Monday, March 8, 2010

For International Women's Day: Advocacy vs Encouragement

I am still stunned by many of the comments in response to last week's Let Your Feet Do The Shopping. While many understood the point of Lee-Ann's post, others did not. There seems to be a strong feeling among some lactivists that anything other than gentle persuasion will only harm the cause of breastfeeding. At an individual, mother to mother level, I agree. an activist, changing public perception & policy level, I call bullshit.

Why are we more concerned about the feelings of one store owner who behaved horribly & freaked out than about the feelings of the mothers (dozens? hundreds?)for whom the formula freebies will destroy their breastfeeding relationships? Why are we not raging that a store owner is unknowingly (I give her the benefit of the doubt with this) endangering the lives & health of infants with her freebie? Why do some defend her, instead of getting angry?

2 reasons.

First, because they are concerned about creating change at the individual level. From that perspective, clearly, the battle of the store owner has been lost. More on that concept later.

Second, because deep deep down, most do not really believe that infant formula & the marketing thereof is dangerous. Yes, yes, yes, of course: Breastmilk is best (it isn't. Not even close. It is in fact just normal.), but formula is just fine, really.

If you are harbouring that notion, deep down, let me disavow you of it.

2 things.

Babies are born expecting to be breastfed. If they aren't, they will not develop as they were supposed to. Period. That translates to a 30% increased risk of death (yes, in North America!) when babies are not breastfed. This is in addition to the myriad health problems caused that do not result in death.

Second, infant formula is a consumer product that is at risk of contamination, misproduction, etc, etc etc. Google formula recall if you don't believe me. So babies can be harmed by the not breastfeeding &/or by the formula itself.

Back to idea of change at the individual level.

We need to differentiate between offering dialogue to individual mothers about breastfeeding & large scale activism.

Large scale activism is what Fierce Mamas is engaged in. We want to effect change with public policy & perception both. We believe that only once that has taken place will individuals understand why, even if they have chosen to not breastfeed, it must be supported as policy.

Before I go farther, I want to point out that as individuals, the 3 major contributors to Fierce Mamas are all professionally supporting breastfeeding mothers. We have a total of more than 20 years between us, providing counselling , information & support to thousands in a variety of capacities. We know of what we speak, here.

Large scale activism. What does that mean? It means getting angry, it means forcing political & perceptual change until breastfeeding as a public health initiative is seen in the same light as similar public health concerns. Smoking & seat belt laws are 2 great examples of this, as delved into in The Problem With Breastfeeding by James Akre.

A current example I can think of is with the idea of extended rear facing toddlers in carseats. Study after study has clearly established that toddlers are 5 times safer rear facing in their carseats. Europeans have long known this & seats there are designed for it. Well respected bodies, such as the AAP, recently made recommendations to that effect. Law moves slower than science, though, so in most (if not all) North American jurisdictions, the law is still stuck at requiring rear facing only to 1 year of age.

Those of us early adopters have long kept our children rear facing, going out of our way to track down the few seats with high enough weight limits to allow the practice.
We post the research & recommendations on Facebook, telling everyone we know about the dangers to their children.

It stuns me to see how many responses to those posts can be negative!! "Why are we infantilising toddlers?" "I turned mine forward at a year & they are fine." "If it is so important, why isn't it law?"

The law moves slower than the science.

What moves the law??

We do. Activists, lobbyists, angry people screaming from the rooftops. Protest, in all its forms. Policy does not change unless we demand it so. Perception does not change unless it becomes socially important to agree with the new line of thinking. Both of those concepts require us to speak out.

So we will keep respectfully, kindly & thoughtfully supporting women who do & do not breastfeed. Everyone deserves that consideration & respect.

And we will keep protesting those practices which hurt women & children, especially today, on International Women's Day.

By Arie Brentnall-Compton.

"The fastest way to change society is to mobilize the women of the world."
-Charles Malik

"Well behaved women rarely make history" -Eleanor Roosevelt

"Nobody can make you feel inferior without your permission." -Eleanor Roosevelt

"Women are the real architects of society." -Harriet Beecher Stowe


  1. I rear face my children, as long as the seat will hold them. We invest in seats that are designed to do so at high weights. My 5 year old is still harnessed, and will continue to be. I don't vaccinate my kids, I breastfeed. I stay home, I wear my babies. I do everything humanly possible to keep them safe, loved and happy.

