Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Business Case for BREASTFEEDING: Steps for Creating a Breastfeeding Friendly Worksite: Update

I've been working on the National Worksite Breastfeeding Support for Employers of Overtime Eligible Employees: Innovative Strategies for Success project over the past several weeks now -- to gain information on how businesses around the country are accommodating working women who also choose to breastfeed -- or in my case, how they are doing so across Washington State -- and it's been just a tad more challenging than I would have imagined. I'm not complaining about the work. Not at all. But for some reason I figured many places would be more than willing to allow me to visit -- you know, welcome me with open arms. But that's not necessarily been the case. Many places echo the same sentiments of an aging workforce with many employees beyond their childbearing years, and many have state there's never been the need for any type of space for a woman to express breast milk. I've also been surprised that some really big entities refuse -- simply because I'm there to highlight the positive aspects of the way they accommodate women -- and tell the entire country about it, through a fairly easy process which only requires a visit to the location, interviewing someone knowledgeable of the lactation services -- usually a Human Resources Department Representative, and also an employee who has used the station, take a few pictures then I'm on my way. After that, I'll upload the information onto the national database, and that's it!

Something else I've notices is the women who say 'Yes' (and it's always a woman) are passionate about breastfeeding! They have a vested interest in the initiative, know what breastfeeding has to offer, have used the lactation rooms themselves, or have gone through their own struggles with being able to -- or not being able to pump at work. They also have usually played a hand in organizing and setting up the space -- painting and decorating, and encouraging others by spreading the word. When I come into contact with a male figures and tell them who I am and what I'm doing, I can almost see the question marks lingering over their heads and hear the "And how do I have anything to do with this?" inflection in their voices.

Overall, though, I am really enjoying the experience, and am excitedly learning the ways of each company's services. I am finding many places usually already have some kind of designated space available for an employee to use -- one who feels ill, needs to administer an insulin injection or something of that sort. And though I'm not getting approvals from the places I really want to visit -- those farm and field workers, mines, and other sites where access for these women would seem very challenging -- those marginalized areas, I have walked away in awe of the accommodations of some -- like providing hospital-grade breast pumps in each lactation room for employees that everyone, regardless of rank, has access to. Or infant cribs installed so a child can nap, or a nursling being brought to the mother's work on her lunch break. I still must recognize even though the places I visit (which are all required to have at least 30% hourly-paid workers), are looking awesome so far, there is even privilege in those places. I know many other companies do not have these types of accommodations, or a designated space, and I think about the credentials required of the employee and the role formal education play, and how in spite of a federal law, this affects access and treatment in much of these circumstances. And who can afford and not afford their own breast pump.

The information I have gathered will be up on the national database soon, and I will update this site and provide information on the places I have already and will continue to visit, and hopefully it will provide some uniqe ways to overcome any barriers your company, or another you know of may have faced. Also remember, if you work for or know of a business anywhere in the U.S. that has a lactation station that should be highlighted, visit the Every Mother Website and submit the info!

This GORGEOUS "pumping-in-session" work-site door tag is via itsbetterathome Wordpress blog.
Click to read the inspiration behind it -- Revolutionary Breastfeeding Goddess #8: Finding Space.

To IBCLC or to not IBCLC? That is the question

I've been thinking a lot about becoming a Certified Lactation Consultant through the International Board of Certified Lactation Examiners versus working towards the goal of Certified Lactation Counselor. I got into a conversation with a friend of mine who is the one who really started me thinking about it. Actually, we talked plenty about the IBCLC program, school and a few other things on the topic, and when I talked to her about the reasons behind why I'm here interested in human lactation, and what my plans are she started talking to me about other avenues, saying IBCLC may not be necessary. This conversation really left me thinking. So much so that I've been going over this in my head, and really started to do a comparison of the two.

