On mandatory breastfeeding

Many people mocked supermodel Gisele Bundchen as a "boob" and a "twit" a couple of years ago when she said the law should require mothers to breastfeed for at least six months. It turns out Bundchen may just have been a little ahead of her time.

As of this summer, hospitals in New York City will no longer make formula available to new mothers and babies unless it is medically indicated, or promote its use in any way. "Latch On NYC" is an initiative of the city's mayor, Michael Bloomberg.

"Motherhood" by Mary Cassatt

Studies have been piling up in recent years that show that breast-fed babies  do better in a number of ways than bottle-fed babies. Still, fewer than one-third of babies are consuming only breast milk at 3 months, and nearly four-fifths of babies have stopped breastfeeding altogether before the recommended minimum of one year. 

And as Linda Lowen wrote recently on About.com,

Part of the problem is that we like our swag -- our goodie bags packed with toys and samples and coupons. Hospitals give these out as a matter of course, and as new moms we're eager for it.

The swag started with the formula companies. And they knew exactly what they were doing. They were hooking women at an emotional and vulnerable time, and from there they reeled us in.

Taking the free samples of formula away from new moms in hospitals protects them from the manufacturers who make it so easy to start a baby off on formula, rather than on the breast, Lowen wrote.

But even some breastfeeding proponents are protesting the new methods for giving breast-feeding a leg up in the nursery. Some women say mothers are already feeling the effects of Latch On NYC, which will go into effect Sept. 3.

New NYC mom Jacoba Urist wrote in a Wall Street Journal blog about her experience trying to have her baby fed with formula at the New York University Medical Center, where she had given birth, so she herself could sleep through the night. Nurses twice said they couldn't find any formula, and brought Urist her baby in the middle of the night to breastfeed, she wrote.

After Sept. 3, lack of cooperation, if such it was among those nurses, will turn to rules in NYC. "With each formula bottle a mother requests, she’ll get a lactation lecture about why she should use breast milk instead," Urist writes of Latch On NYC. She supports breastfeeding in general and does it herself, but thinks the new rules themselves will "prey on women in the days (sometimes hours) after they deliver a baby."

Kara Spak, a new mother and my former colleague at the Chicago Sun-Times, made an especially compelling case for leaving formula-feeding moms in peace, in a recent commentary about Latch On NYC in the Sun-Times.

Spak, who is perhaps best known nationally for winning more than $85,000 as a contestant on Jeopardy in 2010, wrote that she intended to breastfeed, but her baby wasn't thriving on breast milk. Ultimately, she had to choose between her baby's health and the breast-feeding ideal. She began feeding her new daughter formula, and continues to do so.

After that traumatic beginning, when Spak talked with her friends with babies, all of whom were committed breast-feeders, it turned out that all of them had had problems nursing, she said.

And that's the travesty here, or one of them, anyway. As Alissa Quart reported in her recent New York Times op-ed piece, "The Milk Wars,"

For most women, there is little institutional support for breast-feeding. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 11 percent of private-sector workers get paid family leave through their employers. Once mothers go back to work, there are few places where they can pump milk for later use.

Jane Brody's NYT column in response to Quart's piece, "The Ideal and the Real of Breastfeeding," gave readers a look at this longtime health writer's own rocky experience with nursing many years ago, plus a survey of studies and anecdotal evidence that makes it clear that, while breast might be best, it isn't for everyone.

On a more positive note, this year's "Big Latch-On," completed just this weekend, attracted 8,862 nursing babies (and their moms) in 23 countries, a new record.

And check out Birth Story's previous posts on breastfeeding.

Image: Motherhood by Mary Cassatt

How the other half births

The birth Jan. 7 of Blue Ivy Carter, daughter of hip-hop stars Beyonce and Jay-Z  (Shawn Carter), had Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan in a tailspin this week.

Beyonce pregnant

Beyonce

Other new parents complained of disruptions and even security breaches as the celebrity family reportedly took over part of the hospital's sixth floor for a private, customized labor-delivery area for $1 million-plus. (A hospital spokesman said the Carters occupied an "executive suite" and paid the standard rate for it.)