    I'm happy if people want to shout from the roofs their beliefs. I do consider myself an activist, completely. I champion for no spanking in schools. I champion for gay rights. I champion for a world free of prejudice, while raising bi-racial kids.

    What I don't do, however, is trample on those that get in my way. I make a kind attempt to educate. By using trigger words, or anger, my message is lost. It serves nothing to my cause. Peaceful protester as it were. I believe more in granting basic human dignity than being right, every time. What difference does being right make, if no one is listening? Only does it make a difference to you, and that's where the issue lies.

    If we're going to play a quote war, I have some for you:

    There is always a way to be honest without being brutal.
    Arthur Dobrin

    The only justice is to follow the sincere intuition of the soul, angry or gentle. Anger is just, and pity is just, but judgment is never just.
    DH Lawrence

    The only way to tell the truth is to speak with kindness. Only the words of a loving man can be heard.
    Henry David Thoreau

    Each of us has the right and duty to spread knowledge, to help other moms, and to lift each other up in this journey. I'm fairly well versed on the benefits of breastfeeding and the potential health risks of not. My point comes not from a place of being uneducated, but from of place of wishing for a kind world to raise my kids in.

  2. I have been an activist for over ten years. I have participated in sit ins, protests, rallies, walk-outs, boycotts, and debates. There is NOTHING wrong with letting your voice be heard. Yes, I was one of the dissenting commenters. I just happen to believe that more could have been accomplished (in this case) with respect. What did Ms. G accomplish except angering the store owner and perhaps instilling guilt and alienation? Did she change her mind? Did she stop giving out free samples? I think with a bit of respect and education, the store owner's mind could have been changed. Many people do not realize that by giving out free samples of formula they are doing a disservice to women and their infants. Like I said, I have changed many's people views just by listening and respectfully countering.

    Sometimes change starts with a thought or quiet action. You may have learned from history class about a woman named Rosa Parks.

  3. This post is rude and only serves to make mothers who CAN'T breastfeed feel bad about themselves and their choices.

    Have you ever had a preemie? A baby that had to stay in the NICU for weeks? A baby that was given a bottle first without your permission and would therefore never, ever breastfeed? No? Then I don't think you have any place to make comments like this:

    Babies are born expecting to be breastfed. If they aren't, they will not develop as they were supposed to. Period.

    My preemie is now a happy, healthy toddler, who is thriving thanks to formula. He's developed just as he should, better even, since he's bigger and more developed than other babies at his adjusted age.

    Although I pumped for 7 months (I shouldn't have, it was way too hard on my body and my emotions and I would have been a happier/healthier person if I'd quit much sooner), my son has gotten at least some amount of formula since he was a newborn, because I DIDN'T HAVE A CHOICE.

    People like you make me never want to breastfeed. I never want to be seen as someone so narrow-minded and blatantly ignorant.

  4. Haters. I chose to formula feed my daughter, never co-slept and never wore my baby, and I went back to working full time when she was 3 months old. She is perfectly healthy, has never been sick in her life and the happiest child you can imagine.

  5. I don't think you can say this:
    Why are we more concerned about the feelings of one store owner who behaved horribly & freaked out than about the feelings of the mothers (dozens? hundreds?)for whom the formula freebies will destroy their breastfeeding relationships? Why are we not raging that a store owner is unknowingly (I give her the benefit of the doubt with this) endangering the lives & health of infants with her freebie? Why do some defend her, instead of getting angry?

    And this:
    So we will keep respectfully, kindly & thoughtfully supporting women who do & do not breastfeed. Everyone deserves that consideration & respect.

    in the same blog. Clearly you don't respect and support women who FF, whether by choice or by necessity, by posting such condescending garbage.

    I had a breast reduction at 19 and tried my damndest to breastfeed. When my son lost more and more weight, slept more and more and started refusing to wake up, I turned to formula (or was it rat poison? I can't remember) and he's now a thriving, healthy, happy baby. Formula SAVED my baby's life. And I am a happier, healthier mom. My daughter was formula fed from the beginning, she too is happy, healthy and thriving.

