8.20.2007

Don't Get Spammed By Similac With Unwanted Formula

So here's the story: Today I received two parcels from Similac (owned by Abbot Laboratories) of free formula - each parcel had 2 cans, 8 oz. each, one milk-based and one soy-based, of Similac formula. I received 2 identical parcels because, according to the first customer service rep that I spoke with, apparently 2 memberships in the Similac "Welcome Addition Club" (www.welcomeaddition.com) had been created for me by Similac out of info they had obtained about me from customer lists that they had purchased from BabiesRUs, ToysRUs, Motherhood Maternity, Mimi Maternity, A Pea in the Pod, and, as the customer service rep who I spoke with on the phone said, pretty much any baby-related business. I asked her to remove the two memberships, and asked her if it was Similac's policy to send unsolicited free formula to every mother whose information they obtained, whether or not she had indicated an interest in receiving free formula, and she said that yes, that was their policy. I registered my recommendation that they alter the policy so that they only send formula samples to women who have requested it, and ended the call.

I called back later to see what could be done for other moms who shopped at these places who DID NOT want to receive free formula, and this customer service rep said to make sure to instruct these businesses not to share my personal information. The problem, however, was that she couldn't give me a complete list of all of the businesses that Similac purchases customer information from. Moreover, she also confirmed that the mother's information could be picked up if someone else buys her a gift from one of these businesses. I explained that keeping her information from Similac was not entirely within a woman's control under these circumstances, and that I was simply looking for some means for a person to communicate in advance to the company that they did not want to receive free formula samples from Similac. She put me on hold for a couple of minutes, and when she came back she told me that mothers who wanted to make sure they did not receive formula samples from Similac could call the Welcome Addition Club customer service at 1-800-232-7677, and ask to be put on the "Do Not Mail" List.

So why all the fuss over receiving free samples of formula, you may ask? Why not just toss them? Well, actually there are several studies confirming that providing unsolicited samples and coupons for formula to women either through their "hospital discharge pack" or via their OB/Gyn office conclusively increases the rate of early abandonment of breastfeeding. As I've said before, breastfeeding is hard. It hurts; getting the latch right is hard; thrush, mastititis, engorgement, leaking through your shirt in inopportune moments, and painfully clogged milk ducts all add to the challenges. Lots of women unnecessarilly doubt whether their milk is "good enough" for their child (as the milk becomes higher in protein it takes on a more "watery" appearance that can be misleading, for example). So it's no wonder that studies find that thrusting formula into the hands of women who didn't ask for it will increase the rate and timing at which they give up.

Let me be clear - I have nothing against formula generally. Many women are unable to breastfeed, and it's wonderful that there is an option available for them that, while not quite as beneficial as breastmilk, is still perfectly adequate and safe. Many women simply choose not to breastfeed - see above re "hard" and "painful". That's their option, and they should have access to all the coupons and free samples they can get the formula companies to send them, because that stuff is not cheap. But if a woman is determined to breastfeed, she'll want every support and advantage on her side to help her be successful. Aside from picking doctors who support breastfeeding and will have resources available to help her deal with the challenges, finding lactation consultants in her area if they're available, and asking for the support of her family and friends to help her not feel the need to run and hide every time her child wants to eat (as is my own inclination, although I have nothing but admiration for my friends who manage it so effortlessly), she would also be wise to make sure that there isn't free formula getting put into her hands and mailbox - based on the information available about how this will diminish her chances of long-term success.

I hope this helps anyone out there who would like to not receive unwanted formula samples. I've forward this story to the Lactivist blog for wider circulation in case the author opts to pick it up. Ultimately it would be good to see something happen in the legal sphere prohibiting formula companies from sending free samples to women without first confirming whether they are interested in receiving them. Sheesh - there's a law against unsolicited emails; you'd think there could be a law against unsolicited formula for criminy's sake.

8.14.2007

Who Says We're Not Political?

This past month the media have given a fair amount of attention to the supposed dearth of female voices in the political blogosphere. There are plenty of women bloggers out there, but supposedly they are only talking about the challenges of raising children, taking care of aging parents, balancing work demands and family life, and other "non-political" topics.

TomPaine.com has published a fantastic article by Ruth Rosen titled "The Care Crisis" describing the need for a public, political solution to the lack of support for the family, in particular in terms of childcare and elder care. The comparisons to the stats for other countries is plain embarassing. In any case, I would posit that women bloggers are indeed engaged in political discourse when they discuss what are characterized in our society as "private" problems. These problems are "private" only insofar our elected leaders have failed to act to address them. As she points out, domestic violence, date rape, economic discrimination and sexual harassment were once considered "private" problems as well, until the political will to address them finally crossed the tipping point and a public, political solution was advanced. Eventually, I have to believe, all those politicians advocating for pro-life agendas will start to follow-through with the rest of the solution: in a country where less than 1 in 4 2-parent families can afford to have one parent at home full-time, it's time to have some pro-family legislation helping parents to obtain safe, affordable, quality care for their children and for their aging parents, and while they're at it maybe some paid maternity leave and sick leave so that one bad fall, one hospitalized spouse, one parent suffering dementia - doesn't throw the precarious balance most families are walking into a complete tailspin.