Becoming an IBCLC, means one has an extensive understanding of human lactation. It is the highest credential available for health care professionals who specialize in the area, and is seen as having the most thorough knowledge -- an expert. It's like having a PhD in the lactation world. Sort of. There are many requirements on the path to becoming certified, including general education courses from an accredited institution, accumulating clinical hours (working or volunteering specifically towards lactation in a supervised environment), and taking other lactation-specific education classes. Once completed, and after passing an exam that is administered worldwide only one day per year by the IBCLE, a Lactation Consultant can work in various settings, including Dr.s offices and hospitals, and earn quite competitive salaries. It even allows consultants to have their own practice and bill insurance companies for services. Some of the benefits of a Lactation Consultant are below, but a much more comprehensive list can be viewed from the Norma Ritter, IBCLC website:

  • Adjusting to life with a newborn
  • Adoptive nursing
  • Anesthesia
  • Baby wearing
  • Biting
  • Bottles 
  • Breast refusal
  • Choosing a pump
  • Cleft lip/cleft palate 
  • Colic
  • Cultural issues
  • Dealing with criticism
  • Dental and oral health
  • Disabled or handicapped mothers or babies
There is no denying the role of IBCLCs; that they have made a tremendous impact on mother and baby, and can be thanked for countless successful breastfeeding outcomes and other areas where they have served, and I definitely admire their work! However, when I visited a site dedicated to those pursuing a Certified Lactation Counselor program, here are some of the things I read:

Certified Lactation Counselors (CLCs) are individuals who have successfully completed the Healthy Children Project’s Certified Lactation Counselor Training Program, [or another program through a different organization] an Accredited ANCC Nursing Skills Competency Program™∗ and are also certified by the Academy of Lactation Policy and Practice (ALPP).

Here are a few key points that stood out. CLCs:
  • Construct and maintain conditions that predispose mothers and babies to an uncomplicated breastfeeding experience through counseling, education and support.  
  • Develop a care plan specific to the needs identified through assessment
    and counseling  
  • Ability to use appropriate, effective and sensitive communication skills. 
  • Ability to apply the concept of an individualized approach to counseling and management of breastfeeding. There is more information on CLCs here.

When I read about and thought on this, becoming a Certified Lactation Counselor appears it would provide more of a qualitative approach to breastfeeding, and seems to touch the areas that resonate with what I want to do. I like looking at those things at the center of lower breastfeeding rates and presenting information to people, and hope to continue to do this with individuals and in large and small groups, through awareness and advocacy. I have no desire to work in a hospital or any other type of clinical setting. And as I've given more and more thought on Public Health and Anthropology, this is something that just may work out even better for my overall endeavor; and I especially like the one-size does not fit all approach.

The coursework and hours completed for a Certified Lactation Counselor are requirements for IBCLC, so if I happen to change my mind down the road and if it's within the five year time frame required by the Board, I can just continue towards that 'Lactation PhD'. So not only is this a great start, it will allow me to nicely gauge my path.

In my breastfeeding advocacy, I hope to continue looking at more than just the clinical or mechanical aspects of breastfeeding -- attaching an infant to it's mother's breast; there's just so much more to the story. And it takes so much more to combat disparities. I want to explore the theoretical -- the cultural, social, political, historical, interpersonal and many other areas that are always at the forefront, that hinders greater success and continue challenging these. But I certainly don't need those credentials behind my name in order to promote the ritual and make a difference, or to help out with matters in those other categories -- cultural criticism, adjusting to life with a newborn, colic, babywearing and several others. And even though receiving certification through the International Board of Certified Lactation Examiners would give me 'status' and most likely provide a salary I definitely could never expect as a professor of anthropology, I can gain invaluable information outside of this mainstream trajectory, and increase my knowledge and understanding of the area through the actual lived experiences of people around me. I just may like what CLC has to offer instead -- actually talking to someone about breastfeeding -- learning their ways and thoughts; You know, getting to know somebody, and encouraging them along the way. 

Update: I talked to someone about the programs for CLC, and was told that instead of Lactation Counselor, CLE (Certified Lactation Educator) is a very viable option for many in the area, and "qualifies persons to teach, support, and educate the public on breastfeeding and related issues." I'll do my research on this one as well, and will absolutely keep you posted!

