Do You Tweet?

I only joined the Twitter bandwagon a few months ago, as is evident by my measly amount of followers. I’m a newbie in Tweetville (that’s not Twitter lingo or anything, just what I like to call it…sounds rather Seussical, doesn’t it?), still learning the lay of the land. It’s a complex universe, full of Twitstorms and Tweeps and Hashtags. Oh my.

I’ve obtained a bevy of information from following the #breastfeeding hashtag; basically, people add “#breastfeeding” to their Tweet and then everyone wanting to know what’s going on in the breastfeeding world can easily find it. I’ve uncovered obscure articles, opinions, interesting blogs, and other miscellany this way. The #breastfeeding hashtag is a powerful and popular one; every day there are pages upon pages of breastfeeding-related conversations and thoughts published to the masses.

I’ve been trying to RT (“retweet”, meaning to republish someone else’s tweet to your followers) as much as possible to get some of the cooler formula-feeding-friendly tweets out into the world at large. But it’s lonely out there. I search “formula feeding”, “formula feeder” and “formula feed” every day, and hardly anything comes up (aside from the almost daily RT of that stupid quote about “formula being the longest lasting uncontrolled human experiment” or other negative chatter).

But then today, the obligatory search turned up a Tweep by the name of NewMomJD, talking about starting a hastag like the breastfeeding one for her formula feeding sisters.

Halle-freaking-lujah.

(This woman is a my new hero, by the way. Someone asked her about her feeding experience, to which she bravely tweeted: the 1st month I pumped & gave b’milk in bottle but mainly #FormulaFed I’ll most likely do same in future b/c my baby’s perfect“. And I’ll say it again… halle-freaking-lujah.)

So far, the group of formula feeding tweeps is pretty small, so I’m posting about it here in the hopes that you will start tweeting about your own feelings regarding formula use. I know it’s asking a lot – after all, you’ll be opening yourself up to a barrage of criticism and hate from some of the more militant #breastfeeding tweeps. However, by scouring the tweets of the #breastfeeding hashtag’s more measured contributors,  I like to believe I’ve grown. Sometimes it takes hearing the thoughts of the other side in this stripped-down, laid-bare manner to truly become sensitive to the many facets of the issue. Likewise, I hope that by joining in the dialogue on Twitter, we can make some headway into helping people understand the truth about formula feeding.

So if you’re already on Twitter, use the #FormulaFed hashtag every now and then. Or just search for it, and see what comes up. Doesn’t hurt to look. Come on, you know you wanna….

If you’re not on Twitter… well, I can’t really blame you. I seriously can’t keep track of all these social networking sites. I’m still bummed about the slow death of Friendster. RIP.

FFF Friday: “It was like a cloud big dark cloud lifted off my shoulders…”

