Nurse In

October 5, 2017

In 2005, Barbara Walters spoke on The View about her discomfort with nursing in public and particularly called out an incident on an airplane where a woman nursed her baby next to Ms. Walters. A group of parents and activists gathered outside the studio in a peaceful protest. I was pregnant with my third baby and was excited to be part of this nurse-in. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/07/nyregion/lactivists-taking-their-cause-and-their-babies-to-the-streets.html

Much has changed over the last decade. Breastfeeding is promoted by celebrities and is seen as a good thing generally speaking.

 
As an IBCLC I mentor up and coming Lactation Consultants.

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I was contacted by, Perrine, one of my interns last week. She told me that her friend was asked to move and to cover up at a store in Columbus Circle. Perrine is from France and wanted to know what the rules and laws are in the US and NYC.
The laws are clear, you have a right to breastfeed where you have a right to be in NYC.https://www.nysbreastfeeding.org/laws-and-legislation/

My first thought was, “we need a good old fashioned Nurse In!”
Perrine was thrilled. Thrilled to be able to stand up for her friend, to do something that could effect change and to take action.
It was easy to put together. A quick Facebook event and a bit of sharing.
Last Friday, September 29, just before 10:00am I arrived at the Shops at Columbus Circle and the first thing I noticed just outside the store were these beautiful twelve foot Adam & Eve sculptures by Botero.
They are impressive bronze statues that are nude. Of course, Adam & Eve are nude.
I find it ironic that a woman wanting to feed her child in the most normal manner is told to turn away so no one can see her while twenty feet away from these colossal nudes.

By 10:10 several moms and babies arrived at the atrium and gathered in the shadow of the Botero sculptures. A camera man from a local news station walked into the mall. I asked him if he was there for the nurse in. He was but told me he could not film inside the mall. We walked outside the mall and he began to focus his camera on me. A security guard approached us and told the camera man he could not film there. The camera man told him he had cleared it with head of security and to go ask him. As the guard swiftly went in search of his boss I spoke into the camera. I told whomever would be listening that it is important to normalize breastfeeding and that people should not be shamed for feeding their babies. I said that the breast is overly sexualized and that people in our culture cannot separate the sexual from the simply functional.

Back inside as we all gathered I was approached by a man in a suit whom I assume was the head of security for The Shops. Our exchange went something like this:

Him: Hi, what is going on here?”
Me: “Oh, my friends and I are going to do some shopping at Williams Sonoma. And, we may feed our babies if they get hungry.”
Him: “alright.” He nodded his head and smirked a knowing smirk.

We walked into the festively decorated shop, it smelled of cranberries and roasted turkey. We were offered tastes of their mulled cider. It was delicious.
A baby started to wiggle and her mom said her baby was ready to nurse. We were standing next to a beautifully appointed table and I asked an employee if my friend could sit and feed her baby. She smiled and replied, “of course.”
Then other moms pulled out the chairs and nursed their babies. It was beautiful and peaceful and ordinary. I watched the moms one by one get comfortable in their act of “defiance.” A bit sheepish at first then, one by one, easing into a setting of just a few moms sitting around talking and nursing and admiring the beautiful décor.

I asked if I could take their pictures. One of the moms was at first shy about being photographed and then as time went on she said, yeah, I can be photographed. She smiled and looked up at me and said, “I am a Lactavist!” She held her head a bit higher and she beamed at her baby and at herself.

I decided to “out” us. I asked the woman who allowed us to use the table and chairs if I could speak to a manager about an incident that had occurred earlier in the week. She seemed genuinely disturbed that there was an incident and got the manager immediately.
August is a tall man with dark hair pulled into a neat ponytail. He approached me and when I told him of the Perrine’s friend he was upset. He wanted to know which employee it was who had made this mom so uncomfortable. He assured me that the store policy is that a person can feed their baby anywhere and they do not have to hide or cover up. This was heartening and I wondered if I had made a big deal out of an isolated incident.
I approached the moms some of whom were nursing their babies and others whose babies had drifted off into milk drunkenness.
When I told them they were happy. They commented that they were happy to be a part of something.
I realized this is important for them, for the store manager, for the employees, the head of security and the channel 7 camera man.
This was not a big rally but it had an impact. The ripple effects will carry on. The social media sharing that happened continued throughout the week. Every little bit makes a difference. I cannot be quiet when it comes to social justice. I may not always have the right things to do or say but I will not sit idly by and let people be harassed for feeding their babies.

