Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Ye gods, the bad ideas.

From JayG's place yesterday comes this article:

Smug mother Gisele Bundchen says there 'should be a law' forcing women to breastfeed for six months.


Try to ignore, if you can, the typical bullshit tone the article takes toward breastfeeding (and home birth).  Gisele, would you STFU, please?  Quit making the rest of the homebirthing breastfeeders out there look like total twits.

Look, anyone who knows me know my position on breastfeeding: if you can, you should.  Period.  (And, after reading The Duggars: 20 and Counting! and finding out that Michelle Duggar nursed twenty kids in spite of dealing with cracked and bleeding nipples, mastitis, etc with at least sixteen of them, I reckon the rest of us have even less excuse...)

But make it a law?  Really?

Yeah, no.

I actually left a fairly long comment over there, but I'm going to go into more detail here.  Thankfully, she's just a celebrity nattering on and not someone who might actually affect policy, but blogfodder is blogfodder, so Imma take it seriously.

First off, let me say this: YES, I know some women can't breastfeed.  But only about 10% of women are physically unable to.  Bexar County has something like a 58% breastfeeding rate.  This means that, clearly, the majority of women who are using formula are doing so because they want to, not because they have to.  Study after study has shown that formula-fed infants are prone to increased rates of things like ear infections, diabetes, breast cancer, etc.  It most certainly is a public health issue.

But, ye gods, it is not something that the government should have any part in.  By any stretch of the imagination.

Why?  Because the people in charge are fucking idiots, that's why.

I have learned that most women who "can't" breastfeed are actually physically capable of doing so, but get shitty advice from health professionals.  I have experienced some of that myself.  I was once prescribed an antibiotic and asked the doctor if it was safe to take while nursing (almost all are, for the record).  He gave me a blank look--amazed I was nursing the eight-month-old I had with me, I suppose--and went and looked it up.  He came back and said "Well, the book says it's safe, but you should pump and dump anyway."

There are a lot of women out there who have unnecessarily weaned or not nursed at all because of needing to take antidepressant medication.

I had my oldest two daughters in a military hospital.  I tell folks I nursed in spite of the care I received there, not because of it.  They were clueless about the realities of nursing.  A sampling of the bullshit I was on the receiving end of at Portsmouth:
  • "You're having trouble nursing because your breasts are too big."  Yeah, I was an H-cup at the time, but the size of your entire breast has exactly nothing to do with your ability to nurse.  (This is at least as true for small-breasted women as for the ridiculously-well-endowed among us.)
  • I was forced to nurse with my baby in the football hold, propped up on a ridiculous amount of pillows, because that was the "right" way to nurse when recovering from a c-section.
  • The observation nursery where my first was kept 24 hours after her birth because I was on magnesium sulfate gave her a bottle of formula.  That wrecked our until then perfect latch.  They gave her the bottle because she was hungry again 20 minutes after I had last nursed her, and some idiot gave them instructions to not bring her to me more often than every three hours.
  • I was required both times to keep a feeding log.  I had to write down the time I nursed her, and for how long on each side.  The expectation was 15 minutes per side every three hours.  This is unreasonable for most newborns.  I got lectured if it wasn't exactly what they wanted, and with my second child wrote down what they expected to see, not what actually happened.
  • With my second, premature, daughter, I was told "You have to make her nurse more often."  You cannot force feed a baby.  What I was not told was that all the advice given to prompt newborns to nurse--unwrapping them, for instance, so they get a bit chilly and wake up--is actually counterproductive for near-term preemies.
And really, that's just the start of the crap I've heard from doctors and nurses who really ought to know better.  I've been told everything from "six weeks is all they need to get the antibodies" to "start solids at four months" and beyond.

I'd wager every nursing mom out there knows another mom who was told by a doctor she wasn't producing enough breastmilk because her baby wasn't gaining "enough" weight according to those lovely growth charts that were designed for formula fed babies.  And on the other hand there have been women who were told to cut down on nursing because their babies were gaining too well!