This week’s story comes from FFF Michelle K, who shares her experience of living in an area with high breastfeeding rates – and consequently, high breastfeeding pressure.
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I wish I knew of this website when I had my daughter a year and half ago. I live in the Sand Francisco Bay Area, which probably has one of the highest breastfeeding rates in the US.  The hospital systems in California have gone so far to promote breastfeeding that they encourage or force rooming in and no longer allow formula samples given to new mothers at hospitals. Any woman here, especially an SAHM like myself, probably feels in the minority if they choose to formula feed. 
I came from a family that practiced breastfeeding. I have an Anthropolgy Degree and I am well versed on the benefits of breastfeeding (well, the factual benefits, like getting a mom’s antibodies through breastmilk and it’s digestiblity), so when I became pregnant in Sept of 2007, it was a no brainer: yes, I was going to breastfeed; it was the natural thing to do. 
Come time I gave birth to my daughter, things went so-so at the hosiptal. I had a lot of advice from nurses, but recovering from a 2nd degree tear, I decided to supplement my baby with formula so I could rest (which seems like a crime). I thought it was no big deal until the LC came to visit me and reamed me out for this choice. So after I left, I was afraid of lactation consultants…ok, so no big deal, just keep breastfeeding, I thought. 
Then, I got mastitis two weeks later (I had no idea what this was at the time) and I was in tears because I thought I had the flu and could not take care of my daughter. I went to the OB, and they said I had mastitis and gave me some tips and antibiotics to help me through it. I got better, but a few weeks later, I got mastitis again. By this time I was on the verge of PPD since I had a stressful home life at the time, and felt too sick to take of DD. By week 6 (post-partum), I told my OB I was going to stop breastfeeding. They fully supported my decision to formula feed and gave me the “you’re not a bad mom” counseling. When I decided to formula feed it was like a big dark cloud lifted off my shoulders. No more screaming of a hungry baby, no more inverted nipples and endless pumping…I just plain got my life back.
But I didn’t get the same support from other moms. Sometimes I even got these strange stares because I would whip out the bottle, and I even heard from a few that I just didn’t try hard enough. I hadn’t realized formula feeding was a loaded subject. I even had two men tell me why I should breastfeed. It left me feeling very alienated and I was lonely, especially when I got the “oh no, you don’t breastfeed…why?” Ironically enough, the most understanding moms now are the extended breastfeeding moms, because they also get criticism as well and they sympathize more with my ordeal than other moms.
This story has a happy ending because I feel my very own parenting skills improved, and I became a more focused and enthusiastic parent since formula-feeding my daughter. After all the fears the literature gave me, and lactation consultants’ and pediatricians’ lectures on the hazards of formula, it turned out that my daughter, now almost 2 years old,  has never had an ear infection, or diarrhea, or respitory illnesses; her cognitive development, according to her pediatrician, is advanced. She even spoke in short sentences by 18 months. But most of all, she is a very loving child, and that’s what really matters – and I believe it’s because me and my husband made parenting choices that reduced stress in our lives and made us better able to keep up with the demands of raising a child.
I plan to have more children and I’ve already decided I will give breastfeeding another try, because that it what I feel I want to do. But I also already know what plan of action to take when things go south, and I will be more confident and less concerned about the parenting community next time. 
I think it is very important to have sites like this because it educates the general public on this debate. It also lets others see that not all formula feeding mothers are uneducated/negligent/abusive/non-nurturing meanies…  I now belong to support groups like the one on Facebook, and I try to educate online mom’s groups. Many times you will hear a breastfeeding advocate claiming people are uneducated about breastfeeding, but I often like to challenge them by saying, “yes, but perhaps you are uneducated about formula feeding moms and infant formula”.
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Have something to say about breastfeeding, formula feeding, or a combo of the two? Share your story with the world by emailing me at formulafeeders@gmail.com. Pretty please with a cherry on top.

But who’s really in need of an attitude adjustment?

Interesting article today on Newswise.com.

A study out of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center examined why black women are less likely than white, Hispanic or Asian women to breastfeed. Just for comparison, in 2006,  77% of white mothers reported engaging in some breastfeeding, versus 60% of black women. Not a huge gap, but significant enough to merit some research. The Cincinnati study examined the attitudes regarding breastfeeding of a diverse group of women, in the hopes of finding some insight into this racial disparity.

What they found is actually pretty fascinating:

The study concentrated on African American; white, non-Hispanic; Hispanic; Asian pregnant women’s intentions to breastfeed. After comparing the ethnic groups, there was a significant difference in breastfeeding intentions between African American women and all other races.. African American women were just as likely as women of other ethnicities to be comfortable with the idea of breastfeeding their baby. However, they were far more comfortable with the idea of formula feeding their baby as compared to women of other ethnicities, and it was greater comfort with formula use that explained differences in breastfeeding plans.

Can you guess where this is heading? Wait for it….wait for it...and ahh, here it is:

“The study results tell us that public health campaigns to promote breastfeeding must also include messages regarding the risks of formula feeding. For example, we know that formula fed infants, even here in the U.S., are twice as likely to suffer an ear infection and 2-3 times more likely to develop gastroenteritis as compared to exclusively breastfed infants,” (lead study author) Dr. Nommsen-Rivers said.

