Friday, May 17, 2013

Judging, Guilt, and the formula company...what is the StrongMoms Campaign really all about?

What is it about Moms, judgment, and guilt that can push a formula maker to support a campaign just about that very topic? In case you haven’t heard about Similac and the StrongMoms Campaign, you’re not missing out on much, except free formula to those Moms that sign up. The marketing tactic of this company at first seems innocent enough except they are benefiting with having another way to access your information. Attempting to help women stop fighting against each other meanwhile gaining access to your email address to bombard your inbox with coupons “too good to resist” seems sneaky and unethical by my book. Don’t get me wrong. I agree that judgment and guilt are terrible when it comes to the choices we make for our children. It starts with how we feed them, then toilet training them, how often we bathe them, and so on. However this campaign bothers me. Making formula is a business. A business just like any other that follows a business model to maintain or sustain levels of revenue made by a product. This product is in the form of milk that has been formulated to emulate breast milk. It exists for a reason but instead of being the exception, it has become the standard and just like any other business the formula makers in the 1930s and 40s saw an opportunity to make money then which still is true today. Their business benefited at a time when women were joining the workforce and pumps weren’t as efficient as they are today. For many years and several generations that’s what most Moms did, formula fed so the formula companies benefited. Now that this is changing, we are having a push from this business model to find a way in to market to Moms. In comes the StrongMoms campaign.

Now let’s explore this concept for a moment. What if there was a campaign using the same premise of not judging sponsored by McDonalds. Word for word this is what it would look like:

Take the Strong[Women] Empowerment Pledge

It’s not easy being a [Woman] in today’s world.

Women face tremendous pressure to make the “perfect”

[womanly] decisions, only to be judged or criticized by other [women].

I pledge to create a more supportive and less judgmental environment

by empowering [women] to feel good about the decisions they make.

…I took the pledge to support [women]. Strong[Women] EMPOWER

brought to you by McDonalds

What would you think was going on? Would you think…”oh look how nice, McDonalds is trying to be more supportive of women not judging each other?” Or would you question their motives especially when to “take the pledge” it requires you to give them your name and email address. None of it adds up. My apologies to McDonalds for having to use them as an example, and like it is said of formula, it exists for a reason and it has its place. Formula makers need to realize that breast milk is free and to compete with it, would mean convincing Moms that it is the same, when we know it isn’t. But because something isn’t the same doesn’t make it poison. Formula should just clean up their act and stop getting caught in controversial topics like Moms judging each other because in order to win that argument, they might have to go back to the beginning of time, when formula didn’t exists and yet I bet women still judged each other.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

So simple...a Caveman can do it. So Why Can't We?

The recent articles in the New York Times about breastfeeding and being ideal or not, have inspired me to once again write about the true issue at hand regarding the role breastfeeding plays.  The articles all are looking at how breastfeeding fits in, or in most cases, doesn't fit in to our modern society.  Breastfeeding is far from the basic easy tool or item you buy from Babies-R-Us;  this isn't even about "keeping up with the Jones'."  It is something that in today's society is looked at as something extra to do.  But if it is inconvenient, if it gets in the way of "returning to pre-pregnancy lives, including sleep, exercise, friendships, couple time" as it was written by Jane Brody in "The Ideal and Real of Breast-feeding" then it becomes something we abandon if any challenges appear.
Everyone is looking at someone to blame for the current rates of breastfeeding in the United States...the medical professionals not supporting it enough, the Moms not wanting to do it, and the programs and researchers that are trying to educate people about what is fact and what isn't.  Meanwhile authors such as Ms. Brody are doing a disservice to women telling them, it's your choice now because somehow doing so would be too huge a sacrifice.  Unfortunately, I'm not sure if she means children are too big a sacrifice or if the act of breastfeeding a child is.  Because having a child means learning to balance sleep needs, fitting in exercise, friendships, and time for intimacy as a couple as well as date nights.  This all happens regardless of breastfeeding.  This is a stressful time in our life--adding a new baby.  And luckily, our body actual provides itself a defense mechanism to help during this stressful time...breastfeeding.  Hormones released to help moms produce milk also help them relax.  That is Endocrinology and Neuroscience which is undoubtedly understood.  This process helps us complete the cycle of making a life.  We are better off because of it.

