Gisele Bundchen, We Don’t Need a Breastfeeding Law — Mothers Need Resources and Encouragement

by Dagmar Bleasdale on August 15, 2010

I was sitting next to The Feminist Breeder and the Crunchy Domestic Goddess, watching Annie of PhD in Parenting on a panel about “radical” blogging a week ago at the BlogHer conference, when I first heard about the uproar that resulted from model Gisele Bundchen calling for a “breastfeeding law.”

I adore those three bloggers for being eloquent breastfeeding advocates — I was so excited I got to meet and chat with them — and we all participated in the No Nestle boycott at BlogHer and educated others attendees about it.

Apparently, this quote by Gisele appeared in an interview for Harper’s Bazaar UK:

“To Gisele Bundchen, breastfeeding isn’t just beneficial… it’s essential, and should be international law. “I think breastfeeding really helped me keep my figure,” Bundchen, 30, tells Harper’s Bazaar UK. … She adds, “Some people here (in the US) think they don’t have to breastfeed, and I think ‘Are you going to give chemical food to your child when they are so little?’ I think there should be a worldwide law, in my opinion, that mothers should breastfeed their babies for six months.” [Us]

Since there obviously isn’t going to be such a law in the United States, I’m not even going to get into that aspect. (Although, this just in: Indonesian mums who do not breastfeed may face jail Yikes!)

I don’t know if her quote was taken out of context. I assume Gisele, as a new mom, is just exited about being able to breastfeed her son and passionate about her experience with breastfeeding, and since I can relate to that, I’m going to give the woman a break. It sounds like she wishes more women would breastfeed, and I’m all for that.

I don’t know Gisele, so I won’t speak for her — I’m just glad that breastfeeding gets a lot of attention right now because of her comment and has people talking. I hope that by breastfeeding being covered more in the media, there will be more information about it and that we will finally get to the point where more moms breastfeeding their children (longer) and nursing in public (NIP) becomes a common sight and the norm.

As you know, I am a HUGE, outspoken breastfeeding advocate, and I hope that all this uproar leads to the one thing I have been adamant about and working for since starting my blog: moms need more support and education and (free) resources to facilitate (extended) breastfeeding.

Although The World Health Organization now recommends breastfeeding a child for two years for maximum benefits, and the American Academy of Pediatrics promotes “exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and support for breastfeeding for the first year and beyond,” most of society still doesn’t seem to be aware of these recommendations or doesn’t take it serious enough. Sadly, myths like breast milk not having any nutritional value after one years pervade and persist in the collective conscience.

I didn’t have an easy time with breastfeeding in the beginning, and if I wouldn’t have found the right lactation consultant after two weeks of painful feeding sessions and little sleep, who knows, I might have given up. I am SO glad I didn’t. I’m still breastfeeding my now almost 4 year old and it’s one of my proudest accomplishments in life that I’m able to nourish him and comfort him and give him this great start in life with it (please note that I specifically didn’t say “best” start, I don’t want to get into that discussion with formula-feeding moms.)

Unicef has official numbers about how important breastfeeding babies is: according to them, promoting breastfeeding has saved 6 million babies per year – that’s 3,000 per day.

A recent study says that 900 US infants could be saved each year — along with billions of dollars of health care costs — if breastfeeding was more common (ie. 90%), which means that almost three babies die every day primarily because they were not breastfed — in the US! Here is just one quote from the Associated Press article:

“The magnitude of health benefits linked to breast-feeding is vastly underappreciated, said lead author Dr. Melissa Bartick, an internist and instructor at Harvard Medical School. Breast-feeding is sometimes considered a lifestyle choice, but Bartick calls it a public health issue.”

 

And please don’t forget, there are so many health benefits for moms who nurse their babies! As you can read in that New York Times article, women who breastfeed more than a year “were 20 percent less likely to have diabetes, 12 percent less likely to have hypertension, 19 percent less likely to have high cholesterol and 9 percent less likely to have had a heart attack or a stroke…” I also have a much lower risk of certain cancers because I breastfeed my son, and all those benefits increase the longer I nurse him.

 

McKMama, just posted her thoughts about Gisele Bundchen’s — and Bethenny Frankel’s — comments, and I’m glad that she did since she has a huge audience. As of today, that post generated 362 comments! Naturally, I poured over the comments and as expected, many of them are from moms who express how distraught they are about not being able to breastfeed their children for various reasons. As I have seen countless times since educating myself about breastfeeding over the last four years, many moms who end up feeding their children formula feel guilty and attacked when breastfeeding is being hailed as the only right thing to do for their children.

My stance on that: every mom wants to do the best for her child, and if you gave breastfeeding a try and you ended up using formula for one reason or another, only you can judge if you did everything you could before switching to formula. If you know you did  the right thing for your child’s and your own (physical and emotional) well-being, then there is no reason to feel attacked.

I’m not going to judge women for using formula — but I’m going to continue fighting for women to have more information and (free) resources about breastfeeding to increase their chances for success with it, because as most women find out, it’s not that easy.

Reading all the comments about McKMama’s post made one thing very clear again: most women want to — and do — give breastfeeding a try, but they don’t have enough support and resources when they run into problems with it. Those moms who gave up breastfeeding don’t love their children any less, they mostly just weren’t armed with the right information at that critical time — during the first few days and weeks of their baby’s life.

