Wednesday, November 25, 2015

When child care givers can’t afford child care

Thanksgiving is around the corner. Today my two-and-half-year-old came home from his day care with a thankful turkey. Thankful turkey, you know, the classic construction paper turkey lists what children are thankful for. So we had this conversation.

“Mama, look at my turkey!”
“Beautiful! And what’s this?”
“Things I xiexie for.”
“And what do you xiexie for?”
“Udon noodle soup.”
“…Anything else?”
“Mommy and Daddy.”

See what's on the red feather? "Noodles." 
So my little one is especially thankful for udon noodle soup. As for myself, I am especially thankful for my child’s day care teachers. (I’m thankful for udon noodle soup, too... It’s what served on our dinner table on those days I run late at work and don’t have time to cook.) Last year around this time, our previous day care center went bankruptcy. I received the notice while on business trip. It was really a disaster. I rushed back home, and we experienced a chaos before finding this new center and my child actually falls in love with it.

We are in an era of curating children rather than simply raising them, and child care is recognized as one of the society’s most treasured and fussed over resources. That’s why it upset me when I recently learned that while many people can’t afford childcare, childcare givers aren’t paid enough to make rent.

The U.S. child care system has serious problems.

A recent research found that, in the majority of U.S. states, child care costs more than rent. Because such a sizable portion of parents’ paychecks goes toward care, people would expect it’s an lucrative industry. Yet the reality is, most of the child care workers aren’t even making a comfortable living.

In a new analysis, economists at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) finds that child care workers are among the lowest-paid workers in the country. On average, child care professionals made $10.31 an hour in 2014, which is 39% less than the average workers in the U.S., who earns an average $17 an hour. Moreover, most of child care workers don’t receive job-based benefits. In 2014, just 15% of them had health insurance and only 9% of them had pensions.

It takes more than a third of pre-school workers’ earnings to cover infant care costs in D.C. and 32 states. Considering the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ official affordability threshold for child care cost, which is 10% or less of a family’s income, most of the child care givers cannot afford child care themselves. It is ironic and not fair.

It’s clear that workers in the industry are not overpaid. Who, then, to blame for the inaccessibility of child care? 

According to the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), it’s the government. Over-regulation and lack of government support leads to a shortage of supply. Starting a child care business is so complex and involves so much hoop-jumping that entrepreneurs and small business owners are deterred from doing so, according to FEE. It also explains the bankruptcy of our previous day care center.

Caring for kids is so important that this kind of problem should not be overlooked. As a 2014 white book from the Berkeley Center pointed out, early childhood education should be a public good. Just like public education, not every has to use it, but it should be there.

For now, let’s be thankful for our early childhood education workers and hope for the Strong Start for America’s Children Act will bring us some hope.

“So do you xiexie your teachers?” I asked my little one.

“Yeah. I LOVE them. ”

This is an original post to MomsRising.org by To-wen Tseng. Photo credit to To-wen Tseng. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Life Lesson Behind My Latest Children's Book

My 4th book (and 2nd children’s book) was out in the public in paperback this August. Now I finally have some time to sit down and write a few words about this brain child of mine.


I was somewhat a lucky kid. At age 13 (same as Xiao-Hong, the book’s heroine) I had two dreams: one was to be an anchorwoman, the other was to write a book.

At age 30 both of my dreams had come true. I was anchoring at an Asian-language TV station serving Southern California, I had my own TV news magazine titled “To-wen’s World Report,” and my first book “No Trivial Matter—The Story Behind News” was just published.
It was only when my dreams came true that I realized the reality of being an anchor and an author was not what I dreamed of. 
Through the years I’ve been to Haiti after earthquake and Mexico during drug war, witnessing the Hell on Earth that I couldn’t even imagine as a child. I experienced the bankruptcy of the TV station and the suicide of close colleagues. I have shared a bowl of noodle soup with a child prostitute in a police station in Taipei and split a taco with a homeless teenager in a tent in downtown San Diego.
I didn’t dream of all of these. I only dreamed of dressing up nicely, sitting glamorously, and speaking eloquently in front of a camera. 
A couple of years ago I was invited to give a “Anchor Kid” lesson at a summer camp. I saw many of those children longing for my job, but only for the beautiful part. I didn’t know how to tell them what they dreamed of wasn’t really what they dreamed of. I started to think.

The book, “Xiao-Hong the Anchor Girl,” was the result of my thinking. Thirteen-year-old Xiao-Hong made a wish and woke up the next day as a 30-year-old anchorwoman. And the rest of the story is my life story.

Xiao-Hong had to wake up at 3:00 AM and get ready for the morning news…because I had to when working at a TV station. Xiao-Hong and her partner, A-Jun, struggled with the decision to save a drowning child, or continue shooting the segment…because I struggled 12 years ago on my very first day at work. I will never forget the teenage boy who drowned to death. He taught me a precious lesson on my first day of being a reporter.

I summarized my whole career life in this children’s book with merely 10,000 Chinese words. I want to tell my young readers, yes, this seems to be glamorous work, but what lies behind it is cruelty probably beyond your imagination. 

I want to tell my young readers why we, as journalists, can stand fast at our posts without regrets. It is not because we get to dress up nicely and sit glamorously in front of a camera. It is because we get to see the suffering firsthand; therefore we realized how lucky we ourselves are and what a great responsibility we have to bring what was cast aside to the world’s attention.

I also want to tell my young readers, if you still long for the job, even just for the beautiful part, please remember that at the very same moment you grab the freedom of press in your hand, the social responsibility falls on your shoulders automatically.

This is just a children’t book. And I only wish the kids who happen to read the book will bring us the finest journalism in the years to come.

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by To-wen Tseng. Photo credit to Tzu Chi Foundation.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Most working moms still don’t have adequate workplace support for breastfeeding

According to a new University of Minnesota study, less than half of women who return to their jobs after giving birth are provided adequate time and space at their workplaces to pump breast milk, despite requirements by the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA) that employers make such accommodations available.

Breastfeeding mothers who have low-paying jobs or who are single are particularly unlikely to have access to a clean, private room or to be given the break time necessary to pump breast milk at work, the study found.

The study also found, however, that when workplaces do provide such accommodations, new mothers are more than twice as likely to breastfeed their babies exclusively for six months, which is the length of time recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and other major health organizations.

The research was published earlier this month in the journal Women’s Health Issues.

“I was really surprised by the findings,” said Katy Kozhimannil, the study’s lead author and an associate professor at the U of M’s School of Public Health, in an interview with MinnPost. “I don’t know if it was naive of me—or just hopeful—to expect that the Affordable Care Act would have had a greater influenced on what women report in terms of their actual access to breastfeeding accommodations in the workplace.”

After all, she added, the required accommodations are “so very basic.”

Under the ACA, employers with more than 50 employees must provide both a reasonable amount of great time and a private place, not a bathroom, for breastfeeding mothers to express and store milk for at least one year.

