Monday, June 1, 2020

From One Mother to Another: Keep Calm and Breastfeed On


My first child was born right before Mother’s Day. I’ve always said that he is my Mother’s Day present. This year that “Mother’s Day present” turned seven years old. I took him to the pediatrician for his annual wellness check. At the door of the clinic, I saw a very little baby, probably two or three weeks old, crying just like…a baby. I saw the young parents taking turns to hold and try to calm the baby. I saw their faces. Due to the pandemic, the clinic set a rule that each child can only be accompanied by one adult. And it was obvious that neither one of them was confident to take the baby through the clinic door alone.

I remember when I was a new mom. Every time I had to take the baby out by myself, I felt like a Hobbit leaving the Shire to fight the Battle of Helm’s Deep. I imagine it must be even harder to become a new parent during a pandemic.

I imagine there are many new parents out there, trying to take their beloved babies through this difficult time. I imagine they worry, they plan, they smile for their babies, even when they are falling apart inside.

I remember when I decided to become a mother. It’s not difficult to love. It’s not difficult to dedicate to my baby—these are almost instinctive things. The difficulty was that from now on I had to become the one who “holds everything together" for the baby. To feed the baby. To shelter the baby. Take him to the doctor and later to the school. Be patient, be kind. Always protect, always hope. And never fail. From the day I became a mother, I became a pragmatic person, always ready to answer all needs. This is quite a skill, unfortunately I can't write it on my resume.

Now that the pandemic continues, we are told to stay at home. I imagine all the moms and dads sheltering in place at home with their babies, trying to do everything right while staying calm and optimistic.

But how can we do all of these? I became a mother for the first time in the year when the country was prosperous and the people were at peace. Still the small storms in my small home sometimes made me feel stressful. That was my longest and hardest year.

Yet amazingly, that was also my easiest and shortest year. Baby cry? Breastfeed. Baby hungry? Breastfeed. Baby sleepy? Breastfeed. Baby waking up? Breastfeed. And the days passed.

Finally, one day, I discovered that the baby does not need me to “holds everything together.” He just needs me to be honest and do my best. Me and my baby are not the one protect and the one being protected. We are a team. The baby loves me and is willing to help me. I raise him, he raises me, and then we grow together.

Parenting is absolutely difficult yet amazingly simple. Just keep calm and breastfeed on, good things will happen.

From one mother to another, you can do it, too!

**This post originally published on San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition's Newsletter on June 1, 2020. Photo credit to Mu-huan Chiang. 

Monday, May 4, 2020

A Quick COVID-19 Guide for Pregnant and Breastfeeding Mothers


***Information on COVID-19 is rapidly evolving, and this guide could become outdated by the time you read it. For the most up to date information, please visit CDC information page at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/pregnancy-breastfeeding.html

COVID-19 is a new strain of coronavirus identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness. The investigation to determine more about this outbreak is still going on. However, UNICEF, CDC and AAP have provided guidance for pregnant and breastfeeding moms.

For Pregnant Women
According to CDC, we do not currently know if pregnant people have a greater chance of getting sick from COVID-19 than the general public nor whether they are more likely to have serious illness as a result. However, we do know that pregnant people have changes in their bodies that may increase their risk of some infections. Pregnant people have had a higher risk of severe illness when infected with viral respiratory infections, such as influenza. Pregnant people should always protect themselves from COVID-19 as well as other illness.

CDC recommends pregnant women:
Avoid people who are sick or who have been exposed to the virus. Clean your hands often using soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily.

CDC also points out that mother to-child transmission of coronavirus during pregnancy is unlikely, but after birth a newborn is susceptible to person-to-person spread. A very small number of babies have tested positive for the virus shortly after birth. However, it is unknown if these babies got the virus before birth. The virus has not been detected in amniotic fluid, breastmilk, or other maternal samples.

For Breastfeeding Mom
Considering the protection that breastmilk provides against many illness, UNICEF, CDC, AAP all encourage mothers breastfeed as much as they can in the midst of the pandemic.

What if the mom has COVID-19? So far, COVID-19 has not been detected in breast milk, so the organizations listed above say that mothers can continue breastfeeding while applying all the necessary precautions.

According to AAP, If an infected mother decides to breastfeed, she should wear a face mask and wash her hands. If the mother is separated from their infants, she should express breastmilk but should wash their hands thoroughly and disinfect the pump and bottles. Someone who is healthy should feed the child.

Arthur I. Eidelman, MD, Editor-in-Chief of Breastfeeding Medicine, stated in a research published in early March: “Given the reality that mothers infected with coronavirus have probably already colonized their nursing infant, continued breastfeeding has the potential of transmitting protective maternal antibodies to the infant via the breast milk. Thus, breastfeeding should be continued with the mother carefully practicing hand-washing and wearing a mask while nursing, to minimize additional viral exposure to the infant.”

**The post originally appeared on San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition's Newsletter on May 1, 2020. Photo credit to Mu-huan Chiang.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

It’s 2020 and I still hear people say “Mothers breastfeed because they cannot afford formula.”

Breastfeeding is privilege while it really should be a right. 
A while ago my 6-year-old and his best friend talked about if chocolate milk comes from “special black cow” at a playdate. The conversation just made me and the other mother laugh. And then, randomly, I told the other mom, “you know there is actually a documentary called ‘chocolate milk.’ It is about the breastfeeding disparities in black moms.”

“That’s crazy,” she said. “Don’t black moms breastfeed more because they cannot afford formula?”