    You really should consider the stuff you're putting in cyberspace.

  6. I call bullshit on both of these articles! Get over yourself, yes some women can't breastfeed due to medical reasons, but I guess it makes them less of a mother than you. BITCHES!!!!!!!!!!!

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  8. Arie,

    Glad you included this bit in your post, "even if they have chosen to not breastfeed, it must be supported as policy". I like the idea of breastfeeding supported as policy. At the same time, I absolutely love the idea that women get to choose for their bodies (what to do with our breasts..... or not) and for our babies.

    I came to this through the work I do with marginalised Mamas and their children. Some don't get to Mama their babies, and choosing how their babies are fed is the ONLY choice they get to make. Some choose formula (over milk bank) and I guess I love that women get to choose more than I love the idea of all babies being given breastmilk. Some women have been, and continue to be, assaulted in a sexualised way and breastfeeding feels much like continued assaults to their bodies. And I guess I love the idea of women feeling safe and not being exposed to continued sexualised assaults more than I love the idea of all babies being given breastmilk. And, gosh, I love breastmilk.

    I had to get over myself to give Butterball formula at all. Then I had to get over myself again to give him a bottle in public. And again when I had to mix up another bottle in front of other Mamas (particularly breastfeeding ones). The problem being..... uh, ME! The amazing thing being his Mama got to choose how his foster Mama feeds him, the only thing she was allowed to choose for him. It was enough to motivate her to begin to make changes to have her children back.

    So, as policy.... sure, breastfeeding. It's just not that black and white. ;)

  9. When I was pregnant, I had every intention of exclusively breastfeeding my baby. I scoffed at my sister-in-law who gave formula from the start to her baby. I laughed as I tossed the free formula samples and coupons from my doctor's office.

    Then my daughter was born with a birth defect that wouldn't allow her to nurse without the aide of a nipple shield Even with the shield, it was a struggle, involving hours long nursing sessions just to get some milk into her.

    To make a long story short, due to some other medical complications, my daughter stopped nursing at 2 1/2 months old. I contacted every breast feeding professional I could (including La Leche League, my daughter's pediatrician and three separate lactation consultants) to no avail. I was prepared for breast feeding to be painful and uncomfortable FOR ME. I was not prepared for the tears to come from my child.

    I cried the first time I had to give my daughter formula. Yes, I pump, but unfortunately, without a baby to help stimulate production, my supply drops a little each day, despite all the home remedies and multiple pumping sessions daily. Formula is feeding my child. I have to accept that I can no longer feed my child myself.

    I truly believe that articles, blogs, activists, etc. who make statements like this only affect those of us who tried and failed. I understand wanting to encourage women to do what's best for their children. To do what nature (or God, whatever floats your boat) intended us to do with our bodies. But that doesn't work for everyone.

    I already feel like I failed my child. I don't need "activists" reinforcing this feeling.

  10. I say get mad. If we don't stand up and fight for what we believe in then we always get what we have always gotten. This is true re: suffrage, equal pay in the work place (not even true if you're a paid working mother), birth control and abortion rights. Thank god those women (and some men) weren' afraid of fighting!

    The personal is political. And clearly the political is personal. It's about changing policy and not giving up. It's not about attacking women.

    Stand up and shout for what you want to see change. I'm mad. I have a right to excellent, publicly funded breastfeeding support. IT'S MY RIGHT! It's about normalizing the breast not marginalizing it.

    NO FREE FORMULA SAMPLES! That's what Lee-Ann shouted. It's her right to shout that. Thank God she shouts out. It is the only way change occurs on a large scale level. It's the only way it has ever changed.

    I'm righteously angry when the basis of my biology as WOMAN is not given and treated with the value it deserves. I'm not a bitch. I'm mad and I shout! And shouting near you doesn't mean I am shouting at you... I am shouting for you or for your daughters because they deserve more than what we have had if and when they birth their babies.

    Thanks for shouting Lee-Ann and Arie (and many others in this area.) It's hard to be the first one to cry that the emperor is naked, but that doesn't make it less true!

