Thursday, May 9, 2019

Normalize Breastfeeding in Our Community

I have a story about persistence.

In 2013, a self-describe “largest Chinese-language newspaper serving North America” published a controversial article. Titled “Breastfeeding photos embarrass Chinese-American to death,” the piece cited anonymous resources, labeled breastfeeding photos as “R-rated-photos,” described breastfeeding images as “disturbing” and “disgusting.” 

At that time, I just returned to work after a 3-month-long maternity leave to that particular newspaper as a staff writer. And yes, I was breastfeeding. I certainly felt shocked by that article and tried to talk to the company’s president. But he wiped my concern by saying “you’re overreacting.”

The article received strong reaction from our local Chinese-speaking community. Dozens of protesting letters from readers flew into the newsroom, yet the paper had no response.

The mother company of the newspaper is headquartered in Taiwan. The Breastfeeding Association of Taiwan launched a protest against the company and demand for an apology, but the company had no comment.

Three weeks later, I left the company over a breastfeeding discrimination lawsuit (which is another story.) I got together with several of my fellow believers and talked about that in response to discriminating speech like this, we should start a photo exhibit project and illustrate the beauty and importance of breastfeeding.

That project did not happen for lack of budget. Without money, it was hard to afford a professional photographer or a decent venue. Also, the Asian community is relatively conservative and it has been a challenge to recruit models.

So the project did not happen at that time. But I never forgot the project idea.

Since that rude awakening, I have been dedicating my career to speaking up about breastfeeding barriers in our community. Five years later in 2018, I was selected as one of the leaders by HealthConnect One’s Birth Equity Leadership Academy. Through the Academy I was able to secure a small amount of fund that can finally make the photo project happen!

This week, in collaboration with Asian Breastfeeding Task Force of SoCal, BreastfeedLA, and PHFE WIC, the project was finally happening. With a small stipend we were able to recruit 20 mother-baby pairs to participate in this community based project. Also with a reasonable price we were able to hire great photographer and videographer. A team member and a friend generously opened her beautiful house for the photo shooting. I looked at the mothers and babies (and some fathers) post in front of the camera and have their breastfeeding photo taken. I watched the mothers (and some fathers) share their breastfeeding experience, good or bad, in on-camera interviews. I wanted to cry.

It’s been six years since the photo project idea first came to me. I wanted to shout to my previous employer, “Did you see that? Breastfeeding is not disturbing or disgusting. It’s beautiful and graceful!”

But of course they wouldn’t hear that. And the project is really not about them or about me anymore. It’s about the community. Without the efforts of the team, the project would never happen.

Southern California has the biggest population of Asians in the world outside of Asia, yet fewer than 4% of all lactation consultants in this area speaks an Asian language. It’s our hope that the effort will increase breastfeeding rates in our community. And no one would ever again tell mothers “breastfeeding images are disturbing and disgusting. Your breastfeeding photos are embarrass our community to death.”

*The photos and videos of Asian women breastfeeding will be up in a traveling photo gallery exhibit! Pleas stay tuned.

**This post originally appeared on San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition's Newsletter on May 9, 2019. Photo credit to Arissa Palmer.

Friday, May 3, 2019

The Voice of Breastfeeding Community Needs to be Heard

With my colleagues at Asian Breastfeeding Task Force, I had a chance to present at the 14th Breastfeeding and Feminism International Conference in Chapel Hill, North Carolina a while ago. At the conference, we presented on a panel entitled “Normalizing breastfeeding in Asian communities.” The focus of our presentation was on sharing the history and process of the community driven formation of the Task Force along with current and future goals and activities of the group.

My biggest gain from the conference, however, was to meet many legendary activists. Leah Margulies, for one.

Leah is a feminist, anti-corporate activist, founding member of the New Heaven Women’s Liberation Rock Band and Movement, lawyer, and single mother. In 1977, she helped to launch the famous Nestle boycott.

At that time, infant formula companies were aggressively marketing powdered formulas in the Third World countries to mothers who couldn’t possibly use it safely since they didn’t have access to clean water, refrigeration and sterilizing equipment. It resulted in infant malnutrition and death. Nestle was the biggest offender. Leah recruited a few other believers, started INFACT, and then launched the Nestle Boycott. The boycott led to the UN adopting a code of marketing, now known as International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes to attempt to control this industry. The boycott in the US ended in 1984, but it continued to this day in many parts of the world.

