Sunday, August 10, 2008

3rd Annual Breastfeeding Cafe

Most of you know I'm a bit of a lactivist (advocate for breastfeeding) and I've been involved with the Utah Breastfeeding Coalition in various aspects over the past several years. This month, the UBC is sponsoring the 3rd Annual Breastfeeding Cafe at the Salt Lake City Main Public Library. This year, the event is hitting the road too and will make an appearance in Logan and Cedar City later in the month. The Breastfeeding Cafe is a community outreach program and it's purpose is to show that breastfeeding is normal, inspire thought and conversation about breastfeeding, and encourage relationships among breastfeeding advocates.

Yesterday as I was there, a family stopped by who had spent many years in Denmark. They took a picture in front of the Cafe, because they thought it was such a funny idea. In Denmark a Breastfeeding Cafe would not be at all necessary--but in the USA, where bottle-feeding is more accepted as the norm--the Cafe provides a great place for women to nurse their children and for people of all backgrounds to get information about breastfeeding. In Denmark a Breastfeeding Cafe would be as out of place as a Toothbrushing Cafe in our country (or some other promotional event for other practices that we take for granted here as being the norm).

Instead, in our country women are asked to leave restaurants and clothing stores for feeding their babies or are told to cover up so others don't have to see that--all while using scantily-clad women with mostly exposed breasts to sell beer or cars or plastic surgery is perfectly acceptable. Innovative entrepreneurs come up with all sorts of ways that women can hide themselves and their babies (like these very cute Hooter Hiders). If moms are more comfortable with a covering, all the more power to them, but we have this mindset that nursing a baby is something to be ashamed of and something that must be hidden. Some women even feel they should nurse their babies in a bathroom stall rather than out in the public eye (would you eat your lunch in a stall?). The Australian Breastfeeding Association a great commercial that address that issue...

To give a little background: ten years ago I was trained as a lactation educator, during my early years as a WIC dietitian. I did a lot of counseling and teaching and preaching about breastfeeding before I had any real personal experience with my first baby. I expected nothing less than a glorious, easy experience with breastfeeding when Olivia was born. I was devastated when things didn't work out that way.

I struggled and cried and investigated and still didn't figure out how I could make enough milk so that Olivia could grow. With both babies I pumped for weeks and tried every breastfeeding contraption and device, herbal supplement, prescription medication, and any other thing that could possibly increase my milk supply, including ordering a medication not approved for use in the US from Australia. Nothing worked. The thing that DID work is that I had great support from Ryan and my colleagues from WIC and from many friends and sisters, and I was able to breastfeed both Olivia and Coleman for over a year. Many did not understand why it was so important to me and why I still campaign for breastfeeding education and support, so I'll climb up on my soapbox for a minute and explain:

Breastfeeding isn't something extra-ordinary or special or superior in any way, it's just normal. It's the normal way human babies should be fed, it's the normal nutrition that human babies need, and it's a normal part of the nurturing process between mother and child. Anything other than breastfeeding is sub-par and deficient.

Now, a word about formula--from someone who used formula in conjunction with breastfeeding--I am grateful that it has been developed and improved over the years (there have been some serious formula scares--with deficient nutrients and food safety issues) because without it, my babies may not have thrived or survived. Despite the fact that formula has improved over the years, it still isn't the best alternative to mother's milk.
The World Health Organization places it 4th behind milk straight from the mother's breast, expressed mother's milk, and banked human milk (banked human milk is available to purchase, but at around $3 an ounce, it's not a very affordable alternative). However, in our culture, formula is so readily available and it is considered an acceptable and equal alternative to breastfeeding. Formula should be the exception, rather than the rule. Everyone argues for "choice" and for letting moms choose how they want to feed their babies. I agree, we should all be able to choose, but let it be an informed choice. lists 101 reasons to breastfeed (and includes scientific research to back it all up).

Moms should know that formula fed babies are at increased risk for:
• Ear infections
• Overweight
• Viral infections
• Allergies
• Asthma
• Diabetes
• Diarrhea
• Childhood Cancers
• Rheumatoid Arthritis
• ...and more

Not breastfeeding also places mothers at increased health risks:
• Breast Cancer
• Ovarian Cancer
• Endometriosis
• Osteoporosis
• Anemia
• Postpartum Depression

And... some other fast facts about breastfeeding:
• Breastfeeding is normal.
• Breastfeeding is convenient.
• Breastfeeding strengthens a baby's immune system.
• Breastfeeding is environmentally friendly (think about the factories and emissions to make the formula, cans, and bottles--then the waste of the cans, not to mention the plastic in the bottles that has been banned in Canada because they leech dangerous chemicals into the formula).
• Breastmilk is free (and if more chose to breastfeed, our tax burden would be lower because of decreased costs at WIC and Medicaid).
• Breastmilk protects the intestines.
• Breastfeeding is calming for mom and baby.
• Breastmilk provides complete infant nutrition.

