Friday, August 3, 2012

I Am Pro Mom

Yesterday morning, on my way to work, I got my first earful about the NYC "breastfeeding initiative".  As I have said before, my initial reaction when I hear anything that might sound even remotely critical of non-breastfeeding moms, is to get angry.  I've shared a little about my own experience with breastfeeding and it was pretty awful.  So when I heard a male caller on the radio sharing that he had to "sit his wife down and tell her that as a family, they would be breastfeeding", I was pretty pissed.  I was furious at Mayor Michael Bloomberg for creating an initiative geared towards women and babies and well, breasts (which he clearly does not have).  I was angry at this man who thought he could dictate his wife's choice of how to feed their child.  My first thought was, "How dare you!?"  These men can't even begin to understand the feelings and emotions and bodily changes that go on with a mom before, during and after giving birth.  So how can they say what we "should" and "shouldn't" do?  

With that said, I got out of my car and marched all hot headed into work.  I was ready to fight.  I was thinking of how to contact the radio station, who could get me the direct line to the NYC mayor and what moms might be willing to fight right along with me.  Now, roughly 24 hours later, I've cooled off.  I've cleared my head a little and I've thought and researched a ton on this new initiative. And no, I didn't even give a call to Mayor Bloomberg to give him my thoughts.  But I will give them to you.

First of all, let me just say, thank you, thank you, thank you, to all of my facebook momma  and non momma friends who respectfully and openly shared their views on this topic.  I can not tell you have nice it was to see a polite, respectful, "non-mommy-war" conversation taking place in a social media setting.  I was impressed.  Never at any point did I feel like judgement was cast or as if someone was taking aim at another momma's parenting style.  I loved that.  That is rare these days.  Way to support each other ladies.

Second of all, after doing some research and reading several articles on this new initiative, I can officially say that I am FOR (yes- you are reading this correctly), this initiative.  Well, mostly.  

From what I understand, the basic idea of this new "Latch On NYC" Initiative is this: The "Latch On NYC" initiative is voluntary for both hospitals and patients and it is designed as a way to encourage and support new moms in the effort to breastfeed.  Sounds harmless to me. Actually, it sounds pretty great.  

Here are  some more basic facts of this new initiative according to MedPage Today.

  • Within hospitals, baby formula will be kept in locked storage rooms, cabinets, or automated medication systems, to which only certain staff members will have access. Staff members must record each time formula is used and the reason it was used, and that information will be shared with the city's health department monthly
  • Discontinuing the distribution of promotional or free infant formula
  • Prohibiting the display and distribution of infant formula promotional materials, including bags and other items branded by formula companies, in any hospital location.
Now, I don't have a problem with any of these specific guidelines.  While I don't love the idea of formula being "locked up" as if new moms are addicts foaming at the mouth and just waiting for nurses to leave their posts, it really isn't directly offensive to me.  

And, if you know me, you know I never turn down freebies and goody bags. However, I do feel that formula companies make their money off of new moms who are vulnerable and might revert to formula at the first sign of breastfeeding troubles. So with that said, I understand and support the removal of formula samples and goody bag freebies from hospital bedsides.  Deborah Kaplanwith the New York City Health Department says, "Mothers, pregnant women these days are bombarded by marketing materials, by email, by mail, in magazines, by the infant formula industry. When a mother comes to a hospital, the last thing she needs is more marketing." 

My biggest concern with these guidelines is two fold.  
First of all, I've heard that all women will be "counseled" or "lectured" each time they request formula.  They will be told the benefits of breastfeeding and the negatives of formula feeding.  
Secondly, nowhere in this initiative have I seen anything that has said lactation specialists will be hired or brought in to assist mothers who do choose to breastfeed.  