The Nestle boycott happened even before I was born, but I have a special feeling toward the case. I am a journalist covering maternal and infant health for a variety of publications. Years ago I helped to translate the Nestle Boycott report into Mandarin Chinese, and cited the report in several of my articles. Later one of the editors I worked with implied me to stop writing about the boycott, because the publisher’s mother company reached some kind of commercial agreement with the infant formula company.

I was shocked. In spite of all the codes, infant formula industry still has every way to manipulate the media and interfere the public opinion. I became a reporter to be the voice of the voiceless, but I am silenced on key issues like this. Most people would imagine that as journalists, we could write whatever we want to write, but the truth is, our hands are tied.

Since the Nestle boycott, the marketing strategy of the infant formula industry has changed: They no longer advertise that “formula is good.” Instead, they tell mothers “breast is good but difficult. So just give up. Let us help you with infant formula.” They have developed a faux-sense that society is ganging up on them; judging non-breastfeeding community for choosing alternative methods of feeding their babies.

It’s a myth to think that the non-breastfeeding community is the silence one; for years they have made known their difficulties. But we must not be so sensitive to them as to whitewash the benefits of breastfeeding. It’s important that voice of breastfeeding community being heard—even if it takes millions of blog posts to remind everyone of that fact, then so be it. I am here and I will keep writing. 

*This post originally appeared on San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition newsletter on May 3rd, 2019. Photo credit to Cindy Young.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

What I Learned from a Biopsy while Breastfeeding

Last month, I discovered a suspicious lump in my left breast through a breast self-exam. After ultrasound my doctor decided that the lump must be biopsied for assessment.

In the evening before the biopsy, looking at my left breast in the mirror, I realized that I don’t worry about cancer—I have a strong family history of breast cancer; I’ve been seeing and hearing close ones being diagnosed with breast cancer ever since I was a little girl; I am well prepared psychologically. I realized that, however, I worry about my future ability of breastfeeding.

Jasper was 16-month-old and still being breastfed. My plan was to breastfeed for at least 20 months, ideally two years. My doctor told me that I don’t have to wean before the biopsy and my ability to breastfeed after the process depends on the extent of the biopsy. After that, it really depends on the test results of the biopsy.

It’s hard to find breastfeeding-friendly information on this topic, so I turned to several of my trusted IBCLC friends for their opinion. Most of them didn’t see any reason I cannot breastfeed after a biopsy unless the test results found otherwise. I was relieved.

This was what I learned: needle biopsies, including fine needle aspiration and core biopsy can be done on a breastfeeding mother. The smallest needle that will get the diagnosis should be used, and the risk of milk fistula, which is chronic milk leakage, is very rare.

The evening after the biopsy—or eight hours after the biopsy, to be precisely—I was holding Jasper, breastfeeding as usual. I felt grateful. It still felt sore in my left breast and Jasper was curious about the surgical glue over my incision. He tried to peel it off so I had to put another bandage on top of it. Other then that the biopsy barely caused me any problem in breastfeeding. I felt so grateful.

As this article being written, I was still waiting for the results for the biopsy and not sure how much longer I’ll be able to breastfeed. For now, I just wanted to cherish the time with my baby while I still can. Meanwhile, I realized that breastfeeding is such a gift—both for mom and for the baby. It is a shame that there are still mothers who are completely healthy with breasts fully capable for breastfeeding being drove to infant formula due to breastfeeding-unfriendly environments. Mothers have the right to breastfeed their babies and deserve fully support.

I also realized how hard the feeling can be for a mother who may not be able to breastfeed due to disease. All in a sudden I was even more proud of myself being a breastmilk donor (before the lump was discovered) at the Mother’s Milk Bank. It is my sincere wish that one day all the mothers will be able to breastfeed as long as they want with the fully support from the society as a whole. And all the babies will be able to receive donor’s milk when the mother’s milk is not available.

*This post originally appeared on San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition's Newsletter on March 7, 2019. Photo credit to Mu-huan Chiang.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Breastfeeding Discrimination at Workplace is Real

When I returned to work as a staff writer at some newspaper in Los Angeles, I sat on the floor in a bathroom stall to pump breastmilk for my then 3-month-old son while my colleagues went to the bathroom, pounded on the door and occasionally complained about me occupying the stall. It was the only outlet I could find in a private location since there wasn’t a nursing room available. The incidences eventually resulted in my separation with that company. Based on a completely unscientific poll on social media, my experience was either unusual or the worst of it among breastfeeding moms returning to work after their child’s birth.