  11. @Heather. It's OK to be angry. It is how you use your anger to promote change that matters. The loudest voice is not always heard. Rosa Parks did not need to raise her voice to spark a change. Ghandi motived a nation.

    There comes a time when you shout as loud as you can. But just because I'm not shouting does not make me less angry, does not make me more passive, nor does it mean I care less. I believe that in cases like this one, mutual respect would have served our side better.

    You want to yell? Yell at the formula companies. Yell at the hospitals. But don't yell at the store owner, who appeared to struggle with breastfeeding. It will not further the cause. It just leaves an angry store owner (and apparently angry bloggers). You want to change the store owner's mind? Listen to her story why she couldn't breastfeed. Give her the support that she needs. Mourn with her the breastfeeding relationship. Don't make her feel inferior. Then ask her if she would hand out breastfeeding support packages: samples of breast balm, breast pads, pamphlets of information and where they can go for breastfeeding help. Even if she continues to handle out formula samples, at least she will hand out the breastfeeding support. With a wealth of information from the pamphlets,perhaps a new mom will forgo the free formula and contact a LC instead.

  12. "Then I don't think you have any place to make comments like this:

    Babies are born expecting to be breastfed. If they aren't, they will not develop as they were supposed to. Period."

    Anyone is able to say this, because it's true.

    If you weren't able to breastfeed and you feel your baby was entirely unaffected, that's awesome. You beat the odds. And even if your baby did suffer some of the negative side efffects of formula feeding, that's a hell of a lot better than starving to death if that was the only alternative given your situation, right? Why can't you feel both of these things? I'm sure Arie does. Why does it have to be hate if someone states the obvious?

    Surely if your child was bottlefed without your consent due to insufficient policies in place to prevent this from happening, or irresponsible staff not following those policies, you understand why it's important to take this sort of thing seriously. All Lee-Ann did was return purchases she made from someone she felt was being callous to the actual (not "emotional"- as in "you just called me on doing something stupid") well-being of others. Big deal! She probably got more upset than she should of, and seems to say as much in her post. Like none of us have ever been guilty of that!

    Facts are facts, and life is complicated. But it doesn't take a psychological genius to observe that we often try to validate unfortunate treatment we've been on the receiving end of or unfair situations we've found ourselves in by perpetuating them. So if I feel bad about my failure to breastfeed, even if I shouldn't blame myself, I start giving away free cans of formula in "good will" and get pissy if someone points out that what I'm doing isn't really helping anyone. Sad but true, and worthy of both understanding AND confrontation.

    It's sad to see comments like these any time anything to do with breastfeeding is discussed. I've never read any post in this or any blog, even by people who have rubbed me the wrong way, that implies they think every mother who formula feeds is some sort of low life. Instead, they talk about cultural pressures to return early to work, to feel ashamed of your body, to feel as if people will judge if you breastfeed in public, struggle to breastfeed despite on-going problems, breastfeed past a certain age, etc. They talk about hospital policies that refuse to adapt to policies scientifically proven to encourage breastfeeding success, inaccurate information given by pediatricians, growth charts that don't reflect statistics on breastfed infants being used to claim these same infants are "failing to thrive" etc.

    We've been brought up in a world where approval can seem to equal love and "disapproval"- even in the sense of pointing out how something could be better- is seen as a form of prosecution or hate. Where we have to worry about instead of just acknowledge what people think and how they judge us, in fear of being rejected for not being their (and even our!) version of perfect. I'd be embarrassed to formula feed in public too, and I catch myself judging other mothers for decisions I couldn't fully understand. But the only way that stops is when we aren't afraid to ask questions or to answer them, and create an atmosphere of exchange and understanding where we take responsibility for OUR OWN EMOTIONS and encourage others to do the same.

    Because in my experience, you can't piss me off unless I know I'm wrong, and you can't hurt my feelings if I feel right in my own heart and am open to understanding yours.

  13. It is very sad to realize that this issue seems to share back and forth blame between BF and FF women with no end in sight.

    The blame is somehow always adverted away from where it belongs, that is with the formula companies and the inadequate skills of the people that are put in charge of assisting women with breastfeeding.