I was speechless with an indescribable emotion. After a moment of silence, I said, “Well, actually black mothers have the lowest breastfeeding rate.”

“How could that be?” She questioned, “I used formula. It’s super expensive. It may be a stereotype but I think many black moms cannot afford it. So don’t they just breastfeed? Breastfeeding is easy and cheap.”

Once again I was speechless. That statement was just so wrong in so many ways.

A little background: I am Asian and my friend is white. So none of us have experienced what a black mother might have experienced. I cannot speak for a black woman, but I can say two things for sure: One, breastfeeding is not easy or cheap. Two, mothers don’t breastfeed because they cannot afford formula. They formula feed because they cannot afford breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding is only “cheap and easy” when everything goes 100 percent smooth. Breast-milk has a cost, direct and indirect. Directly there is breastfeeding-related products and services. Indirectly there is an impact of breastfeeding on a woman’s future earnings. A British paper found that women who nurse their children longer are less likely to come back to work within a year after giving birth, and that breastfeeding-friendly corporate policies, such as on-site day care and pumping rooms, increase the likelihood of coming back to work while breastfeeding, but only for the better-educated women. 

So mothers actually formula feed because they cannot afford the cost of breastfeeding. According to 2017 CDC data, breastfeeding initiation rates are much higher in higher-income, largely white communities. In fact, according to a study in Breastfeeding Medicine, mothers with lower rates of breastfeeding "tend to be young, low-income, African American, unmarried, less educated, participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)...and more likely to report their pregnancy was unintended.”

There are numerous reasons for this disparity. The bottom line is: breastfeeding is nothing free, cheap or easy. It is a privilege, while it really should be a human right. It shocked me that people still say “mothers breastfeed because they cannot afford formula” in 2020. It is a rough reminder that the value of breastfeeding still needs to be promoted and the right of breastfeeding still needs to be protected.

**This post was originally published on San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition's newsletter on April 11, 2020 with marks the start of Black Health Week. Photo credit to Mu-huan Chiang. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Lesson from California Breastfeeding Summit: The Childcare-Conference Conundrum

I have a vision.
A while ago I attended the 2020 California Breastfeeding Summit as a poster presenter and an awardee. I was thrilled to be there. Conferences like these are vital forums for academic researchers and activists. At these meetings, scientists communicate new discoveries, activists form advocacy collaborations, make contacts with funding agencies, and attract new members to our programs.

But I was unable to participate fully in this summit. The reason was childcare. Struggling to find care for my 2-year-old, I took him to the summit. During the seminar sessions I had to leave my chair from time to time to breastfeed, to change diapers, to calm the fuzzy child, and my chair was often taken when I returned. So I spent a good amount of time looking for new spots while trying my best not to disturb other attendees. A hard position indeed.

And I am sure I am not alone. Primary caretakers of dependent children face inequitable hurdles to fully attending and participating in conference activities because of responsibilities related to pregnancy, breastfeeding, and care-taking. A breastfeeding summit is one of the most family-friendly conferences that I can imagine and the organizers kindly showed us empathy, yet I face hurdles. At the summit Sen. Scott Wiener talked about making a difference for working parents in the new decade. I honestly think the childcare—conference conundrum shouldn’t be overlooked.

How might this conundrum be addressed? I think supporting child care would overcome a major hurdle to conference attendance. There are a number of ways to do this. I attended the California Breastfeeding Summit as a volunteer but if I were to go to a conference for work, my current employer would provide parents with children under 2-year-old financial support for individually arranged childcare. I attended National Breastfeeding Conference and Convening last summer where onsite childcare was provided and I absolutely appreciated it.

There are clear social-justice concerns when certain groups are excluded from participating fully in the academic field. When conference organizers consider parental needs, everybody wins. I look forward to seeing a parent-friendly environment and culture being promoted by professional societies.

This post originally published on San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition's Newsletter on Feb 18, 2020.

Monday, February 3, 2020

PUMP!


The Providing Urgent Maternal Protections (PMUP) for Nursing Mothers Act (S. 3170) has been introduced with bipartisan support in the Senate!

The current law, Break Time for Nursing Mothers which passed in 2010, requires employers to provide reasonable break time and a private, non-bathroom space for breastfeeding employees to pump during the work day. This was an important step. However, the placement of the law within the part of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that sets minimum wages and overtime resulted in 9 million women—which is nearly one in four women of childbearing age—not covered by this legislation. As a result, these women have no clear right to break time and space to pump breast milk.
The PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act would strengthen the existing Break Time for Nursing Mothers law by:

  • Closing the coverage gap. The bill would protect 9 million employees unintentionally excluded from the 2010 Break Time law by extending the law’s protections to cover salaried employees as well as other categories of employees currently exempted from protections, such as teachers, nurses, among others. 
  • Providing employers clarity on when pumping time must be paid. The bill leaves in place existing law protecting many salaried workers from having their pay docked, and clarifies that employers must pay an hourly employee for any time spent pumping if the employee is also working. 
  • Providing remedies for nursing mothers. The bill would ensure that nursing mothers have access to remedies that are available for other violations for the FLSA. 
Here in California, we are lucky—our moms already got stronger support for workplace lactation when a law signed last October by Gov. Newsom that requires a more dignified space to pump and proper equipment for storing the milk. Now we stand with our sisters across the nation and encourage Members of Congress to cosponsor this important legislation.

**This post is originally published on San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition's Newsletter on Feb 1, 2020. Photo credit to the Mu-huan Chiang.