Category Archives: commentary

Breastfeeding news: then and now

Breastfeeding news…then. Exactly 100 years ago, here is what poor nursing mothers had to face. [Click image if you’d like to take a closer look.]


Copy photograph of a sweatshop poster showing a woman breastfeeding a baby while sewing a garment on a sewing machine. The text reads Sacred Motherhood, and the initial letter is in the shape of a dollar sign. The poster was made by Luther Bradley and probably photographed in Chicago, Illinois. 1907.

What do you think about this poster? It’s mind boggling that approximately 100 years after this was shown in the Chicago Daily News, you could still publish it today. All you’d have to do is take the mother out of the sweat shop and seat her on a park bench with all eyes on her and her baby — some adoring, some glaring. “Sacred Motherhood” still fits, but without the dollar sign.

Breastfeeding news…now.

Congratulations to Barstow Community Hospital for becoming the 58th Baby-Friendly hospital in the United States. Want to know more about baby-friendly hospitals? Click here.

News out of Canada reports that women breastfeed longer when they have longer maternity leave. This makes sense especially since we know working is not conducive to breastfeeding moms.

Plus, a Swedish study says if a mom breastfeeds for more than 13 months, she has a reduced risk of getting rheumatoid arthritis.

By the way, I’ve reached a milestone of sorts. Today is my 100th post. Yeah!

My Father’s Day Awakening

This morning while taking my run I was listening to “Natty Dread” by Bob Marley and it got me thinking about my stance on breastfeeding in public. Bob can have a transforming effect on people, you know, especially when he chants lines like, “Don’t care what the world say. I’n’I couldn’t never go astray.”

Then I came home and shared my latest blog posts with my dear husband who looked at both sides of the breastfeeding in public debate (he’s a Libra) and told me I was being unreasonable and was dead wrong on the issue. And so on that note, I concede defeat, although I feel like Oda Mae Brown when she had to hand over the 4 million dollar check to the nuns in Ghost. I’m smiling through clinched teeth.

My husband reminded me that while I personally didn’t want to breastfeed openly in public, there are other moms who do and their harassers shouldn’t be applauded. I have to remember that.

So much for freedom of speech

In yesterday’s My Turn column on Newsweek.com, Laura Cook-Crotty wrote about her inability to breastfeed as well as her staunch perspective about feeling no mother guilt because she opted to bottle-feed her daughter.

The title of Crotty’s essay is “Formula is Fine: Don’t give me grief about bottle-feeding my daughter. Breast-feeding isn’t for everyone.” I left a comment only to find out this morning it wasn’t posted online. I guess I was censored.

I simply stated that while bottle-feeding was her right as a mother, I thought the title of her essay was incredibly misleading as well as irresponsible. Surely, she could have thought of something more catchy than ‘Formula is Fine” because Lord knows, it’s not. Plus, just to throw a wrench in the conversation I asked what would she have done if formula didn’t exist? Would her baby have starved to death? (I know, I’m horrible!)

I understand wholeheartedly that formula will give an infant all the nutrition it needs, in fact, infants do thrive on formula according to the FDA. However, the increased potential for childhood illness is well documented, yes?

As of this morning, all of the comments are dripping with understanding and agreement. How much fun is that? My blog wouldn’t be worth a hill of beans if everyone parroted everything I said and wrote. Newsweek should know this more than anyone.

When modesty threatens the cause

Like it or not, as is customary with all “isms” in the world, a wide range of diverse viewpoints and highly controversial perspectives are inherently active and present in lactivism. While I author a blog about breastfeeding, I’ve never considered myself a lactivist, just like I don’t consider myself a feminist, or any other “ist” for that matter. I am simply an opinionated mom with a blog who happens to champion the cause of breastfeeding for black mothers. If my self-imposed definition qualifies me as a lactivist of sorts, I’m not entirely sure. But, I do know that I prefer not to box myself in with labels.

Of late I’ve been writing about breastfeeding in public because it remains one of the highly contested and most discussed topics among nursing mothers and breastfeeding advocates. In truth, breastfeeding in public is an issue that begs for attention and cannot be easily ignored. And so when a celeb brings the issue to the forefront as dramatically as Maggie Gyllenhaal did last week, I cannot help but chime in with my two cents.

Like I have iterated before, I believe nursing moms should show modesty when breastfeeding in public. In my opinion, saying this does not make me a traitor to the cause, nor does it, by default, make breastfeeding seem any less natural or right because a mother decides to cover up. And I also do not believe I am being double minded because I espouse breastfeeding to be “a beautiful thing”, while also advocating that moms show respect for everyone including those who may be offended by a nursing infant. I think the topic of breastfeeding in public can easily be remedied by open-minded people on both sides of the fence where people can go about their daily lives without being offended by breastfeeding and infants can still nurse in peace while out on the town with mommy. I truly believe there is a happy middle ground somewhere where every one wins. Idealistic? Probably. Impractical? Possibly. Doable? Yes, with a lot of work.