    I agree that formula is lifesaving for babies whose Mothers cannot breastfeed and don't have access to donor milk. What I don't agree on is how it is distributed and by whom. Health care professionals should be prescribing it based on careful evaluation and proper diagnosis. Both it's distribution and quality control should be carefully monitored, just as any medication should be.

    It should not be given away free by shop owners, at baby fairs, department stores, or any other unqualified person.

    If your baby was saved by formula I understand why you would feel angry at statements that imply you didn't do the best for your baby,which we know is not the case, but what is important to realize is that it is the reality that formula companies care about MONEY not mothers and babies. The more formula that is consumed the more they make. The more mothers fight with each other and not against them the more is sold. I cannot believe that if you truly wanted to breastfeed your child and couldn't that you would want this right taken away from other women. Especially if it wasn't for a legitimate cause such as yours but simply because she got inferior assistance or free samples from a baby store owner with a lack of education.

    It is a fact that human breast milk is what human babies are hardwired and biologically made to drink and digest. No formula company propaganda or ranting at breastfeeding activists because they use hard language will change this fact. Breastfeeding should not be replaced by an inferior substitute because some women are not able to breastfeed. The larger population should not be sold a BS bill of goods that babies turn out just fine and happy with formula feeding because the state of our societies health paints a different picture.

    Responsibility needs to be put where it belongs and until then nothing will change. I agree that breastfeeding is not special it is normal. Variations of normal exist and need to be addressed. Completely changing a normal process to make companies richer and make some mothers feel less guilty is absolutely wrong.

  14. I agree that if we centre our discussions around the practices of formula companies, we might be able to better engage with this issue. I suspect we all might be able to come to some sort of agreement around our feelings towards the practices utilised by formula companies.

    I agree with Heather, that breastfeeding is a feminist issue. So is formula feeding. Because it's about our woman/mama bodies and what we choose to do, and not do, with our bodies. In fact, this debate rages on in feminist circles as well. Being feminist doesn't preclude one to support breastfeeding to the exclusion of anything else all the time for every woman. Like how we choose to use our bodies and feed our babies, feminism is personal. Indeed. The personal is political.

    I NEVER thought I'd go on like this. I was very similar to those who shout it out like the authors of the posts here and those who support them. And then, like I mentioned in an earlier comment, I began to work alongside women who are engaged in sex work, who are addicted and using and pregnant, who are beaten and raped, who have their children taken from them at birth, who who who..... Truly, it's not as simple as "breast is best". It's not always about being baby centred. In fact, I think it's a bit of a privileged position to engage in this argument in the way it has been playing out here. This is why I think focusing on formula companies would serve women (and, hence, their babies) better. Nasty marketing practices, objectifying women, the stuff Heather wrote about.... these are the things that benefit no woman..... or her baby. Perhaps we can find some common ground there?

    The statistics show breast is best for baby. Yes. And still, some women choose to formula feed. Are they making a truly informed choice when formula companies are doing what they are? Maybe. Maybe not. But if we were to conjure up a culture that truly supports breastfeeding, where breastfeeding truly is the norm and is policy (and I hope we do), some women will STILL choose to formula feed. Thank gosh for that. Because I'll stop working for a culture that is truly breastfeeding centred if it means I'll lose my ability to choose for my body and my baby.

  15. Vegan baby... I wasn't asking for you approval to get mad, but thanks for it. ;-)

    I agree that quiet persistence is ultimately the foundation to action, but history shows us it is rarely enough. For example, without Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks would not have had the same impact. Rev. King "shouted" and I am thankful that he did.

    Obviously as a mostly normal functioning person in mainstream society the method I use most often to effect change is empathic relationship building, but I am not beyond strongly worded letters ("shouting") or the removal of my dollars from some businesses be it local or not.

    The point of my post is that we (as women and mothers) are often afraid of not seeming "nice". We teach the kids to "play nice" and that "getting mad is okay, but don't hurt feelings" etc. Well, when someone is trying to hit me on the head with a big stick, I get mad. I stop negotiating. I am not nice. What each of us perceives as a threat is different.

