Friday, 25 January 2008

Please Support Baby Milk Action

For those of you who might not be aware of it, Baby Milk Action, who work from the UK, organise the world wide Nestle boycott. They also work in the UK in upholding and protecting the Code, and are now embroiled in a legal case as the formula industry has moved in the High Courts, to block a new agreement on restricting encroachment on Code issues in the UK.

I've also just noticed today, that they are so short of funds, they are on reduced hours. They have a system by which anyone can make a small 3 UK pounds (about 5 USA dollars) donation to their work, by clicking on a 'donation' button.

You can find details of the court case, and the donation button on:

They also sell ethical products, such as breastfeeding calenders, mugs, t-shirts etc, if you have a bit more money and need to buy some pressies.

They need money! If you can, please help. :-)


(Nothing whatsoever to do with Baby Milk Action herself!)

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Normative Nursing: Donovan/Dettwyler Article

This is such an astoundingly good article on normal nursing patterns, I thought I'd archive it here in its entirety. The original article is difficult to read through, as it's split across many pages, and links die eventually anyway. So, in order to keep this one in one place... and forever..
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Extended Nursing - The Human Norm

by Debbi Donovan, IBCLC
A personal interview with Katherine Dettwyler, Ph.D.

When we talk about weaning a baby, how much emphasis do you think the mother's feelings should play into this? In other words, if baby is willing, but mom is really tired of breastfeeding, how should those two things be reconciled?

I do think that mother's feelings should play a role. I don't think anyone should feel they have to martyr themselves and continue to nurse past when they are willing to do so. But the important thing is for the mother to have full and complete information about what is the normal duration of breastfeeding for human children. This would include an understanding of why her child still wants to nurse (i.e. it's not just a habit, nor is the baby being demanding and manipulative just because it is acting like a human naturally/normally would act in wanting/expecting to nurse for many years), and the potential consequences of weaning prematurely (in terms of mother's health, child physical health, child's emotional health, etc.)

I think that a lot of women wean "early" simply because their doctor told them to, or told them all the health benefits were gone, or told them they were doing it only for their own pleasure. I have no problem with any decision any mother makes from a position of full and complete knowledge of what is normal and natural for humans and what the consequences may be of weaning at that age. I don't personally care if women breastfeed for any length of time. I do object to people making decisions based on faulty information, incomplete information, etc.
Recently, I was chatting on the phone with Dr. Walter Evans, M.D., from Dallas Presbyterian Hospital, about my research suggesting a natural age of weaning between 2.5 years and 7.0 years. He said "Don't you think it would be too daunting if we told new mothers that they had to nurse for 2.5 years, as a minimum?" I responded, "First, I'm not suggesting anyone tell mothers they have to nurse for any duration of time. I'm just suggesting doctors tell them that 2.5 years seems to be the minimum natural age of weaning/the minimum duration the child has been designed to expect. Second, if you know that a certain length of time is normal for a particular activity, then you just accept it -- it doesn't seem daunting.
No one thinks it is too daunting to tell women they must be pregnant for 9 months in order to have a healthy baby. We all know that human pregnancies last 9 months, and if you want a healthy baby, you have to be pregnant for 9 months. And while some babies survive who don't stay in the womb for the whole 9 months, they often require special medical care and many end up with permanent disabilities to varying degrees. Few, if any, women, would risk the potential damage to their baby and insist on an induction at 6 months of pregnancy because they found it too daunting to be pregnant for the whole 9 months, and were only willing to be pregnant for 6 months.
To get back to the real heart of your question, however, if the mother is uncomfortable with continued nursing, and the child is say well past the age of 3 years, then I see nothing wrong with basing the weaning decision more on the mother's feelings. After all, I weaned my youngest at 5.5 years, even though he would have been willing to continue nursing longer. I'd had enough. The older the child, and the cleaner his environment, the fewer diseases, the better access to medical care, etc., the less critical the remaining duration of nursing (if we choose 7 years as the upper limit).
I think if you look at other animals, the mother usually (though not always) weans the current offspring when the next offspring/litter is on its way. If there is no next offspring/litter, then they often let the current offspring nurse much longer. Our wild mustangs are still nursing their two year olds, though yesterday one of them kept stepping away when the "baby" (bigger than mom!) tried to nurse. The baby was persistent and the mom finally gave up and let her nurse. In the wild, these moms would have had second offspring one year after the first, and would have third offspring this year, so I'm sure they wouldn't still be nursing two-year-olds. Humans are probably supposed to have a six to eight year birth spacing between births -- you achieve this by frequent nursing due to lack of suitable other foods in the environment for young children and low body fat on the mother due to low-fat diets and high physical activity. Once humans began cooking food (500,000-900,000 years ago) and domesticating grain crops that could be cooked (6,000-10,000 years ago), however, you got a whole lot more foods that young children could eat to replace the nutritional function of breastmilk in the diet. And you got better nutritional status for the moms, too, so that it became feasible to nurse children for only 3 to 5 years, and then have another baby.
Obviously we live in a culture that finds breastfeeding beyond a year to be an oddity. Are there psychological consequences for the mother or child to consider when "going against society's grain" in such a way?

