July 2, 1999
Volume 1, Issue 27
Midwifery Today E-News
“Breastfeeding & Feminism”
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In This Week's Issue:

1) Quote of the Week
2) The Art of Midwifery
3) News Flashes
4) Is Breastfeeding a Feminist Issue?
5) Question of the Week
6) Commentary
7) Improving Your Practice
8) Switchboard
9) Coming E-News Themes


1) Quote of the Week:

" We need to remember that focusing on the mother's enjoyment, and talking nonsense about how relaxed bottle-feeding is better than stressed breastfeeding, has been a remarkably successful, century-long industry advertising strategy which well meaning health professions have swallowed whole and reiterate ad nauseam."

- Maureen Minchin writing in MIDIRS, March 1999


2) The Art of Midwifery

Thrush does not occur in the healthy adult mouth, but can seem imposible to get rid of in a baby's mouth. I have seen rapid and marvelous results from having the mom put a bit of her saliva in her baby's mouth after feedings. This is often an effective remedy for even the most resistant cases.

- Natalya Lukin, Midwifery Today Issue 46


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3) News Flashes

Feeling Better

Symptoms of some autoimmune diseases may subside during pregnancy. For example, women with rheumatoid arthritis may report a decrease of pain and swelling during their first trimester, and symptoms may continue to decrease as pregnancy progresses. Women with inflammatory bowel disease, lupus erythematosus or multiple sclerosis may feel better during pregnancy. Such improvements are thought to stem from natural steroids produced by the placenta. These corticosteroids can reduce inflammation and other immune responses. Women with allergies or asthma may also benefit from the same corticosteroids.

- American Baby, April 1999


Smoking and SIDS

Smoking is an independent risk factor for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and is mainly mediated through maternal smoking in pregnancy, according to a recent Scandinavian study. Stopping smoking or smoking less may be beneficial in reducing the risk of SIDS, although the father's smoking appeared to have no effect if the mother did not smoke. Exactly how smoking plays a part in SIDS is not fully understood. Prenatal smoking has a negative effect on neonatal airway development and lung elasticity and may be associated with greater susceptibility to infection. Smoking also reduces birth weight, though there seems to be an effect in addition to this factor.

- Professional Care of Mother & Child, Vol. 8 No. 5, 1998


4) Is breastfeeding a feminist issue? By promoting breastfeeding are we working in the best interests of women?

This question, posed by an E-News reader, prompted a flurry of responses. Following are excerpts from some of them.

Breastfeeding promotes rapid contraction of the uterus, which helps prevent postpartum hemorrhage and helps the woman lose her "baby fat" and restore good muscle tone. But perhaps its most important benefit is in the prevention of breast cancer, which is fast becoming a common problem, given a generation of women who did not breastfeed. Promotion of artificial feeding has clearly had a deleterious effect on women's health.

- Cynthia Flynn, CNM, MSN, PhD, FlynnCNM@aol.com


Our bodies were designed perfectly. How empowering it is to birth your baby, then continue to sustain his needs after he is outside your body--knowing all the while that no one could have provided more perfectly for your child than you.

- Brandi Wood, woodfam@iquest.net


This quotation, from Penny Van Esterik, perfectly expresses what I feel about the issue of breastfeeding as a feminist issue:

"Breastfeeding is an important women's issue, human rights issue, and feminist issue, since breastfeeding empowers women and contributes to gender equality. Women who wish to breastfeed their babies but cannot because of inadequate support from family or health workers, constraints in the workplace, or misinformation from the infant food industry, are oppressed and exploited. Groups and individuals interested in fighting for women's rights and human rights should take action to change this situation, and recognize breastfeeding as a woman's right.

"Women are empowered by asserting the value of both their productive and reproductive work. Women should never be forced to make a choice between mother-work and other work. Conditions supportive to successful nurturing, including breastfeeding, are conditions which reduce gender subordination generally by contradicting negative stereotypes of women and emphasizing the value of women's work."

To read more about World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) and Penny Van Esterik, go to www.greatstar.com/lois/bfem.html

- Maurenne Griese, Manhattan, KS USA
email griese@networksplus.net


I am using a copy of Penny Van Esterik's article in my human rights case against the YMCA where I was told to nurse my two toddlers away from their preschool play-class. Women are being harassed for nursing their children in public. If a man were cuddling and/or bottle-feeding his child in public, he would not be asked to stop or relocate. This is certainly a double-standard.

I think some of the states in the US have laws that make asking a mum to stop nursing or leave, an act of discrimination based on gender, which would make this a feminist issue.

- J Goforth


Breastfeeding is a feminist issue because it empowers women. It's a heady feeling knowing that your body is capable of nourishing your baby after it is born as well as in utero. Research into the peer counselor role has shown in many instances that women who breastfed their babies and were then invited to become peer counselors felt so empowered by their actions that some have gone on to get college degrees or work in more depth with mothers and babies.

