Moms, we are back from the US Surgeon’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding and the US Breastfeeding Committee meetings and we come bearing a gift for ALL of you — a HUG from the US Surgeon General herself! That’s right. A hug. Because US Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin understands about the barriers to breastfeeding and about the the sorely-needed cultural, legal, and institutional support moms need and deserve to overcome those barriers (Booby Traps!) and make breastfeeding work. We know that for a fact, not only because the stated purpose of the Call to Action is to focus on removing the obstacles (the Booby Traps!) that thwart 75% of mothers who want to breastfeed from achieving their personal breastfeeding goals (sound familiar?), but because when Bettina and I spoke with her privately about ensuring that the message about this public health crisis stays focused on the crisis moms are in over trying to do something as beneficial as exercising and as instinctive as hugging, she hugged US! Here, in her own words:
“All too often, mothers who wish to breastfeed encounter daunting challenges in moving through the health care system. Furthermore, there is often an incompatibility between employment and breastfeeding, but with help this is not impossible to overcome. Even so, because the barriers can seem insurmountable at times, many mothers stop breastfeeding. In addition, families are often unable to find the support they need in their communities to make breastfeeding work for them…and for too long, breastfeeding has received insufficient national attention as a public health issue.”–US Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin, Foreward from the Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding
Dr. Benjamin gets this issue and what you are going through. She could have selected any other public health problem for her first Call to Action, but she chose the barriers to breastfeeding, punctuating her recognition of the urgent need to bail moms out of the audacious cycle of being pressured to breastfeed, wanting to breastfeed and then being prevented from succeeding! She also plants the breastfeeding flag squarely in the camp of PREVENTION, stating that it was the obvious choice for her first CTA because “the foundation of my work as Surgeon General is prevention.” Hooray! This is also, we learned, the first ever CTA for breastfeeding – former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop’s landmark Workshop on Breastfeeding and Human Lactation 25 years ago was not a national call to action. So this Surgeon General means business about closing the ginormous gap between “I want to breastfeed” and “I had a positive, enjoyable experience” that moms and babies deserve. Music to our ears it was and an old familiar song — take the pressure off of moms and put it on the booby traps!
Now, in case you are curious about how that hug we got for you came about, here’s the scoop. As proud new members of the USBC, Bettina and I were invited to attend both the Call to Action’s Press Conference and a subsequent closed meeting with Dr. Benjamin. Being the spirited, empassioned, and well, pushy, types that we are, we too meant business, nudging our way to the stage after the ceremony to make sure that she knew that an independent, mainstream, mom-driven cause for breastfeeding – Best for Babes a/k/a the Mother of All Causes — would be carrying the banner with her and marshalling forces to help her implement change. Wanting to be sure that Dr. Benjamin was aware of and was moved by the hundreds of comments from our followers about their booby-trapped experiences who continue to pour their hearts out on our blog – THANK YOU dearly for your submissions–we handed her a statement which included excerpted comments, and powerful statements from our celebrity Champion for Moms, Jenna Elfman, and esteemed pediatricians Dr. Barbara Philipp and Dr. Jennifer Shaer. We also connected with author, lawyer, director and producer Tonya Lewis Lee (and director Spike Lee’s wife), who spoke frankly about her personal story at the Press Conference (she was awesome and you will be hearing more from her, we are sure). YOUR VOICES, YOUR STORIES WERE HEARD! Here’s what Jenna Elfman, Dr. Philipp and Dr. Shaer had to say:
“First of all, I would sincerely like to acknowledge you for bringing attention to the importance of breastfeeding. I don’t want anyone to have to go through what I went through trying to breastfeed my first child. I was committed to breastfeeding and knew the health benefits, but got little or no education from any of the health professionals I saw. The scant “help” I got in the hospital was not thorough and was rushed. If we want moms to breastfeed for at least 6 months exclusively, then we should be doing a lot more to help them. A good place to start would be requiring all maternity centers to be certified as Baby-Friendly, and making sure all obstetricians give expecting moms an educational breastfeeding brochure that’s not produced by a formula company. This is not about choice between breast or bottle, this is about allowing moms, who have clearly chosen to breastfeed, to succeed.” —Jenna Elfman, Actress, Best for Babes Champion for Moms
