Thursday, July 27, 2006
I read an article in the New York Times some time ago about how the government is considering putting a warning label on formula, similar to that on cigarettes, that warns that breastfeeding is always preferable and that feeding your baby formula may have lasting consequences. Even though I totally agree that breastfeeding is better for a lot of reasons, I thought that might be a little extreme. Like a lot of things, I don't think legislating against formula is really going to make a difference. Unfortunately, our society is not set up to be very supportive of breastfeeding. For example, in some countries like Norway, women get a year of paid maternity leave (OK, they also have subsidized health care and high taxes, too). Here we barely get six weeks. And if you go back to work there usually isn't a lot of support for pumping. Even if there is, pumping all day is hard work and difficult to maintain. Plus there is a lot of double speak out there--everyone will tell you "breast is best", but then turn around and constantly emphasize "but it's your choice". Then they send you home from the hospital with a free can of formula and coupons for more. In a lot of other countries they will send a home nurse around to check on how breastfeeding and other baby care is going. Here they do offer lactation clinics, but you have to have the guts to call and ask for help. Breastfeeding is a natural process, but surprisingly difficult to get the hang of for the first few weeks, and very few people acknowledge that fact. There seems to be a lot of ambivalence about breastfeeding--most advocates I know are somewhat apologetic about saying that it's better for fear of offending anyone. And, surprisingly, many women who do breastfeed aren't all that comfortable about it either. Which brings me to this recent article. I was surprised by how many people were so bothered by the picture, especially since many of them are mothers. It really is hard to feed in public, because most people are squeamish about it. When a baby is feeding, you don't see any nipple. Heck, most of the time you don't see anything, especially if Mom can work her shirt right. The other day I thought it ironic that in the middle of a casino that had an enormous billboard of a lady's butt on the front (and was right next door to the "Hooters" casino) I had people staring at me for sitting in a bench inside the ladies restroom feeding my baby. I am a lot more confident now than I was with my first kid, and yet I still feel a little weird trying to feed a squirming baby under a blanket. A lot of times I honestly don't care, and if I'm in a somewhat private place I just let him eat without the blanket since it's hard trying to juggle everything. It would be nice if people were polite enough to just look away (most actually do) or to smile and think "how nice that she's feeding her baby". I see people's breasts, and even their nipples, hanging out all the time. For some reason having a baby attached to the breast makes it suddenly taboo. Maybe if we had more photos like this one out there it would help.