- Mary Kay Smith, Romeoville, IL


Outside the actual birth of my children, breastfeeding has been the single most empowering and centering experience of my life. With breastfeeding, I am acting in accordance with nature; my breasts are being used in a healthy purposeful manner; my children are deriving the health and nutrition they deserve through the milk intended solely for them; I am not "buying into" our culture's unfortunate dependence on advertising, chemicals, and the influence of the dollar (formula companies' kick-backs to doctors, for example); and I and my children are enjoying a very unencumbered lifestyle as we go anywhere anytime with no thought of bottles, etc.

- D. O.


It isn't until we celebrate our unique gifts as women do we become truly liberated. Breastfeeding is one of those unique gifts. It forces women to acknowledge a powerful force inside themselves, a strength that only we possess, and one that most women are unaware they have or that even exists.

Giving to my child in such a fundamental way allowed me to find a power within myself. I became transformed by this act of love. Now I feel truly liberated because I am being true to myself. I am liberated to follow my instincts instead of what others expect of me.

- E. S.


Breastfeeding and Feminism Resources is a page on my site that might be of interest:

- Donna Dolezal Zelzer, Online Birth Center


When adults choose to have children, the best interests of the children supersede the adult's. Of course we know that "breast is best" for babies and incidentally, good for women as well. The feminist debate seems to forget the qualities of unselfishness and sacrifice that accompany parenthood and instead focuses on immediate, temporal fulfillment.

- Marigold Hibbert


Feminist issue? Absolutely not. If the point is that a woman can breastfeed and a man cannot, then menstrual periods, childbirth and menopause would also be feminist issues.

Feminism is realizing that to be a strong woman doesn't mean you have to try to be a man. The strength shown in doing what is best for your child is incredible. Breastfeeding takes dedication and determination and in today's society, plain old guts. Try to feed your child in a public place and you are looked upon as some sort of weirdo or it's pretended that you don't exist. God didn't give us breasts as sexual playthings for men. God gave us breasts in order to feed our children.

I would hate to think a whole generation of tomorrow's leaders would be deprived of the best possible beginnings at life because their mothers were too worried about being feminist. In generations to come you won't be remembered for any feminist ideals, but for being a good mom.

- Kelly Raymond, Richmond, Va. wwr@bellatlantic.net


Why won't our American society accept breasts for the beauty of this function, but will accept grown men drooling at them in beer ads, car ads, on TV etc. Why won't our society accept and protect breastfeeding women in public places? Why are we not actively supporting breastfeeding (BF) in the work place? Why do so many healthcare providers remain untrained and why are hospital policies not baby friendly? Until BF gets full societal support, we will not know whether this is the variable that makes so many women feel that BF is not the "feminist" choice.

Until we become more comfortable accepting and responding to our children's needs and making our children our priority, not just in word but in deed, BF will not be considered a parenting issue. We do not seem to accept dependency and intimacy and the need for attachment in general. BF includes all these and it appears not to be mainstream and to tie women down. Good parenting does require devotion and BF is just one form of it. Very few forms of devotion in parenting are accepted societally.

BF can allow women the opportunity to fully experience womanhood. If we polarize the discussion, there will be folks on both sides. We need to support BF so that more women and babies can benefit from it.

- J. McCrory


How about ensuring that our children are as intelligent as possible so that they can become independent of their mothers someday?

For women to become respected in our society, that-which-is-female should be respected. To believe that time spent nurturing children is wasted is buying into the male dominated mentality of our culture. Breastfeeding, diaper changing, and educating is stressful and rewarding work, especially since there is no paycheck or annual evaluations.

- E. W.


Breastfeeding is the ultimate form of feminism. Not only am I not tied to the home, but only I, a woman, can feed my baby anywhere my son and I choose. Birthing is woman's work, and so is breastfeeding.

As I understand it, feminism celebrates womanhood and all the powers that come with it. Feminism should also embrace gender differences by not chalking them up to inequality (a negative stance). No wonder boys grow up to shoot to kill. They do not have clearly defined roles when the old feminist guard pushes male bashing down our throats.

- Kristine Owens, doulacare@hotmail.com


This question makes me sad because it addresses the concerns of the mother. No mention is made about what is best for the baby. Otherwise, why have children? Because it's expected? Does having children empower us because men can't do it? Should women really care about that at all?

- Judy Caruso, CNM, Stilljude@aol.com


Nursing our children is not a political issue, it is a health issue. Feminism has nothing to do with biological instinctual behavior. Something is lost if we make breastfeeding a political issue. We then occupy our minds with issues that should never be examined within those borders. This will eventually distract us from seeing what we are fighting for as women.

- Evette, aspiring midwife


Breastfeeding is a nutritional issue. It has nothing to do with politics or feminism. Why would we have to choose between whether to feed our wee babes what was intended and should be their birthright versus what we can use to control men or exclude them? We need women to nurture each other and support each other, not give each other more reasons to question our choices. I chose to breastfeed my two babies because it was the best for them and me, both nutritionally and emotionally. I had great difficulties the first time because no one in the obstetrician's office bothered to evaluate my nipples (both doctors were women). If it hadn't been for the incredible support I got from my husband I would have failed. This was a devastating time for me. I am incensed to see this question posed as a political issue.