Another fact is undeniably true--breastfeeding is responsible for the survival of our species as written by Dr. Baumslag in "Milk, Money, and Madness".  We are here today because our ancestors were able to breastfeed from their mother.  There was no other option before until formula was designed to help sick babies get better and now somehow this same substitute for breastfeeding is supposed to be superior or equal to what we have been eating for the past 200,000 years.  Where's the logic in thinking that we are improving what we consume by making it man made using cow's milk?  These questions make me wonder... especially in a time when bagged lettuce and processed foods are making us more and more obviously sick than ever before.  So what is it going to take for us to learn that there are certain elements of our ancestry we need to carry on doing in order for our body to survive in a healthy state?  This isn't to say that formula is guaranteed to make you sick any more than breastfeeding will guarantee no illnesses.  Breastfeeding is the normal process and formula is the risky ingredient that can potentially alter what was supposed to happen naturally.  Our body is asking us to go through this process after the birth of a baby.  Not only for our body of course and not only for the nutrition of our child, but neuroscience also sheds light on the importance of breastfeeding from the brain's point of view.  Breastfeeding sets up the baby to have two very basic needs met; skin to skin contact with Mom providing protection; and a source of food for survival through breastfeeding.  Your baby expects to have both when born regardless of our modern society.  The more we learn to embrace it, the better off our children will be set up in their primitive brain which is the foundation of cognitive and emotional learning.  A baby that is skin to skin with mom and breastfeeding often in the first few days of life, is more likely to have lower levels of cortisol which is a stress hormone produced in our body.  They are less likely to cry from high stress levels...and guess what, the mom is also probably going to suffer from less stress having a calmer baby.  The more we understand the logic behind the science, the usefulness of the information to share with a soon-to-be mom, and the way it almost always works with the baby demonstrating these behaviors, the less likely the formula will be used as an alternative.

We are capable of doing this no matter what society expects by today's standards and we will all be better off for it in the end.  All we can and should do is to inform ourselves as much as possible.  Get help as soon as a challenge presents itself.  Let the authors continue writing about their forty-five year old breastfeeding experiences.  The new generations of breastfeeding moms will be rewriting the pages of our modern society the way we see it works best for humanity as a whole not our own narcissistic acute needs.  Breastfeeding is something that in a blink of an eye is over and the next thing we know, our child is off to kindergarten.  Give it a chance regardless of the roadblocks or naysayers.  Six months go by faster than it probably took to find time to exercise.  Let's prove to the world that we can do it.  That is my challenge to you.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Jaundice Dilemma and Good Questions to Ask

When you are a new Mom, you want nothing more than a healthy baby to take home.  Many times the medical condition such as Jaundice is a familiar term and something parents deal with as they learn to feed their baby.  Luckily it is not the threat it once was.  Jaundice is the condition that turns a baby's skin and eyes yellow.  In technical terms it means an elevated bilirubin.  Here's a complete explanation of Jaundice by Dr. Jack Newman:  Breastfeeding and Jaundice

One of the issues that a Mom is conflicted with is that the doctor typically tells her that she needs to stop breastfeeding and give formula to the baby because of Jaundice.  But if you understand the basic notion that babies with Jaundice need to feed frequently in order to flush what causes Jaundice in the first place, why would telling a Mom to give formula be the best option?  Formula in itself is difficult for a baby to digest, even less by a very newborn baby with a tiny stomach size.  It is a harder food to process since it is not compatible with human babies (human milk for human babies is).  So why do doctors tell Moms to formula feed a Jaundice baby?  That is a mystery that I will never understand.  Could it be the lack of knowledge?  What about not having enough time to assess how breastfeeding is going?  If doctors could take just a few minutes to assess breastfeeding and encourage a Mom to breastfeed more often to help her baby lower her baby's bilirubin levels, then why not do so?  Is it just easier to tell someone to feed x amount of formula just to guarantee the amount a baby eats?  Perhaps.  But even so wouldn't breastmilk be the preferred food in the bottle.  Many newborns have a hard time digesting formula and end up with a harder elimination process.  So if the goal is to get baby to eat and poop more often what do Moms need to do?  They need to avoid formula that can constipate and make babies sleepy, and breastfeed more often.  Now if only the AAP could get more doctors on-board with this...since we can't change that, what about becoming more active patients in the doctor's office?  Here are some suggestions:

If your baby is diagnosed with Jaundice, be sure to ask your doctor the following questions before feeding formula to your baby:
- I am very committed to breastfeeding, can you explain why formula is the only alternative?
- How long do I need to formula feed my baby?
- Help me understand what are the benefits of formula feeding my baby because of the Jaundice?
- What if I feed the baby my milk in a bottle instead?

