Tag Archives: breast feeding

Fear-mongering does not promote breast feeding

8 Nov
How the City of Ottawa views bottle feeding

How the City of Ottawa views bottle feeding

I was about to go to bed when I saw this post pop up on my feed from Fearless Formula Feeder about the City of Ottawa’s information page on “informed consent” when it comes to breast feeding. While I support efforts to encourage women to nurse their babies, I don’t think it should be done by scaring women who may be considering (or have already made) a different choice. The site lists Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and obesity in a matter-of-fact list as possible risks associated with bottle feeding, presented in such a way as to terrify new mothers. It also implies that women who formula feed will get cancer and “brittle bones.” It makes these appear to be foregone conclusions.

I work in communications for a living. I know the power of a bulleted list, of random factoids pulled from a series of unrelated studies. The way that the text is presented on the city’s website is purposely alarmist. It’s offensive and will do nothing to help women who are struggling to breast feed or who may be looking for guidelines on how to mix formula safely. It links to a page on formula feeding guidelines only after forcing the reader to scan through “facts” designed to convince women that they are terrible people if they cannot or will not breast feed.

Also? The list of “risks” is based on shaky science. As Hanna Rosin and others have pointed out, the majority of breast feeding studies do not take a wide array of socioeconomic factors into account. The reality is that wealthier or upper middle class women are more likely to nurse. They are also more likely to take their children to the doctor and have access to nutritious food and prenatal care. Their children are more likely to thrive and less likely to be “obese,”, no matter how they are fed. Breast feeding is wonderful when it works — it’s nurturing, promotes a healthy digestive system and is free to boot. But it’s not the only way to feed a baby and help them thrive.

When I switched to bottle feeding when Daphne was four months old, there were so few resources on how to do it safely and properly. I already felt like a terrible mother for feeding my baby the “poison” that the formula companies were clearly pushing on me (I got over that one fast). There was also so little discourse on the advantages associated with being able to share the task of infant feeding. Bottle feeding brought equality to my parenting relationship with my wife, in a way that I did not viscerally understand until I was finally able to get a little more sleep.

As a feminist and a mother, I am solidly pro-choice. And this includes the right to make a truly informed decision about how to feed your baby — one that isn’t coloured by fear-mongering, fatphobic, woman-shaming tactics. Women in Ottawa deserve better.

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Baby weight (or banishing fat shame)

7 Jun
This is how we celebrate food and our bodies!

This is how we celebrate food and our bodies!

Yesterday, I was crouched on the floor at our neighbourhood baby drop-in. Daphne was proudly pulling herself up and babbling, as I stared at her with sleep-deprived, adoring eyes. A woman who takes care of three-year-old twins across the street looked over at her and declared: “Wow, she’s getting fat. What are you feeding her?” As I struggled to come up with a sufficiently smart-assed response, she continued:

“And you are getting so skinny. Not chubby like before. Do you remember how chubby you were? I thought you would never lose the baby weight.”

Once, again I was too shocked to respond with a sarcastic retort. Instead, I mumbled something about how it took nine months to make a baby and another nine to get back into my jeans. But I found myself stewing all day, wishing I had taken the opportunity to challenge this woman on her snap judgements about weight, attractiveness and general health.

There is so much to unpack in that brief exchange. First and foremost, the notion that an 11-month old baby is “too fat” represents the projection of our cultural obsession with thinness onto a child who hasn’t even taken her first steps. And it’s such a pernicious contradiction from the messages that mothers get in a baby’s first few weeks of life. At first, we are told that our babies’ weights need to double and triple. Breast feeding women are pushed to supplement with formula, even if their babies are perfectly healthy and getting plenty of breast milk. But after a few months, we are told to worry about whether our chubby babies will turn into obese adults. Adding to the general panic, many breast feeding advocates argue that formula will inevitably lead to childhood obesity, piling even more guilt and worry onto mothers (like me!) who choose to bottle feed their babies.

When I was growing up, the media focused a lot on the dangers associated with eating disorders and the importance of improving girls’ self-esteem. As I wrote about a few years ago, the societal obsession with the “obesity crisis” has changed the conversation completely and only increased the pressure on teens and young girls. Instead of focusing on food security, walkable neighbourhoods and physical activity, the discourse is focusing almost entirely on the number on a scale. And as Paul Campos (and many Health at Every Size advocates) argue, the “obesity crisis” is largely a manufactured one. There is so much I would love to quote from Campos in this article on the moral panic over obesity, but here are a few good tidbits:

The correlations between higher weight and greater health risk are weak except at statistical extremes. The extent to which those correlations are causal is poorly established. There is literally not a shred of evidence that turning fat people into thin people improves their health. And the reason there’s no evidence is that there’s no way to do it. 

(…)

… the increased risks associated with being heavy come from (such as they are), many of them come from weight cycling, which is clearly bad for people, and which is the outcome of 98% of diets. Others come from the stress and social discrimination generated by having what’s considered an inappropriate body in this culture. Others come from diet drugs, eating disordered behavior, poverty — all things strongly associated with higher than average weight.

