Monday, October 3, 2011

How the Breastfeeding Industry is destroying Breastfeeding.

Arie Brentnall-Compton

I've spend 10 years (!!) as a loud, active protector of breastfeeding. I've worked within the breastfeeding community, as an LC, been the first person to connect babywearing & breastfeeding as public health issues, a writer & so much more. I've attended countless conferences, tradeshows, speakers' events & taught at just as many. I've been observing an unnerving trend and a concept that James Akre introduced to me over 4 years ago has crystalised of late.

A very large, capital I Industry has built up around "breastfeeding". What started as a small group of committed, WHO Code supporting companies has morphed into thousands of companies marketing "feeding products". Previously Code compliant companies have shifted their focus to "Feeding", offering little or no breastfeeding imagery, or products directly known to interfere with the success of breastfeeding. By creating an industry around the ostensible support of nursing mothers, companies have changed the culture around breastfeeding. The average new mother today is inundated with blog posts, ads, product samples and more more for things like breastfeeding cookies, bracelets, apps, creams, teas, menu plans, covers, hot/cold packs and so much more.

It's an individual's choice to purchase & use what they'd like, make no mistake. The sum total of the entire industry and it's rapid growth over the past few years has accelerated to give the impression to today's first time mother that breastfeeding is expensive, time consuming, requires a lot of paraphernalia & often doesn't work the way they'd planned. It's important to know that the vast majority of these products simply didn't exist even a few years ago. It's also important to note the changes:

-Lansinoh, a beloved product for nursing mothers long endorsed by La Leche League, now sells bottles & other "feeding accessories" in violation of the WHO Code.
-Boppy, one of the first commercial brands of nursing pillow, have rebranded as feeding pillows. There is currently not a single image of breastfeeding on their site or in their marketing.
-Medela, once a Code compliant supplier of pumps & accessories, is now marketing bottles & low quality pumps to mothers.
-Generically, many larger brands of nursing covers (a non-existent product category until about 10 years ago), have shifted their marketing from being a breastfeeding aid (which is debatable) to providing a cover while pumping, bottlefeeding, or simply holding a sleeping baby. The imagery infrequently shows women actually nursing anymore.

I spent upwards of 7 years as a nursing mother. I used a variety of products to make our time nursing a little bit easier, mainly bras & other nursing clothing. There isn't anything at all wrong with using & appreciating the often innovative products designed to serve us during our nursing careers. Indeed (full disclosure), I owned a retail store for 4 years that focused partially on breastfeeding items, although we never sold items we knew interfered with the normalisation of nursing. I also do work as a lactation consultant & breastfeeding educator, with the longterm goal of teaching my way out of a job.

My experiences tell me that all the growth we are seeing does not equate to progress. It appears that breastfeeding initiation/duration rates in many areas are actually on a downward trend. The industry, as a whole, is a death knell for normal breastfeeding.

It's hard for women who have yet to develop a successful nursing relationship to sort out the useful from the useless, the harmless from the harmful. Part of the problem with the growth in items available has been, as I've said, the overall cultural change. While covering with a blanket used to be a choice for women who felt modest or private, mom's groups now regularly have women aplologise to other attendees for having forgotten their nursing cover. When a mother worried about her supply out loud a few years ago, a La Leche League Leader may have helpfully made some suggestions for evaluating if her supply was in fact dropping (it's usually not) & suggested she nurse the baby more to increase the production. That same mother expressing concern on social media today is likely to be sent to purchase a bag of lactation cookies marketed with dubious medical claims. Other products prey on the same fears: bracelets, charms & apps imply you may not remember to nurse on the "correct" side; cookies, teas, supplements imply your supply may be inadequate without them. Nursing covers, hiders, hats & more suggest it's more appropriate to nurse covered with a commercial product.

I want to reiterate that while there will be individuals who found benefit from each of these products, it's not looking like the longterm result of their availability will be a societal increase in breastfeeding initiation or duration. Of perhaps more concern is how quietly some of the lactation industry's biggest players have simply removed the breast from the feeding entirely.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Announcing World Milksharing Week!!!!!

I'm so excited to be asked to be a representative for the first ever World Milk Sharing Week!!!! From September 24-30, 2011, our goal will be to further the mission of promoting human milk as the biologically normal nourishment for babies and children, as well as to celebrate milksharing itself! Stay tuned for more details!

