Screenshot via Youtube
In her recent post “Similac’s Failed Formula to End the Mommy Wars,” Sybil Sanchez implies that breast vs. formula is a topic on which we cannot agree to disagree, because she views the public health ramifications as dire. Like Sanchez, Mayim Bialik, and millions of other middle-class moms, I watched the popular Similac video. The ad responds to the fact that as new mothers, our parenting choices — breast vs. formula, stroller vs. babywearing — become central to our identities, and pit us against other mothers who choose differently. The tear-jerking (and cringe-inducing, with all its suburban status symbols) video urges us to look past our differences and focus on what unites us.
Sanchez dismisses the “breast is best” mantra as hurtful (which it is), but suggests that we replace it with the even more alienating #normalizebreastfeeding. (I used to just be less-than-best. Now I’m abnormal. My preferred infant-feeding hashtag is #isupportyou.) Like the moms in the Similac ad — and like so many of the women I encountered during my first rocky weeks as a mother — Sanchez sees the question of breast vs. formula as extremely high stakes. Even while they claimed to support everyone and judge no one, the lactation consultants who tried to help me produce more breastmilk made it clear that it was crucially important that I make this work. Under their guidance, I hooked myself to a pump eight times a day, took prescription pills not approved by the FDA, ate all the magical foods, and listened to their promises that this would ensure a secure bond with my baby (while other people cuddled him because I didn’t have the time). The lactation professionals tell us that the benefits of breastmilk are wondrous, and the dangers of “artificial baby milk” (thank you Mayim) are potentially disastrous.
Screenshot via Youtube
The Similac parenting video that recently made the rounds is indeed funny and tear-jerking, but it also left me infuriated. How can anyone disagree with the message that we are all parents first, whether we work, stay home, breastfeed, pump, or formula feed? Well, I will tell you how — if the message is tainted by the messenger. Let me stipulate up front and as loudly as possible: This is not a judgment against parents who formula feed or anyone else. But, it’s disingenuous for a formula company to equate the quality of our intentions with the quality of our choices or options. It veils the fact that it’s the corporate tactics of this company and others like it that contribute to why so many mothers end up unwillingly formula feeding.
Digging even deeper, it’s the capitalist greed of companies promoting profit over health and wellbeing that is the root cause of parenting wars, not our social tribalism as parents. As Jews, we have our own internal wars, of course, so perhaps it’s helpful to draw a parallel. Rather than uniting against the outside forces oppressing us with anti-Semitism, we frequently turn our tension inward and simply attack each other.
One of our most famous endurance breastfeeders, if not the most famous endurance breastfeeder, Mayim Bialik, has decided to retire the boob. Her 4-year-old son Fred has officially weaned.
Fred isn’t going to nurse on his way down the wedding aisle or at his high school graduation. I didn’t need to break him of a “habit” and teach him “who’s in charge.” I didn’t need to set boundaries you thought I should have set when I didn’t want to set them.
Because we did it: Fred weaned.
As you might imagine, Mayim got a lot of criticism for being a strict devotee of attachment parenting, family co-sleeping and allowing her children to self-wean and all. When she titled her book on the subject “Beyond the Sling,” she really wasn’t kidding.
Bloomberg’s new plan for encouraging breastfeeding by way of restricting the distribution of formula in hospital maternity wards has incited a lot of resistance. And rightly so. There are better ways to help women choose breast over bottle than limiting their options or shaming them into it.
At Slate’s Hanna Rosin writes:
The question here is not whether breastfeeding is better or worse, we can all agree that breastfeeding infants is somewhat better than not breastfeeding them. The question is, as I have written many times before, that we do not want to feed into a culture that has made the failure or lack of desire to breastfeed seem like a shameful and even criminal affair.
Forward contributor Lenore Skenazy writes at the Daily News:
The mayor’s idea, of course, is that since breast-feeding seems to be the healthiest choice, why not discourage the alternative? But then maybe he should discourage women from having babies at a later age. After all, those kids are more likely to have health problems. Or maybe he should discourage parents from ever driving their kids anywhere? After all, that is the No. 1 way kids die — as car passengers. Or maybe he should just stop us all from ordering a large soda …
When I saw last week’s much-discussed Time magazine cover with its provocative mom-breastfeeds-toddler photo I groaned, worried that the debate over attachment parenting and breastfeeding would bring with it another chapter in the “mommy wars.”