I sigh when I read “I couldn’t produce enough milk” or “it just hurt so much” because most likely those moms could have been easily helped. There are things one can do to increase the milk supply, like nursing exclusively and on demand especially in the beginning to establish a sufficient milk supply or drinking Mother’s Milk tea. I’m not a lactation specialist, but I have read and heard enough in the last four years to know that the most common problem with breastfeeding is a poor latch. Having personally experienced how easily that can be remedied (in my case by a well-trained, knowledgeable lactation specialist), I know that many other moms would have benefited from help with their baby’s latch and could have continued to nurse without discomfort. Also, having the number of your local La Leche League leader handy before the baby’s arrival can make a huge difference. This organization is lead by moms who volunteer to help other moms — for free — with breastfeeding.

How sad it is that we so rarely see a nursing mom in public. Moms shouldn’t feel ashamed to breastfeed in public or around family members — they should be applauded! I am so proud to be breastfeeding my son that I have always done it in public — without covering up — but not every new mother is that comfortable with it and could use an encouraging glance instead of raised eyebrows.

We don’t need a law to mandate breastfeeding — new moms feel overwhelmed enough and torn into so many directions, especially if they have to go back to work after only a few weeks at home with their baby. This is what we need:

  • We need to educate boys and men about the advantages of breastfeeding so they support women in their breastfeeding efforts
  • We need to educate all doctors — especially male ones — so much more about breastfeeding; many of them are not correctly informed (no, cavities are not caused by breast milk!)
  • We need gynecologist to encourage breastfeeding and arm expecting moms with easily accessible information and resources (like the free support of the La Leche League)
  • We need a law that lets new moms stay at home longer with their babies to facilitate (extended) breastfeeding (in Germany, new moms can stay at home with their kids for up to three years and their job will be held for them during that time!)
  • If we as a society are truly committed to do the best thing for mothers’ and babies’ health, we need a ban of formula samples. What about formula companies only being allowed to give out information about their products if they also provide women with brochures filled with information and resources about breastfeeding (not written by formula companies but the AAP, WHO, or La Leche League)? My doula gave me a great tip I have repeated many times to expecting moms: if you are given formula samples, decline them or throw them away. Don’t have formula in the house, then you won’t be tempted to used it when you run into problems with breastfeeding
  • I’d love to see employers give nursing moms extra break time for pumping. Having to spend their break for pumping leads to many moms giving up breastfeeding because they never get a break and are exhausted

While researching for numbers on how much formula costs have increased in recent years — it’s something line 200 percent — I came across this report: “Concerns About Infant Formula Marketing and Additives” by the California WIC Association (March 2010). It states:

“Troubling pricing trends and marketing practices in the infant formula industry continue to threaten basic public health… Infant formula companies battle for market share against a unique product: breast milk, a living food that contains hundreds of active biological substances that cannot be manufactured and are not present in infant formula. As breastfeeding rates have slowly and steadily increased, particularly among low-income women, the formula industry has grown more aggressive in its attempt to regain market share, particularly by pushing formula supplementation… In 1994, the United States signed on to a nonbinding International Code for Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes of the World Health Organization, which prohibits direct marketing of infant formula to mothers and health care providers. However, there are increasing reports that U.S. formula companies are violating this WHO Code through a number of means: routine and widespread direct marketing, including saturation advertising to mothers with billboards and magazine ads; detail marketing to healthcare providers; and provision of free formula to new and expectant mothers via discount coupons, direct free shipments of formula, and hospital discharge packs…growth in the domestic infant formula market is primarily being driven by price increases, not by the quantity of formula sold. To maintain profitability, formula manufacturers have raised their prices by creating a dizzying array of new product lines and additives that come with attractive—though scientifically questionable—health claims… The most disturbing direct advertising for these more expensive “new” formulas subtly undermines the obvious and proven superiority of breastfeeding by positioning formula as more and more equivalent to breast milk…”

The bottom line is this: it is in all our best interest that babies get breastfed by their mothers. Breastfed babies are in general healthier, and their mothers are healthier as well (decreased chance to get certain illnesses and cancers). Millions of dollars in health care costs could be allotted for other illnesses if more babies were breastfed. Did you know that the U.S. cost of treating respiratory viruses resulting from not breastfeeding is $225 million a year alone (Mothering Magazine article)?

Lets do everything in our power to facilitate that new moms get the best chance to succeed with breastfeeding!

For free resources, information, and a list of blogs about breastfeeding, check out the Dagmar’s momsense breastfeeding page.

Here is Dr. Jay Gordon’s take on the Gisele breastfeeding law controversy.

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Bee August 22, 2010 at 9:42 PM

Great post! I still have a breastfeeding post in my drafts that I started during world breastfeeding week but haven’t gotten around to finishing it.
I consulted with lc’s a plenty, but could never achieve an adequate supply. However, I am still nursing at just shy of 18 months, and have been pumping my body with “a bunch of drugs to hopefully squeeze out a few drops of so-called “natural” breast milk”, as well as having to supplement with formula. I thank god every day for formula. I know my little girl would have died without it since I could not, despite drinking the teas, pumping, taking the fenugreek, taking the drugs, etc., supply my little girl with an adequate supply. I was also thankful for being able to bring formula home with me from the hospital because it ended up coming in very handy.

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semi-crunchy mama August 20, 2010 at 3:44 PM

Excellent post! Well researched and well thought out. I couldn’t agree more.

We’ve encountered more problems than I expected nursing #2 (colic, recurrent thrush, food intolerances) and it definitely hasn’t been as easy of a journey as I thought it would be. I am so thankful I have a strong support system. I wish everyone did!

To the mom who says free formula samples are a “god-send,” what about when those samples run out and you have to pay for insanely over-priced formula? Companies give out samples for one reason only and that reason is to lure you in to buying their product. And giving samples out haphazardly is not only again WHO code, but places doubt in the minds of moms who are trying so hard with breastfeeding. That’s why mine disappeared with #1. Somehow I never got any with #2.

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