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Marketing of Marketing, or Why You Won't "Be Wildly Successful if you Just Hire The Right Guru"

I'm from Alberta, a province where young families tend to make a boatload of money thanks to the oilpatch & other industries where skilled trades make 6 figure incomes without blinking. While these families are growing, they want to spend their disposable income on their children, buying them clothes, toys & accessories from businesses selling mainly online & at trade shows. This means we have more than our share of start up businesses aimed at that demographic, with new ones opening daily.

Way back in the day (2006!!), when my partner & I opened our business, there were a handful of local stores where you could purchase a few brands of baby carriers & cloth diapers from, as well as a handful of online Canadian stores. As quickly as we grew, the marketplace did too & there are now more than 20 (at my count) Edmonton-based businesses selling those items.

What's really grown exponentially are the hand made accessories & the trade shows they're sold at. Again, where only a few years ago there were a handful of major trade shows, craft fairs & local markets where companies selling baby & childrens products could exhibit, there are now dozens in the area.

I realise these are local examples, but I think they illustrate the trend really well. No one is making a living doing this because the market is so saturated, so when solicitations for marketing pop up (we get offers weekly!), they're totally tempting to small business.

"Hey Mompreneurs, want to increase sales while looking fabulous & having the dream life you've always dreamed of?!? Subscribe to my blog/e-book/website & attend my momseveningout/wine&cheese/fabworkshop & learn all my secrets!!!"

For no charge, you can often glean some ideas or tips; for a pretty small fee, usually a few hundred bucks, you can hire a marketing consultant to help build your brand. What annoys me as a small business owner is that the marketing of the marketing seems to take precedence over the substance of evaluating the viability of growth of your business.

The tips provided essentially boil down to:

-Network, network, network, at gatherings, trade shows, etc. Get to know other business owners & make sure they know you.
-Tweet, Facebook & Blog so you develop a big fan base

These aren't bad suggestions & they certainly reflect the business plan of most small companies these days. The problem is that to charge for your advice, you should be able to establish that these strategies work. I want to see hard data- increased sales volume, sales to a new customer base, increased market share, etc. Hiring marketing help can be a great use of money, if they can provide results- but I don't think the marketing of marketing offers that. Time & money spent on this kind of marketing is likely wasted, save it for a company with legitimate experience in your industry & ability to prove their effectiveness with increased sales.

Legitimate marketing takes a look at your product, the market, your pricing, customer base etc & establishes a concrete & realistic plan for advertising and growth. It does not suggest you spam other businesses by posting your links on their Facebook wall. It does not see "networking" with similar local businesses competing for the same share of the same market as key to your growth and success.

There's nothing wrong with being a small business, making a nice product and earning income you're satisfied with. There's nothing wrong with dreaming big, either!! In a market like ours, though, where it's quite saturated & we're all fighting for pieces of a shrinking pie, a reality check is needed. At the end of the day, I think we as business owners need to stick to what we do best and avoid the fluffy marketing/happiness/lifestyle gurus. Simple concepts like knowing your customers, listening to their needs and providing them with what they're asking for are what builds business long term.

Monday, February 21, 2011

I don't believe in Unassisted Childbirth AKA a rose by another name

By Lee-Ann Grenier

Two months ago I gave birth to my third child at home in what many would describe as an unassisted childbirth (UC) or freebirth. Throughout the pregnancy and up to his birth this is how I thought of it as I prepared for the arrival of our second son. I felt uneasy with the terminology and others I spoke to felt the same way. "Unassisted Childbirth" sounds reckless and cavalier; to some it implies a complete disregard for medical care even in the event of a true emergency. No one I know who has had a planned unassisted birth would avoid seeking appropriate medical care when necessary. In fact many women attempting freebirth have transferred to hospital when they felt it necessary. Sometimes it can be hard to separate from those who plan to birth without professional assistance and those who have their babies at home (or in the car, or Wal-Mart) by mistake. Media portrayals of these births where everyone is "miraculously fine" often confuse the issue.