However, as science journalist Tara Haelle pointed out in a Forbes article, “Employers routinely break the law when it comes to breastfeeding moms.”

She described that during her second year of gradate school while in a training as a teacher’s assistant, she sat on the floor under the bathroom sink during a break to pump breast milk for her then 3-month-old son while other grad students went to the bathroom, sidestepped her to wash their hands and occasionally gave her a puzzled or sympathetic look. It was the only outlet she could find during the brief break they had, and she still returned the training after everyone else, hoping the milk sitting in her portable lunchbox with an icepack wouldn’t spoil before she got home.

Sounds awful. But Haelle wrote, “Based on a completely unscientific poll on social media, my experience was both typical and far from the worst of it among breastfeeding moms returning to work after their child’s birth.”

And based on Kozhimannil’s completely scientific study, Haelle was actually in the company of more than half of women who return to work postpartum and try to continue breastfeeding.

For strong evidence that breastfeeding is by far the optimal nutrition choice to support maternal-child health. But mothers in this country have been suffered the impossible and stressful reality of hearing from public health advocates that they should breastfeed their children for health and other benefits while being denied the social infrastructure to make breastfeeding possible but the most privileged moms. Angry mothers turned to resent and even attack breastfeeding advocates, a New York Times article that argued “breastfeeding is oversold” gone viral.

It is unfortunate. As Julie Taylor, the president of Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine in New Rochelle, NY, pointed out, “The real problem is not the data or the advocates but that we as a society make it so hard for mothers to accomplish the medical community’s agreed-upon, evidence-based recommendations. Instead of critiquing unassailable facts, let’s use our collective wisdom and power to better support young families’s positive health choices at home, at work and at large.”

Breastfeeding my then 17-month-old during break in a conference. 
This is an original post to San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition by To-wen Tseng. Photo credit to Mu-huan Chiang. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Are you one of the 56% American Mothers Who “Prefer” to Stay Home?

New data from Gallup suggests that 56% of moms would prefer to stay home with kids than work outside the home, and 39% of women without young children would like the role of a homemaker.

This is down from recent years. According to Gallup, in the late 1990s to early 2000s, more than half of women would have chosen to work outside the home, if given the chance. Soon after that, the numbers flipped back to what we see today.

The current numbers look like what one would expect from a society with members happy with the status quo, and may lead to the question: Who are groups like MomsRising even fighting for?

Well, they are fighting for mothers like me.

I am a work-from-home mother and it has been two years. The Gallup Poll had no option for work-at-home mothers. So if Gallup had called me and asked me if I would prefer to stay home or work outside the home, I would have to be one of the 56%.

I can't say I am not happy about this despite it’s a choice after careful thinking. In a perfect world, I would work full-time outside the home, bring the 50% of our household income, and play with the kids when I am home. But I am a stay-at-home mother. It is not because I don’t want to be in the workforce; it is because I can’t afford to be in the workforce.

I am not alone. Look at the Gallup numbers. That flip after 2000s is very important. It shows an idealism and desire that turned to action but got jinxed.

Considering the wage gap, the lack of pregnancy policies and paid family leave, the discrimination against women at the work place based on family reasons, the cost of childcare, for many moms, including me, leaving the home would cost more than staying.

At age 28, I was the U.S. based correspondent for the largest non-profit TV network in Chinese speaking world. At age 30, I moved into an anchor position for an Asian-language TV station serving Southern California and had my own TV news magazine. I thought I was going places.

But At age 33 I moved back home. The TV station went bankrupt in the economic crash and I moved to a newspaper which then denied to accommodate my lactation needs that mandated by law. I quit and sued the company for sexual discrimination. The suit was settled and I started to freelance from home.

Currently what I bring home is exactly the same as what it cost us in child care. I might be able to make a little bit more if work outside of the house, but thinking of the odd hours and unset schedule (which is the nature of working in the news industry), it is nearly impossible for me to go back to the work place. It is also nearly impossible for us to have a second child for the child care would cost us twice as what I bring home, forcing me to stop freelancing and become a real, full-time mother.

The only way for me to have a child and also a career is to work from home and have only one child. So here I stay.

My kid is now 2 years old. I still hope, in spite of all the difficulties and frustrations at this moment, I still hope to get a job outside the home one day, maybe when he goes to elementary school. That’s why I write for MomsRising.

Are you one of the 56% American mothers who “prefer” to stay home? Please join me and act today.
Fix The Mothers’ Wage Gap
Support Paid Family Leave
Give Affordable Early Education Some Momentum

The work-from-home baby.
This is an original post to MomsRising.org by To-wen Tseng. Photo credit to Mu-huan Chiang.


Friday, September 18, 2015

Bad Mom


From time to time, I got questions like, “Why do you send your baby to day care when you’re staying at home all day long?” or “Why don’t you cook everyday? Don’t you have plenty of time at home?”
I just shrugged and said, “because I am a bad mom.” 
You see, my little one started to go to day care when he was 3 months old. When my previous employer refused to provide breastfeeding accommodation, I quit my full time reporting job. I became a work-from-home working mom when my little one turned 6 months old…but he continued going to school.

This is what my current typical day looks like: Get up, walk my now 2-year-old to his school, come home and then write, write, write. I have to produce at least 2,000 words on a daily basis. If I finish my writing before 4 PM, I cook, and then pick up the little one by 6 PM. We come home, and the whole family sits down together for dinner.

If I don’t finish my writing by 4 PM, I still have to pick him up by 6 PM. Then the whole family goes out for dinner. Whether we dine at home or dine out, we spend a solid hour playing together after eating. At the end of the day I give him a bath, give him his bedtime nursing session, brush his teeth, read him a story, and kiss him goodnight. Then I spend the rest of the night catching up on my chores.
This is on an easy day. Hard days happen when I have a business trip, out-of-town interviews to conduct, research to do, or, the worse, when the little one is sick.

These are my days.
But some people might think that working from home equals not working…and they consider sending a child under 3 years old to school while the mother is “sitting at home all day long” unforgivable. 
I know some supermoms who do everything themselves. They give birth at home; they cook every meal from scratch; they homeschool their children. I admire these moms while they turn up their nose on moms like me.

I know some super grandmas who love to tell stories about what great mothers they made when they were at my age and how well they handled their dozens of very active kids and bunch of very annoying in-laws.

These are the people who love to ask me a question like, “I bet you just drop the poor kid to that terrible place, and then go shopping and out to lunch, don’t you?”

Before my little one turned 1 year old, I would sincerely go through my typical day with them, detailing what I really do when my little one goes to school. I would earnestly share my experience of choosing a good day care with them and telling them why I really like my little one’s teacher. I would seriously quote George Bernard Shaw’s “Man and Superman,” explaining my decision of keeping my career.
But I soon realized that my sincerity would only bring on more questions. Now I just shrug,and say, “Because I am a bad mom.” For some reason, my questioners really like this answer. 
Just earlier this month, my mother-in-law once again told me, “I can’t bare seeing you send my grandson to day care at such a young age. That’s just horrible.”