Breastfeeding FAQs from a NON-Crunchy Sistah (Video)

This is such an great video! This YouTube user talks about her initiation of nursing, and tells us about her progression. She shares that before she became a mom the breastfeeding women around her were all crunchy, granola, hippie-type women she could not identify with -- which reminds me of this article on Black women's personas and breastfeeding -- It Takes All Types. The very encouraging part -- the influence of someone close to her, who changed her views on the way infants were fed, and those progressed form believing breastfeeding was not something she saw herself doing and not knowing much about, to actually doing it, to nursing all four of her children, to it now being something "near and dear" to her heart!

In this video, not only does she give practical advice such as recognizing if baby is receiving enough milk, but she talks about myths, body image, and even discusses breastfeeding while working and going to school.

I'm so happy we have people in our lives close to us that are able to influence us in this way. And I'm so thankful for videos like these I come across, since this is one of the most encouraging ones I've seen. Thank you, YouTuber Ejahi, for uploading this for the world to see!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Breastfeeding and Guilt

I almost remember the conversation like it happened yesterday, but it was actually 2007 or 2008. I was in my car headed to replenish my supply of skin care products, and was on my cell phone with one of my closest friends. We were talking about abortion and breastfeeding (a conversation where she managed to change my outlook on abortion and free will, btw). When I arrived in the parking lot at the mall the conversation intensified as we began talking about our own ideas on the reasons someone may not breastfeed.

Breastfeeding has never been an option for me. What I mean by this is, during the period in my life when I saw myself with my own biological children, providing anything other than nourishment from my own body NEVER crossed my mind! Not even once. And just a bit more insight on my background, I was also a smoker. Had been for a while -- about 8-9 years at that point, when I was thinking of having children. This is not something I'm bragging about, but it's the truth. I figured since I was planning my pregnancy back then, I would just quit once I found out or right before. That day at the mall I was on the phone with a friend who, because of a low milk supply, did not breastfeed, and who was concerned that by questioning women on why they did not or do not breastfeed it may "Make someone feel bad!" since we don't know the story. That is when I responded "Sometimes people need to feel bad!" Of course I was not directing this at her, but my intent was to say women who can breastfeed and just decide not to, need to feel guilty sometimes. I recalled that conversation when I read a post 'Breastfeeding and Guilt' by Jack Newman. Here is an excerpt:
If a pregnant woman went to her physician and admitted she smoked a pack of cigarettes, is there not a strong chance that she would leave the office feeling guilty for endangering her developing baby? If she admitted to drinking a couple of beers every so often, is there not a strong chance that she would leave the office feeling guilty? If a mother admitted to sleeping in the same bed with her baby, would most physicians not make her feel guilty for this even though it is, in fact, the best thing for her and the baby? If she went to the office with her one week old baby and told the physician that she was feeding her baby homogenized milk, what would be the reaction of her physician?
I agree with all of those things from the article the author stated would cause someone to make a pregnant woman feel guilt. I do believe women who admit to smoking a pack of cigarettes (or even a single cigarette) during pregnancy would be made to feel guilty, in the very likely event she was questioned by her physician. I do believe if she admitted to drinking a couple of beers every so often there is a strong chance she would leave the office feeling guilty. I do believe if a mother admitted to sleeping in the same bed with her baby, even though it is in fact, the best thing for the baby, most physicians would make her feel guilty. Or, if she gave her one-week-old baby homogenized milk, can only imagine the reaction of the physician.

I have given plenty of thought to those things mentioned above, and then some. And I agree with it all --including the tactics of formula companies to try and remove this feeling of committing an offense in order to push infant formula and continue building their empire. I know that there are risks associated with using formula and those have consequences, which is what myself and plenty other advocates are working against. But since that conversation with my friend and while reading this article, I have come to see things a bit differently. It's not that I don't believe women should breastfeed their babies at any opportunity, but have begun to understand there is a larger picture that is too often overlooked and extends beyond a woman's blatant refusal to nurse her child. This is not to say women do not have agency or a mind of their own, but I question those many areas of social inequality I know stand in the way -- the ability, culture, structural barriers, literacy, racism, body image issues and many other facets, including lack of support, and question advocates who sit around and point fingers at these 'perpetrators' on all their 'shortcomings' and wrong-doings, lecturing them on the importance of mother's milk. I wonder what they, me, you -- we are doing besides our continued utterance of how 'breast is best'? How are we working to tear down structural violence to counter injustice in various forms -- to level the playing field?

