Thursday, June 15, 2006

Flurry about breast bullies: Who are the real bullies?

Where is this anger coming from? Let's trace it to the source...

Several persons and media are describing feeling bullied by breastfeeding support work and ad campaigns.

From my perspective, the anger at feeling "bullied" is fully justified. But why not trace it to the proper source?

Folks support breastfeeding because, indeed, it is the physiological norm, and the undisputed way to reduce short and long term child illness as well as to reduce risks of some cancer and chronic diseases for moms. Lack of breastfeeding is associated with immune system deficiencies and risk of contamination that cannot be corrected by any formula anywhere.

But why are so many folks feeling bullied? May I opine that we are indeed being bullied, and we should look to the source of the problem, not to those who are trying educate. The bullying is not coming from the dissemination of correct information, or from the (albeit watered-down) ad campaign. We are all feeling bullied because our nation and society, and our social norms, are among the slowest in the world to truly support women, mothers, and optimal mother and child health.

In northern Europe, women experience humane delivery care, and then they (and their partners) have leave that is paid for up to a year, and trained lactation consultants are readily accessed. In other settings, extended families step in to support the new mom, freeing her of other work so that she may be exclusively there for her infant for at least 42 days. In these societies, breastfeeding is the norm. And it is reflected in child survival and maternal health statistics.

What happens in our society? After an invasive hospital delivery, we are bundled off home in 24-48 hours, where the world of family and friends expect to stop by and see the baby, and you are expected to be the congenial host. And of course, you are expected back at work in a few days. And there are no creches or day care that will allow you to be near your baby. Your are forced to suffer, consciously or unconsciously, the separation anxiety that is normal for a new mother, when separated from the sight, smells and sounds of her newborn.

So, yes, we are being bullied. But not by those who support women to succeed with breastfeeding. We are being bullied by those who deny us the right to practice what is best for ourselves and our children.

Yes, women in the US deserve a good deal of slack, because we are expected to be all things to all people, but we are not supported by policy, law, workplace, or society to be true to our educated decisions.

Keep up the good fight, my friends! But, please, let's be clear on who is the "enemy".

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