Monday, December 23, 2013

Pumping at work like a supermodel

By To-wen Tseng. Original posted on, dedicating to breastfeeding and working mothers like me.

There has been lots of discussion about supermodel Gisele's breastfeeding photo. I'm thrilled that she is nursing her 1-year-old. I also envy her for being lucky to have such understanding colleagues that she could multitask like that. 
For many mothers, it's not possible to have their baby with them on the job and even asking for a reasonable time and/or space to pump at work is a challenge. 
I used to work for a company where I had to pump in the restroom and was harassed by my colleagues for washing pump accessories in the office kitchen. The fight for my right to breastfeed was long and exhausting, and the situation eventually resulted in my resignation. 
Just a while ago I was invited to a KAZN talk show to talk about my breastfeeding experience, and the most important thing I wanted to tell my fellow breastfeeding mothers was "know your right." 
You don't have any right if you don't know any. Federal law requires any employer with 50 or more employees to provide employees with reasonable time and space for nursing. Some states, like California, even require all the employers to do this. 
So breastfeeding is your personal right. Most employers are happy to provide the support that you need, as long as they know how important it is for you to have their support. If your company does not have a breastfeeding support program (like my previous company), it could be that nobody has ever asked for one. As a breastfeeding mother, it is important that you be the one who asks for it! 
If the supervisor doesn't understand how important it is for you to breastfeed, explain to him that breastfeeding is the healthiest choice for you and your baby. You can even have an expert from your local breastfeeding organization to talk to your supervisor. Just contact your local breastfeeding support group and they would be happy to help. 
Your supervisor may not know what you need to continue breastfeeding. Let him know your basic needs for express milk is simply a private location and some flexible breaks. If your supervisor tells you that the company has no space for a pumping area, you can look around, find space that you are willing to use, and make the proposal. If your supervisor tells you that other colleagues would complain, you can invite lactation professionals to your company and have a seminar about the benefits of breastfeeding to mother and baby's health so that your colleagues can learn. If your supervisor tells you that they don't want to do this just for one person, you can remind him that supporting breastfeeding is actually beneficial to the company
And supporting breastfeeding does benefit the company. Employees receive support for breastfeeding are happier and more productive. They are less likely to miss work to take care of sick babies because breastfed babies are healthier. Breastfeeding also helps lower the company's health care cost since both the mom and the baby are healthier. 
If you do get the support you need, remember to show appreciation to your supervisor and colleagues. If all fails, you can still file a complaint with the Department of Labor to fight against the hostile working environment. Call 1-866-487-9243 or visit You can also file a complaint with the state government, depending on the state you're living in. 
If you prefer, you may want to hire an attorney directly. Legal Aid Society’s Employment Law Center can help. 
Approaching to your supervisor and asking for time and space to pump can be a little bit scary, and sometimes things might not work out as you wish, but don't be discouraged. For as a breastfeeding mother, you are powerful and influential. I have never been a very brave person in my whole life, but I fought with all my strength for my right to breastfeed. After leaving my previous job I've been volunteering with local breastfeeding organizations, and talked in public and on media about breastfeeding issues. I never thought that I were able to do all of these. And you can do it, too.

Little Jade accompany mommy at work.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

It's the gift time of the year!

In light of the Christmas spirit of "giving," I'm wrapping Christmas gifts.

In our house we try to do everything eco-friendly (and frugal,) so we never invested in any kind of wrapping paper. Every year I came up with different ideas to reuse whatever I have on hand to wrap gifts, and this year I'm using the paper bags from grocery stores.
The holiday paper bags from Trader Joe's make perfect wrapping paper. (Whole Foods paper bags are not bad, either.) And these peppermint candy canes are perfect for decoration.
It's good for all kinds of gifts, no matter you're wrapping a wine bottle or a wine stopper.
Looks very Christmas, it's it?
This year I've even got a little helper to assist me with cutting the paper bag!
And we're ready for our holiday vacation after gift wrapping. Please check back after new year. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Do a full makeup with the brush made with the baby's hair

My little one, Jade, learned to sit and crawl in one month, and is now capable of driving me crazy. The most scary part is that he would pull his furry sister and my furry child Brownie's hair, and seem to enjoy doing that.
Jade and Brownie having lunch together.
So I went to an infant behavior class. The instructor suggested that if I have come to a point in a challenging situation with Jade where I feel that the only thing left to do is to yell at him, find a way to calm myself down.

With just a little research, I found tons of on-line articles discussing things to do instead of yelling or screaming. Some parents take a parental time-out. Some mothers call for help from girlfriends. Some fathers pile everyone in the car and drive to the park.