Neil and Rozz Nash-Coulon were upset at being detained in the neonatal intensive care unit after visiting their newborn twins, while Edgar Ramirez reported he was refused entrance to visit his baby in the the NICU unit. Windows were covered, private security guards issued orders, and security cameras were even disabled, families complained.

"The security of our children is at risk when you cover security cameras," Ms. Nash-Coulon told Nina Bernstein of the New York Times.

And, all the secrecy fed rumors. Beyonce's website states that "Baby Blue" was "delivered naturally," while portions of the blogosphere ran with a report that the birth was a C-section. And there's even a contingent that holds that Beyonce's pregnancy was a fake, that a surrogate mom bore Blue.

Tina Fey and Jane Krakowski, stars of the sitcom 30 Rock on NBC, told The Today Show's Matt Lauer that they both had their babies at Lenox Hill Hospital as well. Said Fey, "My celebrity treatment at Lenox Hill involved taking a group breast-feeding class in a closet."

Hands off Mother’s Day!

This year it looks as if we are moving beyond shooing moms out onto the street at the crack of dawn on Mother's Day to raise funds to fight cancer. This year we are going after their brunch and posy money as well.

A new organization called the Mother's Day Movement pronounces itself "shocked to learn that $14 billion was spent in the US in 2010 on Mother’s Day celebrations including flowers, cards and meals."

Nora's roses

Roses from my daughter Nora

The group's website says that, "given the number of women and children suffering globally, and here at home, it is time for everyone to rethink this holiday and donate a portion of Mother’s Day spending to those less fortunate."

Actually, last year was a low point for mom on her "special day," probably due to the weak economy. This year, the National Retail Federation estimates Americans will spend upwards of $16 billion on mom, even though the NRF opines in its press release that "mom doesn’t expect much for Mother’s Day."

And why is that, do you think? Perhaps because while more three-quarters of all mothers are in the work force, including more than 60 percent of those with very young children,  women still make only 83 percent of their male counterparts' wages?

I am all for supporting needy women and children, for working to bring down maternal mortality and for curing cancer.

But boy, do I hate it when proponents of these projects tie them to Mother's Day.

That nice Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, who writes so compellingly about victimized women around the world, has suggested "we move the apostrophe so as to celebrate not so much Mother’s Day — honoring a single mother — but Mothers’ Day, to help save mothers’ lives around the world as well."

To which I say, talk to me about these issues on Monday.

Sunday represents one of two days all year — the other is my birthday — when I guiltlessly look my dear family members in the eye and say, "I don't know what's for lunch. I don't want to go to the park. I don't intend to get out of bed until the sun goes down."

Perhaps you think I am being humorous, but I'm not. Why do you think women around the world are in such wretched shape? It's because their needs come in dead last, behind the livestock in some places, and nobody thinks a thing of it.

No one should consider pilfering the small comforts society extends to mothers on this day.

Sure, affluent women will score even more great stuff on Mother's Day than they usually get. (People celebrating the holiday will spend an average of $140.73, the NRF reports.) But plenty of moms whose grown children call them a handful of times a year* might actually get flowers or a gift on Sunday or even — woo-hoo! — a meal they don't have to cook themselves.

On Mother's Day, every individual should look at the woman who gave him life, or think about her, and if she is a kind and decent woman, thank her for all that she was willing and able to do — and by the way, do something to bring her a little pleasure.

Because if we can't even do that, then heaven have mercy on the women of the world.

(*I am lucky enough to have a far more attentive grown daughter.)

On parenting and priorities

As a followup to the post on the debate over the prudence of Major League Baseball's paternity leave list, I thought I would post a portion of Steve Lombardi's April 27, 2009, interview on WasWatching.com with New York Times sportswriter Tyler Kepner, who covers the New York Yankees.Press pass

In his recent story on the new paternity leave list, Kepner called it "baseball’s latest common-sense roster rule," in contrast to some other sportswriters who wrote that they thought ball players should show up for games even if it means they miss the birth of one of their children.

In Lombardi's Q & A interview, Kepner talked about his own experience of being a father of four on the one hand, and on the other hand holding down a job that rivals long-distance trucker for time spent away from home.