Asking these questions can help your doctor realize how important breastfeeding is to you.  Even if the recommendation still comes down to giving your baby formula for a short period of time, then be sure to follow what La Leche League calls the 3 Keep's:  Keep the baby fed, Keep the milk flowing, and Keep trying.  Once your doctor has given you the green light to resume breastfeeding, then you will have the ability to do so. Don't give up and play an active role in your child's medical care from day one because not even your doctor is perfect and they need a little reminder once in a while.

Our Peer Counseling program sees many cases of babies with Jaundice that thrive better on breastmilk than they do on formula.  Typically with formula you get drowsy and constipated babies.  On breastmilk, babies feed often, poop often, and thrive.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Parenting is Tough...No Matter How "Simple" You Try To Make It

When I was recently handed the latest edition of "Breastfeeding Answers: Made Simple," a 900 page book, I asked myself, "what is so simple about that (talking about the size of the book)!?"  and I figured no wonder people get turned off by's not as simple as we present it to be.  While I understand the thoroughness of the author in writing this book (she's been writing it for quite sometime and this is her 2010 edition) , I'm guessing that anyone that would attempt breastfeeding and found this book, might run in the opposite direction.  But the truth is the word "simple" isn't one that should be associated with parenting or any activity related to parenting.  I don't know any parent that has had it entirely simple and easy...because it wasn't designed to be that way.  Even for the most easy-going person, parenting is a time to get to know someone on a whole different level and it can test every limit you know because you are in your own uncharted territory.  You're getting to know someone that is a little person that requires a lot of love, care, empathy, and comfort during the tough times that you might face with teething, illnesses, and just plain womb-sick, my idea of home sick--from the womb.  On top of getting to know that person with all of these complications, you are getting to know yourself now as a parent.  You now have graduated from one or two adults in love to, two adults and a little person.  And that little person is here to change you and your significant other in every way possible.  And here's the tricky part: It isn't easy and no one knows you and your child better than you do BUT as I have found, learning from what others have done to make their parenting experience more pleasant is definitely worthwhile.  No parent should ever claim to know or have all the answers.  All we have our ideas that may or may not work.  But it is up to us as parents of that little one person to give it a try and make things better in our relationship with our child.  As I jokingly mentioned to some friends over the weekend, I figure my kids look at me like I'm a clown--constantly making them laugh, cry, scream, grunt (the latest tactic my kids are using to intimidate each other), and when they're upset about something I pull out all the balls I have (both literal and figurative) and start tossing them up in the sky for me to juggle and them to see.  The more balls I throw, the more tricks I end up doing and as long as I can keep them going something is bound to work.  And that's all that parenting is.  Kids need to know we can juggle as we try to figure out a way to get through whatever life throws our way.

As for isn't simple!  It can be pretty complicated and while juggling our new life, some of us are tempted to try things that may make our juggling act less crazy.   But if for you this is one that goes under the "must-do" category just like all other baby caring activities, then you must realize that feeding your baby any other way will not "simplify" your life.  With all the growing information out there about how risky it is to give formula to infants it might complicate your life and your baby's in the long run.  One of the many reasons Moms give up on Breastfeeding their infant is that it is too stressful and difficult.  What we have found in our program is that this is true for most parents...and surprisingly those are two things all parents struggle with!  Not because they are breastfeeding but because they are now parents.  Parenting is difficult and stressful! And surrounding ourselves with people that help us keep our sense of humor, live life no matter what gets handed to us, and reminding us that there is a light at the end of the tunnel either with time things getting better or by giving us suggestions and tools to try, makes us better, more well-rounded people through the process of learning.  We learn to recognize the humanity we all need to share with others especially with our children.  So our children really can make a difference in our lives--if we let them.  And while we have our share of tough days, in the end they are worth it because we end up coming out of it learning something new about ourselves.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

How I Survived a Master's Program...while being a Mom

Today marks the last step I needed to take in order to complete my degree at Cal. Lutheran University having taken the Comprehensive Exam and completed my program. While I had considered doing my thesis project on creating a network for Moms based on their own community to help them with their breastfeeding goal, I have decided to concentrate more on the aspect of working for programs already in place. That is why I am proud to be the Supervisor of the Peer Counseling Program at Northeast Valley Health Corporation WIC Program in Sylmar, CA—I am actively participating in the implementation of a federal program at the street-level. The ideas that I had to revisit in order to prepare for the six hour long strenuous exam reminded me of the highlights of this program and the important aspects to carry on as I move forward with my career in Public Administration.