I said, “yes, that’s horrible. I am a bad mom. I can’t be as good as you are.”

She said, “I know, right?”

And that was the end of the discussion.

This has been an exclusive post for World Moms by To-wen Tseng. Photo credit to the author.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The woman breastfed on a refugee boat

I have a story about being a mother and a refugee.

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' mouths. Comforted by their 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. This is a photo taken in Shanghai before the family gambling their lives on the treacherous voyage across the Taiwan Strait.

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, or I never really paid attention to it. I was too young to understand what being a mom, or being a refugee is really like.

Then the #HumanityWashedAshore image of a 3-year-old Syrian boy lay dead on the beach shocked the world. It is reported the boy, Aylan, drowned with his mother and 5-year-old brother on a short run from Turkey to the Greek Island of Kos.

The image shocked me, too. I thought of my 2-year-old, more than that I thought of my grandma. For the first time, I tried to imagine what it really was like for a 20-year-old young mother to get on an over-loaded refugee boat with two toddlers and to continue to breastfeed them for two days in the middle of the sea to flee from violence, oppression and poverty. How hard, or how dangerous it could be? My grandma said, “we could have died.” Now I knew she was serious.

Aylan was not one person. Three more children died last night trying to cross that TWO MILES to safety.
Aylan could be my dad, or my uncle, or any of us. War was never very far away from us. It’s often just one generation or two miles away.
Aylan’s father told The Telegraph, “let this be the last.” I hope so but highly doubt it. History repeats itself. When will we ever learn?

Read more: Things we can do to help. Now.

How Aylan's story should have ended. Photo courtesy Europe Says OXI.
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by To-wen Tseng.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Ramdon thoughts on campaign, breastfeeding, and Womens Equality Day

On August 26, 1920, women achieved the right to vote in the US, thus the Women's Equality Day. On this very special day, I want to do something that I rarely do--write a little bit about my thoughts on this heating presidential election.

Living in America, I often have an illusion that we women are completely equal to men. Unfortunately, whenever I have such an illusion, things always happen to break it. Something like, just yesterday, the GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump once again called the FOX anchor Megyn Kelly a "bimbo."

Trump's twitter tirade against Kelly was soon challenged, Sen. Lindsey Graham, for example, said, "if you think Kelly is a bimbo, then you are an idiot."

The incident reminded me another commend Trump made on another woman. Just a while ago, Trump called a breastfeeding mother and lawyer who needed a break to pump her breast milk “disgusting.” I still remember how that farce disgust me.

Is Trump allowed to call Kelly a bimbo? I suppose yes, just like Graham is allowed to call Trump an idiot. Is Trump allowed to be disgusted by breastfeeding? I guess yes, just like I’m allowed to be disgusted by calling breastfeeding mothers disgusting. So what’s the problem?

The problem is, in spite of the "men and women are equal" illusion, we still have wage, hiring, and other discrimination against women and mothers. While women makes 78 cents to a man’s dollar, mothers make 69 cents to a dad’s dollar. And remarks like those from Trump fuel that discrimination. While moms and dads across the country expect our future president to work on working families’ rights and equal pay, it is very disappointing that any presidential candidate would make such comments on women and breastfeeding.

From personal experience, I also deeply understand how this kind of discrimination can affect a mother's attempt to breastfeed and a woman's career path.

I still remember vividly how my previous company refused to offer me lactation accommodation when I returned to work after giving birth, and how my colleague told me "don't wash your dirty panty here" when I was trying to wash my pump parts in the office kitchen. Legal Aid Society helped me settle the case just one year ago today. Still, the incident eventually result my resignation from the newspaper.

I also remember vividly how nervous I was the first time I nursed my child outside of our house. It was a humid summer day and my parents visited from Taiwan wanted to check out the San Diego Zoo. After spending an hour in the Safari Park, it was clear to me that my then 1-month-old was hungry and more than a little tired. I tried to find a place to hide so that I could feed him without “disgust” anybody. When I couldn’t find such a place, I just sat down in a rest area, covered my baby with a scarf and latched him on. My mom put up an umbrella to escape people’s look. You could imagine how awkward it was.

It was really hot on that day and my baby sweated a lot under that scarf. I started to feel very uncomfortable and wanted to go home. So we tidied up and got ready to go.

Just before we leave, I saw another family on the other side of the rest area. A mother was breastfeeding. She was not covered up. Her baby was eating and the rest of the family was eating at the same time. I also noticed that no one was looking at the mother or paying her any special attention. All in a sudden, I was embarrassed by myself for making such a scene with that stupid umbrella.

We ended up spending the rest of the day in the zoo. You have no idea how much I appreciated that mother. I started to breastfeed wherever I could, with the hope to normalize breastfeeding.    

The comment from Trump was a reminder that we still have a long way to go equalizing women and normalizing of breastfeeding. And the politician who made such a comment probably has a longer way to go understanding the realities of American families.

Happy Women's Equality Day.

Baby's first and recent visit to the zoo.
This is an original post to MomsRising.org by To-wen Tseng. Photo credit to To-wen Tseng. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

The funny reality of breastfeeding

My piglet recently weaned from breastfeeding. Now looking back, I feel that breastfeeding can be emotional, challenging, rewarding, and also funny! In light of National Breastfeeding Awareness Month, I’d like to share some funny moments of my breastfeeding journey.

When nursing, I feel there's nothing else I'd rather be doing. I quit my job because the company didn't support pumping at work. It's been two years and I sill think it's worth of it.
"It's nice that now mommy works from home."

Like all the other breastfeeding mothers, I've been told to cover up when nursing in public. Last time when I was asked to do so, I told my 2-year-old. "This lady wants you to hide under the blanket while eating. Would you please?" And he shouted, "NO!"
"After all, picnic is all about sun shine and fresh air."

Even when we were covered up, I'd still be told to go to somewhere else to breastfeed. Last time when I was asked to do so, I told me 2-year-old, "This gentleman wants you to eat in the restroom. Shall we move?" And he replied, "Tell him go away."
"I'm eating here in the food court. You may move to the restroom as you please."

For sleep training purposes, the books told us, “as baby drifts off, gently remove breast.” But my baby always wakes up immediately when I tried to remove the breast.
"I'm now fully awake."

My mom told me that the size of my boobs will never be the same again—they’ll get bigger. But she didn’t tell me that the shape of my boobs will never be the same, either.
"And I wonder if mom has always been this fat."

Whenever trying to “nurse down” my fuzzy baby, I was always the one who was “down” first.
"Mommy is sleepy. I'm not."

Soon I learned to keep my smart phone close by, so that I can watch “Case Closed” and stay awake while breastfeeding.
"...I thought mommy's working. Actually she's watching 'case closed.'"

I even learned to pick up my smart phone with my toes when it’s not possible to move my upper body and breastfeed at the same time.