And here are the reasons I have these concerns:

1. I believe that at no other time in a woman's life is she more vulnerable and more susceptible to taking on shame and guilt.  After a baby is born, we as new moms need and crave someone- anyone- to affirm us and to tell us that we are making the best decisions for our new baby.  And speaking from my own experience, I know that had I been "lectured" (or even just reminded) at every feeding on why I was making the "lesser choice" for my daughter, it would have added and contributed significantly to the guilt and shame that I was already battling.  Is this the intent of doctors and nurses?  I don't really believe so.  I believe they will  be doing so without knowing how far reaching and damaging their words actually are.  Katherine Stone, founder of postpartum progress, says it well, "I believe that repeating over and over how you are essentially making the wrong decision for your baby, without any regard to why the mom has made the decision and why in this case it might be the best one, could end up being tantamount to shaming." 

2. If this initiative really and truly is a way to encourage and support new breastfeeding moms, then hospitals sure as hell better get some trained professionals on staff to assist and help new moms as  they start out.  And this is where I will share with you my experience.

I delivered Mackenzie at Prentice Hospital in the heart of downtown Chicago.  According to the website, Prentice is praised as a "One million square foot state-of-the-art hospital dedicated to providing care for the unique needs of women through all stages of life." Because of how new this hospital was and because of it's location, we had very high expectations for the care we would receive after Mackenzie was born.  I should preface this by saying that, after working in a health care setting myself for several years now, I am always hesitant to criticize because I know that often health care settings are given a limited budget and are short staffed.  I get it.  No amount of care will be perfect no matter how expensive or how new the facility is.  But in this case, I feel it is necessary to share and critique.  

After Mackenzie was born, we stayed at Prentice for three full days.  During our stay, I don't ever remember being seen by a lactation specialist (which according to the Prentice site, they have them on staff).  What I do remember is being seen by nurses who rotated shifts every several hours.  We were given different advice by each nurse that we saw.  So much varying advice that Jeremy and both became incredibly overwhelmed.  Mackenzie would not latch, my nipples were not extended enough to allow her to latch, my milk hadn't come in yet and even when it did finally come in (on day 3), I still wasn't producing enough to give her a full belly. We left the hospital on that third day, feeling incredibly discouraged.  We were no closer to understanding how to feed our new baby on our own and we were being sent home with a load full of (yes!) baby formula. 

Once home, we hired a lactation specialist to visit us.  She charged (I kid you not) $100.00 an hour for her help.  And because we felt desperate, we paid through the roof.  We just wanted someone to teach us how to feed our starving child.  And when she got to our home, that's exactly what she told us.  That Mackenzie wasn't getting enough at her feedings and that we would have to supplement with formula.  Over the next six weeks, feeding at our home became a nightmare.  The schedule went something like this: Feed for 30 minutes on each breast using the plastic nipple (an hour total), supplement with a bottle for another 20 minutes.  And I would pump between each feeding to try and increase my supply.  Repeat. Our life revolved around feeding and trying to get feeding "down".

Six weeks after Mackenzie was born, our breastfeeding nightmare came to an abrupt halt.  On a Friday night I woke up to the most excruciating pain I have ever experienced.  I was hospitalized that night for dehydration, multiple infections and kidney stones.  We were told that I would have to "pump and dump" for two weeks while Mackenzie drank solely formula.  Because I was never producing enough breast milk in the first place, we had literally none saved up in our freezer for an emergency like this.  What's worse (and this is where I will again, stress a lack of hospital support), is that after waking up from surgery, my first and only request was that someone bring me a breast pump.  I was engorged and in pain and leaking.  I waited hours and hours for that pump.  It never came.  I asked multiple times.  By the time I was released from the hospital that night, my entire hospital gown was drenched in breast milk.  I literally could have wrung my gown out with sticky milk.  My supply was completely gone.  I was incredibly embarrassed and frustrated.   And so, 6 weeks after giving birth, in that same hospital that I first decided I was going to breastfeed, I quit.  I was done. I waved the white flag.  

