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Synthesis/Regeneration 49   (Spring 2009)

Breastfeeding and Sustainability

by Erin O'Reilly

I came away from the Roundtable with some ideas about how we as a society can transition to healthier, sustainable and more pleasurable ways of living. My first thought has to do with all the people (especially Americans) who are entrenched in unsustainable lifestyles: living in huge, faraway homes, driving long distances in large personal vehicles, making lots of money working long hours for companies that damage our earth, succumbing to the work-a-lot/buy-a-lot/pay-a-lot rat race (among whom are those who have too much money but not enough time), and addicted to products to make up for the lack of humanistic pleasures that a simpler life would afford.

We must recognize that just as an obese person enjoys better health and more sustained weight loss if they lose weight slowly, we should wean away from this "overdone" lifestyle slowly but surely. I know that we need to hurry, but too many people are vested in this kind of lifestyle and won't readily change.

Changes could start with the easier and more acceptable and then gradually reach a tipping point.

If we could get health classified as a sort of directive for laws, religion, education, and social/cultural/ environmental policies, then we could guide and enable our productive community to go in the direction of healthier products and services and gain profit from that! Employing the recycling concept and use of artistry to retool/redirect our society would be helpful and pleasurable! Finally, make life easier by more time off work, especially during vulnerable times in a person's life. Following are some examples of what I mean specific to my line of interest/work (breastfeeding promotion and support):

1. Start simple:

We desperately need a national assessment of breastfeeding rates (initiation, continuation, exclusivity) at specific times during the course of a year or more. Breastfeeding is an immunization in and of itself, and we already have a national program for immunization assessment in this country so why don't we just tack on the breastfeeding assessment to immunizations?

2. Retool what we have instead of putting companies and people out of work:

Formula companies make billions of dollars and employ thousands of people allowing them to "make a living," so putting them out of business would be detrimental to many. We should compel our government to establish a plan, a timetable, and maybe even some tax breaks for formula companies to retool themselves as Milk Banks. Brazil has hundreds of Milk Banks and we only have seven in America!

3. Redirect profits towards health:

Industry that produces healthier products/services should be more profitable yet affordable through subsidies, or else we could tax the unhealthy products/services to even the playing field and reflect the true costs. For this example we should tax formula and/or give a breastfeeding stipend, paid maternity leave, or healthy WIC foods to all breastfeeding Mothers. It has to be recognized that breastfeeding Mothers work a full-time-plus job when they feed their newborns (8+ hours/day actual feeding time in the beginning!), so why shouldn't they have some benefits?

4. Use of artistry to help us enjoy this necessary change:

Music, art, poetry, dance, massage, relaxation . my master's thesis was "Health through Pleasure," so this is dear to me. Specific to breastfeeding promotion, we should retool "Rosie the Riveter" to "Barbara the Breastfeeder" in the War against Illness. She could have different versions to represent the multicultural makeup of our society. This "Barbara" could be used on posters to promote breastfeeding and on stamps to raise money for breastfeeding support or La Leche League. It would be exciting if "Barbie" the doll would make a breastfeeding model - think of how much the little girls would love that and they would be getting socialized to breastfeed when they grow up. We as a society have used breasts to sell so many other products and services. It is about time that we used them to sell breastfeeding!

5. Slow down, work less, enjoy more:

This is the hardest for us Americans, but so needed. My example here is simply that breastfeeding forces Mothers to slow down and accommodate themselves to mothering. It is the hormonal milieu that enables Mothers to relax and enjoy the work of mothering and their baby more. Breastfeeding Mothers need to demand paid maternity leave from our country because this would help breastfeeding continuity rates, which would help babies, our future citizens, to reap more rewards and grow up to be healthier! Social Security could be retooled/expanded to cover maternity leave.

Thanks for inviting me to the Roundtable. I look forward to a continuation of the discussion and sharing of more wonderful and sustainable ideas for our future!

Erin O'Reilly is an IBCLC-certified Lactation Consultant working at an inner-city hospital in St. Louis, where she promotes breastfeeding and supports breastfeeding mothers.

[26 sep 09]

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