As long as I give him his bed-time nursing session, my child can sleep a straight nine hours. It's nice, but in the morning I had to beg him to get up and eat because my boobs were engorged.
"...zzz..."

It hurt so badly to breastfeed when my baby was teething that I swore numerous times to myself, “I will wean him tomorrow.” But I never really carried out the plan. Now we are done with breastfeeding, it actually feels weird not to have hydrogel pads on my nipples.

My little one was only breastfed once a day as part of his bedtime routine by the time he turned two years old. To wean him naturally, after his second birthday, every night I'd ask him, “Do you want mama’s milk or cow’s milk?” He always chose mama’s milk. After three months, one night he decided to try chose cow’s milk. Several days later he wanted to switch back to mama's milk, only realized there was no more milk in my breasts.

The last scene of our breastfeeding journey was like this: he latched on, sucked for a few minutes, and then he opened his month, looked up to me and said, “there’s no milk.”   “That’s because you’re a big boy now, and mama’s milk is for babies,” I told him. He hugged me (my breasts actually) and said, “bye bye booboos.”

I’ll remember this forever.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Tough Cookie's Pregnancy Journey

Pregnancy made me feel like a superwoman.

I was a working reporter when I first found myself become pregnant. Six weeks into my pregnancy, the space shuttle Endeavour made its last landing at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). The press lined up as early as 2AM to secure a spot in order to catch a nice footage. I was among them. When the space shuttle finally landed at 1pm, I have been stood there for 11 hours straight without even one bathroom break. I had heat stroke and was a little dehydrated; I thought I might lose my baby.

But I didn’t. We made it to 32 weeks. I had a business trip to Mexico to cover a story about the smuggling industry. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer who accompanied me stared at my bump and asked, “Are you sure you want to do this? What did your assignment editor say about it?”

“Nothing.” I said, “Why?”

I wouldn’t say that I was discriminated against. My employer didn’t refuse to accommodate me with pregnancy-related needs. In fact, I never asked. I was blessed with an easy pregnancy. The thought of reasonable accommodations that a pregnant worker might need just never came to my mind nor brought up by my supervisor.

I was 35 weeks pregnant when the then Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa hosted the press conference to unveil a $229-million overhaul of Delta’s LAX terminal. I stood with a dozen of my colleagues in waiting for the mayor’s speech. Suddenly, the LAX spokeswoman pulled a chair to the front and waved to me, “Come on, To-wen! Your baby is coming anytime now. You’d better grab a seat!”

So all eyes, including the mayor’s and the LAX CEO’s, were on me when I stumbled to the chair and sat down. I tried to cover my belly with a notebook, feeling a little bit embarrassed yet very grateful and touched.

I literary worked up to the last minute until my delivery and even wrote two articles while waiting for dilation on the hospital bed. My doctor came in and said, “you are such a tough cookie.”

I was a dedicated worker and my employer took it for granted. I didn’t realize that my hard work was not appreciated and my right as a mother was not protected until later when the company refused to offer lactation accommodation.

My pregnancy journey made me feel like a superwoman. But mothers really shouldn’t have to risk her and her baby’s health to feel super. It is unfortunate that women still experience discrimination on the job when they become pregnant. That is why I am so thrilled about the introduction of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.

The Act will require employers to make the same sort of accommodations for pregnant workers that are already made for employees with disabilities. These accommodations are simple things like being able to sit down on shift or extra water breaks. Once passed, it’ll guarantee the fair treatment for pregnant workers and keep working families healthy. It is very important. When a woman is forced to choose between her job and the health of her pregnancy, she could be left without a paycheck at the moment she needs it the most, thus the dire consequences for her family’s economic security. Providing workplace accommodations to pregnant women who need them will allow many of these workers to continue safely working during pregnancy, supporting their families and contributing to the nation’s economy.

We don’t need a tough pregnancy to be a tough mom. No, let’s ask our Senator to support the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.

My only pregnancy photo. The woman in trench coat is me, 18 weeks pregnant, at work.

This is an original post to MomsRising.org by To-wen Tseng. Photo credit to AP.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Things I don't Understand about "Protecting" Breastfeeding

Last month I met with a Huffington Post columnist at Howard Plaza Hotel in Taipei. She was writing a book that tells the story of how culture has influenced the breastfeeding controversy. She asked me what is it like to breastfeed in Taiwan.

I thought about this question carefully. I called the island home for 20 years, but I have not visited the “home” for a long time. I was surprised by what I saw during my recent trip there. There were nursing rooms literally everywhere. From big cities to small towns, nursing rooms could be found in city halls, in shopping malls, in metro stations, in banks, in parks, and in restaurants, even in family restaurants.

I was surprised because this was not the Taiwan I remembered. I was born and raised in the 1980s, when sales of formula reached its peak on the Island. In 1989, only 5.8% of newborns in Taiwan were breastfed. I had never seen or heard of anyone breastfeeding when growing up.

Looked like Taiwan has changed to be a very breastfeeding friendly society, I thought. After all, the government adopted International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes in 1992 and started to promote Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative in 1998.

But one day when we were at a library in Yilan, a small city in Northeastern Taiwan, my little one started to cry for milk. I found the nursing room, but it was locked. So we nursed on a bench in an atrium area of the library. Soon a library staff member approached to me, kindly reminding me that there was a nursing room nearby, where I should “feel much more comfortable.” I told her that the room was locked. She said that’s because another mother is using that room. I asked her if the capacity of the nursing room is just for one person.

She explained that there were plenty of spaces and chairs in the nursing room, but breastfeeding is “such a private thing that mothers usually don’t want to share the room with another mother.” Then she nicely suggested me to “stand in line” for that nursing room.

I was amused. So we have spacious nursing rooms everywhere but only one mother can use that room at a time? And instead of finding somewhere else to nurse our baby, we have to stand in line for that nursing room?

Then I started to think about those nursing rooms I saw everywhere. Seriously, do we really need nursing rooms in a park? If we were picnicking on the lawn in a park, couldn’t our nursing baby just enjoy the food on the lawn with us? Also, do we really need nursing rooms in a restaurant, even in a family restaurant? If we were dining around the table in a restaurant, couldn’t the nursing baby eat with us by the table?

I started to feel those ubiquitous nursing rooms seemed to be protecting nursing mothers, but in fact, it was telling the society that breastfeeding is something that considered “abnormal,” something that needed to be hidden and could be done only in a locked room.

I am not saying that we need no nursing room. Instead, I suggest that nursing rooms should be something that moms can “choose to,” not “have to” use.

Breastfeeding needed to be normalized more than to be protected. People, especially our children, need to see breastfeeding in public. When young girls and boys grow up surrounded by sexualized images of breasts produced by Hollywood but never, or rarely, see the normal, natural act of breastfeeding a baby, how can they build healthy ideas about breasts and women’s bodies?

Breastfeeding will not be seen to be normal until we see more women breastfeed in public. Mothers, please breastfeed in public. When more mothers breastfeed in public, we will help normalize breastfeeding and to provide new mothers a path away from embarrassment.