We quietly dispersed, I went home, got my gear and went to see a couple of families in their homes to help them feed their babies. Just another Friday!

 

The Last First Day

September 9, 2015

This morning as I dropped off my youngest child at school I was weepy. Was this Kindergarten or PreK? No, this was fifth grade. Finn is over five feet tall. He has been going to the same school since her was four years old. Why was I weepy? This marks the end of an era for me – as a mom, as a community member, as someone who is seeing time go by in my middle years.

This is my last First Day of School at the Earth School.

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My first First day of Earth School was in September of 2000. For the last fifteen years I have been trekking up and down Avenue B in the East Village of New York City

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Just north of 14th Street is Stuyvesant Town where we live. I have walked in snow, sleet, rain and in the blazing sun to get to our beloved elementary school. I have walked with babies in my belly, babies in slings and babies in strollers. I have seen teachers come and go and some come back! I have been through three principles. I have fund raised and recruited other families. I have escorted countless field trips often with a toddler in tow!

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At Earth I have found community. I have met some of my closest friends. My family has forged relationships with other families with whom we share holidays and birthdays.

I remember the first annual Earth School Auction.

I have enjoyed the art on the walls and read some inspiring poetry and memoirs by the wonderful children who populate the halls and hearts of our community.

I remember when the roof garden was an idea and then it became real.

I have seen families grow and I have seen families leave. I have seen tragedy and great joy and simply ordinary days at Earth. I was at Earth that terrifying morning on September 11, 2001.

I have watched children perform on the stage.

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I have nursed babies in the halls and in the lobby. I have sold popcorn and cookies in the lobby. I have done on-the-spot lactation consulting in the lobby.

I have grown as a human at Earth. I have watched my children grow and thrive. I have seen them learn to tie their shoes and learn conflict resolution and learn to construct a sentence and to defend an original idea.

I have learned about community building and about celebrating the seasons by marching in Tompkins Square Park to celebrate solstices and equinoxes.

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I learned about what education is. I have learned so much more. I have learned to let go and watch my babies grow into smart, confident people.

In nine months my youngest child will graduate from the Earth School. But today is the first day of fifth grade for Finn. I will embrace this day and open my heart to the Earth community.

The Power of Tears

January 10, 2015

You never know what may come out of your mouth and how it may impact another person

In my early years as a La Leche Leauge Leader I used to hold meetings in my apartment. One steamy summer afternoon I sat on the floor of my living room folding laundry as Phoebe napped. The buzzer jolted me as I wasn’t expecting anyone. It was the day after the Series Meeting. A voice over the intercom said “I am here for the Meeting.” I buzzed her in.

At my door was a petite new mom with auburn curls and a five-month-old baby asleep in a dark red Baby Bjorn carrier. Beads of sweat speckled her stiff body. Tension permeated her.

“I am sorry but the Meeting was yesterday. Come on in and have a glass of water,” I said.

Her face fell but her body remained at attention.

“Come on in, I‘m just folding laundry. Have a seat.”

“No, I don’t want the baby to wake,” she replied.

She stood in my living room as I sat back down on the floor and went back to the task of folding a load of pinks, greens, oranges and yellows.

“It’s hard being a new mom isn’t it?” I asked.

“Yes.” There was a pause.

Then, “and my own mother wants me to stop breastfeeding. She doesn’t understand me. I just want to cry,” she blurted out.

“Well, then, cry,” I offered.

“I don’t want to cry in front of my baby. I don’t want her to think I am weak,” she was incredulous.

“You know, there is strength in tears,” I said as I folded one of Phoebe’s flowery sundresses.

The floodgates opened. I didn’t know if it was five months of pent of tears or a lifetime.

