Under the influence of the holiday spirit, (and late nights of deranged cookie-baking) I re-wrote the 12 Days of Christmas to reflect the Best for Babes vision of what it would take to really help moms. I’ve explained below why each of these gifts would rebuild our shattered breastfeeding infrastructure, and contribute to a world where all mothers who want to breastfeed could meet their personal breastfeeding goals without pressure, judgment or guilt. Moms, babies, our society and the planet would benefit.
Before you continue reading, click on the image to the right, and go ahead and sing it! It’s more fun when you actually do it. It may take a bit of nimbleness, but I tried it out on my kids and husband, so can vouch that it is sing-able.
(As Dr. Seuss might put it, you can sing it to your hospital, doctor, employer and store, sing it at the mall, they’ll ask for more! Sing it far and sing it loud, sing it to the squeamish crowd. Sing it at your breastfeeding meeting, sing it as a friendly greeting. Sing it to help moms succeed, and fulfill every breastfeeding need!”)
Print-out version of Best for Babes’ Breastfeeding Days of Christmas
How 12 Gifts Would Rebuild Our Shattered Breastfeeding Infrastructure
A mother wanting to breastfeed: 74% of mothers want to breastfeed and are trying to breastfeed, but only 40% are achieving their personal goals, and only 12% are making it to the American Academy of Pediatric’s minimum recommendation of six months exclusive breastfeeding. Even worse, most moms are not even getting through the first few days or weeks of exclusive breastfeeding, and it is not their fault. Moms are being pressured to breastfeed but set up to fail by insidious “booby traps”–cultural and institutional barriers. It is as bad as telling someone to run a race and handing them flip-flops. For more about awful mixed messages we are giving moms, see this excellent article by babygooroo.com.
Two doula/midwives: Having a labor doula or midwife can lower the risk of a c-section, reduce labor time, perception of pain, and generally provide superior birth outcomes, which lead to better breastfeeding initiation. Many ob/gyns and hospitals welcome the participation of a labor doula as it makes their job easier, think of it as an experienced coach who can help you way more than your husband/partner, who in all likelihood, has never delivered a baby.
Three support groups: La Leche League is the largest and best known mother-to-mother support group provider; there are also support groups springing up through IBCLCs, Maternity and breastfeeding boutiques, and hospitals. Shop around, not all support groups are created equal and word of mouth will lead you to the best ones. Support groups that are judgmental or do not provide accurate, scientifically-proven information are a hidden “booby trap.”
Four (FABM) MDs: FABM stands for a Fellow of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, and means that this physician has demonstrated advanced knowledge and skills in breastfeeding and lactation management (read between the lines: this doctor is not just giving “breast is best” lip service while handing out formula samples and undermining moms). Similar to FAAP (Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics) it follows the physician’s credentials, e.g. Caroline Chantry, MD, FABM . We dream of a day when not just Ob/Gyns and pediatricians are FABMs, but allergy, diabetes, heart disease and other specialities that are impacted by increased breastfeeding rates. When an expecting mother sees her allergist, he/she should be encouraging her to breastfeed, and discussing it in a supportive, evidence-based framework! For more on choosing a breastfeeding-friendly physician, click here.
Five Baby-Friendly Hospitals: This is a biggie, which is why it goes in the “5 golden rings line.” Only 3% of the 3,000 maternity and birth centers in the U.S. are designated “Baby-Friendly” under the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative. The Centers for Disease Control found that 70% of hospitals perform poorly on breastfeeding support; no wonder moms are not making it through the first few days! If all maternity & birth centers followed the ten steps to Baby-Friendly, such as rooming-in, latching the baby in the first hour, avoiding pacifiers and bottles, providing donated, screened, pasteurized human milk from a milk bank if supplementation is needed, and not handing out gift bags filled with formula samples (shown to reduce breastfeeding duration), we’d see a meteoric rise in breastfeeding rates (and population health improvement, and employee morale, and reduction in carbon emissions, etc.–we could go on and on). Moms are being “booby-trapped” by the hospitals they trust, and it has got to stop. Let’s move the nurse-ins to the hospital lobbies, and start writing respectful, but firm letters to hospital CEOs and copying them to the media.
Six great IBCLCs: An IBCLC is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. To find the best ones, click here, and be aware that like in every other field, there are some quacks. If your “lactation specialist” in the hospital is judgmental, grabs your boob, hands out nipple shields like candy, or otherwises raises your finely-tuned mom’s instinct antennae, call your La Leche League group, friendly doula/midwife, or local breastfeeding boutique for the name of a good one that can visit you in the hospital. We urge you to complain to the CEO of your hospital if you have a negative experience, and write a letter of commendation if you were helped. Copy it to your local newspaper.
Seven partners protecting: The role of your partner or spouse in protecting the breastfeeding relationship when a mother is at her most fragile and vulnerable is invaluable. Forget sending him or her to labor classes (get a doula instead); make sure your husband or partner is educated about the hospital booby traps and is ready to bare their teeth to all the insidious attempts to derail your breastfeeding efforts. This is where he/she can really be your hero.