Not July 4th firework, but breastfeeding by Taipei 101.


Saturday, May 23, 2015

An Ordinary Mother


The writer interview with World Moms Blog asked what made me unique as a mother.

I could not answer the question, for I am not unique. I am an ordinary mother with a child, a husband, a job, and a station wagon.

But, still, every ordinary mother has a story. This is mine.

I got married young—my husband and I were married right after school. He is a computer engineer and I am a journalist specialized in criminal and disaster stories. He lived in San Diego and I lived in Los Angeles. We only saw each other on weekends. We both enjoyed our career and the plan was not to have a child.

But I found myself knocked up five years after we tied the knot.

I had no plan for the child—no birth plan, no nursing plan, no education plan. For my whole life I had been the girl with a plan, and now, suddenly, I was plan-less. I was sitting in my then future pediatrician’s office with a blank mind when he asked me if I planned to breastfeed.

“I don’t know,” I said, “I mean, I’ll think about it if I have milk.”

“Virtually every woman has milk,” he told me.

“Okay, okay, I’ll think about it.” I walked out of his office.

Then I went through a very unpleasant delivery. I was in labor for more than 20 hours and ended up with an emergency C-section. I seriously thought I was going to die. When all was over and the nurse handed me the crying newborn, I barely had the strength to take him. And when I finally held him in my arms, I felt nothing..not the “love at the first sight” that everybody talked about…but exhausted.

But everything changed in two hours, when the baby first cried for food. A nurse showed me how to latch the baby. Soon as I brought him onto my breast, he widely opened his mouth and latched on. It was just amazing. I truly felt like I belonged to my baby and he belonged to me.

That was the moment I became a mother.

And I became a mother with an exclusively breastfed baby. We had three great months together. I returned to work when he turned 3 month old. I was writing for World Journal, the largest Chinese-language newspaper serving North America.

Two months later, the newspaper published an article titled “Breastfeeding Photos Embarrass Chinese-American to death,” describing breastfeeding in public and/or sharing breastfeeding photos on social media as “disturbing” and “disgusting.”

As a nursing mother, I was shocked and offended. I talked to my editor, but he didn’t think there was any problem with that article. The newspaper received complaints from readers, but had no responses.

I was very, very disappointed. The truth is, the company wasn’t friendly to breastfeeding mothers. We didn’t have a nursing room, even though California law requires appropriate reasonable space for pumping. I had to pump in the restroom. When I washed my pump parts in the kitchen, some of my colleagues would say, “don’t wash your dirty panties in the office.” I reported this to Human Resources, but they never dealt with it.

Later they published another article claiming that it is impractical for employers to provide lactation accommodations. I spoke with my editor, a news person I once admired. We sat down for a 3-hour-long conversation and my editor insisted that there was nothing wrong with the article, that I was overreacting, and that I had a personal issue.

So I quit, ending a 10-year-long relationship with them. I sued the company for sex discrimination.

The suit was settled and one thing I didn’t agree was confidentiality. They wanted to pay for my silence which I refused. Other than that I’m happy about the agreement, it requires the company to change its policies regarding lactation accommodations and to share these policies with staff in multiple languages. Moreover, all supervisors will be trained on the policy and how to respond to requests for lactation accommodations.

Ten years is a long time to devote to a career. When I quit, once again, I found myself completely plan-less. I decided to follow my heart. I tuned down the financial compensation in my lawsuit, so that I could speak out about this type of discrimination. My hope is to use my example to encourage other Chinese-American mothers. I’m comforted whenever my Chinese blog gets positive responses.

And the blog led me to new opportunities. My still-being-breastfed little one turned two this past Mother’s Day, and I’m ready to publish my second children’s book.

Every ordinary mother has a story. This is mine – from a criminal reporter to a parenting columnist and a children’s book writer. What’s your story?

This is an original post for World Moms Blog by To-wen Tseng. Photo credit to Mu-huan Chiang.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

When Breast Milk Goes Big Business

This past weekend I joined a dozen of local mothers (and fathers) for a stroll walk, raising funds and awareness for the importance of human donor milk.

Why donor milk?

Well, much has been said about the benefits of breast milk for babies. It is the feeding method recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics(AAP) and the World Health Organization(WHO). And for the 500 premature babies born each year who contract a potentially deadly disease called necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), breast milk is more than the recommended feeding method. It can mean the difference between life and death.

NEC is an inflammation of the bowels that can require multiple surgeries to remove dead tissues, may result in organ failure, months-long neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) stays, and lifelong complications and treatment. It can cost up to $1 million to treat per case and the anguish it causes parents is indescribable.

According to Best for Babes, a non-profit organization that focuses on education and support for parents making feeding choices for their babies, feeding fragile and compromised babies human breast milk, whether from the mother or a donor, has been shown to reduce the risk of NEC by 79%.

In its most recent policy statement on breastfeeding and human milk, the AAP states unequivocally that “The potent benefits of human milk are such that all preterm infants should receive human milk…If mother’s own milk is unavailable despite significant lactation support, pasteurized donor milk should be used.”

However, the use of donor breast milk is not a common practice in American hospitals. According to NECSociety, the AAP’s call for all preterm babies to have pasteurized donor milk when mother’s own milk is unavailable is being ignored. Less than 40% of the nation’s NICUs use donor milk. “It’s a tragedy that more parents, health care providers, medical directors, and hospitals administrators don’t know about donor milk’s existence, accessibility, safety and lifesaving powers for babies in the NICU,” said Jennifer Canvasser, the founder of NECSociety, in a statement.

On the other hand, buying and selling breast milk has become popular over the past couple of years. Prolacta Bioscience, for example, has raised $46 million from investors. The company buys, pasteurizes, and resells breast milk. In hospitals, extremely premature babies are treated with the concentrated, high-protein, and super expensive formula. With its new funds, Prolacta now has the resources for research into possible new therapeutic uses for breast milk.

But I found I cannot be thrilled about the entrance of big business into what's largely been community-based, nonprofit work.

Though Prolacta’s product helps sick babies and gives breastfeeding mothers a way to earn money for their milk, it can draw donors from nonprofit milk banks with cash incentives, threatening the health of preemies whose parents lack money or insurance for the super expensive breast milk based baby formula.

Currently there are 15 milk banks nationwide that exist to provide donor breast milk to mothers who aren’t able to provide enough breast milk to their babies. These nonprofit milk banks have a long history of providing milk to the sickest babies, and provide based on medical need and not on insurance reimbursement or financial resources. And they were struggling to meet demand when breast milk went big business. Time reported that the rise of online milk selling had led to “critically low” levels of donor breast milk and “urgent calls” for donations.

Breast milk is love. Love is not for sale; it is for sharing. Mothers, if you are blessed with more breast milk than your child needs, please consider donating your milk to save another baby’s life. More information can be found at Human Milk Banking Association of North America.