When it comes to parental choices, such as staying at home vs. going back to work, breastfeeding vs. bottle-feeding, it seems that even some of the most die-hard feminists struggle to apply the rhetoric of reproductive justice — that every choice is unique to the woman who is making it and can’t be understood unless we’re in her shoes to the choices we make after birth.
But the media’s focus on the “mommy wars” ignores the real issue: Without policies that support families, no moms (or dads) can make those parenting choices that are so hyped up by the media. The folks at MomsRising are starting a campaign to ask Time to change its focus on covering families. They write:
What makes TIME’s decision to focus on trying to fan the flames of outdated, false “mommy wars” so utterly shameful is the fact that there are so many real and pressing issues facing America’s mothers right now that aren’t being covered. Issues like the fact that childcare costs more than college in many states, that 80% of low wage workers don’t have a single earned sick day, that women (particularly moms) face rampant pay discrimination, and that over 176 countries have some form of paid family leave, but the U.S. doesn’t.
These facts are stark. We remain the only country in the industrialized world without paid sick leave or mandatory paid parental leave. We have pitiful and costly daycare options, and there is little support for single mothers, poor mothers and others. Bryce Covert recently wrote a piece at the Nation about how new mothers are being driven into debt. She interviewed several women who had complications that led to their being driven deep into debt, or on a razor’s edge.
Like “Big Bang Theory” actress Mayim Bialik, I am an observant Jew, and had my first child while completing my Ph.D. (Mine was in experimental psychology; the actress’ was in neuroscience.) And like Bialik, I endorse and practice many aspects of ‘attachment parenting’: breastfeeding and late weaning, baby-wearing (using a sling), bed-sharing and positive discipline. So I thought I’d be a big fan of her new parenting book, “Beyond the Sling.”
And, indeed, there is much that drew me to her book. For example, I like the idea of being part of a community of parents struggling with how not to bribe their kids. But there are also aspects of “Beyond the Sling” that pushed me away.
Bialik explains in her book that she achieves her high-touch, high-attention parenting without the nannies or babysitters or personal chefs that you might expect from a TV star. But the author seems oblivious to the fact that her version of attachment parenting requires families to forgo a second income and to have either one parent who works a flexible schedule (like her husband did when their children were young) or outside help. And she bypasses altogether the reality of single parenthood.
About a month ago, I was nursing my son in the waiting room at the pediatrician’s office. A young girl who looked to be about 10 or 11 noticed a pair of little feet sticking out from under my blue floral nursing cover and innocently asked me what I was doing, and I responded that I was feeding my baby. Her eyes widened incredulously as she asked, “How do you feed a baby without a bottle?” Now, her mother was right there, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the 8.5 months that I’ve been a parent, it’s that “backseat parenting” is just not cool, so I quickly mumbled something about asking her (mortified looking) mother and left it at that.
The incident got me thinking. I felt sad for that little girl that nobody had thought to explain to her one of life’s most beautiful biological processes; I also felt dejected about the prospects of raising this country’s appallingly low breastfeeding rates.
Whenever these kinds of conversations come up, someone inevitably remarks that feeding babies is about choice, and we should not shame mothers who choose to bottle-feed. I agree. The problem is: How often does it truly come down to choice — and not a “cultural booby trap”?
Things were starting to look up earlier this week when both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres spoke out against the exclusion of women. It was also announced that the Knesset task force was meeting to discuss sanctions against businesses that discriminate against women.
…But then only one government minister, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, bothered to show up at the meeting.
At the meeting, the IDF’s human resources chief Major-General Orna Barbivai told attending Knesset members that “halachic considerations cannot override the considerations of army commanders,” in reference to recent demands to excuse religious male soldiers from military ceremonies in which women would be singing.