    The "problem" with the bf issue is that it is one of public perception. It's not about "shouting" at another mama to change her perception. Lee-Ann didn't "shout" in the way of yelling at the business owner, but she "shouted" as in speaking up for what she saw as damaging to babies and mamas.

    The course of action is to engage with law-makers and policy-makers. The formula companies who break the law we can "shout" at, but if they are within the regulations as set out by those who represent us, then why would we "shout" at them.

    I am saying as a womanhood and as a motherhood we deserve choice. I support a woman's choice to breastfeed or to bottlefeed, but if she isn't given adequate support to breastfeed (in terms of excellent mat leave compensation, LC's in hospitals, educated health professionals) then she is given all the pressure and guilt to bf without any of the support.

    I have had some personal experience with this issue as well. It is absolutely amazing how many women set out with the desire to bf after birth and somehow it gets all f*&$ed up in the birth process. That's a "crime" AGAINST the new mother and not the "crime" OF the new mother. That's the difference.

    Whew! This issue takes a lot of energy. :-) Have a great day all you mamas.

  16. @Heather, if you don't get it now. You won't ever get it. It's OK though. :) You believe what you believe and I believe what I believe. Good luck to you and your endeavors. Oh and I wasn't giving you my permission nor my approval. I was merely agreeing with you. But your words seems so much to me ;)

    And YES! Shout at the formula companies. That is what I have been saying all along! "Apologizing" to the shop owner that she did not have good breastfeeding support is passively aggressively saying that she did not try hard enough. And anyone with reading comprehension skills can deduce that the woman is still giving out her free samples. So in this case, it did NOTHING but anger. What is the use in anger if you don't do anything productive with it? I think that is the point that so many of you are missing. In this ONE case..this ONE little scenario. Yelling is not the solution. Because it did NOTHING. It didn't make an impact on this women except to turn her off even further from breastfeeding. So way to go! Give yourself a big applause. But it's OK because you stood up for what you believed right?

    It's been an interesting discussion, to say the least.

  17. Thanks for the lively debate, mamas! Now let's enjoy the rest of our day with our beautiful children! 70 degres here! :)

  18. I have nothing wrong with mothers that formula feed because they have to.On the other hand I can't stand mothers that formula feed because it is convenient for them, because they don't want to be 'bothered' with having to BF.

    On another note, i'm sure Lee Ann could've found a better way to approach the store owner origionally instead of coming at her, at what the store owner could probably feel like an attack on her mothering style and skills. I'm a VERY LIBERAL and outspoken person, and i have come to realize that there is a time and a place for everything. That being said; Lee Ann only wanted to inform the shop owner, it didn't come off that way. But i think i would've been a bit irritated to see free formula samples and nothing around talking about BF support as well. Because even if shop owners, any shop owner, realizes it or not they are turning moms or soon to be moms away from TRYING BF at least and just shoving formula down their throats. It's been done to me, and i hate it.

    btw, BF moms get attacked just as much as FF moms do. I get it all the time from strangers and family. So it goes both ways.

  19. I guess it does go both ways. I'm wondering when we can stop atacking each other? Isn't this the oldest trick in the book for oppressing a group..... divide and conquer. As long as women are fighting amongst ourselves, we're too busy, preoccupied, to pay attention to the fact women continue to experience marginalisation. In fact, this is the 'attack' breastfeeding women feel - marginalisation from a culture that continues to view women's bodies as objects of men's desire and, therefore, breasts as sexual objects for men's pleasure rather than food for babies. As sexualised objects in a culture that is sexually repressed, breasts are therefore something to be covered up and women loose if showing their breasts in public. Hence the crap breastfeeding women get from people. Different kind of crap bottle feeding women get. But it's all crap nonetheless. We spend so much time fighting with each other. Does anyone else notice that?

  20. See, my point was that by loosing the battle with the store-owner, she lost the battle with that policy maker. Period. We're talking about a small, privately owned and intimately run business, here. There is a time and a place for angry, in your face, militant activism. I don't think that situation was it, personally. Far too intimate of a situation. It's one thing to rail against a huge corporation or to participate in debates, picketing, letter writing, what-have you, but when it comes down to the individual, we must remember that *ESPECIALLY* in the context of a tiny business like that, the individual IS the policy maker.