Her body softened with each sob. Even her curls fell easier around her face. Her baby girl woke up and she sat on my couch and nursed her. At first she was stiff. I touched her shoulder and gently pressed her back into the back cushion. More tears fell.

This woman had traveled from the Upper West Side of Manhattan to the East Village. If you live in New York City you know that is quite a journey on public transportation, particularly for a new mom.

I never saw the woman again or heard from her but I learned the power of simple words that day.

I often cry with the moms with whom I work and I cry in front of my children. I always feel powerful after.

This morning I attended a panel discussion of the Children’s Health Council at Cornell Weill Medical College on New York City’s upper east side. The topic was Tots to Teens: Sleep and Your Child.

The panelists were Vikash K. Modi, M.D., FAAP, Haviva Veler, M.D. and Mary J. Ward, Ph.D.

The topics they addressed are the things I discuss with my clients: routine, rhythm and consistency for good sleep hygiene. The topic of co-sleeping was mentioned but was never actually addressed during the panel discussion. It was great to hear these panelists discuss normal sleep behavior and when medical conditions get in the way.

Then they talked about the importance of letting babies learn to sleep on their own. They even encouraged Cry It Out. What was especially compelling was the fact that the two moms on the panel confessed their own discomfort with letting their own babies Cry It Out. I was relieved to hear this because it confirmed I was listening to real people with real life experience. But I wonder why. Why they have expectations that others should “do as they say, not as they do?”

They discussed the problems of electronics and irregular schedules. They discussed how light disrupts the excretion of melatonin.

They never discussed diet. They touched on allergies, mostly airborne allergies causing inflamed adenoids and obstructing airways. But they did not discuss what and how babies are fed. I wonder if they considered this in their research.

They talked about sleep associations like music, blankets and parents. They insist these “objects” need to not be there when the baby falls asleep or they will need these associations when they wake in the middle of the night. They did not discuss breastmilk or the melatonin levels that change throughout the day to help babies to sleep more. They discussed circadian rhythms.

I learned the two factors that determine the need for sleep are 1)circadian rhythms and 2)how much time has elapsed between sleep sessions.

During the Question & Answer period there were many parents asking about their own children’s sleep issues. Luckily I got a chance to ask my question. Into the microphone, I spoke, “I am a Private Practice Lactation Consultant and one of my favorite things to show new families is how to SAFELY lay down and nurse their babies and to know how to SAFELY fall asleep if that were to happen. Why then when families pass into the borders of the United States do their bodies suddenly become dangerous?”

Dr. Ward admitted that she may be biased toward Western philosophy and mentioned a study that showed most parents do not like sleeping with their babies or children.

It made me wonder if the participants in that study answered that they don’t like it because they are conditioned to think it is bad? Are they conditioned culturally to think that babies are not supposed to cross the border of the marriage bed? Maybe I am reading too much into it. Maybe my personal bias towards wanting more sleep and wanting to breastfeed comfortably colors my thoughts on this controversy.

Gerald M. Laughlin, M.D. suggested that in this country the mattresses on adult beds as so soft as to cause suffocation as opposed to the hard mattresses in Asia where co-sleeping is the norm. I am not an anthropologist but I do sit on a lot of beds and very few I have examined are soft enough to cause a risk for babies.

Dr. Veler stated that there is research that states that there is an increase in SIDS when sleeping with parents. I told her I have research that negates that untruth.

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I brought along two copies of Sweet SleepNightime and Naptime Strategies for the Breastfeeding Family, the new book by Diane Wiessinger, Diana West, Linda J. Smith and Teresa Pitman published by La Leche League International. This book debunks many myths around sleep. The authors really went through many studies with a fine tooth comb and proved that in specific circumstances co-sleeping is the safest for babies.

They talk about the Safe Sleep Seven. For this to work a mom needs to be:

1) a non-smoker

2) sober

3) breastfeeding

the baby needs to be:

4) full-term and healthy

5) kept on his back when he is not nursing

6) unswaddled, in a onesie or light pajamas

and they both need to be

7) on a safe surface.

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This is nearly a five-hundred-page book so if you are really interested I recommend you check it out – many of those pages notes with citation of studies and research.