Eight friends a-helping: Not only should your friends cheer you on for your decision to breastfeed, they should line themselves up to cook, clean, babysit your toddler, grocery shop and run errands for you. Your job is to rest and to get the hang of breastfeeding, you are an athelete in training with a single focus. Entertaining guests is for later!
Nine celebs a-nursing: Celebrities are hugely influential in our celeb-obsessed culture, and can have a positive influence on the many women who have few or no breastfeeding role models. After Angelina Jolie’s breastfeeding cover on W magazine, many women wrote that if she could nurse twins, they felt empowered to do it too. We also need more celebrities to talk about more benefits of breastfeeding than just losing weight, and share their intimate breastfeeding stories in our context of helping moms (see our interviews with Kelly Rutherford and Gabrielle Reece). We need celebrities to nurse in public to show solidarity with moms who face huge social disapproval for nursing discreetly, or are outright discriminated against. We need celebrities to lobby for the Breastfeeding Promotion Act, and increased funding for breastfeeding infrastructure . . . in short, breastfeeding needs a Bono, Fox, Gere or Gore. Salma, Angelina, Gwyneth, Sigourney: we need your help!
Ten nursing nooks: Boy are we tired of hearing about moms who are thrown out of stores, restaurants and even airplanes for breastfeeding. It’s really getting old. And just for the record, most moms prefer to be discreet, but some babies yank those blankets right off. Wouldn’t it be great if every mall, every shopping plaza, and every airport had a cozy nursing lounge (i.e. NOT the bathroom)? And every store and restaurant had a quick and easy supportive breastfeeding policy? We’re working on it, and have an exciting platform, but we need your help to raise the funds to make it a reality. We’d love it if big breastfeeding-friendly retailers like Nordstrom would sponsor it; and it would help the image and PR of Target, Applebees, Victoria’s Secret and Starbucks if they would jump on board too. Did we mention that 74% of moms try to breastfeed? That’s at least 3 million moms per year, and billions that have ever breastfed!
Eleven strangers cheering: Best for Babes is working to change the breastfeeding culture in the United States so that the public not only accepts breastfeeding, but thinks it’s cool, hip and fabulous. This takes giving breastfeeding a makeover and branding and “marketing it to be as mainstream as motherhood itself”. This does not mean the overbearing lecture to moms on all the benefits of breastfeeding, it means setting a positive example and attracting women to breastfeeding so they are psyched and pumped up to breastfeed, much like working out or making any other lifestyle change! Face it, we all need a little motivation (benefits are great, but a cute workout suit can help too) to get to the gym, and breastfeeding is no different: some helpful information, some stellar breastfeeding products that make it more fun and a little easier can go a long way. Most of all, it takes a culture that adopts the Best for Babes credo of cheering on, coaching and celebrating ALL moms to make informed breastfeeding decisions, and achieve their personal breastfeeding goals whether it is one week one month or one year or not at all. We need to gently lower the defensiveness of women who didn’t breastfeed or couldn’t breastfeed by ending the horrible cycle of pressure, judgment and guilt. Like seatbelts and sunscreen, our mothers didn’t know better. Many of our peers were “booby-trapped” by the barriers, and feel awful about it, and are blaming themselves not realizing they were set up to fail. Some moms truly can’t breastfeed–how do you argue with a double mastectomy, or medication contraindicated by breastfeeding, or having tried everything to no avail? If 95% of women are capable of breastfeeding successfully, there are still 5% that are not, no matter how many IBCLCs they see. Another reason we need more milk banks! Most importantly, ALL moms deserve compassion and respect. With a little TLC for all, we’ll find the “breast vs. bottle” debate and the mommy and boob wars will lose steam and that even the moms who decided not to breastfeed or couldn’t breastfeed because of barriers will start cheering moms on. Case in point: My co-founder’s mother, who didn’t breastfeed her daughter, is one of our staunchest supporters. My special request, please read these two articles if you are a breastfeeding advocate (hint: become a mom advocate first): “Shame and the Mom: A Boob Story” by herbadmother.com, and “When Boobs Collide” by Hisboyscanswim.com.
Twelve supportive employers: This is last on the list because the reality is that most new moms are not making it past the first few days and weeks of exclusive breastfeeding, long before their maternity leave ends and they go back to work. (Oh yeah, and we have some of the worst maternity leave policies of any industrialized nation, so let’s assume that not all mothers even get maternity leave, unlike most European countries with high breastfeeding rates that provide a year or more. Some companies provide 3 months but that is not enough.) But the specter of having to fight for the right and the breaks to pump on the job, be sneered at and harassed, and have no place to pump besides the bathroom or a dirty closet with an outlet, can discourage many working moms from trying to breastfeed in the first place. And the ironic kicker? Breastfeeding benefits a company’s bottom line; less sick days used, lower employee turnover, higher morale, lower benefits expenses, better attraction of qualified employees, the list goes on. Go figure.