Birth Choices

Friday marks 37 weeks, and we are all systems go. Work for one client is shifting to the replacement legal counsel over the next two weeks, and work for the other is already in transition. I feel huge.

I'm reading a lot now about the opinions people have about what sort of birth women are supposed to have. There are doctors who opine that women who seek an unmedicated birth are "odd" or attention-seeking martyrs. There are natural birth advocates who don't give equal air-time to the value of pain management via medical (as opposed to strictly non-medical) means. And lately there's a lot going on in the realm of expanding/limiting the birthing options available to women. The Rotunda, the largest birthing hospital in Ireland, recently announced a policy that birthing mothers would no longer be permitted to bring a doula (trained birthing assistant) for labor and delivery unless the doula was her designated "partner" - and she would only be allowed one partner (any person other than hospital staff) in the room. The "women's center" practice across the hall from my OB/gyn has stopped taking clients who plan to deliver using the Bradley method - a drug-free approach to pain management (this was our chosen approach). Hospitals are more than willing to make medical pain management available, but not so much the non-medical options (a birthing ball, a birthing tub, freedom to move around and change positions or walk around, the comfort of the presence of relatives and friends).

It got me to thinking about my decision, early on in pregnancy with the first cub, to seek a non-medicated birth, to hire a doula to assist during the birth, and then to breastfeed. I believe I'm making the best choices for my own and my family's long-term health and well-being. Having experienced a cesarian delivery and the prolonged, painful and extremely life-limiting recovery that followed and cast such a pallor of dull pain and suffering over the first few months of my first child's life, I am choosing the route that is less likely to lead me back down that road again, since available research indicates that medical interventions in birth have a way of spiraling to additional interventions that lead invariably to a surgical birth. This is one way of explaining the sky-rocketing incidence of surgical deliveries as opposed to vaginal deliveries.

More troubling, many of the "standard" interventions were adopted without studies to prove their effectiveness. A prime example is the practice of episiotomy - making an incision in the vaginal tissue down towards the perineum to reduce the likelihood of a tear and to present a cleaner wound for stitching. Recent studies found that when routine episiotomies were no longer given, many women actually did not tear, and those that did healed better from a rough wound than from a clean slice, which is more vulnerable to infection. So why was episiotomy adopted in the first place? Seemed like a good idea at the time, I guess. And although I have the utmost respect for the OB/Gyn profession, there are probably in reality only a small percentage of births that truly need a medical intervention, so that these highly skilled and trained professionals must actually feel a tad unnecessary at times. Hence the rise of interventions, and the subsequent rise of cesarians.

So that's why the non-medicated birth. And the doula? My chances of being successful in achieving a non-medicated birth are significantly improved with her there beside me. She has been in practice for 16 years and has assisted literally hundreds of women achieve exactly the sort of birth that I'm hoping for. She will be able to suggest things I can do to manage the pain that I wouldn't have thought of. She will be able to run interference with hospital staff to help keep intrusions into the room to a minimum. And she also frees up DH from having to manage these roles, so he can just enjoy being present with his wife for the miraculous birth of his daughter.

No doubt about it, breastfeeding is hard. It hurts of the toe-curling variety for the first couple of weeks, it puts me in the hot-seat for all of baby's wake-ups during the night, there's thrush, mastitis, and embarassing leaking to deal with, the anxiety over getting my supply up and bountiful during the first couple of months, and then once I start back to work I also start to pump 6 times a day, at 25 minutes each time to pump and clean the equipment for the next time, so that I have enough stored in bottles to send to daycare with DD the next day. And also so that my supply during the day stays primed so that on weekends there's still milk there ready for her to nurse directly. Lastly, there's the anxiety I have about nursing in public - or even in my home in front of anyone other than immediate family and very close friends. The cub was not a discreet nurser, and consequently I tended not to venture out with him when I knew he'd be needing to eat - which was a lot - unless I knew for sure that I could find a private place to go with him to nurse. Of course I could bring a bottle of breastmilk with, but then I'd become engorged from having missed the feeding and would still need to go pump somewhere, have a cooler ready for the fresh milk, and clean and dry the equipment. (I'm hoping DD will be one of those quiet nursers that can have a meal with no one who sees us even having an inkling.) But I do all of this for the superior nutritional value of the breastmilk. It's that much better. Plus, the bonding from nursing - especially now that I've experienced it once already - is sooooooo worth it. I'm not necessarily anti-formula, it's just that I'm fortunate enough that nursing is an option and I'm looking forward to doing it again, in spite of the difficulties.