I gave one to Dr. Veler and the other to Dr. Loughlin.

It is my hope that these doctors will really look at them, take in the research and consider their words when they are asking parents to do what goes against their instincts.

I did take away some good information about my own older children. I learned how sleep works. My knowledge of the technology interfering with sleep is a real thing. I learned that it is absolutely normal for my thirteen year old to not want to wake up early in the morning.

I also learned that by trusting my instincts and paying attention to my children’s sleep I know what works against them getting good sleep and what helps. As babies we all slept better together. I did not mind being their sleep association “object.” It reminds me of the time when Phoebe was a toddler and she was holding onto her little red Elmo and another mom asked me, “Is Elmo her security object?” I was stunned then I realized what she was asking. “No.” I replied. “Well, what is,” she needed to know. “Um.” A beat, then “I am,” I beamed.

Change and Magic

June 26, 2014

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Yesterday was my birthday. Today was the last day of school for NYC Public School children. This weekend all three of my children will begin their summer at camp in the Berkshires and Rob and I will be alone for four weeks.

My oldest child has one year of college under her belt. My second child will be researching high schools in the fall. My youngest will begin fourth grade.

This summer many friends are leaving New York. They are going to Portugal, Massachusetts, Portland (both East and West) Israel, and Phoenix. The list goes on.

Change is hard. I have trouble with change. I have a hard time packing. I am challenged to move things around like furniture and art on my walls. I am a creature of habit.

But I also have change envy. I am envious of all those friends starting out on new adventures. I feel a little left behind.

Working with breastfeeding moms and babies I get to relive those early challenges of motherhood, the dramatic changes in the body and the heart. As someone who advises about weaning I get to relive the emotions of that milestone.

I was talking to Finn on the way to school this morning and he told me he wishes he could perform magic. The first thing I imagined I would do if I was magic would be to bring back my mother. This year in October it will be ten years since she died.

If I was magic . . .

Oh, the possibilities.

For now, I will remain in New York. I will continue to mother my children through all of the changes they experience. I will nurture my relationship with Rob. And I shall seek change that is positive. I will embrace each day, each challenge, each wrinkle and gray hair.

You see, this is about getting older. Yesterday was my 49th birthday and I am thinking deeply about 50. It is such a milestone. When I was a kid I used to imagine a grownup being 35 years old. I am past that quite a bit. I have to consider what this means.

I walk down the street and I look at other women. I try to figure out how old they are. I try to analyze their state of mind. I try to figure out if they are happy and healthy.

I will take in this final year of my forties. I am happy and I am healthy. And I know deep down I do possess some magic!

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As an active member of the breastfeeding community for nearly two decades I have seen so much marketing of formula from a personal place and for new parents. The marketing gets more and more clever and nefarious each day.

I was once helping a mom and baby in an apartment building in New York City where one has to be buzzed in. I was with this family for about an hour and a half. The buzzer never buzzed and the doorbell never rang. Upon my departure I nearly fell over a box of formula. The mom had not ordered this.

Currently infant formula manufacturers make formula specifically for breastfeeding moms. Why? Is it really different? Breastfeeding is the biggest market competitor for formula companies.

It was very exciting for me when, in 2012, Mayor Bloomberg took the marketing of formula out of New York City hospitals. Many people were upset by this action. They claimed that they were being bullied into breastfeeding. They were angry that they were not getting their “free” gift from the hospital. This was not the case at all.

What they did not realize is that by giving these “free” gift bags the citizens and patients were actually paying for these goodies.

When a hospital gives away promotional items they are endorsing this product and they are using human power to handle these items. These “free” gift bags are taking up precious real estate in our already crowded hospitals. This is FREE advertising for the pharmaceutical industry. FREE advertising. Those guys have plenty of cash to buy advertising but why spend it when the hospital will do it for free?

In May of 1980 the 27th World Health Assembly endorsed the WHO/UNICEF recommendation that “There should be an international code of marketing of infant formula and other products used as breast-milk substitutes.”

This is important because we know that breastfeeding rates decline where formula is marketed.