Listen, the best we could hope for with any sort of "universal breastfeeding" law would be that medical professionals would be consulted to write it.

And that should scare nursing moms.

(Oh, and one more thing: What the hell is with this "six months" thing?  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends--and has since before my first daughter was born--that babies be nursed a minimum of one year.  The American Academy of Family Pediatricians and the World Health Organization both recommend a minimum of two years.  And please note that these are minimums.)

If--and it's a pretty big if--governments have any place in breastfeeding, let's concentrate on things like laws protecting nursing in public.  Or, if I'm going to really get all pie-in-the-sky, how about requiring all medical professionals who deal with nursing women to learn the realities of breastfeeding?


Albatross said...

I'd wager every nursing mom out there knows another mom who was told by a doctor she wasn't producing enough breastmilk because her baby wasn't gaining "enough" weight according to those lovely growth charts that were designed for formula fed babies.

That's my wife you're talking about. Except we believed the doctor because our baby wasn't gaining any weight. Not an ounce. Not a gram. And my wife was feeding the baby every two hours. Through the night. Which meant no real sleep for her for a couple of weeks.

Our pediatrician finally told us that the biggest danger to the health of the baby at that point was the car crash my wife was destined to be in when she finally fell asleep behind the wheel from sheer exhaustion. She advised formula.

We bought some on the way home. I fed the baby for once, and my wife got a good night's sleep.

And the baby gained weight. He's nine years old now, and he is literally one of the smartest kids in school. He is going into the fourth grade, and he reads at the sixth grade level at least. And his math skills are astounding. Formula did not make him dumber than other kids.

I know breastfeeding is a good idea overall, and I know that our case might be an exception, but I will never denigrate a family's decision to use formula for their children, whatever may be their reasons.

Because I will never really know what their reasons are.

Sabra said...

My point with the bit you quoted, Albatross, was that a LOT of the women who are told they have a low milk supply don't. There's a difference between not gaining ANY weight and not gaining "enough" according to an outdated system of measurement.

I don't mean to imply that no women have a genuine problem. I mean to say that a lot of women are told they have a problem when they do not. These women are frequently moms who not only want to nurse, but who have no reason not to. See what I'm getting at?

Albatross said...

I see your point, and I concede it.

Forgive me for being sensitive, but at the time we were dealing with a lot of milk-Nazis (I can think of no better name for the people with La Leche League). Those people made my wife feel like she was a dumb-ass for not doing it right, and she truly was doing her best to follow their directions and take their lactation classes. No good. She couldn't produce enough to nourish our son.

Thank God our pediatrician isn't so single-minded. When she noted that the baby's weight was exactly the same as it was the last couple of times she had seen him, she -- in a very comforting way -- told my wife she had done her best, but that it was time to give our baby the nourishment he needed and my wife the sleep she needed.

I love our pediatrician.

I hate La Leche League.

Charlene said...

I've never had children. The contentous ideas about breast feeding vs. formula feeding is about as definitive as any other subjective thing.

The best person to decide what is best is the mother and father and of course their physician, but we know even the physician can be a nattering boob. Opps. A nattering neanderthal about it.

Jay G said...

Our experiences with La Leche League mirror yours, Albatross.

Interestingly enough, I had to double-check to make sure I hadn't signed in under that name, because your experience is damn near the mirror of mine - right down to the age and grade of your child!

And damn, I popped into comments just to snark about H-cups... :)

Sabra said...

I am too introverted to have any experience with LLL, but it sounds as though they really need to improve how they treat women who are having difficulties.

And damn, I popped into comments just to snark about H-cups...

That's, ah, the smallest I've been while nursing. Trying to feed a baby smaller than your breast is an adventure all on its own, let me tell you.

Mike W. said...

Telling women what they MUST do with their bodies sounds a lot like freedom to me.....

It'd be like requiring men to do only certain things with their sperm. I.E. can't sell it, no in vetro, etc. etc.

Trying to feed a baby smaller than your breast is an adventure all on its own, let me tell you.

Honey, I lost the baby! I can't find him!