Once again, this all comes down to perspective. See, I read these findings and think, huh. I wonder what this says about the strength of black women to resist the guilt and insecurity so common in new moms. I wonder if there is less pressure in the black community to be perfect. And I wonder if these studies accounted for economic factors…because it might be a necessity to think less negatively about formula if you have no choice but to go back to work a few weeks after your kid is born. I wonder if by making breastfeeding easier for all women (offering better and cheaper support, pumps, longer maternity leaves, free visits with lactation consultants, etc, etc, same old arguments I always use) it would help narrow this divide. I wonder if the study results are actually reflecting that the fear/guilt machine, which has already been chugging away for the past 4 or 5 years, doesn’t have as much of an effect on women of color, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Or at the very least, this might suggest that some women are too busy dealing with real problems – problems that we could be putting our attention and money towards solving – to worry about a few extra ear infections.

The last thing I think is, “Gee, it seems black women are being just a little too rational about the cost-benefit analysis of formula feeding. Let’s start a campaign to scare the beejesus out of them!”

Final analysis? Interesting study, predictable result.

An Apology (of Sorts)

Flipping through the channels the other night, I stumbled upon the tail end of “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution“. For those who haven’t seen or heard about the show, Oliver, a British celebrity chef, has taken residence in “the unhealthiest town in America” (Huntington, West Virginia). On Oliver’s own website, they describe his “revolution” as such:

Jamie’s challenge is to see if he can get a whole community cooking again. He works with the school lunch ladies and local families to get everyone back in the kitchen and making tasty meals with fresh ingredients – no packets, no cheating. He’s started a Food Revolution: to get people all over America to reconnect with their food and change the way they eat.

I love this idea, but the 15 minutes I saw of the show kind of turned me off. Oliver comes across as well-meaning, but incredibly naive about America. He comments morosely about how depressing things are over here, with our processed foods, our cheap ingredients, our lack of fresh vegetables… all true. But there is so much more to it than that. There’s socioeconomic/cultural/racial/religious/political divides that differ in every state, for criminy sakes – it’s not as easy as teaching some cafeteria workers how to include the four food groups. Plus it seems a tad hypocritical for a Brit to be condemning us for our unhealthy nation. They aren’t doing so great either, if we’re being honest.

While I respect the idea of Food Revolution (and don’t want to completely write it off, considering I only saw a snippet of the first episode), watching Oliver struggle to connect with the people of Huntington got me thinking about ethnocentrism. And that led to a stomachache, when I realized I was guilty of the same brand of tunnel vision when it came to a different (albeit related, if you believe Newsweek) issue.

Last week, I posted about an article from the Philippine Star detailing a partnership between Mensa and the organization “Children for Breastfeeding”. Basically, these groups are coming together to promote the supposed IQ-boosting effects of breastfeeding, in the hopes of raising the abysmal breastfeeding rates in the Phillipines. There were some comments made in said article that bothered me deeply, but rather than address them calmly, I let my snark get the best of me.

When I received an email from Custer Deocaris (who was prominently mentioned in my post), a few nights later, I wasn’t surprised. He was angry at what he called my “insulting comments about (their) advocacy” and wrote at length about the research backing his claims. We emailed back and forth for a few days, wherein we argued about specific studies on IQ and breastfeeding (his reference is indeed the Kramer/Belarus study, which I suspected – and we simply have different interpretations of the results) and the “right” way to promote breastfeeding.

I can’t say we agreed on much, but throughout this communication, something ugly kept gnawing at my insides. I felt like a bully. From what Deocaris explained, there are those same socio-economic/cultural/racial/religious/political divides (plus a hefty pinch of dictatorship) in his country that I’m so fond of citing when critiquing other well-meaning “outsiders”. I was not only taking cheap shots at some poorly translated quotes, but hand over the sash and crown, because I was being Ms. Ethnocentric USA in the process.

Now, I can’t condone using something as weak as the few studies associating a few extra IQ points with breastfeeding to try and convince mothers to nurse. But the fact is, I don’t live in the Philippines. I don’t know their culture, so it was premature of me to comment so harshly on the article before doing some research on breastfeeding and formula policy in their country. And beyond that, I feel like it was an arsehole move to make fun of the language of non-native English speakers; I’m sure if I had to give a quote in say, Spanish, I would come off sounding pretty convoluted too, despite my stellar scores on the AP test fourteen years ago (not that I’m bragging or anything…).