This is not an anti-formula campaign rather it is a recommendation to support healthy outcomes both long term and short term. The campaign is designed to take an ethical approach to promote breastfeeding as the normal way to feed babies.

Unfortunately the United States has not agreed to this recommendation.

On this anniversary the Public Citizen’s campaign to End Infant Formula Marketing in Healthcare Facilities is firing up to bring awareness to the continued marketing of formula in the US.

They are encouraging participants to use social media to get the message across by making signs that say “No Formula Ads in Hospitals” or “Follow the WHO Code.”

As an advocate for breastfeeding families I will join this day of action. What will you do to promote breastfeeding?

 

 

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Breasts are the great, mysterious glands that fascinate and confound us. They are used to sell cars and beer and they are used to feed babies. They can be used to lure lovers. They are mysterious because we idolize them but we know very little about them.

I remember talking with a woman who told me in medical school they were studying cadavers. She said they took a scrotum and dissected it this way and that way. When it came to the female body the breast was lopped off and they never looked at it.

Several years ago I was at the Bodies Exhibit at the South Street Seaport in lower Manhattan. I had my oldest child with me, she was ten years old at the time, and I had my son who was a few months old.

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I noticed that the exhibit of the female body showed a breast that was perfectly round. Since I see breasts almost daily in my work as a lactation consultant I knew that breasts are not perfectly round. At the end of the exhibit there was the opportunity to ask questions.

“Was there an aesthetic point of view in making the breast perfectly round?” I inquired. My ten-year-old rolled her eyes (Oh no, there goes mom again talking about breasts to perfect strangers, let me crawl away now.)

“Why don’t you ask him? He knows everything,” responded a woman as she pointed at a studious looking man in a white lab coat.

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“Hi, there! Do you know why the breast was carved to look perfectly round?” I asked. The ten-year-old turned beet red.

Mr. Studious pushed his gold wire rimmed glasses higher on the bridge of his nose and said:

“Breasts are round.”

“Yes, I understand but mammary tissue is not perfectly round, it goes up into the arm pit.” I moved my hand across my breast and up into my armpit. My baby drooled and his eyes followed my hands.

“Breasts are round,” insisted Studious.

“Well, they may look round in a bra but they are much more than just round.”

Studious huffed and said, “Would you like me to get out the anatomy book?”

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“Yes, please!” I was delighted. “Look up Tail of Spence.”

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Studious scanned the book ready to make me a fool and then he slowed down, his face fell as he read. He looked up, pushed those glasses back and said, “You are right.”

 

“I know! I am a Lactation Consultant!” I was beaming. The ten-year old was beginning to show a bit of respect, pride even, and the baby was beginning to pull at my sweater to get some milk.

I am always talking about breasts and in various conversations it has occurred to me that most people do not know what breasts are like except for the few that they have encountered whether it is their own or a lovers or a quick glimpse in the locker room.

So I wanted to share a little to take the mystery out. You mystery is scary. That means that breasts can be scary, like the unknown, the dark, a new school. All of these unknowns are scary. Let me demystify the breast!

Breasts come in all shapes and sizes. They have a nipple and areola, which also come in all shapes and sizes and many various colors ranging from light pink to dark brown. Some breasts have a little bit of hair on them and some have a lot of hair.

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Some breasts have big nipples, some have small nipples some have inverted nipples.

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In current culture breasts that are used to sell bear and cars in advertising actually look like breasts that are engorged with milk. Breasts that are engorged with milk are big, round and heavy and are quite uncomfortable.

Most women have some variation in the size and shape of her breasts. Some women have two different sized breasts.

At birth some babies will have milk in their breasts, some call it “Witches milk.” Some babies will even get engorged. This is rare but it happens.

Some people have extra nipples. During lactation sometimes these nipples will drip milk. Some women get engorged in their armpits – this is the Tail of Spence! It is a sort of milk line that goes up into the armpit.

Breasts are perky when they are young and smallish. Many breasts are sloping.

Breasts will sag with age whether or not you have a baby or whether or not you breastfed. Bras contribute more to sagging than lifting. As we age everything kind of moves a bit south.