Stroll walk to raise awareness for human donor milk.
This is an original post to MomsRising.org by To-wen Tseng. Photo credit to Mu-huan Chiang. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

California hospitals fight “maternity tourism” to promote breastfeeding

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to speak at a staff meeting at AHMC, a medical group that owns and runs six hospitals in Los Angeles area. According to the medical director, they have seen a large increase in their Chinese patient population. The patients come to the United States to deliver their babies and then return to China.

At Monterey Park Community Hospital, one of the hospitals operated by AHMC, 97% of the obstetrics patients are these Chinese women. While the hospital is promoting breastfeeding, it is reported that the Chinese mothers ask for several bottles of infant formula at a time, and appear upset if the staff don’t accommodate them. It frustrates the staff.

Maternity tourism has long been a problem in Los Angeles. After federal agents raided maternity tourism business in Los Angeles last month, some of the business moved down to San Diego. The business challenges the work of breastfeeding promotion.

Currently in China, less than 30% of newborns are breastfed. Breastfeeding is simply not a common practice in the country. It’s hard for the American medical experts to change Chinese women’s life-long beliefs in a two-day hospital stay.

To promote breastfeeding among those mothers who come to the States to give birth is even harder. Maternity tourism is a huge business in Southern California. According to the Chinese government, each year more than 3,000 Chinese women come to the U.S. to give birth, and half of them come to Southern California. To lure potential customers, the maternity travel agencies often tell the mothers, “You can ask for as much baby formula as you want at an American hospital.” Just “Baidu” (the Chinese “Google”) the key words “giving birth in America” and tons of advertisements pop up. Most of them list “free infant formula” as an advantage of giving birth in the States.

A townhouse in San Gabriel that has been converted to "maternity hotel."
My advice for staff is, first, to have Chinese-language breastfeeding education material available. Then distribute it to the Chinese patients when they come to the hospital for the prenatal tour, not when they are in the delivery room.

I also recommend working with the doctors who work and care for these patients. There are Chinese-speaking doctors who enjoy working with maternity travel agencies and particularly receive these Chinese patients. When thousands of miles away from home, it’s much easier for Chinese women to trust these Chinese-speaking doctors than English-speaking hospital staff.

The hospital staff told me that some doctors are part of the maternity tourism industry, and tend to work with the maternity travel agency instead of the hospital. This is discouraging. But still, I insist that we put breastfeeding-promotion brochures and hang posters in the doctors’ offices.

Chinese mothers often become upset when their requests for formula are not accommodated. My suggestion is to give them samples that promote breastfeeding, such as lanolin or hydrogel pads, instead of formula. These women pay a fortune just to give birth in the U.S. It is understandable that they want to get something free.

Finally, I think the hospital staff should set a reasonable expectation for their work of promoting breastfeeding to these Chinese mothers. Again, it is indeed hard for American medical experts to change a long-time cultural belief in a short period of time. Also, Chinese mothers often need more encouragement than American mothers to breastfeed, considering the low breastfeeding rate and baby-unfriendly atmosphere in that country.

The good news is, things are changing. Young and well-educated Chinese mothers are now more aware of the benefits of breastfeeding and are often willing to give it a try. It is our hope that one day they’ll all understand that breast milk is the best gift a mother can offer her baby—even better than American citizenship.

A feature story on maternity tourism I did for KSCI three years ago:


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Dangers of Buying Breast Milk Online

Breast milk is liquid gold. When having trouble breastfeeding, our great-great-grandmother might have called for a wet nurse. Now the 21st century technology has opened the door for this ancient practice. In today’s e-commerce world, a young mother can easily buy breast milk online and feed her baby.

Over the past couple of years, ordering breast milk online has become more popular. While online sales of human milk is rising in popularity, it’s buyer beware.

Though breast milk is not regulated by the FDA, a 2010 warning clearly states that government’s stance, “FDA recommends against feeding your baby breast milk acquired directly from individuals or through the Internet.”

A recent study published in Pediatrics revealed that some breast milk ordered online contains cow’s milk. The study, led by Dr. Sarah A. Keim of Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, OH, tested 102 samples of breast milk ordered from popular milk-sharing websites to see what it contained.

Researchers isolated mitochondrial DNA from the samples by polymerase chain reaction, the same technique used for forensic and medical purposes. After two rounds of testing, 11 samples came back containing cow DNA. Ten of the samples actually had been mixed with at least 10% of cow’s milk, a significant quantity.

Further tests ruled out the possibility the cow’ milk was the result of minor or incidental contamination and suggested the tainted breast milk had probably been intentionally mixed with cow’s milk or cow-based baby formula.

“We confirmed that all the samples did have human DNA in them, but they were not 100% human breast milk,” said Dr. Sarah Keim. “This is deliberate adulteration no matter how you look at it.”

She added, “I was surprised that it was that many samples. Even a small amount of cow’s milk could be harmful to a baby with cow’s milk allergies.”

This is not only problematic for infants who are allergic to or have trouble digesting cow’s milk. Children under one-year-old should not be fed cow’s milk according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP.) In addition, previous studies found that some of the human milk sold on the Internet had high amounts of bacteria.

A 2009 study done by Stanford University found that among 1091 women who want to donate breast milk, 39 of them have HIV, hepatitis, or syphilis. In a 2013 study, Dr. Keim and her colleagues also found that 75% of the breast milk purchased through the site OnlyTheBreast.com contained staph, strep, or other bacterial species. If the breast milk donor takes medication, harmful drug can also be transmitted to the baby.

“It’s quite clear that the risks to your infant’s health and safety are significant and appear to outweigh any benefits they might get from breast milk,” said Dr. Keim. “There are multiple dangers, one is the risk of infectious disease.” She said HIV, hepatitis, syphilis, and other infectious diseases can be transmitted through breast milk.

When a mother cannot nurse her own baby, the next best thing is breast milk from another healthy mother. However ordering breast milk online did raise safety concerns. Online sources for breast milk are far different from the network or organized milk banks. A licensed human milk bank has to go through a rigorous process to make sure the breast milk is safe for consumption according to the Human Milk Bank of North America.

To guarantee the baby glean the benefits found in human milk, including all the nutrition, antibodies, and other disease-fighting properties, it is encouraged that mothers turn to a licensed human milk bank.



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

Friday, April 17, 2015

Why I Love Tax Season (and why Congress should keep making it lovable)

For most people, tax season has passed. For me, it’s not.

As a freelance journalist based between CA, USA and Taipei, Taiwan, each year I have to file taxes in two countries. The tax day in the States is April 15, but in Taiwan it’s May 31.

So the tax season is not yet over for me.

This is the season that I love the U.S. government the most. This is the season I feel that as a U.S. taxpayer, my family and I are really being taken good care of. This is the season I feel that I’m really lucky to raise my child in this country.

This year, thank to the Child and Dependent Care Credit, I saved $400. How far can $400 go? For my family, it equals to one week of mortgage, or two weeks of groceries, or five weeks of gasoline. It may not sound much, but is indeed very helpful.

