, then their friends/sisters/daughters become misinformed as well.

    Back to the original question, what I honestly think in my heart of hearts is that we all need to own our decisions a little more. I mean, nobody likes to be criticized, but if we come from a place of defensiveness then we will hear criticism where there is none. I get a little tired of people complaining about being judged by the pro-breastfeeders because really? We are a bottle feeding society. Bottle imagery is the accepted sign for baby-friendly places. Formula is sold in every food and drugstore in the country. It is the norm, and FAR more people feed formula than nurse, especially past the first few months. You want to feel criticized, try homebirthing alone, breastfeeding a four year old or someone else’s baby, using cloth diapers even when traveling, not vaccinating, homeschooling, blah, blah, blah, name anything outside of the mainstream. I have been told that I am crazy, irresponsible, endangering my children, that my choices are tantamount to child abuse, and that I will never be forgiven if anything ever happens to my children, because of course, it will be MY fault. But you know what? I dismiss those people (albeit sometimes after I’m done crying a bit) because I feel really good about my choices. More importantly, anyone who comes to me with an open heart and wants to talk about my choices gets an open and honest discussion about them, and I don’t feel judged by it.

    As a proponent of breastfeeding, I DON’T judge individual women. I do, however, recognize the social, economic, educational, and cultural variables that affect the information available to most women in our country, and I will always look for ways to speak the truth. I am also on a lifelong journey to speak that truth in ways that people can hear, perhaps more gently as the years go by? Sigh…I’m working on it.

  15. 15

    akeeyu said,

    “I think that for every woman (like you) who needs to, there are more women who might want to nurse and actually be able to based on more/different information.”

    This keeps coming back to ‘information’.

    Most of the women I work with stopped breastfeeding because they couldn’t afford to take more than two or three weeks of maternity leave, or because when they came back to work and couldn’t pump, their supply hit the shits. Generally, the women who did continue to breastfeed were the ones who could maintain a supply without pumping or nursing for 8 hours at a stretch, and…uh…I don’t think that’s typical.

    The women I know, all the information in the world wouldn’t help them. Laws protecting lactating women from workplace harassment or retalliation if they took the time to pump? Laws requiring employers to provide a crappy closet with a fridge and an electrical outlet in which to pump? Decent paid maternity leave in this country? Those would totally help.

    It would be nice if they rose up and bucked the system and demanded bla bla bla, but let’s face it–these women are not working in the kinds of jobs that value system buckers at large. These women? Would get fired.

    The women I know, they’re not stupid. They don’t need more information. They need real help.

  16. 16

    KS said,

    Akeeyu,

    I agree with your premise that women need more advantages, and most of the lactivists I know (I don’t consider myself to be one, btw) work tirelessly on those issues as well. I feel compelled to point out that if you went back to work, you probably know proportionally more women who also went back to work, which has its own set of challenges with regard to breastfeeding. Nobody is calling these women stupid, and furthermore, lack of information doesn’t make someone stupid.

    You are very lucky that all the women you know have no need for further information, and I hope they get the help (advantages) they need/want/deserve. I happen to know many women who have been misinformed or underinformed, and for whom more/different information would have made a difference in what they did. I am making this statement based on things THEY have said, not what I think they “should” have done. Just to be clear.

  17. 17

    Celeste said,

    The culture is just against breastfeeding. There, I said it. I don’t feel like “information” is the answer, any more than berating mothers is the answer. What we need is cultural change to value motherhood, period. We’re just great about having Mother’s Day in May, but we completely suck in supporting and respecting women in the nuts and bolts of motherhood.

  18. 18

    akeeyu said,

    Uh. I think we’re working with different definitions of ‘very lucky’, here.

    Given a choice, as a woman, I would rather be surrounded by people with opportunities who lack information than the reverse. It’s an easier challenge to overcome.

    I look at my coworkers, the ones who have to choose between making breastfeeding work and continuing to hold down the only job in the family, the ones who spend their breaks waiting on hold for lactation consultants, and I think it’s a goddamned travesty.

    This is why I get a little crabby about “Yay for information!” discussions. Yes, information is important. Vital, in fact. But it’s also completely useless without the appropriate legal and social structure.

  19. 19

    uccellina said,

    I guess I don’t see how opportunities and information are incompatible goals. There are lots of women who lack the opportunity and support necessary to breastfeed exclusively or at all. There are also lots of women who have the opportunity but lack the information. I believe we can get the information out there while we work for the legal and social supports at the same time.

    Let me be clear: by “information” I don’t just mean “breast is best.” That’s the empty little platitude that’s spurring this whole debate. I mean things like, “When will my milk come in?” “How often should I be pumping to keep up my supply?” “Is it normal for breastfeeding to hurt in the beginning?” The questions that women who already want/intend to breastfeed need answers for in order to fulfill their goals.

  20. 20

    um . . . said,

    “Every time I hear “But we need to provide more/better INFORMATION about breastfeeding,” I want to split my skull on a cinderblock. I didn’t give my children formula because I’m a blithering idiot, but because…well, I had to. So did a lot of women.”

    I agree with pretty much everything Akeeyu has said here, but particularly that line, so I chose to start my post with it. “Yay information!” makes me a bit crabby too, because people who really care about getting information? They go out and get it. If they don’t have the time or the inclination, they do what they can with the info they do have and they muddle through, like all mothers, and usually the kids come out just fine. The higher priority people for me are the ones who need *resources* and other things (e.g. legal and social structure – also in agreement with Akeeyah there) and really have no means of getting them. Sorry to sound cold there, but that’s my gut response to a lot of what’s up here.

    I don’t think the issue is that we’re a bottlefeeding society (which, btw, KS, does not mean that people who feel criticized by pro-boob people don’t have a leg to stand on. If you feel attacked, you feel attacked. There’s no need to be so unsympathetic just bc you think you may have been *more* attacked. That starts a pissing match over who has been attacked more, which does no one any good bc no one wins), or, even more ridiculous, that we don’t support motherhood. We’re a PRUDISH society, totally afraid of all things related to sex. If people didn’t care about a boob being out in public – theirs or someone else’s – I’m willing to bet there would be a lot more breastfeeding or, at the very least, women who do nurse would have an easier time of things. I’m kind of surprised no one has latched on to that yet (pun intended, har har) and we have 19 comments with no mention of it.

    That brings me to another point: plenty of women don’t really want to breastfeed. They know it’s better for the baby, they know they can go find info on what to do and how to do it better. They just don’t care about doing it beyond the first three months, if at all, because (1) other priorities are higher on their list, (2) they lack time, patience, motherly instinct, etc., or, (3) as I mentioned earlier, they don’t feel comfortable constantly whipping a breast out, and everything else stems from that. An obvious response to that point is, “well, this post isn’t about them, it’s about the women who do want to feed, but need more information…” But that still goes back to my original point of people who *really* want the info go out and get it, and sorry, but I don’t really understand why that has to change. Most people commenting here found a way to get the correct info they need. If you can do it, other people can, too.

  21. 21

    dp said,

    i’m a jackass bc my name isn’t “um…”, it’s dp.

  22. 22

    Hey KS, For the record, I used “breastfeeding nazi” to quote Uccelina in this post. I think we should agree to disagree. Usually I don’t respond because I think it’s hysterical how my middle-of-the-road views get you so up in arms. Your responses aren’t going to change my views, but if it makes you feel better to pick on me, good for you! If you read carefully without your defensive glasses on, most of the time I’m agreeing with Uccelina. By the way, she’s a friend of mine IRL.

  23. 23

    KS said,

    Allison, thank you for your response. I’m sending you an e-mail. Peace.


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