Hospital support?  Ha! What support?  This is the first time since giving birth that I have actually written out my breastfeeding story.  And now reading it back to myself, I am shaking my head in disgust. I am in full support of this initiative IF and ONLY if, hospitals leave out the "guilt" tactic and in turn provide trained, licensed professionals who are there to aid and SUPPORT mothers as they learn to breastfeed.  Oh, and provide a dang breast pump for crying out loud.

One online writer Moxie, says it very well. She writes, "Had I been mayor I'd have gone about it in a different way, by requiring any formula company that wants to market directly to consumers in a vulnerable position to fund the salaries of three full-time lactation consultants for every 10 beds in a maternity ward so there is always an LC available to troubleshoot problems, along with providing training in breastfeeding once a year for every RN, LPN and MD on the floor."  Can I get an Amen?  I like the way this woman thinks.  

I'm almost done (I promise).  I guess the biggest thing I want to say after having done my research and having shared it is this: 

I am pro-mom.  I am 110% in favor of anything that will provide emotional and physical care for the well being of all moms out there.  Just because my own experience with breastfeeding was poor, doesn't mean I don't want other moms to succeed.  And if this initiative will in fact help moms to succeed in breastfeeding, then that is exceptional and I will support it.  

With that said, being pro-mom also means that I will fight tooth and nail to eliminate the nasty, guilt and anxiety provoking tactics that this world uses to make mommas feel less of themselves.  I get angry when I hear of moms pitting themselves up against other moms.  My blood boils when I hear of mothers who are criticized and torn down to made feel less of themselves because of their own personal choices for their families.  There's something very wrong with that.  We are strong, capable women.  And why should we be bullied into thinking otherwise?  I hope more than anything, that this initiative does act as a successful support system for new moms and that it doesn't further fuel the "mommy wars" that I so deeply despise.  I hope this new initiative means that we are taking a step forward in an effort to encourage and support mothers in this already tough role we have.  This is what I hope.


  1. Love the post Britt! I feel the same way about breastfeeding. I never had a doubt in my mind that I would breastfeed, but like you, I had an overwhelming experience in the hospital that left me sobbing the day after Sarah had been born. Same exact problems you had with my breasts. I did though have a lactation consultant come in...but she was awful. On top of not being able to feed Sarah, she kept pulling her off, then making me put her back on, this happened at least 20 times. Sarah was screaming bloody murder and I was about to punch the lady in the face. It never got better. I tried and tried and Sarah never even liked it. I struggled for all of 6 months and it felt like an eternity. I had gotten so sick and could only be on certain meds, but because of the sickness lasting so long and the stress of it all, my supply went down to almost nothing even though I was still trying my absolute hardest. I had even gone to see another LS in town for help a while after she was born and she was the most rude person and acted like I was crazy. Lovely support. Anyways, that's my shortened story for all the ladies that read this and for you too. I will encourage any mom on whatever her decision and for whatever reason. I will try to breastfeed still for my next, but I can tell you I will NOT ruin 6 months of my relationship with my new baby again because of the pressure some people in society places on you. And I will encourage all moms to not stress too much about it as well, because in the end, nobody's happy then. Hopefully this initiative will do what you (and I) are hoping and just help the hospitals to be there for these new moms!

  2. I have to admit that I only had a chance to read part of this post after a very full day! But wanted to add that I appreciate your blog being a voice for moms:)

    I was a mom to a full term four pound baby. I felt so much pressure to breast feed even though my body was not producing milk that I thought my husband who is now my ex- husband was going to milk me himself!
    No lactation consultant in the world could have helped & I had one in the hospital. All new moms should be allowed to choose formula if they know their baby needs it & I knew! Instead I watched as my tiny baby lost weight each day & was so frustrated that I wanted to explode!!! Finally the hospital forced my husband and mom to allow me to give her formula. I was so relieved when the nurse helped me give her formula that I cried! As a society we seem to be putting far too much pressure on new mother's. The latch on idea sounds scary!