Not that I am aware of. Children (and even adults) tend to think that the way they live is "normal and natural and what everybody does." My youngest Alex knows lots of children who nurse as long as he did, or longer, and just assumes that all the kids in his daycare/kindergarten are nursing to sleep at night. He is aware that some babies aren't lucky, and don't get to nurse at all. He is aware that advertisers use breasts to sell beer and lingerie and other items.

I would say that the "cognitive dissonance" children might experience when they find out that not everyone gets to nurse as long as they did is similar to that they experience when they first run across racism or sexism or classism or religious intolerance, if they've been raised to be non-racist, non-sexist, non-classist, and religiously tolerant. The fact that we live in a racist society does not mean that I must give in to it and teach my children that racism is fine. The fact that we live in a sexist society does not mean that I must give in to it and teach my children that sexism is fine. And so on. I firmly believe in taking a stance for what I believe to be right. I teach my children to not be racist, not be sexist, not be classist, to respect everyone's religious beliefs (even those who don't respect ours), and so on. I teach them that breastfeeding until six to seven years is normal and natural, and to pity those children who never get to breastfeed.
We all know that there are moms of toddlers who are "closet nursers." How important is it that they step out? Or is it?
I think it is too much to ask people who are currently nursing toddlers or older children to take the risk of stepping out, given that the consequences can be so devastating -- children taken away by Department of Child Protective Services, or whatever it is called in your state, parents accused of sexual abuse, etc. I think it is important for people who nursed their children for a long time to speak out, once their children are grown. They are at no risk then, as their kids are grown and on their own. They could serve as powerful role models, and as a much clearer indicator of how common this really is.
How much experience have you had talking with people who have memories of nursing as young children?
Very little. The few I have met remember nursing fondly. My own Miranda (17 years old now) claims not to really remember nursing, even though she nursed until 4 years of age. I think most people's clear memories don't begin until between 4 and 6 years of age.
As to the health benefits of nursing beyond the first year, how often must a toddler nurse to see measurable benefits?
No one has studied the question in this particular way. The research that looks at duration of breastfeeding usually divides the duration into six month categories: birth-6 months; 6-12 months; 12-18 months; and 18-24+ months. That last category may include children who have nursed for many, many months/years.
All of the research done this way shows steadily increasing benefits the longer you breastfeed, including higher IQ scores and school grades. The research on health benefits to the mother shows increasing benefits the longer she breastfeeds in terms of breast cancer risk.
Despite this research, it no doubt comes as a shock to people to find out that there are very real health benefits to nursing a toddler. How significant are the health benefits?
That depends -- it depends on the child's genetic predisposition to diseases, and their exposure to diseases in their environment. It depends on their genetic makeup for other things as well. There are many diseases which have a genetic component as well as an environmental trigger -- if you don't have the genetic predisposition, then it may make no difference at all if you were breastfed or bottle-fed. The problem is that the parents have no clue if their child has a genetic predisposition to diabetes, say, or schizophrenia, or multiple sclerosis, heart disease, breast cancer, allergies/asthma etc. etc. etc.
So, you can't say that there is any simple answer to the question of how significant are the health benefits. To some children, they may be miniscule, but to others they may be a matter of life and death. All children, though, were designed to expect breastfeeding for a minimum of 2.5 years, according to my research.
What is your suggestion to a person who finds themselves facing unsupportive family and friends when they are still nursing?

Hand them a copy of my chapter "A Time to Wean" or any of the many medical journal articles I cite showing increasing health benefits the longer you nurse. They can tell unsupportive family and friends that they have read the research, found out about the consequences of premature weaning, found out what is the normal/natural duration of breastfeeding in humans, and they are:

1) doing what is best for their child's physical health, cognitive development, and emotional health,
2) doing what is best for their own health and
3) doing what is normal and natural for humans to do.