(…)

…  if there’s one thing fat kids need, it’s to be made to feel bad about feeling fat. The current stigmitization of fat kids is essentially child abuse as government policy, and the people behind it are, as far as I’m concerned, either incredibly stupid or very evil or in some cases both.

The other part of yesterday’s exchange that was disturbing was the approval I was suddenly granted for being less fat. Let’s be clear — I am not a small person. Even though I have now lost all of the “baby weight,” I wear a size 14 and my weight is still considered “too high” on the (flawed) Body Mass Index. I cook and eat healthy food and get a reasonable amount of exercise. I make it to the gym or a yoga class when I can and rarely use the car. But unless I severely restrict my caloric intake (weighing and measuring every bite that goes into my mouth), my weight will continue to hover where it is now. And I am okay with that.

I wasn’t one of those women who dropped all of the pregnancy weight after a month of breastfeeding. It took almost a year to be able to wear my clothes again. And though I am loathe to admit it, I did use a commercial diet program for a few weeks, to help me get a handle on my eating habits. I felt sheepish about that decision, but I soon returned to the form of intuitive eating that works best for me. I feel comfortable in my skin, but am deeply disturbed when people give me approval for being “less fat” than I was a few months ago.

Even though my daughter is only 11 months old, I work hard to model positive attitudes about food and eating. The only message I want to impart is that food is delicious and that we are so lucky to be able to afford to fill our bellies with such healthy and appetizing choices. And I will kiss her chubby belly and squishy arms every second I can.

Finding joy in parenthood

23 May
Photo by Jenna Sparks Bradbury: http://jsparksphotography.zenfolio.com/

Photo by Jenna Sparks Bradbury: http://jsparksphotography.zenfolio.com/

It may be love at first sight for some parents, but all I could feel at the beginning was awe and the weight of responsibility. The first few weeks of parenthood consumed me with the obsessive quest to get my baby to breast feed, my physical recovery from labour and the knowledge that Daphne was ours to keep. I worried a lot. Was she eating enough? Was she in pain? Why was she so frustrated all the time? Was I a bad mother for resenting how nursing tied me to the couch and didn’t seem to make either or us feel better? It was hard to discern a personality from a  tiny being who felt like a breathing bundle of needs. I loved her fiercely, but we were still getting to know each other. On some days, Caitlyn would get home at 6:00 and I would dissolve into a puddle of tears and order her to take the baby away from me. I was touched out. I was exhausted. And I didn’t have an ounce of energy left in me to get through the evening “witching hours.”

A major turning point occurred when I gave myself permission to bottle feed my baby. Suddenly, we both felt nourished. Daphne wasn’t hungry anymore. Her personality changed radically — from furious to rather zen. And suddenly Caitlyn and I were equally equipped to feed her and put her to sleep. While I still harbour a tiny morsel of regret that nursing didn’t work out the way I’d hoped, I am 100% sure that I made the right decision to move on. Daphne and I really started to enjoy each other when she was about four months old. I no longer dreaded leaving the house, fearful that she would refuse or be unable to nurse. And while we struggled through a few months of reflux-related tummy issues, it was gratifying to know that our baby wasn’t hungry anymore.

But it was around eight months old that Daphne’s sense of humour and delight really started to come through. Now that she is babbling, crawling and climbing, she is so thrilled with her abilities and eager to tell us about them. She points to things, hands us food and toys to share and routinely steals treasured items from other baby friends. Parenthood has become a lot of fun, as our baby is finally old enough to enjoy swimming, swinging and playing in the dirt. And we can see how the ways that we’ve nurtured her have helped her transform into a confident and hilarious little being.

I really enjoyed Jessica Valenti’s book Why Have Kids? She questions the idea that motherhood is a “job” and instead re-positions parenthood (and the accompanying domestic labour) as a relationship. It seems obvious, but it makes so much sense. There are days that seem long or moments that are frustrating or mind-numbingly boring. But for the most part, parenthood is all about give and take. She belongs to us and we belong to her. I never imagined how much joy I would take in watching a little person learn a new skill.

While I have every intention of returning to work, I now understand why it’s so tempting for many women not to do so. I could rhyme off statistics about how every year that we remove ourselves from the workforce results in a permanent reduction in our net worth. And how women (particularly in heterosexual relationships) are placing themselves at serious risk of financial and professional devastation if they don’t keep up with their careers. But if we are serious about raising a generation of compassionate, articulate and justice-minded children, the best we can do is nurture them when they’re young.

I am so grateful to the workers and activists who came before me and fought for paid parental leave. I am also so thankful to my employer for topping up the government’s benefits, so Caitlyn and I did not need to take a major financial hit to be able to spend this precious time with Daphne. Our friends in the U.S. were only able to spend a few (unpaid) weeks at home with their tiny babies. So even though I am starting to get melancholy about this wonderful year coming to a close, I recognize how privileged I am to have been allowed to experience it — crying fits, sleepless nights and vomit explosions notwithstanding.

While the first few weeks of parenthood felt heavy to me, now it’s all joy. Daphne will take her first few steps and walk away from us some time soon. But I am in no rush for her to do so. She can stay close to us for as long as she wants.