- Cindy Wolf, CMWolfpack@aol.com


This is part of my gift to my children; only I can give it, and in a world as impersonal as ours can be, breastfeeding provides an irreplaceable closeness and a bonding that imprints on a child and I believe influences the quality of all their relationships in later life. If anything, feminism frees us to be who we are--mothers!

- C. K.


Learn more from these Midwifery Today issues:
No. 6, Breastfeeding (Regular price: $7.00)
No. 22, Postpartum (Regular price: $7.00)
No. 35, Educating the Public (Regular price: $7.00)
Save $1.00 on each of these back issues! Call 800-743-0974 to order today!
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5) Question of the Week (repeated): What have midwives used successfully to slow down/halt preterm labor symptoms, i.e. lots of early contractions in clients as early as 26 weeks. I'm interested in alternatives to tributaline. Bedrest/taking it easy is a given. Has anyone had good results using progest. creme? (external application) Homeopathy? Other? I myself have used counseling & teaching self-hypnosis techniques occasionally for stress reduction.

- Constance Miles, LM, RN

Send your responses or submit a Question of the Week to mtensubmit@midwiferytoday.com


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6) Commentary by Gloria Lemay

The reason I did not use the term "midwife" to describe myself when I wrote to the Alberta Association of Nurses is that under the Health Professions Act which came into force in British Columbia in January 1998, only a member of the College of Midwives of BC may use that term. I am now a "private birth attendant."

In my heart I love the word midwife so much because it evokes Elly and Jude, my two beloved midwives. Elly was driven from Canada with a warrant out for her arrest and now lives in Holland again and works at homebirths as a maternity nurse. Jude is in Calgary and does not attend births--she says her kit is packed and ready and when the Lord needs her she'll know and she'll go. What's being called midwife here is nothing like either of them.

What I like about "private birth attendant" is the descriptive nature of the three words: Private--privacy is what makes birth work; birth--that's what we do; attendant--the French word attendre means "to wait." Waiting is what a midwife does best.

It has been good for my soul to drop the word midwife. I was far too attached to it. The Buddhists say "Attachment is the source of all suffering." Once I let go, I experienced a freedom I haven't had in twenty years. In my newly created profession, I have nothing to prove and nothing to compare myself to. I am the only member of the International Confederation of Private Birth Attendants so I get to be the boss. :-)


7) Improving Your Practice by Gail Hart

Should we do routine urine dip sticks at each prenatal?

The routine search urine dip stick test at every prenatal has been challenged in the last decade. So many women show presence of albumin or glucose that the results are usually ignored unless there are other symptoms. Many are changing to a policy in keeping with the common international practice of testing urine only in the presence of symptoms of UTI, diabetes or PIH.

The more complex sticks include tests for ketones, luekocytes, blood, nitrates etc. Many use the sticks as a screen for hidden (non-symptomatic) UTIs. But I think a better screen for asymptomatic UTI may be to send a sample for lab urinalysis rather than rely on dip testing for nitrates and luekocytes.

Because the research shows routine dip testing is inefficient, inaccurate and expensive, I follow the recommendations from the Guide to Effective Care and I test urine only for indications or when there are symptoms. I no longer do the urine dip-sticks at every prenatal.


9) Switchboard

Does anyone have any resources for midwifery bumper stickers, especially homebirth? I have the one HOMEBIRTH: A SAFE CHOICE on my van right now, but it is the only one I have ever seen. I would be interested in other options.

- Deborah

Can anyone direct me to good books and literature on twin births? I need info quickly please!

- Amy in Henderson, NV thebirthsource@hotmail.com


Does anyone know where I can get literature specifically talking about herbs common to Africa/Ghana?

- Harriet Kaufman, harrietadwoa@yahoo.com


9) Coming E-News Themes

Coming issues of Midwifery Today E-News will carry the following themes. You are enthusiastically invited to write articles, make comments, tell stories, send techniques, ask questions, write letters or news items related to these themes:

- Group B Strep (July 9)
- Homebirth (July 16)
- Cutting the cord (July 23)
- Ultrasound (July 30)

We look forward to hearing from you very soon! Send your submissions to mtensubmit@midwiferytoday.com. Some themes will be duplicated over time, so your submission may be filed for later use.


This publication is presented by Midwifery Today, Inc., for the sole purpose of disseminating general health information for public benefit. The information contained in or provided through this publication is intended for general consumer understanding and education only and is not intended to be, and is not provided as, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Midwifery Today, Inc., does not assume liability for the use of this information in any jurisdiction or for the contents of any external Internet sites referenced, nor does it endorse any commercial product or service mentioned or advertised in this publication. Always seek the advice of your midwife, physician, nurse or other qualified health care provider before you undergo any treatment or for answers to any questions you may have regarding any medical condition.

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