When we talk about child-led weaning, what do we mean? What role does the mother play in the process?

True child led weaning means that the mother nurses the child whenever the child indicates a need/desire to nurse -- whatever sorts of cues the child uses, whether it is a tiny baby mouthing its fist and arching its back and searching for the nipple with its mouth, or an older child asking "Can I nurse now, mommy?" I think that many moms claim to be practicing child-led weaning when they really are sending multiple signals to the child that they don't want to nurse the child any more. For example, placing lots of limitations on when and where the child can nurse, distracting the child, asking them to wait until mom gets off the phone, finishes cooking dinner, finishes folding laundry, or whatever. I think children can pick up on the negative vibrations that a mother sends out who doesn't want to be nursing. La Leche League's idea of child-led weaning is summed up in their advice "Don't offer, don't refuse." In other words, you always let the child nurse when he/she asks, but you don't say "Do you want to nurse?" to the child who hasn't indicated an interest.
Katherine A. Dettwyler, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Anthropology and member of the Faculty of Nutrition at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. She is the author of Dancing Skeletons: Life and Death in West Africa, and the co-editor, with Patricia Stuart-Macadam, of Breastfeeding: Biocultural Perspectives. Her research focuses on cultural beliefs and practices surrounding infant and child feeding and their consequences for child growth and health. She is also interested in the evolutionary blueprint for breastfeeding and weaning behavior in modern humans. She lives on 18 acres of east Texas oak prairie with her husband, her three children, 4 horses, 3 dogs, 4 cats, and 3 guinea fowl.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Do you Spend Your Money in Boots?

Because if you do, you might want to consider what they are doing with your money.

One thing they are doing, is producing horrible images like this one, of a baby, held at arm's length, pulling its mother's breast out into a tight and painful tube.

With the legend... my sore nipples.

Of course, the UK is a breastfeeding friendly country.

It doesn't uphold stereotypes about breastfeeding babies abusing their mother's bodies.

It doesn't portray breastfeeding babies as savage little monsters.

Or decide through the advertising standards authority that such images are perfectly acceptable.

Boots. Your money.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Without A Clue....

Enterobacter sakazakii

I was out shopping this afternoon, at Milton Keynes. My toddler, who has been ill for a week or so, was happy to be out and about, but a bit clingy. Clingy on Dad, actually, and he wasn't letting Dad out of his sight for a moment, so I distracted him with a huge bag of crisps, in order to let Dad go off for a moment and do some shopping.

Yes, I am that sort of mother. You will be too, if you read this and think "That's shocking!" :-)

So we were sitting there, with me playing "heavily distract" when a nice young Mum comes along, baby in sling in front of her, hands filled with lots of plastics bags, and sits down beside us. Baby is grizzling, and Mum says "Yes, yes, I'll feed you in a minute!"

Now, I wasn't expecting her to have a breastfeeding baby. She was clearly in her mid to late 30s, and very well turned out, but I didn't expect anything other than formula fed. I know older mothers tend to be, I know middle class Mums tend to be, but I had no expectations at all. So I schooled my face to keep smiling and not react, when the bottle came out of the bag, and was plugged in without heating etc. And out it came, and yes indeed, pre-made up bottle, almost empty, and in it went. Baby guzzled down hungrily, and we carried on chatting. Mostly about my little one being grumpy, as he'd been ill, and just talking about baby stuff. Her little one had had a bit of a tummy upset last week too. I refuse to look at the bottle, and smile and carry on lightly chatting.

I will not react. I will not react.

So we keep chatting, and I keep eye contact and smile, and we talk about toddlers... and the bottle is finished. But she has another one... and she brings it out. A bottle of cold water, obviously had been boiled once, but now stone cold. And then she brings out the pre-measured powdered infant formula container, and pours it into the bottle, and shakes vigorously.

I will not react. I will not react. I WILL NOT REACT.

She keeps shaking it and shaking it, and my skin starts to crawl up my scalp. My blood pressure starts to rise, and I can hear my little voice starting up. "You have got to tell her."

But I can't. I cannot react, I cannot tell her. She doesn't want to know. If I tell her the truth, and mention the bacterial contamination in powdered infant formula, and that she has to use really really hot water in it to lower the risk of the baby getting sick... she will call me a boob nazi. She will be shocked and insulted that anyone could tell her such a lie. The easy, smiling eye contact we have going, will be shredded, and I will be a nasty obnoxious person trying to make her feel guilty.