But never did I imagine that those same key components would also serve as useful in my life as a parent. The ideas of Mary Parker Follett, which defines the concept of power-with and how the traditional model of power-over is not sustainable. Every parent should learn that this same concept can be applied to our own power struggles with our kids. Her idea is that power-over someone, similar to the dominant paradigm idea in parenting “just do as I say” cannot be maintained without constantly having to use more power every time. I see this all the time with my 4 year old son which is why I try to empower him as much as possible to figure it out on his own. Today after trying every other way to help him understand, I finally resorted to sitting down with him to draw out a feelings chart. With a simple smiley, crying, sad, and mad face, I was able to help him understand how hitting me and his sister makes us feel. He really seemed to get it. I don’t know how long that will last but at least it gives him a visual tool for figuring out feelings, whether his or someone else, and how important it is to be aware of the impact we have on others. I gave him a responsibility not to hit his sister or me and a tool to use to visually understand feelings. Sometimes it really helps to draw out versus simply talking about it. Today this worked. Tomorrow is a new day and as anticipated will come with its own set of opportunities.

In my world of parenting, I am not perfect, I don’t know what I’m talking about every time, but I strive to live in an inward learning environment and am apt to testing out theories as a way to connect when nothing else helps. Not always does change have to happen outwardly in others but usually inwards in the way we perceive a problem, solution, or state of being. It is that learning environment that makes all aspects of life more tolerable. The more rigid we are to that environment, the harder time we will have as we learn to adapt and be a part of the reality of our life versus what we think should be happening. Allowing ourselves to exist in that learning environment is the way we have survived, not only in the programs we implement, but also how our ancestors survived the conditions they were exposed to. There are certain aspects that we should learn from that past as we move forward as a society. Parenting is not easy but if we anticipate certain aspects of it, we will be more willing to adapt. Flexibility and adaptability seem to be a common thread of most ideas: at work, at home, with our kids. Those are the tools that I see across the board in life that not only prepare me as a public administrator but also with my job as a Mom and Wife.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Erica Jong and Her Mother Madness

So it seems that the article published in the Wall Street Journal by Erica Jong has really hit a nerve for those that have read it. My initial response was defensive and aggressive. Those of you that know me, know that I find a way to settle down and realize what is really going on before writing about something I am passionate about. In this case I needed to think about what the article was really saying. After a few days of marinating the ideas Ms. Jong talks about, here is my response. Overall her article is trying to tell moms reading the WSJ, keeping in mind who the target audience reading this newspaper is, to not feel guilty when parenting, she does it by criticizing those Moms that are doing things that she considers "attachment parenting."

Not only does she attack the idea of cloth diapering, breastfeeding, carrying your baby in a sling, co-sleeping, making your own baby food, and other aspects of AP, she also attacks Dr. Sears, a doctor that has science on his side. Unfortunate for her, the ideas of Attachment Parenting have been greatly studied and are actually the way that humans have been raised since our existence. While it is true we don't live in the Stone Age anymore, it has become the trend to study some of these habits still practiced in villages across the globe. Much of the research is very encouraging for those that chose this type of parenting style. The University of Notre Dame has conducted studies that show that much of what AP and other parenting styles that encourage breastfeeding and continually holding your child, shows a higher ability to become independent, secure, trusting, moral individuals with a high self-esteem and empathy towards others. Isn't that what every parent hopes to reach in raising their child? Her article also mentions AP as if the parents that practice this type of parenting are extremist deep-end parents that don't allow others to care for their children. Well Ms. Jong is deeply incorrect. Most of the AP practicing parents that I have met are parents that look for other like-minded families, creating a tribe or village in which they know their children will feel safe in and the parents feel safe congregating their children among. If only Ms. Jong had actually taken a moment to perhaps understand this type of parenting style a bit more. If she did, it isn't apparent in her article.

Finally, it is important to emphasize the one thing that she does mention only at the end of her article worth valuing: " the best you can. There are no rules." This statement is very true and one that I hold close to my heart because had I followed the rules, I probably would not have breastfed my child. I would not have listened to my instincts because much of what she says, many people think and are not reluctant to tell you. Many times I was told from complete strangers to people in my own family and friends,"your baby should be sleeping through the night by 3 months, your baby needs to cry it out to learn how to sleep, your baby isn't full--give him formula." I tried some of these rules and they didn't work for my family--it isn't fair to make one parenting style invalid and wrong in order to make others not feel guilty. Usually for me, guilt rises when I start to compare myself to other people and what they are or aren't doing.