These "tricks" have something in common: step away from the situation. I concluded my research and e-mailed it to my husband with a note, "or, do a full makeup with the brush made with Jade's hair."

The makeup trick is nothing new to us. I used to sit down and do a makeup after fighting with my then boyfriend and now husband. Some touch-up for a minor dispute; a full makeup for a major fight. I'd add on fake eyelash and wig if I felt we were on the edge of breaking up.

Funny enough, things always worked out. Looks like it's smart to step away from the situation, no matter you're fighting with your LO or BF.

And we just received the makeup brush made with Jade's hair!

It's a Chinese tradition to shave a baby's head once he turns one month old, and make a writing brush with that hair. We followed the tradition. We try to raise Jade with Chinese tradition--we wish he would appreciate Chinese culture and would read those books I wrote in Mandarin Chinese when he grows up.
It's hard to find a barber who shaves infant's head here in America, though. So we waited until Jade turned three months old.
Jade's first haircut.
Out of the hair, we chose to make a makeup brush set instead of a writing brush. Because oriental brushes are often heavily starched for protecting purpose, the soft touch of the baby hair is lost. The baby hair makeup brush set arrived right before Christmas, making it a great Christmas gift.


I tried to stroke the brush on the back of my hand. It's really soft. It felt just like gently stroking baby's head. I imagined swirling makeup on my face with the brush. Surely it would calm me down.

Back to the topic. I read a lot about helping children manage their emotions when I was pregnant, but rarely thought about as a parent, I would need help with managing my own emotion. Parenting is surely a learning process. One more lesson: instead of yelling at your child, do a full makeup with the brush made with his hair.

Monday, December 9, 2013

No peppermint hot chocolate for breastfeeding moms this holiday season

It's the wonderful time of the year--the holiday season! And we live in Southern California, where Startbucks remind us the season change with their delicious peppermint hot chocolate, pumpkin spice latte, and other seasonal drinks.

Unfortunately, as a nursing mom, I was warned about peppermint hot chocolate. "It might decrease your milk supply," said my lactation consultant.

Well, I can certainly live without hot chocolate. In fact, I haven't had a bite or a sip of chocolate ever since I did a story about child slave in the chocolate industry two year ago.

But peppermint! I love peppermint. The peppermint candy after a big meal tames my stomach trouble, the peppermint tea in a hard day's night eases my headache, and the peppermint oil on the temples boosts my concentration at work. Not to mention it's holiday season, and I'm having decaf peppermint latte all the time!

So I did a little bit research and found a great resource from of herbs that can and lower milk production:
Herbs that may decrease milk supply Using large amounts of the following herbs and other natural remedies should be avoided while nursing because they have been known to decrease milk supply. The amounts of these herbs normally used in cooking are unlikely to be of concern; it’s mainly the larger amounts that might be used therapeutically that could pose a problem. However, some moms have noticed a decrease in supply after eating things like dressing with lots of sage, sage tea (often recommended when moms are weaning), lots of strong peppermint candies or menthol cough drops, or other foods/teas with large amounts of the particular herb. These herbs are sometimes used by nursing mothers to treat oversupply, or when weaning.

Black Walnut, Chickweed, Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum), Lemon Balm Oregano, Parsley (Petroselinum crispum), Peppermint (Mentha piperita)/Menthol, Periwinkle Herb (Vinca minor), Sage (Salvia officinalis), Sorrel (Rumex acetosa), Spearmint, Thyme, Yarrow
In spite of the decaf peppermint latte I've been drinking, I haven't noticed any milk supply fall. I guess it's okay as long as I'm not using "large" amounts of the herbs. But, still, I decided to take that piece of warning and stop consuming all those herbs.

Yeah, I know, this is the season of candy canes, christmas barks, menthol cough drops, and sage filled stuffing...and I'll have to sacrifice all of these. This is one of those not so fun phases of breastfeeding.

I also know that I've got only one the-precious-first-year with my little one. Next holiday season, I'm sure I'll be drinking peppermint latte, eating sage filled stuffing, and missing all these days when I'm still breastfeeding.

"I'm no fan of peppermint latte."
"Oatmeal! Now we are talking."

Friday, November 22, 2013

The woman breastfed on a refugee boat

I have a breastfeeding story.

It was 1949, in the middle of Chinese civil war. A mother trying to escape from the war-torn China got on a refugee boat in Guangzhou with her 3-year-old and 1-year-old.

The boat was sailing to Kaohsiung. Soon after they left the port, the two children started to cry. People on the boat were afraid that the kids crying would attract the communist navy searching for refugees, and were going to throw the kids into the sea.