But based on a new, actually scientific study, I would have been in the company of more than half of women who alleged their employer did not provide workplace accommodations for them as nursing moms. In fact, a whooping two-thirds of cases alleging breastfeeding discrimination over the past decade led to the employee losing her jog, the first-of-its kind study found.

We’ve long known that when employers fail to provide adequate accommodations for breastfeeding, it creates health risks for nursing employees and their babies. Now we know the damages can actually extend to mothers’ livelihoods.

“We’re experts in the field, and we were shocked by what we found,” Liz Morris, a co-author of the report and leader of the Nursing Mothers Law Project through the Center for Law at the University of California, said in an interview with Fortune.

Breastfeeding discrimination includes all manner of offenses: denying break requests from employees who are in pain and leaking milk, firing workers for asking for breaks, refusing to provide privacy for workers who need to pump breast milk, and sexual harassment as others in the workplace comment on employees’ breasts. The Affordable Care Act was supposed protect workers with a clean place to pump, 15-20 minute breaks to do so, and a change in duties or temporary reassignment if necessary. But according to a 2016 study, employers routinely break the law when it comes to breastfeeding moms.

For example, one police officer in the study was unable to wear a bulletproof vest while breastfeeding, but was denied a temporary desk job.

Because of these discriminatory consequences, nursing mothers end up weaning earlier than doctors recommend, with a diminished milk supply, or with painful infections—the health risks often associated with the lactation discrimination.

It is unfortunate. Putting more effort into meeting nursing employees’ needs not only benefit moms and babies, but has an upside for companies, too—in addition to the legal high ground, employers end up with cast savings from improved employee retention, reduced sick time, and lower health care costs when they provide what breastfeeding employees need up front.

To learn more about the business case for accommodating breastfeeding, lick here to sign up the “A Right, Not a Privilege,” SDCBC’s mini-seminar on breastfeeding and the law.

Read more: The best investment you will ever make are your employees

*This post originally published on San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition's Newsletter on February 15, 2019.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Governor Newsom Proposed Giving Parents Six Months Paid Leave

Exciting news for Californian parents—Governor Gavin Newsom announced that he hopes to expand paid family leave to six months in California! Here at San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition, we are happy to start the new year with needed attention given to the dilemma faced by new parents when forced to choose between paycheck and providing optimal bonding for their child(ren).

“This is a necessity–we all know that the first few months are so important for bonding, attachment, and development of a newborn, not to mention it is a crucial time for mothers to establish breastfeeding during the initial weeks. Families should be able to spend this time with their baby instead of worrying about having to rush back to work,” said Nancy Saavedra, MPH, CELE, the current president of San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition.

The plan, part of our governor’s $209 billion budget plan, would compensate new parents up to 70 percent of their wage when they take off to care for a newborn or newly adopted baby. Two parents or caretakers would be allowed to take advantage of the program for up to three months each.

It’s a major upgrade to the state’s current paid family leave policy, which provides up to only six weeks of partial pay for employees as part of the state’s Disability Insurance and Paid Family Leave Program.

I have first hand experience on the importance of paid family leave for diverse families. I took advantage of the current paid family leave after my first child was born. During the six weeks, I bonded with my baby by breastfeeding him as often and as long as possible; I also built a very good milk supply. By the time I went back to work, I had more than one gallon of breast milk stored in my freezer. With that storage, I was able to continue exclusively breastfeeding even facing challenge related to pumping at work.

I also have first hand experience on why we need an even longer paid family leave. On the day my second child turned 6 weeks old, both my husband and I went back to work under the current paid leave policy. My husband immediately flew to Asia for a week-long business trip. That was a miserable week for our family. At that time, the baby still eats every two to three hours, and sleeps only a few hours at a time, day or night. Breastfeeding became much harder when my partner was not around to help.

Even with the exciting proposal in works, as CNN reported, the United States is still behind what is offered by most developed nations around the world. And we are lucky to live in California, as most states don’t even have the protections and benefits that we are entitled here. The United States is the only developed country in the world that doesn’t guarantee paid time off to new parents. In fact, according to data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the U.S. is the only country among 41 nations that does not mandate any paid leave for new parents.

Still, we are excited about the Governor’s proposal—As they say, baby steps. San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition is committed to continue the fight for working families’ rights and support for breastfeeding families. We thank Governor Newsom for looking for bold solutions and recognizing the need for California families to have adequate time to care.

Watch the video I produced for World Moms Network: Things I wish My Boss Knew About Maternity Leave

*The post originally appeared on San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition's Newsletter on February 1, 2019. Photo credit to Bella Baby Photography.