I not only recognize the role of inequality, but on a daily basis I examine my actions, my intent, and my  adherence of ways I support a structure that fortifies this, and believe this idea comes from a place where I know I play a part in upholding these types of barriers and try to make necessary changes. But simply running around hollering about the benefits of breastmilk, and telling everyone how 'Breast is Best!' or making someone feel guilty about not doing so, just doesn't cut it. The reasons for who is breastfeeding and who isn't and why needs to be continuously explored through more than just a surface gaze, but through an actual critical examination of those many systems of injustice that continue to occupy that precious space between infant and breast. And question why we continue to allow this. This is just the classic case of a white male unable to think outside of his privilege and recognize the role he plays in creating and supporting barriers. And we mindlessly support him when we point our fingers and attempt to absolve ourselves of the guilt we endlessly try and assign to everyone else. I suggest we direct this energy to create true, lasting social change by challenging the countless reasons behind the disparities.

Public Health + Anthropology?

Perhaps. I visited a once-teacher of mine from community college a couple of weeks ago -- a cultural anthropologist (PhD), and one I'm happy to have kept in touch with. And I guess I shouldn't say a 'once-teacher,' since I'm definitely still learning from her. I was talking to her about breastfeeding and what I'm doing at the moment, the project I'm working on with the Breastfeeding Coalition of Washington, and my plans on becoming an IBCLC. While we spent some time talking about education (as we always do), she suggested a program at the University of Washington that is a concurrent MPH and PhD -- the Doctoral would be in cultural anthropology, of course.

I won't go into detail right now about how I always find myself going back and forth with what I believe is the commodification of formal institutions I often find myself at odds with -- that often interferes with my desire to work towards a doctoral degree. I fear it will widen the space between communities I want to represent, and ironically those communities are the reasons I even went to school. It's a double-edged sword. But I also love what I do! I love working towards a goal of getting more Black women to breastfeed! I love examining ways to use what I have learned studying anthropology to greater represent underrepresented populations, and bridging social and cultural misunderstandings between groups! I love exploring areas that are overlooked! And I love that I am able to give the practices of this discipline a more public view, and get people excited about it. I love my field almost to a fault! But public health?

Maybe this sounds strange considering the reasons I'm even here -- to decrease disparities in the Black community. But I have only ever seen myself doing applied cultural anthropology -- using my 'anthropological expertise to solve contemporary problems' as a Black feminist anthropologist. I have only ever visualized working on the social and cultural aspects to critique and challenge inequality at the foundation and raise radical social and self awareness among our women, men and children through righteous action, participatory action research and critical ethnographies. I've not visualized a biological or even bio-cultural approach. Or, through those avenues mentioned in the image above -- surveillance, monitoring, risk -- at least it has not been on my agenda. But maybe I'm more ignorant about public health than I give myself credit.

I know there are many anthropologists and breastfeeding advocates who earn advanced degrees in Public Health -- but it just never occurred to me I may be one of them. I am definitely going to give this a lot more thought and look into it because it's definitely worth it. And even though my professor told me the sad but true story that a class referencing 'mother's milk' in the title will draw less students than one with something general like 'Environmental Anthropology' (another subject we were talking about),  I can already visualize The Anthropology of Human Lactation as a course offering.