To be sure, breastfeeding is a natural act, but we must ask ourselves do we live in a culture where being “natural” equals automatic acceptance. I am a big fan of modesty in all aspects of a woman’s life from breastfeeding moms to teenage girls who think showing too much cleavage is cool.

That said, I wholeheartedly disagree that mothers should show an entire breast while nursing in public. That is so unbelievable to me! Perhaps my opinion is too consistent with most black mothers, who in breastfeeding studies, show more reluctance for breastfeeding in public. I also maintain that if, hypothetically, breastfeeding in public with full breasts showing was an accepted practice in America, black mothers would be subject to a strict double standard. Can you image a picture of a black mother breastfeeding in New York City with her entire breast out? I can already hear the chatter on the all-too-brutal blogosphere: “Go back to Africa!”…”This isn’t National Geographic!”… “Show some respect!”. Although unfortunate, I know without a doubt this would happen.

Although I am in the minority among breastfeeding advocates about this issue, I cannot help but voice my perspective. Although it feels this way, surely I am not the only person who echoes these sentiments.

Black Breastfeeding and Class

Leah, a Chicago mom and reader, commented yesterday that she regularly runs into black moms who either breastfeed or who have breastfed in the past in her south side neighborhood. I’m glad she brought this observation to my attention because it forced me to look at black breastfeeding rates with an entirely new eye.

Most often when I read stories about breastfeeding rates, I only see blanket analyses that say black moms breastfeed in alarmingly low numbers and that our breastfeeding percentage is significantly lower than white and non-White Hispanic mothers. Based on statistics alone, the mothers that Leah runs into in her neighborhood fit into a more detailed demographic I found on the CDC Web site.

According to the CDC, Black mothers in 2004 who were over 20, had children who were ineligible for WIC, were married or had at least some college education, who lived in the West or in urban areas, or were above the federal poverty threshold were more likely to breastfeed. Even though this general type of black mom most likely breastfed, still only 50.1% of them did so compared to 71.5% of white moms.

Indeed, class is a very important factor that determines if a mother, black or otherwise, will breastfeed or not. So, in my continued quest to get a better picture of when black moms became disconnected with breastfeeding in America I found these images dating from the late 1930s and early 1940s quite compelling. Note my class analysis.

TITLE: Wife of railroad worker feeding her baby. Chicago, Illinois
CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1941 Apr.
CREATOR: Lee, Russell, 1903- photographer.
[Commentary: Even though this mother would be considered above or near above the poverty line she still fed her baby formula instead of breastfeeding.]

TITLE: Preparing milk for baby. Family is on relief. Chicago, Illinois
CREATED/PUBLISHED:
1941 Apr.
[Commentary: This mother who is on relief also uses formula to feed her baby. It seems class distinctions do not affect black breastfeeding outcomes in the 1940s like they do today.]

TITLE: Porch on Negro share tenant cabin. A double one. Note the churn, lantern, baby’s milk, and roof type. The other half of the cabin has a new galvanized metal roof. Near Gordonton, North Carolina
CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1939 July.
CREATOR:
Lange, Dorothea, photographer.
[Commentary: Even in rural southern poverty a mother still relies on infant formula to feed her infant instead of saving needed dollars and breastfeeding.]

I’m Back!!

Lordy, I’m finally back after my week-long Blogger-imposed hiatus. I am immensely grateful that they didn’t leave me hanging over the weekend because my blog absence was making me a bit antsy. I really enjoy the dialogue with everyone, even those whose opinions differ from mine.

You’ll find that although I wasn’t able to post this week, I was able to save my posts as drafts, so I’ve published everything that’s been sitting in my dashboard waiting for this day to finally arrive. I hope you enjoy reading some of my thoughts from this week about breastfeeding.

Two Continents, Exact Message, Same Results

I have no clue why I’m constantly amazed by the low breastfeeding rates in Africa. I guess I’m still holding on to some ideal, stereotypical notion that all things in Mother Africa are still pristine and natural. The truth is, impoverished nations are severely and relentlessly assaulted by formula companies just like here at home.

Ghana just launched a nationwide campaign called “The Best Protection a Mother Can Give” to help mothers keep their babies healthy by simply exclusively breastfeeding them for the first six months of their life. And here in America, the Office for Minority Health launched an awareness campaign called A Healthy Baby Begins with You, for with breastfeeding is a critical component, in order to decrease the critically high numbers of black infant mortality.

But, what do we see here? The same story, similar campaigns, two different continents.

I hate to sound pessimistic, but I also believe in truthfulness, these two campaigns will win over a few converts (relatively speaking), but the vast majority of moms will still be chained to a formula container, even though it clearly produces poorer health and an increased risk of infant death. Government funded campaigns just don’t have the muscle to compete with the money formula companies throw around.

What do you think?

On How I Learned to Wean from My Cat

I was an unusually observant child. I noticed minute details in life that either got me in trouble, like when I repeated in public private conversations my parents had about relatives in front of my brothers and me, or qualified me as a little whiz kid, like the time I made a perfect score on the Third Grade State Writing Test because my essay was “so full of detail”. But the one thing from my youth that resonated with me the most, especially after becoming a mother, was the time I watched my cat, Sara, wean her kittens.