The term itself causes some dissension among the families who choose this type of childbirth. The discussion usually centres around what qualifies as UC. Does having an unregistered midwife or a traditional birth attendant count? What if you have a doula, family member, or friend attend the birth? Some people even go so far as to define an unassisted birth as one where no one is present but the mother. Does a birth where one hires a midwife but doesn't call them count, or one where the couple camps out in the vicinity of the hospital qualify? These discussions can become very heated and polarizing.

The term Freebirth can be equally confusing but on a more emotional level. I find this wording invokes feelings of easy painless birth that, in my experience, can be quite deceiving. Free- from what, and for what, were concepts that I wrestled with both during the pregnancy and after the birth. Although a couple that chooses this type of birth might find freedom from the medical establishment, it comes with the heavy price of taking complete responsibility for the birth. There is the freedom to choose how one labours and delivers in this type of birth, but that can also be experienced by a strong woman in a hospital setting (with the right kind of support ;). There is the freedom to provide ones own care and comfort, but there is cost of doing so. The more I wrestled with these concepts the more apparent it became to me that the terms didn't fit.

My son's birth was not unassisted. We had friends come to help in the way that one needs with a homebirth. They dealt with the older children, fetched food and drink, provided warm towels, warmed up the pool and took pictures. We had friends light candles and provide us with their warm thoughts throughout the labour day. My husband supported me both physically and emotionally. We called upon the sage advice of a doula friend over the phone. At the moment of my son's arrival his birth was assisted by me; pushing him into the world, my husband; holding my body, and my dear friend Kirsten providing pushing support and calling the play by play. I suppose the biggest assistance came from the force or energy that created me and gave my body the ability to birth my baby (I call it God, but you have your name for it). So the question that came to my mind after he was born was how could I call this unassisted? Many asked and I felt hesitant to use these words in reply. I felt that if I said Elijah's birth was unassisted it would be very unappreciative of all the people who gave us their love and support on that day.

Elijah's birth was also not free. It was hard work, mentally and physically. It took a whole 12 hour day, and the toll on my body was (understandably) high. We paid a price for operating outside the system (imagine how hard it is to register this kind of birth) in terms of providing our own care and dealing with the feelings other had about our birthing choices. I will admit that we did have the freedom to let my son's birth unfold unhindered.

In the reflective moments since his birth I struggled to come up with the right words to describe the way in which we chose to bring our second son into the world. Eventually it came to me, what we had was a traditional homebirth. We called upon the support we needed to have the birth unfold in the way we wanted it too. If we had required it we would have sought the care of a midwife or the services provided at our local hospital. But we didn't, and this is how birth happened, traditionally. Sisters, mothers and women friends have been birth assistants for eons and at these births more experienced midwives or doctors were only called in when things got tricky, and in this way birth worked, assisted appropriately. So the next time someone asks me if I had an unassisted birth I'll say "No, I had a traditional homebirth." and leave it at that.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Babywearing Caregiver!!!

Christina Dawn Monroe

What babywearing has meant to Lennox this our journey:
Lennox is 11 months old. He came into my care at 6 months of age. He is exclusively breastfed; his mom was the only one to ever put him to sleep. He is a boob man, for bed time. I was also warned he was not a stroller fan.
I have worked in the childcare field for 15 years (have a degree in early childhood education). As I just recently went back to having a day home. I had not owned a carrier for years. I ordered a babyhawk with my first pay check from Lennox’s parents. Then we waited a further 2 weeks for it to arrive. For one whole month we were carrierless. It was a pretty shitty month.
We had the challenge of dealing with transitioning to reverse cycle breast feeding. You see Lennox does not like bottles (regardless of how many different kinds I tried) and the same went for sippy cups. For liquids we went to feeding with a spoon and mom coming to feed at lunch if needed. Then there was the whole I do not sleep without a breast thank you. Apparently dad had never had any luck either. Did not matter that I walked around with him, he was not left alone to cry. He was only going to sleep because he screamed himself out. Then there was the strollers 3 different kinds. He screamed even louder, with summers so short here we had to go out regardless of the yelling.
The day the package came is the day everything went up hill. It changed everything for the better.
I opened my pretty package and strapped him in and he just relaxed. He was calm for the first time in a month. He quickly learned to sign for his carrier if he needed to be up instead of on the floor exploring. If he needed to be closer to me. We figured out that if we are close and feel safe we can fall right to sleep. He kind of just gives a sigh and passes out. I can then transfer him to a mat or keep in there if we are out. We learned by watching closely that straws are cool (I have an addiction to iced lattes) He would watch me intently, so focused as it is so close to his face. We got him a litter-less juice box and away we went! He snuggles the juice box full of breast milk right between my breasts and drinks it all down! No more spoon feeding milk! We no longer have to use a stroller to go out so we can go many more places; he has a bird’s eye view. We can climb rocks and he can see! He can choose not to wear mittens and be inside my coat instead! Life is wonderful.
Mom thought this was cool borrowed my carrier then ordered herself her very own. Now dad can put him to sleep too!
Babywearing has made Lennox into a much happier little person.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Wearing My Son Through His Withdrawal