“The kind of treatment most moms get for breastfeeding would not be tolerated if it were appendicitis, a heart attack, or pneumonia. So why do we totally disregard the evidence about breastfeeding, and optimal mother-baby care?” —Barbara L. Philipp, MD, FAAP, FABM, Professor of Pediatrics, Boston University School of Medicine, Medical Director, The Birth Place, Boston Medical Center
“Dialysis is not the treatment for every child with kidney failure. A pediatrician wouldn’t order it without first referring to a specialist to investigate the causes and to try to reverse it. Similarly, formula is not the preferred treatment for low weight gain and all breastfeeding problems. Mothers and babies deserve a medical evaluation by a breastfeeding specialist. It is not necessarily the pediatrician’s job to figure out the cause and proper course of action, it is their job to recognize the problem and refer to the appropriate specialist, such as a Breastfeeding Medicine MD (FABM), a Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), or an expert lactation specialist.” —Jen Shaer, MD, FAAP, IBCLC, Peconic Pediatrics and Breastfeeding Medicine, Allied Pediatrics of New York, PLLC
But, as said, we are feisty and pesky types. In a smaller setting– the USBC meeting –we swung the bat again, openly taking on the “guilt” issue with Dr. Benjamin, proposing a plan to provide a forum to really begin the healing of ALL moms—whether they breastfed or not—around this issue. We also managed to intercept her privately as she was leaving to discuss more ways in which we could help her to push for change by keeping the focus on pressuring the barriers, not moms (her assistant shared with us how she had been booby-trapped by the military—we urged her to read Breastfeeding in Combat Boots). Finally, we told her that we believed it was an especially fitting cause on the heels of Martin Luther King Day, told her that this was truly a human rights issue, and implored her to read your heart-wrenching stories. And that’s when she hugged us. That hug was for everymom, everywhere, who has AGONIZED over whether to start breastfeeding, who has AGONIZED and suffered unnecessarily trying to continue breastfeeding, and who has AGONIZED and suffered over stopping before she wanted to. That hug was for YOU. Now, we know as well as you, that there a few hurdles we have to clear before our plans are enacted. But, no matter. Dr. Benjamin gets what you are going through and we have believe that we have reached a tipping point that the healing is starting and the suffering is going to end.
We are on quite a high but have much to do to capitalize on the groundwork that the Call to Action has provided. But there is something you can do, right now. We believe that the “stories behind the numbers” — your experiences of struggle — the consumer-dissatisfaction factor — is what will will drive the most change. We understand that when moms are adjusting to motherhood and are in crisis from being set back by the booby traps, it takes effort to complain about poor treatment, advice, and support. Their — your –misery mostly goes undocumented. But for the sake of your sisters, your daughters and your friends, we need you to help us make sure your stories are heard, and that the message in the media is not about pushing the benefits and moms to breastfeed (and media outlets like the LA Times have already gotten the message all wrong), but about putting pressure on the barriers because they are hurting moms and babies! We also need your stories of being helped to overcome the barriers to be heard–the media needs to hear that change is possible, and hear the stories of the silent heroes . . . the labor and delivery nurses who ARE educated about breastfeeding, the doctors who KNOW to refer to specialists and to encourage moms, the hospitals that are making progress and have at leasted implemented some Baby-Friendly steps. It takes both positive reinforcement (rewarding progress) and pressure on the barriers to turn this situation around, so we’re handing you the microphone: Let those booby traps know that you won’t tolerate it, and let commend “the babes” helping moms for a job well-done, and let any contacts to the media that YOU have, know what is happening in your community.
In the meantime, we will be following up with the Surgeon General’s office and the United States Breastfeeding Committee to identify ways to translate the Call to Action, into ACTION ITSELF, and we will continue to try to find avenues to get the real story of moms into the mainstream media (if you have national media contacts for us, let us know). We humbly thank you for putting your trust in us and sharing your stories with us, and we will never stop fighting for you!