What’s sad about all of this is the reason why I felt the need to comment (snarkily) on what was going on half a world away. Why should the actions of a group of Filipino lactivists worry me so?

Let’s put it this way: I was considering going so far as to delete the post in question, until I logged onto Twitter and saw a bunch of tweets about how Mensa is supporting the assertion that breastfeeding boosts IQ. A few of them link to that same Phillipine Star article. It’s setting precedent. That’s the problem. Unfortunately, the Phillipines isn’t Vegas; what happens there doesn’t stay there. And it’s not just the Philippines – what happens in Belarus informs the AAP’s stance on breastfeeding, for example. There’s little respect for the intricate differences between countries, between cultures, when it comes to breastfeeding policy. Because what’s good for a tribal woman in Africa should be good for a working woman in New York City, right? I wish it weren’t like that, but it just so often is.

I want to apologize for my tone and dismissive attitude towards Dr. Deocaris and his compatriots. From his emails, I can tell you that this man is unbelievably passionate about his cause; while I can’t agree with his methods, I do respect his drive. I honestly hope that the people of the Philippines will embrace breastfeeding. I just wish that they would do so because of what a wonderful gift breastfeeding can be, rather than being influenced by a fear of damning their kids to a life of sub-par intelligence.

ControverSunday: Extended Breastfeeding

I’m a big fan of the ControverSunday blogging event that occurs every week, thanks to FFF Perpetua (and if you haven’t already, I encourage you to check out her blog – she links to everyone who participates, and it’s a great way to take part in some healthy debate and discover like-minded bloggers). This week’s topic is “extended breastfeeding”, which is obviously an appropriate topic for this blog – so here we go, joining in the fun…

Extended breastfeeding is such a hot topic, that even the terminology itself can inspire fiery debate. ” ‘Full term’  breastfeeding… is considered a less arbitrary term than “extended” breastfeeding because by the definition of ‘full term’, if the child is self-weaned or gently weaned past a year, as is the historical and biological norm, then he or she has nursed for the entire duration of one’s natural development,” explains blogger Melodie at BreastfeedingMomsUnite.com (her post is actually a really thoughtful piece on why this alternate term may do more harm than good; definitely worth reading). I’ve seen other articles stating that extended nursing is defined as breastfeeding past what is considered “the norm” in your area; using that logic, here in Los Angeles, I would say that anything past 2 years might raise a few eyebrows (but not as many as only nursing for what used to be a perfectly acceptable 3 months.) But I am well aware that in many parts of the United States, mothers are made to feel like circus freaks if they deign to breastfeed once their children cut teeth. It’s all relative.

Before FC was born, we were sitting at a local restaurant enjoying a pregnant brunch. I say “pregnant brunch” because I feel the need to justify the amount of food laid out on our table. French toast, eggs, orange juice, decaf coffee with several spoonfuls of sugar, a side of granola… and that was just for my husband. Kidding. The decaf was for me.

Anyway, at the table next to us sat a couple and their young son. He must’ve been about 4; he was sitting in a “real” chair (no booster or high chair), drinking a Coke. Since we were several months away from giving birth to a son ourselves, I was watching the kid carefully; all little boys had become either cautionary tales or hopeful inspiration since finding out FC’s gender.

He wasn’t the best behaved little dude; but then again, he was 4, and stuck in a restaurant, which I’m sure is boring as hell for kids of that age. Those waxy crayons and sub-par coloring sheets they give you at family establishments are poor substitutes for running around at a playground or playing cops and robbers or what have you. His mom was basically ignoring his whining, and she barely looked at him… until he got up out of the chair, drained his Coke, hopped into her lap, pulled up her shirt and began to nurse.