When I was a girl there was nothing in the world I adored more than Sara. When I came home from school I hunted her down in the house so I could squeeze her to death with love. When we let her outside to roam, I would call Sara from the back porch at night until I saw her slither out from under a bush and bound up the steps to come eat and sleep in her kitty bed. And when she got pregnant (something I totally didn’t fully understand) I waited anxiously for her kittens to arrive. Sure enough, they came into the world unceremoniously in our laundry room one summer night and I watched Sara gently care for and suckle her babies. Soon, the kittens were up and roaming around the house, rolling around in little bundles of furry fun and jumping on Sara whenever they wanted to nurse.

But soon came time for her to wean them and I witnessed the whole series of events. Whenever the growing kittens would come to suckle, Sara would hop up immediately and go about her business elsewhere in the house to divert their minds on something besides milk. It worked for a time. And when the kittens, although already eating cat food, still wanted to nurse, she’d hiss and swat at them, not hurting them at all, but letting them know she meant business. And each time she swatted, a dejected kitten would get their feelings hurt for a mere second and in the next second would run, jump, roll and play and forget the whole thing. Soon they were all weaned and we had six more cats in the house who were then– ahem — all fixed.

When it was time to breastfeed my little ones I took a natural lesson from my long-deceased, but forever-loved Sara. I never swatted at my girls because, well, I am not a cat. But I understood that when I didn’t offer up my breasts my girls would be momentarily stunned and dejected, but would get over it and go play with their blocks. And that’s just what they did.

Hip-Hop Isn’t the Root Of All Blackness. So What Else is New?

Thomas Chatterton Williams knows how to use big words, shape them into coherent, impressive sentences and accomplish getting a byline in the Washington Post. But adding substance to the conversation of hip-hop and its damaging effects on the black community is what he really needs to work on.

In the Post’s Monday, May 28th article, Black Culture Beyond Hip-Hop, Williams sadly does what most writers on black culture do: eloquently point out the problem, but miserably fail to offer any workable solutions.

I believe, as black people, we’re tired of the conversation and we’re ready for some targeted action. We’re tired of the black pundits and activists with bullhorns, but no real agenda. We’re tired of the writers and the professional speakers who are looking to bolster their resumes. We’re tired of the national conferences and symposiums filled with black intelligentsia who have a lot to say, but no solid game plan. Collectively they have gotten black people where? No where, but back at the beginning. In fact, the only limited good about the hip-hop controversy is that it has launched a few people’s careers to national status and has clearly gotten some authors book deals. But in large part, articles like Williams’ does nothing more than drive us, once again, into the never-ending circle of low test scores, poverty, failing health, dangerous neighborhoods, sub-prime lending, poor schools, incarceration and the list goes on.

So, in hopes of not sounding hypocritical, here are a few solutions I’ve devised to counter the hip-hop culture and its damaging effects on black kids. I’ll start with parenting.

— Pay attention to your kids and don’t expect the neighborhood, the schools or the community to raise them, because if you don’t you might have to visit them in jail. I know this from experience. There are too many black males in my family and my husband’s family who know what the inside of a cell looks like. Parents cannot be everywhere at all times with their children, but black parents can do more to save them from the streets.

— Be vigilant about your children’s education. Talk to your children’s teachers. Know and understand what they are accomplishing and/or not accomplishing in class. Don’t be afraid to schedule appointments with your children’s teacher and the principal, if needed. Diligently monitor your children’s school progress because if you don’t you may have to see your child repeat a grade, fail their end-of-year exams, or, heaven forbid, drop out in high school.

— Give your children the gift of a mother and father. (GASP) Did I just say that? I did. I firmly believe this about children: It takes two to make’em and it takes two to raise’em.

All children deserve, need, and desire two parents. I will probably meet heavy resistance for saying this, but studies have shown that black children benefit when they have a mother and father. One of the ways that black culture will improve is if more black moms choose to stay with the man they choose to procreate with and more black men stop ducking from responsibility.

I fully agree that single mothers are raising amazing children every day and that some two-parent households raise some of the biggest hellions known to all mankind, but wouldn’t life be much easier for moms and more healthy for children if there were two role models for their children to emulate — a mommy and daddy?

Black women and men must learn how to create better, lasting relationships with one another and have intact homes because if we don’t more black men will be absent from their children’s lives and more black women will be forced to raise their children alone.

— Don’t settle for the hammering effect of outside influences. In this fast-paced new millennium there is always something vying for our children’s attention — TV, movies, video games, the Internet, music, ipods, Gameboys, cellphones, PDAs, digital cameras, food and all manner of electronic devices that keep kids’ minds riveted to LCD screens and snack packs and out of books.

As a parent, don’t feel you have to succumb to the pressure of getting your children the latest gadgets and toys on the market. Instead, get them a library card and treat them to outings at the bookstore, museum, zoo, park, or historical site because if you don’t you’ll find your child knowing how to send a text message, but not how to locate a call number in the library.