Of course there are breastfed babies who are not healthy, and likewise formula fed babies who are healthy (just as wearing a seatbelt doesn't guarantee that you won't die in a car wreck, nor will skipping the seatbelt guarantee that you will die in a car wreck), but overall statistics show that formula fed babies are at higher risk for so many problems. Don't parents deserve to know this information when they are making their choice? There will still be those who choose to use formula (just as people choose to drive or ride without a seatbelt, knowing the health risks) but families deserve to have this information before they make their choice.

There are some women who for reasons beyond their control have unsuccessful attempts at breastfeeding, but I propose that most women, with proper education and support can breastfeed successfully. There are other women who choose to bottle-feed, and I just hope that they make that choice with all of the facts in hand. As moms we need to help and support each other, whatever our choice and circumstances are. Maybe after this lengthy rant, you can understand why breastfeeding is supported here.
If you want more info about the Breastfeeding Cafe, visit the Utah Breastfeeding Coalition's website ( We have some fun Mother's Circles and free classes and events throughout the month. Stop by sometime during the month of August!

Climbing down from my soapbox now....


Christy P. said...

Nice post, Lisa, is there room on that soapbox for me now?

I especially like how you highlighted how important the support you got from your husband and friends and co-workers was to you. Every person that helps a mom learn to or continue to breastfeed is touching at least 2 lives and probably more.

And now a shameless plug - Aug 28th, 7pm at the City Library there will be a special Fathers Welcome La Leche League Enrichment Meeting.

Some dads may feel left out by breastfeeding because they aren't participating in that aspect of nurturing the baby, but by supporting the nursing pair, they are providing an invaluable service. Different jobs at different times for different people, but they are all important in the family.

Kristy said...

I am a breast feeding mamma and greatly appreciate all its benefits. I know it can be a struggle and am so glad that I was able to breastfeed all three.
P.S. I didn't know that you knew Christie P., we worked together at the Health Department and have been friends for several years!Small world.
P.S.S. I am going to be teaching a Nutrition class this fall and would love to have to be a guest speaker on this subject. I will be in touch.

Janene said...

I hate that I once fed Ben in a bathroom stall at a baseball game, I was afraid of how the crowd around me would react. Since there was not a bench in sight, private or otherwise, it was either that or sitting on the floor. Ridiculous. Thanks for working for a good cause!

Sally said...

Lisa, such kindred spirits, you and I. Nursing is the main reason I like children! I start to lactate even looking at a newborn. I loved nursing all three so much that some feared I would never wean them. I did, it just took me several years! ;) I love the term "lactivist", too. I would have been called one in our BYU ward when Grace was born, because the nursing room was always TOO TOO full and you had to nurse standing up (this didn't go over too well with me who was 2 weeks postpartum at the time and didn't know that I should still be home). So in that ward, it was my goal to nurse in sacrament meeting, covered up, of course, but not to leave just to feed her.

Victoria said...

Yeah BF'ing! I about caused a pregnant faculty member at my internship to pass out last week when I mentioned I BF'd Eva until she was well into her 2nd year.

LAURA and ELIZA said...

LISA!! You were a life saver when I was nursing Eliza. I look back and wish I'd done it longer than 6 months...maybe with the next one. Whats weird is I see the pictures of her when I was nursing and then pictures when I stopped and she was a way chubbier, happier baby when I nursed. BOO! I should've been more patient and less stressed. But, you were amazing! I would recommend you to anyone!

Nicole said...

Today was my first shift at the Cafe and it was so fun! I even just happened to see a high school classmate walk by with her 6 week old baby who is nursing every two hours and she was exhausted and ready to give up. We had a good chat and I talked her into giving it another 6 weeks. :) I really think most new moms just need someone telling them they are amazing and doing great. Who doesn't love a personal cheerleader??

I am SO looking forward to next week. I signed up for 2 hours with you. YAY!!!

Jen Young said...

Lisa, thank you so much for the advise and website you gave to me a few months back. My baby who is now 4 1/2 months old was a very fussy baby and screamed during some feedings and when it was time to eat. At times she would refuse to nurse for 7 hours straight. This was very stressful and painfull for me at times. You sent me some links to look up and I played with my diet and found out whenever I ate anything that had milk in it--or even dry milk she would struggle. I went off milk completely and she is a differnt baby. Happy all the time, goes to sleep when I lay her down, and just pleasant! To me it is so worth giving up dairy in my diet to nurse her. I am afraid of what formula would do for her at this time. I don't dare try either. I have really enjoyed learning about lactation and what helps nursing moms since I am also an RN. Thanks for all you do!!

Kristi said...

You are so good at what you do! Thanks for sharing this valuable information. I am glad to hear that you were able to nurse both of your kids after you thought your body was quitting on you. This always seems to happen to me, too. Brooke is still going strong at 6 months, and I am hoping to keep going with her. You are a great resource on this issue and I am sure I will call on you again for help!