WW: How do you manage being the father of four young children while also being a beat writer covering the Yankees? What are the biggest challenges on both sides of that fence for you as you try to manage a work-life balance that fits your needs?

Tyler Kepner: That’s been the essential question of my life for the last 10 years. But this much is obvious: it would be impossible to keep any kind of balance without a supportive and patient wife and a fair and understanding boss. I am very lucky to have both.

All of my editors at the Times have treated me wonderfully, allowing me to build some flexibility into my schedule so I don’t miss too many family things.

Over my 10 years on the beat at the Times (2 with the Mets and now 8 with the Yankees), I can remember missing a series in Seattle for a birthday, the All-Star Home Run Derby for another birthday, the last game of a series at Tampa Bay for a school play, a series in Baltimore for a dance recital, a series at Minnesota for a wedding, and so on.

I still end up covering probably 75 road games a year, but having a boss who understands that you have a life outside your job is just so crucial. It takes away the burnout factor, which is a very real risk but has never been an issue.

By knowing the editors respect my personal life, I can give everything I have to the job on the days I work.

And on the days I’m off, I don’t do any work at all. Most of the time, I don’t even watch the game.

I would say Kepner's insights apply to ball players as well, even to the best ones, who might hold a game's outcome in their hands.

People aren't machines, and that includes elite athletes. They need to have balance in their lives just in order to perform well on the job. They, their employers, spouses and families, are the best judges of what that balance requires.

Many thanks to Steve Lombardi for letting me use this part of his blog post. Incidentally, I love, love, love the fact that one male baseball writer asked that question of another male baseball writer and elicited the response Kepner gave.

Childbirth vs. baseball

Where do you stand on this? It probably depends on how seriously you take your sports.

The baseball season was only a few weeks old when a sports blogger lambasted Texas Rangers pitcher Colby Lewis for missing a game in which he was scheduled to pitch, in order to attend the birth of his daughter, Elizabeth Grace.

Colby Lewis

Colby Lewis

Lewis, 31, was the first player to go on Major League Baseball's new paternity leave list. A player can be on the list, and off the roster, for up to three days for the birth of a child.

"Baseball players are paid millions to play baseball," Richie Whitt wrote in a post for the Dallas Observer sports blog. "If that means 'scheduling' births so they occur in the off-season, then so be it. Of the 365 days in a year, starting pitchers 'work' maybe 40 of them, counting spring training and playoffs.

"If it was a first child, maybe. But a second child causing a player to miss a game? Ludicrous."

Twitter and blogosphere lit up with sputtering rebuttals: Fatherhood trumps baseball any day, buster.

The Rangers' pitching coach, Mike Maddux, said he supports the new list.

But baseball writer Rob Neyer waded in on Whitt's side of the fracas for SB Nation:

"I'm going to be honest here, as I have been since the first time this came up, some years ago (official paternity leave is new, but players taking a game off to attend childbirth is not)," he wrote.

"As a human being, I think this is fantastic. As a baseball fan, though? If my team's in the playoff hunt, I'm sorry, but I don't want one of my starting pitchers taking the night off. We're not talking about some guy who works on the assembly line for the Integrated Widget Corporation. We're talking about one of the most talented pitchers on the planet, not easily replaceable. What if your team finishes one game short of the playoffs? Was it really worth it?

"Or as a sage philosopher once observed, The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

"And last I checked, there were many fans of the Texas Rangers."

Well, it's not just the Texas Rangers anymore. Several other players have already gone on the list, including the Oakland Athletics' catcher Kurt Suzuki, Washington Nationals' shortstop Ian Desmond and New York Mets' left-fielder Jason Bay.

“Teams were basically granting [leave to attend births] anyway, but they ended up playing short, and that really wasn’t the goal,” Peter Woodfork, a senior vice president with Major League Baseball, told the New York Times' Tyler Kepner for a story about the list. “[The paternity leave list] leaves no gray area. Neither side feels like, ‘Well, we really want you to stay.’ There’s no guilt, and it helps both sides.”

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons