Monday, January 15, 2018

Breastfeeding in Public--Why and Why Not?

This is a selfie I recently snapped of myself breastfeeding my 2-month-old in our local YMCA’s “mother’s privacy room”— a great nursing room with beautiful furniture, soft carpet, comfortable couch, dim light, and everything that a great nursing room should have.

But what I really wanted was to breastfeed by the pool, so that I can feed my baby and watch my 4-year-old swimming at the same time.

My baby finished the nursing session just when my preschooler finished his swimming lesson for that day. When I stepped out of the mother’s privacy room, my older child grumbled, “I did very well today, Mom. But you were not there to watch me!”

“I’m sorry,” I said. And I meant it. “I wanted to watch you but Jasper was hungry. I had to feed him.” 

“Why don’t you just feed him by the pool? I saw other kids eating on the pool chaise lounge. That should be okay.”

For one moment, I wasn’t sure how to answer his question. Apparently breastfeeding is a totally nature thing to hime. He sees babies eating mother’s milk just like toddlers eating gold fish.

But to many adults, that’s not the case. We’ve seen mothers shamed for breastfeeding at Walmart, Disney Land, and yes, YMCA.

The hostility makes many moms, including me, hesitate to nurse in public. In theory, I am all for breastfeeding in public. But in reality, I don’t always feel comfortable breastfeeding in public. I would only nurse in public when my baby is absolutely hungry, I absolutely cannot find a nursing room, and I am absolutely sure that no one would notice me.

That’s unfortunate. Breastfeeding in public is a civil right. And it should be not just a civil right, but also a social norm for two reasons.

One, mothers need to have their normal life keep going while breastfeeding. No mother could breastfeed for one year (which is really just the minimum recommendation) if she could not continue her life while doing so. If a nursing mom has to stay at home, unable to dine out, to go shopping, or to watch her older children swimming in the pool, how can it be possible for her to breastfeed for one whole year?

Two, children need to see breastfeeding in public. Some argue that breastfeeding in public would offend other parents with kids. This is insane. Nursing mothers are not something that recently invented. Merely two generations ago, it was not unusual to see a woman nurse her baby in public. All the trouble started with the using of female bodies to sell cars. There is nothing inappropriate about breastfeeding in public, except the people who are sexualizing it. And if our children grow up surrounded by sexualized images of breasts from Hollywood but never, or only rarely, see the normal, natural act of breastfeeding a baby, how can they have healthy ideas about women’s bodies? 

Breastfeeding will not be seen to be natural until we see more women breastfeed in public. If you're a nursing mom, please breastfeed on​. If you're not nursing, please show some support.

This is an original post for San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition by To-wen Tseng.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Applause to New Jersey for Signing Bill to Prohibit Breastfeeding Discrimination

Great news from New Jersey this week: Firing or discriminating against women who breastfeed at work is now prohibited under the state legislation signed by Gov. Chris Christie on Monday!

No, I don’t live in New Jersey. But I think it is a good example of supporting a welcoming environment to working mothers. Now New Jersey employers would be in violation of the new law, which serves as an update to the state’s civil rights law, for firing or discriminating against a woman over breastfeeding. New Jersey businesses must now also provide break time and a suitable location for breastfeeding women to express milk in private.

New Jersey is joining 48 other states, along with Washington D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands, to have laws allowing women to breastfeed in public and private locations. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor announced rules that require employers to provide accommodations for breastfeeding. This is important, because mothers with access to the break time and facilities they need are more than twice as likely to breastfeed exclusively for at least six months, which is the minimum breastfeeding period recommended by American Academy of Pediatrics.

It is great to see that woking moms have new protections. When I gave birth to my first child back in 2003, many workplaces lacked breastfeeding accommodations. According to a 2015 study from University of Minnesota, three in five working mothers had no access to lactation accommodations. Only 59% of breastfeeding women have access to the break time they need, while only 45% have access to adequate facilities to express breastmilk.

I live in California. The state has some of the most expansive legal protections for breastfeeding mothers of any state. Section 1030 through 1033 of the California Labor Code require all employers in the state to provide reasonable break time for expressing breast milk. This break time runs concurrently with breaks required for all employees.

In spite of the advantages, some employers break the law when it comes to breastfeeding rights. My previous employer was one of them. The company denied lactation accommodations when I returned to work after maternity leave, even though breastfeeding accommodation is required by California law. This incidence eventually lead to my separation from that company and a law suit. I sued my previous employer for sexual discrimination. The suit was settled with an agreement which required the company to change its policies regarding lactation accommodations and to share these policies with staff. Moreover, all supervisors should be trained on the policy and how to respond to requests for lactation accommodations.

The only thing I disagreed with the settlement was confidentiality. They wanted to pay for my silence which I refused. I turned down the financial compensation in my lawsuit, so that I could speak out about this type of discrimination. I’ve been involved in breastfeeding and other women’s rights activities ever since. I’m always thrilled to hear good news like the newly signed New Jersey bill. Let’s keep speaking up and hoping for a brighter future!

This is an original post for MomsRising by To-wen Tseng.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Things I Wish My Boss Knew About Maternity Leave

With a newborn, the days are long but the years are short. My baby turned ten weeks this past weekend. Which means I have two more weeks of maternity leave.

Yes, I am on maternity leave. No, maternity leave is not a vacation. To the employers who consider maternity leave is for fun or moms on maternity leave are being lazy, I have something to say.

I do want to work. I still deeply care about my career. 
I’m not taking maternity leave because of laziness. The fact that I love my career does not change because of motherhood. After becoming a mother, I have one more mouth to feed and an example to set. I am going to show up for work because I have to and I want to.

Nothing about this leave is a vacation. I need time to heal and to bond with my new baby.
Thank to the progress of modern medicine, many have forgotten that giving birth is like walking through the gates of the hell. The standard six weeks of maternity leave is just the very minimum time that it takes for a woman’s body to heal from the trauma of birthing a human being. And new moms need time to bond with their new babies. Research shows that bonding is essential for normal infant development.

The phase back transition is important, and flexibility is everything. 
According to CEB analysis, 90% of women leave the workforce because of other workplace problems rather than having a child. It’s enterprises’ loss. Evidence shows that supporting work-life balance helps companies to raise the retention rates of moms, to attract and keep more talented women.

I’m not conflicted about loving both my baby and my career.
Baby and career should not be a zero-sum game. In an ideal world, every woman should be able to have both—as long as she wants.

Motherhood gives me amazing new skills on multitasking.
I am a criminal and disaster reporter. The most challenge work I have done is not in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, or in Mexico during the drug war, but at home trying to keep a small human being alive. I’m learning some new skills with this motherhood thing that are going to make me an even better employee than before. When I’m ready, I’ll be back and I’ll thrive.

Last but not least, why should the government support paid maternity leave? That’s simple: The country needs women to have babies, because demographers suggest that a country needs a fertility rate of just over two children per woman to hit replacement fertility. The country also needs women in workforce, because it impacts the economic pie for all. As the Chinese proverb says, “You cannot ask the horse run without feeding it.” The government cannot asks women to work and to have babies without supporting them. Paid maternity leave is the first step to support working mothers.

Still think maternity leave is a vacation for lazy moms to have fun? Think again.

This is an original post for MomsRising by To-wen Tseng. Photo credits to Mu-huan Chiang. 

Friday, December 1, 2017

Paternity Leave—Not Just Maternity Leave—Is Crucial Support For Breastfeeding

I’m having a miserable day. So miserable that I feel an urgent necessity to write this post.

Earlier this week, my husband flew to Asia for work on the day our new baby turned 6 weeks old. At this age, the baby still eats every two to three hours, and sleeps only a few hours at a time, day or night. Surely I always get out of the bed much more quickly than my husband when our baby cries in the middle of the night, but still, breastfeeding is much easier when there is someone who does the laundry, washes the dishes, and watches the older children.

My husband is a supportive partner and has been doing all these for me—until he has to return to work six weeks after the baby was born. Now on top of breastfeeding every three hours, I’m cooking, washing the dishes, doing the laundry, and running after our 4-year-old. I’m ridiculously tired. Right now I’m covered in spit-up, which really adds insult to injury when being sleep-deprived. Unfortunately, I don’t have the energy to do anything about it. So I’m sitting here, with the baby in my left arm, and typing this article with my right hand.

And that’s not a bad version of what most working parents in the US experience. At least my husband has six weeks of paid family leave. According to OECD, out of 41 countries, the US is the only one that does not mandate any paid leave for new parents. The Family Medical Leave Act ensures that women cannot lose their jobs for 12 weeks after having a baby, provided the company they work for has more than 50 employees. It does not concern itself with how to cover the parent’s lost earnings. Only 16% of employers offer fully-paid maternity leave, fewer offer paid paternity leave.

And paternity leave—not just maternity leave—is crucial for breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is team work; it actually takes three people—mom, baby, and dad—to breastfeed. Research shows that the chance of a baby being breastfed for six months is significantly higher if the dad supports breastfeeding. Among other things, a supportive father can offer rest, food, water, and encouragement. Paid paternity leave can empower dads to be supportive dads.

When it comes to baby feeding, the science is clear—there’s nothing better than breastmilk for baby, mom and the environment. Breastfed babies get fewer infections, mother who breastfeed have lower risk of osteoporosis, and breastfeeding leaves no foot print. However, breastfeeding would never work without paid family leave.

My husband is flying home next week. I miss him. He is a very hands-on dad. He burbs and holds our baby after each feeding, he reads with our 4-year-old every evening. I only wish men in this country could have a longer paternity leave. Japanese fathers have 30 weeks. Korean dads have 16 weeks. I’d be happy with just 12 weeks.

This is an original post for San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition by To-wen Tseng. Photo credit to the author.  

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Commonsense Gun Safety, Now Is the Time

LA Police hosts gun buyback in wake of Sandy Hook shooting in 2012.
I am an American but my job allows me to look at America with a foreigner’s eye—I’ve spent most of my career life working as a U.S. based correspondent for a various of Chinese media outlets. Through the years I can’t help it but notice many senseless things in this country’s system. Paid family leave, for one. Gun safety, for another.

Last month I wrote a piece on how to talk to kids about tragic events for Taiwan’s Commonwealth Parenting Magazine in light of the Las Vegas shooting. Even though the attack happened here in America, increased anxiety among children in other countries is common, because social media makes the world feel very small.

In the article I quoted one of the experts I talked to and pointed out that “parents can tell their children that security will likely be increased in response to an event like this to work to keep people safe.”

Soon after the article was up on Commonwealth Parenting Magazine’s website, I received a message from a man, describing himself as a Taiwanese American, a faithful reader of the magazine, and a father of two. In the message he asked me “so what has been done to increase the security and keep people safe?”

I was embarrassed because I did not know what has been done to increase the security. In fact, I would say that nothing has been done even after repeated mass shooting. Merely one month after I wrote that piece, we had Sutherland Spring shooting and then Rancho Tehama shooting. Yet nobody seemed to give a damn.

My husband and I dared not to talk about these news stories at home because we’re afraid that our 4-year-old would, too, ask questions like what has been done to keep people safe. I know I would not be able to answer his question in spite of that article I wrote. How ironic.

Our 4-year-old already senses not everywhere is like this. He has cousins living in Asia and Europe, where nobody carries gun around. He wants to know why this is the case here in the U.S. I, on the other hand, cannot talk to him about something that I cannot make sense of myself. I cannot tell him that gun ownership stops crimes as a few of those interest groups claim because hard numbers show that an armed home is not a safer home.

I need to think of what to tell my children. That’s why I’m thrilled to learn that Senators introduced assault weapons ban. Now at least after every mass shooting with a military-style assault weapon, I can tell my children that a tool to reduce these massacres is sitting in the Senate, ready for debate and a vote.

As Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) stated in a press release, “To those who say now isn’t the time, they’re right—we should have extended the original ban 13 years ago, before hundreds more American were murdered with these weapons of war.” It’s time to urge the Congress do their job and stem the tide of gun violence

This is an original post for MomsRising.