Breastfeeding Legislation in Seattle

This important email about the Seattle Women's Commission in the living room of the City Council, showed up on my inbox the other day, and I want to spread the word since it's a chance to voice your thoughts on the importance of women's breastfeeding rights in public spaces:
The Seattle Women's Commission will be introducing legislation to the Seattle City Council Civil Rights committee on April 4, 2012 at 2pm that would protect Breastfeeding Women from discrimination in public places such as restaurants. This legislation would make it illegal for breast feeding women in Seattle to be asked to cover up, leave or move to a more secluded place to breastfeed their babies while in public places.
We would like to invite breastfeeding women to come help us fill City Council Chambers and show the City Council that this issue is important. Breastfeeding provides a healthy start for our children and women who choose to breastfeed should be able to so without facing discrimination by being told to cover up, move or leave public places.
Who should attend?  
Women who are breastfeeding, women who breastfed, partners of women who breastfed, men, women and children and any organizations who support the rights of women! Everyone is invited to come and show the City Council that the rights of women MATTER! 
What can you do to help?  
Spread the word and invite others to attend to show the City Council that breastfeeding women should not have to face discrimination. ATTEND THE CITY COUNCIL BRIEFING on April 4 at 2pm at Seattle City Hall in City Council Chambers, members of the public can offer comments/testimony in support of the legislation in the first 20 minutes of the meeting. Be sure to get there early and sign up and let them know why the right of women to breastfeed their babies are important to you!
The rights of women to breastfeed their babies is important to me, and as I've said before I still believe working to change the foundation of structural and cultural aspects of our society, eradicating the need for laws in place to 'protect breastfeeding women' in public will be our best interest. But the natural and extremely important benefit of breastfeeding for everyone needs this attention at the City Council. RSVP on the Facebook invite page, then go -- Seattle City Hall. 600 4th Ave. I'll see you there!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Breastfeeding Summit: ROSE Conference Update

I just opened my email and noticed I received the postcard for the ROSE conference, happening in July, and wanted to post it here. I'm not sure if it's the finished version, but if not I'll post a revised as soon as they do. Ya girl is listed on the bottom right.

Those Free Breastfeeding Books...and the Audacity of Blackness

At the Annual Breastfeeding Meeting last week, I sat next to an older (50ish) white woman, who had something very interesting to say. We shared our stories of what brought us to the realm of breastfeeding advocacy, before we got on the subject of the free breastfeeding books offered by the Department of Women's Health. Those free books come in different languages, and are written to be specific to different cultural groups. I'm assuming the policies must have changed over the past several months, since from what I knew (and when I ordered them myself), each address was allowed 25 of each book per month. As she and I continued that conversation, she started telling me about the African American texts, and that the "white texts" (as she stated) -- the general ones, the Department only allowed one copy. She said she works with quite a number of African American mothers, so she is fortunate to be able to have an abundance of those, but for her white patients, would "feel strange giving them a book that caters to African Americans."

I didn't respond to her comment like I usually would have, since I think I'm getting to the point where I feel I should pick and choose the time I decide to respond to such things. I also had very little sleep the night before and didn't have the energy to drag that moment out into a potential long discussion and possible debate, and the meeting was also soon starting. But looking back, part of me wishes I would have said something. Anything. The ignorance in what she said in her belief that books that are supposedly supposed to cater to 'African Americans' could not be of any use to white audiences. And I think if I had said something what would it be? Maybe I would have told her about a recent video I saw on YouTube about the normalization of white bodies in movies, and everywhere else -- that also went into the supposed colorblind ethics of our society, that says to overlook color, but in actuality only continues to benefit the cohesiveness of whiteness, since white culture is normalized and this would continue to marginalize everyone else. Maybe I would have told her if she only opened her eyes, women Of Color are made invisible in breastfeeding texts (you know, those ones not written specifically by a WOC) and are tacitly and explicitly made to assimilate to whiteness that continues to place white culture and white women at the center. Or how the books she's talking about offered by the government, to me, are actually nothing more than a murmur of the lifestyles and experiences of white people, just with painted faces of Blacks, Latinas, Native Americans, Asians. Really!  How many times can I say this?!

I also ate lunch at a table with two other white women -- IBCLCs. One in particular who said she once talked to Kathy Barber, author of The Black Woman's Guide to BREASTFEEDING, and founder of the African American Breasfeeding Alliance, about making the group more inclusive, and was told in so many words 'no' because when Black women attend meetings (I'm quite sure she was talking about LLL and others), we cannot find ourselves in them. Although I do not excuse this, I can appreciate the viewpoint of my lunchmates -- wanting more inclusiveness, much more than the other lady's xenophobia, and fear of offending white women with a text filled with Black mothers and Black babies.

