Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Breastfeeding in Vogue?

Another interesting topic on the Huffington Post today. This time, Jennifer Block discusses breastfeeding in New York City and the impact of free samples of baby formula in maternity wards.

It seems to me that for a long time, formula was the norm. I was formula fed, as was my sister, husband, his siblings, and many of my friends, and we're all still alive and kicking. But there's a lot of public noise encouraging breastfeeding and it's changing policy in hospitals, as well as in the minds of people across America. I'm glad to see things moving in this direction.

As a first time mother, I did a lot of reading up on breastfeeding. Breastmilk is everything a baby needs for the first 6 months of life, though some cultures nurse their babies far beyond that. It's complex and nutritious and evolves over time to meet the infant's changing nutritional needs. So we were sure to find a pediatrician who is a staunch believer in the benefits of breastmilk, and he even has an on-staff lactation consultant whose help has been invaluable to us. That said, we live in Santa Monica, and everywhere you turn, someone is encouraging you to breastfeed. Saint John's, where my son was born, has a lactation consultant on staff, the nurses all had tips and advice, and even our doula offered support. So despite having a c-section and being unable to hold my son for several hours after his birth, he latched on really well and has been nursing ever since with little or no difficulty. My milk came in 2 days after he was born, and when we left the hospital 4 days later, he was already back to his birth weight. I'm sure our case is more the exception than the rule, but that's all the more reason to have encouraging images and behavior surrounding new mothers trying to nurse.

I've considered how different things would have been had I not had so many professionals around me encouraging me to nurse. It's difficult and painful at first, and if the baby isn't cooperative, I imagine the pain and frustration can wear you down. Worse still, if a nurse were to suggest that the baby isn't getting enough milk, which is subjective in my experience, a woman could be scared into thinking formula is the best option, either exclusively or as a supplement to breastmilk. As Block says, it's a "time-sensitive relationship" that needs encouragement, which is not provided by gift baskets promoting formula.

If a woman wants or needs to feed her child with formula, it's always an option. But it's so much harder to nurse that I really believe the encouragment helps keep a mother motivated. And in the event that I would have fed my son formula, why would I have chosen the freebie instead of researching for the best option for him? Besides, having free samples of formula in the maternity ward seems shady to me. It's a hospital, not a flea market.