This post originally appeared on The Bump.
You guys, I had the most awkward moment the other day. I was sitting on a park bench, breastfeeding my baby. I had just eaten a big bag of Skittles, because this is America. I have kind of a forceful letdown, so my baby pulled off and next thing I knew, Skittles were shooting out of my nipple and all over the playground. Older kids, thinking that a rogue piñata was on the scene, scrambled through the gravel for the little sugar-bombs. I quickly got my Skittles-absorbing breast pad in place to stem the flow, but the damage had been done. Talk about tasting the rainbow.
Okay, that didn’t happen. I’m not even breastfeeding — I weaned my youngest child over a year ago. But I couldn’t help myself, considering that a Brazilian ad campaign is making the rounds that essentially tells you that there’s a tube that goes between your mouth and your nipple, and every bad thing you eat is poisoning your baby and you’re the worst. Eat a donut, baby eats a donut (side note: mmm, donuts). Drink soda, baby drinks soda. I shudder to think about that time I went running and a bug flew into my mouth and before I could react, I had swallowed it.
Fascinatingly, this ad campaign comes from an association of pediatricians in Rio. These are actual medical doctors who likely have been taught a thing or two about how the human body works. The intention of the campaign seems to be to encourage women to…I don’t know, pump and dump when they eat anything other than quinoa and organic avodacos? Get tattoos of junk food on their ta-tas?
To me, this seems like just another example, in a long line of examples, of scaring the Skittles out of women that their bodies and their mothering are not up to par. For example, supplements (called “galactagogues” in lactation speak) can help some women with milk supply. But telling women that they need supplements not-so-subtly convinces them that their bodies aren’t capable of making enough milk without outside help. Telling women to pump and dump after one drink (when virtually all lactation experts say this is not necessary) scares women into wasting valuable breastmilk. And freaking them out about their own diets is not just mean, but totally and completely wrong and misleading. Breastmilk is amazing. Your body knows how to make it (that doesn’t mean it’s easy, and many women need expert help in figuring it out). Your body also knows how to make great breastmilk even if what you’re eating is less-than-great. Think of your boobs as a giant cheeseburger filter. Cheeseburger in, and all the bad stuff stays with you, while your body makes perfect milk for your baby. Yes, you should maybe not eat fast food every day — for your own health — but this has nothing to do with feeding your baby, and it has no place in a supposedly pro-breastfeeding ad campaign.
And let’s face it: Breastfeeding Hunger is real, and it can make you eat like you just got out of prison. When it hits, it is not very good at discriminating among food choices. I have, in those emergency ‘I-must-eat-everything-or-I’m-gonna-die’ breastfeeding moments, found myself eating the following, at speeds so high that I don’t think my tastebuds even got a chance to do their job:
Before I had my first baby, I had heard the word “doula” thrown around. I’ll be honest that I jumped to some assumptions, and decided without almost any knowledge that a doula wasn’t for me in particular. I knew I was going to have my baby by C-section, for reasons I won’t get into, and I really thought that doulas were basically birth coaches.
It’s only now that I’m immersed in the world of trying to be supportive to other new mothers that I’m kicking myself for not looking into getting help from a postpartum doula, just to have some female community and support for the craziness. So I asked my new friend Emily Skyrm to guest blog about why she loves being a postpartum doula. Emily is the co-founder of Baby Caravan, in NYC, and spends a lot of time supporting new mothers who are heading back to work. My kind of girl. So without further ado…here’s Emily!
As new mothers we come across so many people who consider themselves “experts.” The sleep experts, lactation experts, expert postpartum chefs…the list goes on and on. It’s gotten to a point now that there are so many “experts” in this field that woman are finding it harder and harder to actually trust themselves.
As a postpartum doula and back-to-work coach living in New York City, I step into the homes of some pretty incredible women. My job is to help them develop their own pathway into motherhood. But the true value I bring to a home is when I help a new mother realize that she has the inner knowledge and strength to be her own expert.
You guys all know I wrote a book that is coming out in September, because, well, I talk about it a lot. Sorry; I'm super excited. Anyway, this is relevant today because as part of that process, I submitted my book to the Axiom Business Book Awards. I had no idea if it was a big deal or if they would even consider a book about pumping breastmilk to be a "business book," but I figured, what the hell.
A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by the folks at Axiom to tell me that Work. Pump. Repeat. had won the silver in the women's business books category. I was pretty excited, especially since this Axiom thing looks legit. Winners in other categories include Walter Isaacson (the guy who wrote the big Steve Jobs bio) and motivational speaker Tony Robbins. I didn't think much of it beyond that, though, probably because someone peed or spilled yogurt on me at that moment. And then...
...a big white package arrived in the mail. It included a certificate from Axiom (I am SURE I will remember where I put that thing...crap...) AND a huge silver medal on a blue ribbon. YOU GUYS, THE MEDAL HAS LATIN WORDS ON IT. It's kinda heavy. This is a LEGIT medal. Also, apparently "laurus lego erudito" means "success through knowledge."
I decided on the spot that it had been WAY too long since I'd had my own medal. Like, middle-school-too-long, and that was for making a scale model of a Medieval castle (I had a LOT of friends in middle school). So now my medal lives on my desk, and when I'm having a particularly crappy work day - or, alternately, when I'm having a great day and just did something awesome - I wear my medal.
Last year, I wrote a post about being kicked out of a so-called breastfeeding support group on Facebook for asking for advice on gently weaning my 13-month-old daughter. It was a sad experience - one that really depressed me about the state of the breastfeeding wars, and about how even our attempts to re-create the village of maternal support can go horribly wrong.