I know these types of sentiments are not only reflected on the experiences of Black women and our traditions, which is what I told the women at lunchtime as I talked about Native American breastfeeding. But I'm absolutely not surprised by the ignorance in what she said, and the nonsense she spoke of. The insularity of whiteness, and the obliviousness of white people -- at its finest.

Breastfeed Ya' Baby (Video)

The Breastfeed Chant is made by the YouTube channel, breasfeedie, and inspired by the adorable baby in the image. The video has a mother, father and even a Lactation Consultant and tells the story of the importance of breastfeeding for health, social and practical reasons, to a skeptical friend.

I couldn't get this catchy song out of my head, and apparently out of my mouth because I gave my nieces and nephew a ride to school, and by the time they got out of the car, my six-year old nephew kept singing 'breastfeed ya' baby'. That made me smile. Gotta start 'em off young. But of course his biggest influence was that he was breastfed for two years -- and he probably still would if he could.

Here are some of the beginning lyrics:

I don't like the look that you're giving me.
Your baby sees your breast, that's not like me.
Oh, really. Well, what is? Something Plastic?
Come on, Kanisha, no need to get drastic.
Well, I can't help it, I'm passionate about it. My breastmilk -- I can't see him without it.
Wait. Let me back up, perhaps you don't understand. So let me break it down for you -- Me and my man, you need to Breastfeed Ya' Baby.

Dinner with Breastmilk

@DoulaKeva posted these Recipes √† la Breastmilk from the web, to Twitter the other day. They're not specific to lactating mothers -- meaning, they are not ones designed to help increase milk supply. They're for everyone! And looks like they've got something for every meal. I have to say most of them sound pretty tasty -- especially the Vanilla Breast Milk Cupcakes with Strawberry Frosting, the fruit delight, macaroni, and well, a lot of them. I also found a recipe from the Flatnipples Blog about her attempt at breast milk ice cream.

I can honestly say I would be willing to eat meals made with breast milk! I am a big green smoothie drinker, and the Public Health Smoothie sounds awesome and healthy. And I also am really interested in the soap, too. Here are the ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup water 
  • 1/4 cup lye (NaOH) 
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil 
  • 1/2 cup cocoa butter 
  • 1 cup breastmilk

I can imagine the wonders this soap would do for my skin.... well, except for the lye, and all, and I'd probably use olive or coconut oil instead of the vegetable oil. But what about you? Would you or have you ever had a dish a La breastmilk?

Transgendered Men and Breastfeeding

Someone tweeted this article from the Milk Junkies website about transgendered men and lactation, which I thought was awesome, since I'd been on the hunt and it's not something you hear everyday. The article provides information for lactation educators who find they don't know how to address unique experiences of transgendered males:

Tips for Transgender Breastfeeders and Their Lactation Educators:
Latching will likely be particularly tough. Lactation advisers should know that trans men may face special challenges in latching their babies - accomplishing a deep latch can be very difficult with next to zero breast tissue. Teaching a trans man to make an effective "breast tissue sandwich" is essential to successful and reasonably comfortable breastfeeding. Using an SNS on top of this makes breastfeeding even harder. A first time trans breastfeeder will need lots of extra hands to help with latching and using the SNS
Lactation consultants should be aware that in the case of a trans guy who has not had any chest surgery, he may have practiced years of breast binding to flatten his chest, and this, of course, may affect milk production. There's more -- continue reading the article here.
I'm super excited about this story, since I've been wanting to find ones on the topic. I hope more transgendered folks share more of their experiences to help us help each other in the breastfeeing realm. Do you have anything to add?

         To posts. 
It's free and there's NO SPAM!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Guest Post: What Sahel is up with Breastfeeding?

Before coming to Burkina Faso, I can't say that I knew much about breast feeding. I am a gay man from the U.S. who suddenly found myself in the small patch of Sahel above Ghana. I have held at least several hundred more Burkinabé babies than I have ever American ones. I have watched countless mothers breast feed their kids. Babies reach around from behind, sometimes mothers carry babies under their arms and of course the standard cradled feeding. Breastfeeding is so natural in public, women sometimes forget that their chest is exposed after their child unlatches. It is refreshing when you come from the puritanical restrictions of the States.

Before coming to West Africa I had experience in sexual health promotion and HIV prevention. I didn't think of HIV transmission in terms of mothers and their children. Frankly, I didn't think of breastfeeding much at all. Now, my concept of breastfeeding has taken a naturally clinical turn, since I am working in public health. I think of breast feeding in terms of nutrition, HIV and malaria.

In Burkina nearly a third of infants are under-nourrished. Some of the issue is a lack of food, but part of the problem is food selection during the weaning process. Babies are often given a plain millet porridge when they need additional ingredients to maintain healthy weight and physical development. Nutritional local ingredients are available. Even wild plants such as the legendary baobab (think the monkey's tree in "The Lion King") can be used to ensure optimal nutrition during weaning.

For cultural reasons women often do not allow their babies to take the colostrums (first milk) because it seems to be discolored. This is rather unfortunate for babies that may already be born with a lower birth rate because of their mother's lacking diet and/or malaria during pregnancy. Also, some believe that a baby should be given water or tinctures that not only prevent a baby's appetite for milk, but also risk infecting the child with intestinal parasites.

In terms of HIV, mother to child transmission is one of if not the most important area of transmission. Women's testing is subsidized by international donors and the Burkinabé government. ARVs (anti retro virals) are provided to pregnant women who test positive and they are given instruction on how to breastfeed and wean early to maximize the natural benefits while minimizing the risk of transmission.

At the Stomp Out Malaria Boot Camp I learned that in terms of malaria, babies who are breastfeeding are less susceptible to infection because of the resistance acquired through breastmilk. The most at risk are the children who have been weaned, but haven't been exposed to malaria enough to develop their own resistance. Pregnant women and young mothers are encouraged to sleep under mosquito nets to prevent infection and are encouraged to take young children with a fever directly to a health agent. Malaria during pregnancy can lead to low birth rates and death of the mother or fetus.

Here breastfeeding is much more than just a natural process. There are layers of cultural expectation, implications of poverty and of course foundational health practices playing a part in a mother's life. Public health interventions involve a wide range of topics including optimal positioning of the baby, how to know when a baby needs to feed and weaning methods. Without access to formulas (or treated water to mix them with) and with an overall imbalance of nutrients in diets, breastfeeding is paramount to a baby's success in early years. Women here don't have the luxury to set breast feeding aside with modern cultural trends like American mothers.

About the Author:
Casey D. Hall is a Health Development Peace Corps Volunteer in Burkina Faso and will be pursuing his MPH beginning the fall of 2012. Observation of breastfeeding has consumed much of the past two years of Casey's life. As a queer activist and ally to women's movements, he is passionate about gender studies, race studies, reproductive health, queer theory and international studies. He blogs about his experiences at

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Whitney Houston, and Famous Breastfeeding Women: Everybody Searching for a Hero (Video)

When the world heard the devastating news of Whitney Houston's death a few short weeks ago, our ears perked and eyes widened as we dug deep into our mental reserve to reminisced on anything we could that would lend memory about the singer. My mind rummaged through memories from Jr. High, and conjured up images of my twin sister, who could frequently be found somewhere in our home, and with a brush in her hand or her thumb used as a microphone, singing "The Greatest Love Of All," were again in my head. And when I heard the story of 20 five-year-olds from my nieces kindergarten class two years ago, with their homemade graduation caps, who walked around the classroom singing this same song, as they were ready to advance to first grade, I didn't know how relevant this would be in my breastfeeding advocacy. And, as I heard this song played again and again on various stations and saw clips of Whitney's life in music across many wires, it didn't occur to me the significance, or how it's message would be relevant right here on a site dedicated to breastfeeding and human lactation. In fact, it wasn't until recently is when I saw the connection.