No, I won't, I don't want to make you feel guilty, I want to let you know what risks you are taking... please, please don't put that bottle in your baby's mouth. Please don't!

And in the bottle goes, and I feel sick, totally sick. I keep smiling, and chatting, and act like nothing has happened, and all along, I'm praying my Hubby comes back RIGHT NOW and we can move on. I can't keep smiling in this lovely woman's face, and not keep thinking about what she's doing, and how she doesn't know how much risk is involved every time she does it.

I hate that we can't tell people. I hate that so many people don't know. I hate that the information on what's really in formula tins, is so poor, and the entire cultural minefield is so intense, that just to speak the truth, is to be the enemy.

I hate that when I visited a friend in hospital, with her 3 day old, and she was having to supplement as she'd has the usual standard of maternity ward breastfeeding help (ie, appalling, abysmal, designed to make her fail)... that I was the only one who told her she had to use pre-packed sterile liquid formula for the first 8 weeks. I hated that I had to listen to her explain that the midwife had said this wasn't true, as all formula is sterile.

I hated that I went out in the car and bought enough liquid pre-packed for at least two weeks, so at least baby would be safer whilst my friend tried to recover from the shocking 'breastfeeding help' she'd received.

I detested that I then had to send her the link on how to prepare powdered infant formula safely, when the baby reached eight weeks old. I hate that she now feels unease whenever she uses the formula she has no choice about, as there is no human milk bank to offer her.

I hate that formula marketeering prevents human milk being donated to women such as my friend. I hate knowing she has to use powdered infant formula, and I had to spell out the risks, so she could do so as safely as possible.

I hated leaving that mother and her baby, in the shopping centre, and not being able to tell her. I hated that I couldn't speak up for the baby, in case I upset the mother... I don't know her. I have no right to impose... she hasn't asked me...

At least my friend knows how to minimise the risks. I feel I failed that mother today, as I left her without a clue.

How did we end up like this? Women, mothers, completely disempowered from the truth, the facts. Utterly ignorant of the risks. Yet, when a newborn dies, the courts say, you can't sue... everyone knows the risks.

No, we don't know the risks. NO ONE knows the risks.

And one of the reasons why no one knows the that we've all been gagged, on some strange altar of "don't make women feel guilty." Why on earth should any mother feel guilty... if they don't know!

And how come I can't tell them... in case they feel guilty.

Reductio ad absurdum.

So, I didn't tell.

Now I feel guilty.

You can't win, you can't break even, you can't get out of the game...

Friday, 11 January 2008

The Male Gaze falls on .. The Nursing Mother

This is another archive post, of an earlier piece of writing. The original didn't have illustrations. The thinking in this piece reflects directly on a new piece that I'm working on, called "The 'D' Word", and I'm posting it now, in order to clarify my thoughts. Hence taking the time to search out the illustrations...
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This post is as a result of excellent points raised by others on why Western people react so strongly to nursing, from fear of body fluids to yearning for total love and being annoyed to see it conferred on others.... so I'm introducing my thoughts on why people react so badly to nursing mothers in The West. the 'battleground' in the first line, is the constant stream of nursing mothers being asked to leave public spaces.
Personally, what always strikes me, is that the battle ground is centred on who controls a woman's body. We like to think we live in a free and uncensored world, but we live with strict restrictive codes on most things: it's only that they are different restrictive codes from previous ones. I do think we progress slowly and gently, but that we are still living in a society that is quite restrictive.

Women's bodies is a huge cultural battleground, and even in areas such as the sex industry, where we like to think women are in control and strong and active in their own personal pursuit of income and pleasure through their bodies. However, the reality is that of total exploitation and lack of meaningful control is far a more prevalent model than that of the self assured women in charge. Not to mention that these 'freedoms' are heavily controlled and regulated by law.

We live in a society that is obsessed with 'the male gaze': a theory of cinema spectatorship from the 1970s, in which a wonderful feminist film writer called Laura Mulvey, pointed out that men always have the controlling gaze in cinema. The man looks, and the women is looked at. In the audience, the male is supposed to identify with the male hero - and want to be the one looking and in charge. The female is supposed to identify with the heroine being looked at, and she must paint her face, and buy clothes, and align her body in a way that it can be looked at by men. Her power is in attracting the gaze upon her. It is passive compared to the power of the man to look and contain her in his gaze.