The mother fought against those people with all her strength, promising that she would stop the children crying. She took off her blouse, put the two kids under her arms, one on each side, and then put her nipples into the kids' months. Comforted by the mother's breasts, the children calmed down. The mother kept nursing her children until they arrived Kaohsiung safely two days later.

The mother in the story is my grandmother. Those two children are my father and my uncle.

I heard the story from my grandmother when I was a little girl. It's been such a long time that I almost forgot about it.

Then I had my son. Two hours later after the delivery, he cried for food for the first time. The nurse showed me how to latch the baby. Soon as I brought him onto my breast, he opened his mouth widely and latched on. It was amazing. We never really had a latching problem. However, a real problem happened six months later, when Jade started to teething. He wanted to nurse constantly because the nursing is soothing to him. Sometimes he bit me. It hurt so badly that I often burst into tears.

Funny enough, I thought about my grandma's breastfeeding story every time Jade bit me. I was too young to understand what breastfeeding's really like when I first heard about the story. Now I knew. But, still, my grandma was constantly breastfed two toddlers (with teeth!) for 48 hours on a refugee boat. What's that really like? I could still hardly to imagine.

All in a sudden I just wanted to call my grandma, tell her how great she was, and ask her to tell me the story in detail again. But I couldn't. She passed away three years ago. I could only search for the brave woman who breastfed on a refugee boat in my memory.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Because I'd rather be breastfeeding.

Becoming a mother can really change the way a woman looks at the world. Before having Jade, my son, I'd never think that I'd leave my journalism job at the largest Chinese-language newspaper in North America just to say no to a working environment that's not friendly to breastfeeding mothers.

But I did. Today I left my job as a staff writer at World Journal, the newspaper that calls itself the largest Chinese-language paper serving North America.

On Oct 21, the paper published an article that, well, I hate to use the word, discriminate against breastfeeding mothers. Titled "Breastfeeding photos embarrass Chinese-American to death," the article cited a bunch of anonymous resources, labeled breastfeeding photos as "R-rated-photos," described those photos as "disturbing" and "disgusting."

As a journalist, I was shocked. As a breastfeeding mother, I was offended. I had a 10-year-relationship with United Daily News Group, the mother company of World Journal. "Righteous reporting" has always been their motto. I simply couldn't believe that the editor used such an article as the headline story of the paper's local page. I was simply shocked!

"Breastfeeding photos embarrass Chinese-American to death"
Well, maybe not that shocked. The company wasn't very friendly to breastfeeding mothers at the first place. There is no nursing room in the company facility, so I've been pumping in the restroom. Some of my colleagues said "don't wash your dirty panties here" when I was washing the pumping accessories in the kitchen.

I tried to deal with all of these--after all, many of my colleagues were from China, where 70% of the newborns were formula-fed. Maybe they are not used to have breastfeeding mothers pumping in the company restroom.

But, an article calling breastfeeding "disturbing" and "disgusting?" That I definitely couldn't deal with. I tried to talk to my editor, but he thought I was overreacting. Our conversation could never reach a conclusion. Angry readers wrote to the newspaper, but the paper didn't respond.

I was disappointed. I thought the problem with that article was obvious, even Facebook said sorry for banning breastfeeding photos. But there was my editor, a newsperson who I once admired, sitting in front of me, insisting that there was nothing wrong with that article, that I was overreacting, that I had a personal issue.

Later I took Jade to a local breastfeeding support group, and learned that the California law actually requires employers to provide employees with reasonable time and space for nursing. Federal law also requires any employer with more than 50 employees to do the sam. World Journal Los Angels has much more than 50 employees but no nursing room, which is against both federal and CA law.

It turned out even me myself didn't know what right I should have. I realized I actually helped to form the unfriendly atmosphere--I didn't ask for a nursing room right upon my return from maternity leave; I didn't report to HR when my colleagues harass me about washing pumping accessories in the kitchen.

We all need to be educated. We thought our right to breastfeed is protected, but the truth is, it's not. I've been thinking about these during the past two weeks, and found myself so passionate about this issue that I must do something to make a difference.

I realized that I wouldn't be able to do anything if I stay with that newspaper. So I quit my job, started this blog, and then starting tomorrow I'll be volunteering with local breastfeeding organizations.

If I didn't have Jade, it's very likely I'd write for World Journal until the day I retire. But my little one really changed the direction of my life. I never expected this when I got pregnant. What an adventure. I look forward to this new chapter of my life, and yes, I'd rather be breastfeeding.

"And I'd rather be breastfed."