Ms. Jong if you truly had every intention on helping those Wall Street Journal career moms feel better about working 50 hours a week, it would have been better to spend the pages of this prestigious newspaper writing about how comparing your parenting styles to others are what make for a guilty society. Comparing yourself to a mom that is a stay at home mom when you are unable to is where the guilt takes over. Instead it would have been valuable to reassure career moms that it isn't always quantity that is important but quality. Quality of a good caretaker at home or the day care center where your child is. Quality of time spent when you are home with your child doing things that build your relationship up with trust and love. That is what is the most important.

As for attacking Madonna, Angelina Jolie, and Gisele Bundchen, I'm not even certain what she was hoping to do there. No one I know looks up to these individuals because they are merely entertainers even when it is their real lives, it is still entertainment to the rest of us. If she wants us to take her seriously, she needs to present some research and studies done that state mothering/parenting in this way is madness. Until then, this just seems like another article written by a feminist stuck in the past. It's time to move forward and realize we are not our parent's generation...a generation keep in mind that has been labeled one of the "most selfish, self-absorbed, and self-preserving generations." In fact in another article written by Professor Gregory Foster, titled "Baby Boomers: The Ungreatest Generation" he writes speaking about his generation that "our most visible members are unrepentantly shameless self-promoters, intent on being someone rather than doing something." I think in this case, Ms. Jong is more focused on being a feminist rather than being an example of a career mom. She fits the bill here, and unfortunately for her most of the moms today are of another generation and be it reactionary (as she calls it) or wanting to not be like our parents, we are armed with studies proving that what we are doing can help make the next generation a better society. While I know that doing all that I do as a mother doesn't guarantee that my child will be a genius or never get sick, I know that I've done the best that I could, in an informed and well-educated manner.

To read Ms. Jong's article, click here.

For more information on the research done by the University of Notre Dame, click here.

To read Professor Gregory's article, click here.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Election Night - November 2nd, 2010

Last night, I had a chance to view the election results from a different perspective than the usual television recap. I was able to attend an election night party, which quickly turned into a victory party for one Ventura County candidate. Regardless of partisanship, it was a group of hardworking people that believed in someone that is a great candidate and now is the Assemblymember elect in his district. This is what it's all about...actually participating in the governmental process of electing an official in your area that you believe in.

Jeff Gorell, whom I first met as my professor at CLU, will make for a great legislator in Sacramento and not because he promises to do a good job but because he knows that to work in Sacramento it means getting along with everyone in order to get things done--even those that differ in ideology. I am excited to see someone in office who not only understands the way government works but also sees both sides of the coin. I get the impression that for him it is more about becoming a statesman and I look forward to seeing this politician work his way to becoming the next hardworking politician to shake things up in Capitol Park. There really is a lot of work to be done. The legislatures approval rating is still at an all time low but not because of the people there necessarily. The budget process needs reform and this election hopefully paved the way for something to change.

I hope that with the passing of Prop 25, making the vote to pass the budget a majority (more than half of the legislators votes) rather than super majority (a 2/3 requirement of votes) will make it easier to get work done. While there is some controversy on whether this will indeed help, we can only find out by trying it out. The recent problems Sacramento's Capitol Park is experiencing are coming from the same place as the nation's capital...polarization. Political polarization in recent years has kept good policies from passing. Extreme groups on both sides of the spectrum pretty much keep anything from actually happening. As most of us have seen in recent years, this has not been productive. This is what is wasting government dollars. Extremism is not only in the terrorist groups that are constantly thinking up ways to hurt also exists within our own country. The extremism of the two major political groups is keeping the nation from moving in any direction and holding it hostage. Just like everything else in life...moderation is the only way to a balance in government. Let's not forget that government is for and of the people. The polarization exists because we have created it and allow it to continue to flourish among us.

I hope everyone had a chance to vote ballot was both blue and red in color and not because I was going for a colorful ballot but because I took the time to really find out about the candidates online and voted accordingly. With the internet, namely google, there is more opportunity to do some homework before getting to the booth. Hopefully those choices made during this election will reflect the general opinion of the public. Ultimately this is what the government is supposed to achieve with an election. Let us hope that those elected will do the job to the best of their ability.