Of the many points made by people everywhere, one thing that always surfaces is for everyone's hope for Black celebrity representation -- for someone famous to occupy a visible space where the world would see them breastfeeding -- to debunk the myth that Black women do not breastfeed, to encourage more to do so and to combat the stigma against Black culture, bodies, lifestyle. I, too, often see this in people's desire for celebrity role models and examples; it has happened time and time again. I couldn't overlook it after the influx of conversations yesterday when countless individuals and groups seemed to endlessly tweet and speak of the news that appeared to finally satisfy the fervid desire among people everywhere; famous singer and entertainer, Beyonce, (allegedly) breastfed in public

I won't sit here and say I have not had inspirations in my life, or that I have not looked to people who I believe have made an impact towards the greater good of humanity -- that continuously influence me on a daily basis in my own work towards a more just society. That would be untrue. I also won't argue that hearing about a Black woman of Beyonce's social rank offer her milk to her baby in a public space not only seems to advance the cause promoting mother's milk among African American women, but I'll never object to any public displays of infant feeding. She has many Black women and Black lactation activists that admire her. But I believe that often looking of these role models and victors -- especially those whose lifestyles and circumstances are far removed from our everyday ones, poses a concern that I feel does not largely aide in closing the gap in the way we hope for -- primarily and especially because of our stratified society, along with a few other things. But here is my one of my main concerns:

We are always taught to look outside of ourselves for quality and guidance. Historically, people who society has deemed prominent -- those who have fame and fortune, and have promoted the social division of class, were staunch proponents of mother's milk. When breastfeeding became taboo this natural act was turned into a stigma. These figures were positioned in society where everyone from doctors to nurses to many around us advocated substitutes, forsaking mother's milk, which was initially seen as something saved for the elite. The message that our bodies were ill-equipped and non-sufficient was promoted at each opportunity, and this is something that continues to happen now.

Figures in the spotlight that many refer to as heroes are strategically positioned and promoted to market the current time's trends. Racism, sexism and other system of oppression are the backdrop, and their statuses teeter, based on the agenda on the institution and how well we allow ourselves to adhere to this, as we are endlessly subjected to countless marketing tactics that tell us what and who should be at our center. We follow the trends, and go with the flow. What happens when someone of such social status uses bottles in public forums? 

If you ask me if I'm excited about Beyonce's nursing in public, feeding her baby whenever and wherever she needs this, my answer right now and forever will always be a very loud and resounding "Yes!!" -- on all accounts! And I am also just as excited when I see any woman -- especially Black women, normalizing breastfeeding in any arena and contributing to the health of our community. But the fact is that mounting these figures as 'heroes' would fail to sustain us in the ongoing quest for the foundational and structural changes needed to increase our rates and decrease disparities. We must seek change within our communities. I believe it will be only be through our continuous encouragement of each other, pushing towards the quest for more knowledge, wisdom, and critical social and self awareness, is what will create a lasting legacy that will increase and stabilize our breastfeeding traditions and transcend generations -- and in these cases, popularity. We've got a lot of work to do. And at a time when the world is listening, how appropriate is "The Greatest Love Of All" -- the rarity of a song with lyrics that point us within -- for guidance, direction and truth:

"Everybody searching for a hero; people need someone to look up to. I never found anyone who fulfilled my needs. A lonely place to be, and so I learned to depend on me." 

I welcome your thoughts.

Sh*t People Breastfeeding Mothers (Video)

I'm a bit late getting this up here as usual, but it does not mean I have not been enjoying watching this video or hearing about all of the Sh*t people say... to Breastfeeding Mothers. Or that it does not continue to be uttered by countless people on the ways we feed our babies. I've even added my own account of sh*t people say -- just from being an advocate.

These are all relevant, as far as what much of the underlying message we continue to hear in society. I even have a few favorites from this video -- the ones that really got me saying "Really? You've heard that?! But I'd have to say of all the sayings the one that sticks with me the most, and maybe could be qualified as the 'best of,' -- "God would not have invented bottles if we were supposed to breastfeed!" I wish I could say I was surprised people have these types of sentiments, but I'm not, and  right now, all I can do is sigh and shake my head.

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