This theory came out at an interesting moment in how pornography changed, again in the 1970s. Previously, porn images with women in them tended to have the woman looking straight at the camera - an active participant in the taking of her picture, and in terms of looking back at the male admirer. If you look at early last century 'porn' images of vaudeville and burlesque stars, the woman are looking straight at you, via the camera. Very proud and straight forward.

In the 1970s, 'Playboy' began to take different sorts of photographs, of women who were pretending they were not being photographed. It was a true voyeur set up - where the camera was a man peeking at a women undressing etc, whilst she was oblivious to his presence. Views of her body were 'stolen' by the male, and there was a marked difference in how women in centrefolds were presented. They began to look away from the camera, look sideways, etc, and not present the bold one-on-one eyeline position. One now generally only finds direct eyeline matching in pornography where the women is being presented not as a sexual object, but as a sexually active dominant.

On the surface, the women in films now, have little in common with the women in films in the 1970s. However, if you analyse both their role in the narrative, and how they are gazed at, little has changed. A fact quite easily missed in the all the glitz and glamour of the high action films we have today, is that the only significant change in the female's role is she now gets to be intelligent whilst she is both looked at, and handed out as the sexual prize at the end of the narrative to the male hero (as always).
I have presented this to many a class of teenagers and adults alike, whilst looking at Trinity in the Matrix, and Lara Croft in the TombRaider films. Everyone is very shocked to see that these supposedly strong female heroes are in fact just slightly more physically active, and more intelligent than their predecessors: they are still there to be looked at and captured by the male gaze. Lara Croft could not be more malleable to male fantasy if she tried: she's locked in a computer game where male fingers press buttons to control her every move. Yet part of her fantasy in that she in in control. In the film posters, Lara Croft always looks to one side, and down.

Nursing an infant is extremely problematic in this paradigm. For a nursing mother makes two statements that I feel are very difficult for our culture to accept. One, she is not interested in the male looking at her. She has clearly signalled she's not interested in being looked at as a sexual object of desire, and is not at all interested in being 'captured' by him. This is an affront to the male who feels he is in control of looking. It is also very strangely a mixed message to the women also looking on - for as had been commented many times before, it is often older women who get more outraged than men. There is a sub-text here that, to me, suggests that some women see the nursing mother as a competing sexual object - as if the sight of her body will capture her husband's view to the nursing mother. So a competition is entered into, and the aghast woman insists this object of her husband's desire is removed from sight.

Secondly, she is not only not interested in the people looking at her - male or female - she is solely interested in her child. All her attention is centred on her infant. I feel this goes against both her being there as a male object of desire AND is a double affront in that she has excluded that male from the dynamic she is sharing with the infant. We are scared by infants in this world of ours. We seek to see them as disruptive, ill disciplined and a drain. We constantly talk of how they wreck our lives with their demands and how we must 'train' them to be less disruptive. Somehow, it is a fearful sight, to see a mother so involved in her infant, and so loving of that infant to the exclusion of others. The woman who has said "I'm not interested in you looking at me, go away" and "I am actually interested in this child, not you"! Cheeky wench!

A nursing mother takes control of her own body, and uses it as she sees fit. She rejects the idea that society at large, or the people in the space around her, can control both what she does with her body, and who she gives it to. In a world where women gain their status and power by how many men look at her - a nursing mother is a problem. Either she is competing for male gaze, or she is rejecting it utterly. Both positions are problematic for others around her. She is also, as I stated, giving her body over to another - her infant.
As a society, we like to think this no longer happens: women no longer give over their bodies to their husbands etc. Yet how many of us have heard the statements about not breastfeeding as the breasts 'belong' to the husband/partner? Giving her breast to her infant appear to be even worse than giving it over to her husband, as the child is then the interloper in male power over the wife. How often does our society position children as the thorny problem in the husband/wife relationship? Where the wife is now more concerned with her children than the person she 'should' be concerned with - the male?
Therefore I see all the fuss about nursing mothers as a battle about women's bodies: and who is in charge of them. Both physically, and in terms of gaze. From this primal aversion to a women being in control of her own body, and excluding herself from the power of those looking at her, all the other situations already mentioned arise. The mind looks for reasons why it is discomforted by what she's doing, and all the other prejudices and personal issues arise.

EDIT:  May 13, 2012  And in an irony you couldn't make up, Blogger censored to of the images above.  Here are the censored images:

And, of course, I've added this image to this piece....

In order to present you with this!

Heather Cushman-Dowdee