Well, fast-forward almost a year (my baby girl is turning TWO next month!). I discovered this weird spam-esque inbox on my personal facebook account. (If you're curious, go to your Facebook inbox and look for a tab called "Other". That's where messages from people who are not your FB friends end up.) It was a year-old message from a stranger, all about the Great Getting My Ass Kicked Out of a Breastfeeding Group on Facebook. And this message made me SO happy, I just had to share it. This total stranger came and found me on the internet to tell me she supported me and had my back and is part of my village. Oh my God, yes. THIS IS MOTHERHOOD. THIS IS SISTERHOOD. You have to read it.
NOTE: This is a work-in-progress looooong post that I'm considering as a new first chapter for my book (www.workpumprepeat.com) . I'm posting it here in the spirit of crowd-sourcing. This topic is SO difficult to navigate, and there is no clear answer to what is "good" or "bad" messanging about breastfeeding, for women who are struggling with it. I would really love and appreciate feedback - including critical feedback - about whether this hits the mark, or is way off, or is somewhere in between. THANK YOU!!
You’ve noticed, haven’t you, how it seems like everyone has something to say about breastfeeding?
I'm getting closer and closer to the publication of my book for working, breastfeeding women, and as I accidentally become one of those people who moves in breastfeeding circles a lot, I'm starting to notice something disturbing about how mothers of new babies are sometimes viewed and treated. I don't know if what I'm about to write applies to YOU, lactivist hopefully reading this right now, but I'd like to ask you to read this with an open mind and ask yourself whether you recognize anything here.
Here is the major disclaimer: I am talking about a minority of breastfeeding advocates here. Most of you lovely people do not do what I am about to talk about. And "lactivists" are super important. And all of you - including the ones I'm talking about here - are amazing people who are working hard for women and babies. I'm not going to keep disclaiming this throughout this post, so please write this on your heart. I mean it: you are awesome.
OK, here goes: If your job or public persona is related to breastfeeding, do any of these sound familiar?
My wonderful friend Ellie Stoneley, a popular blogger based in the UK (and a Bruce Springsteen fanatic, which won this Jersey girl's heart straight off), wrote a piece this week that has gotten love from both HuffPo and UNICEF. In essence, Ellie notes a recent study that found that PPD "is more than double in women who planned to breastfeed and then were unable to, whereas the women who planned to breastfeed and then did are 50% less likely to be affected."
Ellie goes on to talk about how essential it proved to be that she prepared for breastfeeding, through classes and reading, before the birth of her lovely little sprite Hope, and how important postpartum support was. She advocates strongly that every woman, in every country, have ready access to ongoing support in the early weeks and months of her baby's life, because, let's all say it together: BREASTFEEDING MIGHT BE NATURAL, BUT IT AIN'T EASY.
Ellie's piece resonated with me on a lot of levels, and I am so proud of her for advocating for something that ALL women and babies, of all socio-economic levels, everywhere, need and deserve. But it also got me thinking that something continues to be missing from this conversation. (I can say this, knowing that Ellie will have my back!)
Once you start thinking about your first day back at work, you're likely to have some burning questions about how on earth to store up enough milk to leave with your baby's caregiver. How to build up a stash is the question I get asked most often by new moms.
After you've learned how to pump, you have to get on a regular schedule of pumping and saving breast milk if you want to build up a stash. You have likely heard a lot about the supply and demand aspect of breastfeeding - that supposedly perfect cycle of your body making as much milk as your baby needs. This might make you wonder how you will ever get any additional milk to save for when you go back to work. But it is entirely possible, assuming you have a pretty normal milk supply. (If you have a low supply and/or are already supplementing with formula, you will have to work harder to store up milk, and you are likely looking at your caregiver supplementing during the day. And you are still an awesome mom.)
When I was in business school, I had a classmate and friend named Josh, with whom I worked on every group project. Fortunately for me, he is one of those people who will always tell you the truth about yourself. He called me Captain, and if I were sugar-coating it I would say this name came from my demonstrated leadership abilities, but in honor of Josh, I'll shoot you straight and tell you it was probably because I'm bossy.
Anyway. One day, we were arguing about what needed to be done on something we were working on, and I wanted to do more, more, more. And Josh looked at me witheringly and said, "Captain, your problem is that you let perfect be the enemy of good."
I'll admit it took me a solid 36 hours to understand what he even meant by this. Because in my mind, perfect has always, ALWAYS been the thing to strive for. Especially when it was something measurable, with grades, scores, rankings, or numbers of any kind. But when I did finally get it, it changed my life.
This tendency toward perfectionism and neurotic need-to-measure-itis came into full flower when I had my first child. Breastfeeding was something I could be perfect at, if I just worked at it hard enough. And it was something so rife with measurables, I was practically giddy with anticipation. Ounces (of milk pumped or fed, and gained by the baby, and frozen in the freezer). Feedings per day. Hours of sleep at a stretch. Weeks until baby slept through the night. Count count count. Measure measure measure.
And then there was the "Exclusive Breastfeeder" badge.
What is it about motherhood that makes you the property of anyone and everyone? From the moment your belly pops out, people - STRANGERS - are touching you, rubbing you, caressing you. My most distinct memory of this was after I had gotten a pedicure (at least I think I got a pedicure - I couldn't actually see my toes). I stood up from the chair and the woman looked at me and exclaimed, "Ohhhhh! You are pregnant! I just thought you were fat!" And then she double-handed my belly like a Harlem Globetrotter.
I also remember people coming up to me in the supermarket and asking me what my birth plan was. Maybe this is the slightly hippie nature of the city I lived in at the time. I knew well ahead of time that I'd have to have a planned C-section (long story), and when I told people this, their faces inevitably fell. Responses ranged from "I'm so sorry!" to "Why???" to "Are you sure you HAVE to do that?" - but all were negative.
Work. pump. repeat.