by Stacey Freeman

I am a mom of 5 and foster mom to 3, and huge fan of baby wearing!! My foster baby was dropped off at 10 days old extremely small, sick looking and going through withdrawal. At the same time he was arched backwards and impossible to hold he would just scream. After the first horrible night I went and dug through all by baby boxes in desperate need of my sling (he had been dropped off with only half hour notice, so I had no baby supplies handy. Honestly within 5 minutes he was asleep and content!! For the next 3 weeks he lived in that sling until the withdrawal symptoms had passed only coming out for diaper changes. I slept sitting up on the couch with him snuggled against my chest even.
I am adopting this baby now and he is the most precious happy little boy. I am SO thankful I had that sling!!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

On Consent

Vyky Staples
(professional body piercer and fierce mama)

Informed consent is something I see discussed ad infinitum on blogs, message boards and in print in magazines. Informed consent is a powerful tool to have in our journeys as Fierce Mamas- being able to make an educated decision in regards to our health and wellbeing and the health and wellbeing of our babies. We are their advocates, and it's a duty I hold with utmost importance. We choose for our babies who are not able and ready to choose for themselves.

I want to share with you an event I experienced recently that radically shook me and cemented my beliefs. I was shopping. Seeking retail therapy, actually, as a way to relieve myself of some pent-up stress and to soften the blow of leaving my baby in the care of someone else as I am enrolled in school. My shopping trip was winding down, and I was making my way to the food court to grab a coffee to enjoy on the way home. I was approaching a jewelry store and as I neared it, I witnessed something that made my heart jump into my throat.

A very young baby, I'd guess to be around 3 months old, thrashing and screaming as her mother held her arms with one arm and immobilized her head with the other as a store employee was piercing her earlobes. I noticed the mother herself had tears in her eyes.

I was absolutely shocked and appalled. The whole scene had reduced me to tears, an I quickly had to flee the building where I sat in my car and sobbed over what I had just seen. I couldn't make sense of why the mother of that poor baby would subject her to such a thing. She was clearly acting against her maternal instincts- she herself was in tears- she knew what she was doing to her child was wrong.


It is absolutely, without a doubt wrong to modify the body of a person unable to consent- whether it be female genital mutilation, male circumcision or piercing the earlobes of a young girl. When a child or baby is unable to make informed consent, you are violating their bodies and you are violating their trust. Children are vulnerable and inherently rely on their parents to make decisions on their behalf. And by making permanent changes to their bodies when they are unable to understand the risks, the procedure, the aftercare and the permanent affects, you are revoking their right to choose for themselves.

Furthermore, the stress respond to the stimulus in question can have devastating effects on the infant. When put under extreme duress, the hypothalamus excretes cortisol. When the brain excretes large amounts of cortisol or is forced to excrete it chronically (such as when a parent allows the child to "cry it out"), it can increase the risk of SIDS, and can, in the long term, affect the memory, attention, and emotional wellbeing of the child. Studies also suggest that this can manifest in adulthood into anxiety and depressive disorders.

This brings me to the question of why anyone would subject their child to such a procedure? Is it that important that complete strangers that you'll never speak to or see again know the sex of your baby? Children are not born with a sense of vanity- that is instilled in them by their surroundings as they grow. Baby girls have no need for bedazzled earlobes- they have a need for parents she can trust unconditionally to make sound decisions on her behalf until she is able to utilize informed consent of her own accord.