Coincidentally (and unfortunately), I had an accident just a couple of weeks ago. I was hit from behind by an unlicensed driver. My 22-month-old was in the car when the accident happened. Since the other party was not licensed nor insured, I had to pay for the damage with my own insurance. I have a $500 collision deductible and the $400 child care credit kicked in just in time to help me fix my car and replace my baby’s infant car seat.

Tax breaks like this, as well Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, boost working families. The money received through tax credits helps the families afford rent, gas for cars, day care for children, and other necessities. With these purchases, the money flows back into the local economy, which sorely needs it. So the tax breaks also boost our economy.

It worried me when I heard that the key provisions of the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit will expire in two years.

I don’t receive the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Child Tax Credit, but I know it is one of the most successful anti-poverty programs the States has right now. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 9.4 million people, including 5 million children, were lifted out of poverty by the programs in 2013. In 2013 alone, 28 million people in the States benefited from the Earned Income Tax Credit, earning an average $2,407 in tax breaks. Also 20.4 million households received the refundable part of the Child Tax Credit. Totally 20.9 million working moms received the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, or both tax credits.

Once the policies expire, nearly 16 million, including 8 million children, will be fall into poverty. It will be very unfortunate. Thousands of hard-working families will be left behind and our economy will be hurt.

The members of Congress should not let this happen. This week after filing my tax, I wrote a letter to Mr. Scott Peters, my Representative at State House, and tell him why I think the Congress need to support, protect, and strengthen the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, and keep making the tax season lovable.

If you share my belief and want tell the Congress to support the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, please visit the MomsRising action page.


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

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Extended breastfeeding leads to higher income later in life

We’ve heard it many times already—“Breast is best.” The benefits of breastfeeding for a child, physically and intellectually, have been increasingly well-illustrated by a large body of research in recent years. Nowone more study adds to it.

Breastfeeding has many short-term benefits, including protection from infectious disease and reduction in infant death. Now a new study suggests that extended breastfeeding is linked to an increase in intelligence and income.

Prior studies have shown breastfeeding’s positive effects on brain development, and longer breastfeeding specifically has been linked with improved cognitive, motor, and language skills, as well as better memory in the first few years of life. A 2013 study published in JAMA Pediatrics found longer breastfeeding was associated with improved verbal and non-verbal intelligence in elementary age children; breastfed children have an increase of up to 7.5 IQ points.

But does the benefit last to adulthood? The answer is "yes!" The latest addition to this perspective is a long-term study of infants born in Brazil in 1982. Published in Lancet Global Health, the provocative longitudinal study interview 5,914 new mother about their plans for breastfeeding and then followed up to see how they did. Researchers recently followed up with the grown children, who were asked to complete IQ tests and answer questions about income and educational achievements. The researchers were able to collect data from 3,493 participants.

The study subjects were then divided into five groups based on how long they were breastfed. They took into account 10 “social and biological variables” that might affect IQ. These included family income at birth, parental schooling, maternal smoking during pregnancy, maternal age, birthweight, and how the baby was delivered.

Controlling for other facts such as parental income and birthweight, researchers found that the connection between breastfeeding and IQ may persist for many more years than previously had been shown—in fact, it may last right up through adulthood. The researchers from the Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil found that the longer a child is breasted, the higher his or her IQ through age 30, and the higher his or her earning power at that time. Babies who were nursed for 12 months or longer had higher IQ scores and earned more than those who had just been breastfed for a month.

The study provides the first evidence that prolonged breastfeeding not only increases intelligence, but last until at least the age of 30 years.

“The result of our mediation analysis suggested that IQ was responsible for 72% of the effect on income,” said Dr. Bernardo Lessa Horta who lead the probe.

In comparisons of participants who were breastfed for 12 months or more with those breastfed for less than one month, the increase in monthly income was roughly R$300 (US$95), or 20% of the average income level.

The study said that weather a mother was rich or poor, or had high or low social status, made little difference to the results. Longer breastfeeding led to increased adult intelligence, longer schooling and higher adult earnings, regardless of family background.

Horta said, “What unique about this study is the fact that, in the population we studied, breastfeeding was not more common among highly educated, high-income women, but was evenly distributed by social class.”

Breast milk may be the best a mother can give her child, even better than a rich family or a higher social class. One more reason to breastfeed, moms.

Wow! Diamond in mommy's milk! Drink up!!
This is an original post for San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition's Blog by To-wen Tseng. Photo credit to Mu-huan Chiang. 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

New Writer Interview with World Moms Blog



Where in the world do you live? And, are you from there?

I currently reside in San Diego, CA, USA. I am originally from Taipei, TAIWAN.

What language(s) do you speak?

Mandarin Chinese, English, and Japanese.

When did you first become a mother?

I first became a mother in 2013 at the age of 33.

Are you a stay-at-home mom or do you work?

I’m a work-from-home mom.

Why do you blog/write?

I am a writer and I write for a living. I started to blog back in 2009 when a publisher in Taiwan invited me to. My blog then titled “The World According to To-wen” was all about my experience as a criminal/disaster reporter. It made the final list of 2011 Global Chinese-language blog awards; later became a book which was sold more than 80,000 copies in China and Taiwan.

But things changed four years later when I became a mother. When returned to my previous newsroom after giving birth, I got a rude awakening which inspired me to advocate for women and children’s rights. I changed my blog title to “I’d rather be breastfeeding” and started to blog about my message to other mothers (or fathers) who share my values.

What makes you unique as a mother?

Every mother is unique, or no mother is unique. I am no exception. I have been fighting for breastfeeding rights at work which I consider a unique experience. But I am not a particularly unique mother. Mothers believe in different things and compete with one another in many different ways. But no matter what we believe, we love our children. I love my child just like other mothers do; not more, not less.

What do you view as the challenges of raising a child in today’s world?

There are many and I consider temptation the biggest one. My son is barely two years old and I’m working hard to teach him to resist candy. Surely our culture is strutted with candy and other junk foods. Every so often, I feel that I’m fighting against the whole world just to protect my child from junk foods.

And I imagine as he grows up, there will be other temptations: TV, pornography, drugs, unsafe sex…the list goes on and on. Since I cannot be a food police or Internet police around him 24/7, I need to raise him as a person with integrity and strong will power to resist these temptations.

Not only children, but parents in today’s world need to learn to deal with temptation. It’s harder for today’s parents to resist the convenience that infant formula, or iPad, or smart phone has to offer. None of us want to be that mother who stares at her iPhone when “playing” with children in the park or the mother who simply gives a fuzzy child an iPad and say “here, just be quiet for a minute!” Unfortunately, sometimes an iPad seems to be the easiest solution.

The challenge of temptation. Definitely a big one.

How did you find World Moms Blog?

I don’t remember. I’ve known about World Moms Blog for a couple of years and was a reader even before I became a mother but never thought of writing for the blog. Maybe I just went across the blog somehow when surfing the internet. I really can’t remember. But I’m definitely thrilled to be part of the team!