On the “modesty” front, 20 shops and businesses in Sderot, including some national chain stores, have signed a modesty agreement. Businesses making sure that their employees dress according to religious modesty standards get a “kashrut” certificate from the Torah-oriented Mimaamakim organization.
How does a mother-to-be choose a pediatrician for her baby-to-be?
My mother recently reminded me of her awful experience with my first pediatrician, when she became a first-time mother. Underslept and anxious, my mother had some difficulty with breastfeeding, as happens to so many new mothers. I gained no weight during that first month, which concerned my mother. The pediatrician’s helpful response was to tell my mother that she was causing me brain damage. Luckily, my mother replaced this doctor with Dr. Lazarus, another pediatrician who had both sterling medical credentials and human skills. Under the care of this second doctor, the breastfeeding began to work, and I became an increasing presence on the office scale.
Three decades later, as motherhood approached, I wanted to find my own Dr. Lazarus. Late in my pregnancy — I gave birth in May — I asked local parent-friends for referrals, ran doctors’ online profiles by my doctor-sister, and arranged to interview a handful of the finalists. Interviewing pediatricians is one of those rituals you don’t know exists until you’re pregnant.
Oh, Blossom. I hate to be critical of one of my favorite actresses who is an “out Jew” to boot, but your recent article in the online Jewish parenting publication Kveller, just raised too many alarm bells for me not to comment here. In the article, titled “I Breastfeed my Toddler, Got a Problem With It?” actress and neuroscientist Mayim Bialik writes about exclusively breastfeeding her 2½ year old son. He eats no solid food.
Yes, it’s an uncomfortable image. When our first babies were newborns, some friends and I took a post-partum exercise class, and we exchanged stunned looks when, at the end of class, the instructor’s preschooler came in, plopped down in her lap and lifted her shirt to nurse. But I live in the Park Slope area, a Brooklyn neighborhood where attachment parenting is so much the norm that family beds are conventional and people bring their babies with them into bars. So being unconventional isn’t the issue. It’s two other things that Bialik wrote that give me pause.
Her 2 ½ year old son isn’t yet verbal, she writes, unable even to ask in a basic way to nurse (he indicates interest in sign language), but Bialik doesn’t offer any explanation for his lack of speech. She also writes, “I have not slept more than 4 hours in almost 6 years.” She continues, “My son, however, is healthy, happy, and independent, and I see no reason to wean him.”
In the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim, attempts to ban women from the main street during Sukkot has prompted protests.
The “lactivist” community is calling for a boycott of Old Navy because the retailer is selling “Formula Powered” onesies. As Deborah Kolben points out on Kveller, Jewish tradition “recognizes that breastfeeding is both a burden and a blessing.”
Beginning this week, federal regulations require health insurance companies to provide free preventive health services — but those preventive services do not include free birth control, at least not yet.
The world’s grooviest lactation consultant – Freda Rosenfeld – who also happens to be a religious Jew, was profiled in this story by former Forward staffer Elissa Gootman in Sunday’s New York Times.
The story, titled “The Breast Whisperer,” is a nice, ahem, soft feature about the woman who is a godsend to many new moms in New York City, when she arrives at their post-partum side to advise about that most basic, and yet oft-times trickiest, of maternal duties: breastfeeding.
I worked with Freda myself almost exactly 16 years ago when, quite unexpectedly, I had no milk just after my first child was born. I’d never heard of anyone not producing milk after childbirth, and it is no exaggeration to say that when we called her, I was desperate for help.
In the following video, posted Tuesday on Web Yeshiva, Rabbi Chaim Brovender — who is not a medical doctor — states that “there is really no reason today that a pregnant woman should not fast, if she’s healthy and if the pregnancy is as it should be.” However, he outlines special precautions for pregnant women and breast-feeding mothers who are fasting:
But an observant-Jewish physician friend of mine — speaking to The Sisterhood as a medical professional, not as a halachic authority — explained, “Twenty-five hours in the height of summer without fluids is not a good thing for a pregnant woman, especially if the woman is experiencing morning sickness and losing water. And for the first week or two of nursing, she needs to be drinking.”