I’ll admit it: I nearly choked on my orange juice. (Serves me right. What pregnant woman in her right mind orders an OJ first thing in the morning? Can we say heartburn? Stupid pregnant FFF.) There was just something intrinsically wrong with the scene I was witnessing. I remember thinking that while I was excited to breastfeed my soon-to-be-born child, I would definitely be cutting him off by a year, tops. Or at least as soon as he could order a Coke.

Now, almost 2 years later, I think back to that judgmental version of myself and cringe. Because now I know how it feels to be judged. How a stranger’s eyes can burn into the back of your head; how you feel the need to look around and measure the vitriol in the room before continuing to feed your child. Yes, my shame might come from the polar opposite behavior, but whether it’s a bottle or a breast that is deemed inappropriate, the effect is the same.

We had dinner with another couple last night, and the husband was poking fun of the wife for her plans to “nurse until their child was in high school.” I got a bit snippy with him. I feel fiercely protective of this friend, who has been getting crap from her family about several of her parenting decisions – mostly her choice not to wean at a year despite being a working mom (the fact that her son won’t drink anything but water if my friend isn’t available to him – a situation which applies to much of the working week -  is provoking some i-told-you-so’s from her in-laws) and to co-sleep (much to her husband’s consternation). I am so in awe of this particular friend; she is an amazing mother and teacher and friend, and the type of person who never makes anyone feel bad about his/her choices; she is confident enough in her own decisions to shrug off the criticism and not demand that everyone follow her same philosophies. She’s the person I think about when it comes to breastfeeding policy and advocacy – if anyone ever made her feel bad about doing what is best for her and her amazing, independent, perfect little boy, I would scratch that individual’s eyes out.

I don’t think I would feel the least bit of discomfort if I saw her nursing her son at the age of 5. So why do I give extended breastfeeding strangers a second glance?

I expect it has more to do with what I assume about them from this behavior. If they are that committed to breastfeeding, then I assume they fit a certain profile. (FFF Brooke recently discussed this in her post on attachment parenting). I assume that they judge me for my decisions; that they are breastfeeding longer than most to prove a point; that we probably wouldn’t get along.

Then again, like my junior high English teacher used to say, when you assume, you make an ass out of you and me.

I have a feeling that most extended breastfeeders are nothing like what I, in my weak moments, would expect. I bet most of them are like my friend. And they are probably also pretty sick of being judged, just like we formula feeders are. It seems that in this country, at least, you can only win the Good Breastfeeding Mom Award if you nurse for the standard year. Any less, or any more, and you’re made to feel like a selfish, negligent parent – for different reasons, of course, but the end result is the same. I’ve seen people comparing breastfeeding an older kid to child abuse; formula feeding moms have dealt with the same accusation. I’ve heard people call extended breastfeeding “selfish”, saying that the mother is trying to infantilize her growing toddler. And as we all know too well, formula feeding is synonymous with self-serving behavior in many people’s minds.

I’m not sure what my point is here, exactly… I guess it’s that being an FFF is not just about defending formula feeding. It’s about defending the right for ALL mothers to feed their babies (or toddlers) in the best way they see fit. Don’t get me wrong; it’s understandable to feel uncomfortable seeing something you’re not used to seeing. We don’t see many walking, talking, kids still nursing in this country; it’s just not the norm. I doubt it will ever be. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a good choice for certain families, and hey, if it works for them, then that’s all that matters.

On the other hand – and I unfortunately think I must add this caveat – I don’t think it’s fair for extended nursers to insist that everyone embrace their choice, because it just doesn’t fit within the puritanical, buttoned-up constructs of our Western society.  But do you really need everyone to embrace that choice? I don’t expect everyone to agree with my feelings about bottle feeding, because that also doesn’t fit with a certain characteristic of our society – the tendency we have to romanticize motherhood, expect perfection out of women, and to want an easy fix for all of society’s ills.

And yet, as formula feeders well acquainted with the effects of judgment and derision, I would hope that we could all do our part to support extended breastfeeders. It is a parenting choice like any other, and it needs to be protected.

It’s our babies. Our bodies. Our lives.

That’s all. Go on with your regularly scheduled Sunday. I’m off to catch up on this season of Big Love… now that family’s got real problems…

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