This has been an exclusive World Moms Blog interview with our new writer To-wen Tseng. She can be found writing at her blog “I’d rather be breastfeeding” and on Facebook andTwitter.

It is an original post to World Moms Blog. Photo credit to Mu-huan Chiang.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Not just for babies: 9-year-old girl thrives on donated breast milk

Breast milk is not just for babies. In Beaumont, Texas, a 9-year-old girl with genetic disorder thrives on donated breast milk.

Her name is Annabel Shelander. She has a rare condition that keeps her from consuming and digesting food naturally. Every day, she sits on her older sister’s lap, watching “Barney” on an iPad while a nurse funneled breast milk into her stomach.

As unconventional as it might seen now, the feeding process used to be much more painful for the girl, who was fed nutrients through an intravenous line that ends just above her heart.

The solution pumped through the line, called total parenteral nutrition, made Annabel gag and wretch.

That all changed last month when her mom, Cathy Shelander, approached Beaumont Breastfeeding Coalition members about milk donations.

Cathy said she and a friend were talking about Annabel’s condition and they came up with the idea about breast milk.

It wasn’t a totally strange concept for them, because Annabel was prescribed breast milk when she was 3 years old. But it’s different now since she is older.

Cathy said Annabel’s doctors were shocked when she told them that she had decided o feed Annabel donated breast milk because it is not regulated by the FDA.

In the five weeks since Annabel has been taking the donated milk, Cathy said her daughter has seen marked improvement.

The Beaumont Breastfeeding Coalition does not fill requests for donor. The group is more of a network for nursing moms to give and receive support. Some of its members took it up themselves to independently help Annabel.

Cathy said she is cautious when taking the donated milk. She meets with the women ahead of time and make sure she is not taking from their baby.

The girl with genetic disorder may be an extreme case, but breast milk is for sure not only for babies. There is a lot of official support for extended breastfeeding, which means breastfeeding a toddler past age one. UNICEF and WHO have long encouraged breastfeeding for two years and longer, and American Academy of Pediatrics is now on record as encouraging mothers to breastfeed for at least one year and then for as long after as the mother and baby desire.

Breastfeeding to 3 and 4 years of age has been common in much of the world until recently in human history, and it is still common in many societies for toddlers to be breastfed.

When not being disturbed (by unfriendly working environment or incorrect concept, for example), mothers and babies often enjoy breastfeeding a lot, and that is why breastfeeding continue past one year. Why stop an enjoyable relationship? And continued breastfeeding is good for the health and welfare of both the mother and child.

Breast milk has as much value after one year. Breast milk is milk. Even after one year, it still contains protein, fat, and other nutritionally important and appropriate elements which children need. It still contains immunologic factors that help protect the child even if he is 2 or older. In fact, according to Dr. Jack Newman, the Canadian physician specializing in breastfeeding support, some immune factors in breast milk that protect the baby against infection are present in greater amounts in the second year of life than in the first. That is since children older than a year are generally exposed to more infections than young babies. Breast milk still contains special growth factors that help the immune system to mature, and the brain, gut, and other organs to develop.

It has also been shown that children in daycare who are still be breastfed have fewer and less severe infections than the children who are not being breastfed. Mothers, do you have a little one pass one year old but you want to continue breastfeeding? Go ahead. It will only do good to you and your child.

The big baby with "tattoo" and still being breastfed!
This is an Original post for San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition's blog by To-wen Tseng. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

After a Lactating Porn Actress's Infant Starved to Death

This is a news story that ruined my Friday morning: an infant starved to death while his mother used breast milk for online porn.



The sad incident happened in Glendale, Oregon. The parents of this 7-week-old boy have been arrested on charges of murder by abuse after a medical examiner determined the child died from starvation. Investigators said the mother used her breast milk for online pornography instead of feeding the child. The baby died on January 22. That night, an ambulance and sheriff’s deputy responded to a report of an infant in distress. Medics found the infant unresponsive to treatment. He died on the scene. Detectives arrested the baby’s 22-year-old mother and 27-year-old father last week.

The story really upsets me. It’s not “the mother is horrible” angry. It’s much more than that. In this case, I think the mother is as much a victim as her baby boy. Pornography is an industry that essentially exploits women. The mother is now 22 years old and has been doing online porn “for years,” according to the sheriff. Which means she has been a porn actress since she was a teenager, when she was only a child herself. A teenager who acts in pornography is no doubt a victim.

The story upsets me mainly because, what kind of images is modern media presenting to breastfeeding mothers? Why would people associate breastfeeding and breast milk with pornography? Why there's a market for lactating porn? Who actually killed the baby?

I’m saying this with no exaggeration. Japan is the country with world’s largest pornography industry. If you search for “breast milk” or “breastfeeding” in Twitter Japan, half of the results you’ll get are pornography sites. A while ago, one of the largest Chinese-language newspaper here in North America described breastfeeding photos as “R-rated image” in its reporting. In America, many Hollywood movies—from David Dobkin’s “The Change-Up” to Adam Sandler’s “Grown Ups”—make nasty jokes about breastfeeding.

Breasts are designed for feeding a child. But too many people seem to consider that breasts are designed for pornography or the satisfaction of admiring them. They just can’t get over the idea that breastfeeding equals to exposing breasts equals acting sexually.

It’s time for us to normalize breastfeeding and disconnect breastfeeding from sexuality.

This is why I’ve always been against describing breastfeeding as “sexy.” Las year, a press release on behalf of the Alaska State House majority called breastfeeding “smart and sexy,” and I thought it was very inappropriate.

And this is why I’ve been calling mothers to breastfeed in the public. People, especially our children, need to see breastfeeding in public. When youngsters grow up surrounded by sexualized images of breasts but never, or only rarely, see the normal, natural act of breast-feeding a baby, it’s not possible of them to have healthy ideas about breasts.

This is also why I’ve been encouraging mothers to share their breastfeeding photos. I think we need to see more breastfeeding pictures. From cliched poses to Facebook bans, our society apparently has a problem with realistic images of breastfeeding and postpartum bodies. Breastfeeding is simply not represented properly in popular culture. It has yet to be normalized. When breasts appear online, on television, or in print media, it is often associate with the idea of sex. How ironic that women are shamed if they do not breastfeed, but also shamed if they breastfeed in public?

Breastfeeding will not be seen to be normal until we see more breastfeeding photos and more women breastfeed in public. Mothers, please join me and breastfeed in public. When you do so, you’re helping normalize breastfeeding.

Below: The first nursing photo I shard on twitter when my LO was 7 weeks old. I even blurred it. After posting the photo I received a harassing message, telling me to "post a photo of your milking tits." Shocked and offended, I reported the incident to Twitter. The harassing account was then disappeared. After that I never blurred my nursing photo when sharing it--why should I? Have you ever seen anyone blur the food photo they share on Facebook?

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