I've arrived at these decisions through a rational and deliberate process, and it's simply odd to me that there are those out there who would oppose or judge or even refuse to be my doctor because of them. I don't think I'm doing anything all that radical, but in fact am being sensible and practical. So why are so many so invested in having not just opinions, but control over how women give birth and feed their infants?

8.10.2007

TypeAMama's Domestic Agenda Priorities

TypeAMama has opinions about politics, too, if you hadn't noticed those entries. With the presidential candidate debates already strangely swinging into gear at this early date, I've had a lot on my mind. Note that I don't cite studies or statistics to back up my opinions. I read a lot. I've got a decent education with a couple of graduate degrees. I'm an active participant in my community, the economy, and the political process. And I have formed some opinions.

1. Universal Healthcare

It's crazy and indefensible and inexcusable that we still have the antiquated, inefficient, and enormously costly private insurance-driven healthcare system that we have. The cost to the economy, corporate profitability (except for pharmaceutical companies and the health insurance industry), and the bodies and health of fully employed Americans and their children is staggering.

2. Public Education

No Child Left Behind - the right goals, the wrong methods. Penalizing a failing school by withdrawing funding only assures it's continued slow and painful demise. Ultimately who suffers? The children whose futures are wrecked and the communities who will have to deal with them as they turn into adults.

3. Energy

Seriously enhance programs to support the growth of domestic, clean (i.e., non-greenhouse-gas-emitting), sustainable fuel sources. Invest in infrastructure to support the widespread adoption of emerging alternative fuel sources. The beneficial impacts on expenditures to secure foreign supplies of oil, on the environment, and on creation of new jobs domestically will more than offset costs.

4. Crime

Has anyone noticed the creeping (and in some cases leaping) crime statistics rising around the country? Especially for violent crime? What gives? Spending to update police departments with current technology and equipment and training and to hire more officers for patrol is not enough. We need to invest in proven crime-prevention resources - after school programs, job development programs, substance abuse treatment programs, family violence shelters and education programs, and mental health treatment programs, for example. Also, increase controls around who gets access to guns, how quickly, after how much scrutiny. Require all current and prospective gun owners to obtain a license, just like driving a car, and to demonstrate a minimum level of proficiency in safety, judgement and skill. Again, just like driving a car.

5. Immigration

Requiring a person who came here without a visa (and there are precious few of those available, even to highly skilled workers) to pay a fine, register, become a regular taxpayer, learn English and get integrated as a contributing member of society is not amnesty, people. Currently there is only a very narrow path to citizenship available to allows immigrants with basic (but not specialized) skills to work and contribute and become part of society while they continue to live here to meet the residency requirement to either apply for legal resident status (takes 10 years of residency within the US) or citizenship via naturalization (takes 5 years) - those are the "Diversity" visas, of which there are currently only 50,000 granted, by lottery, each year. And they are alotted primarily to immigrants from countries which are under-represented in current immigration numbers, so the visa "relief" is directed where it is least needed.

6. Government Accountability

Increased transparency to the lobbying activities of special interests. Higher penalties for corruption - perjury, accepting bribes, tax fraud, etc. For starters, members of Congress or any other elected official convicted of any of the foregoing automatically forfeit their pensions. Increased reporting of public expenditures - both forecast and actual.

7. Get Practical.

Allow gay marriage. Prohibit pharmacists from denying women contraception or other prescriptions ordered by their doctors. Follow evidence-based education programs to reduce teen pregnancy: abstinence-only education is not the most effective approach for reducing teen pregnancy - "abstinence plus" has a much higher success rate. Keep religious instruction out of public schools and textbooks. Improve family leave options and create deductions for childcare costs (including after-school programs) for working parents.

8.07.2007

Taken to a Government-Sponsored Tibetan Theme Park?

Tonight I watched fellow Vassar alum Anthony Bourdain travel and eat his way through the exotic and yet ordinary foods of southwest China, ending in a "Tibetan" village that, strangely, actually wasn't in Tibet, but rather Yunan province. His guide repeatedly emphasized to him that he was seeing the "traditional" Tibetan house, the "traditional" Tibetan food, the "traditional" Tibetan dress, etc. etc. I've been to Tibet, and lived with Tibetan refugees in Nepal and India, and I can promise you there was nothing "traditional" about the size, grandeur, or wealth of the house and family that was paraded out for Tony's enjoyment. I'm afraid one of my favorite chefs got used by the Chinese government to help publicize a bunch of government-sponsored hogwash.

In the real Tibet, all public services, schools, place names, traffic directions, etc., are in Chinese. Traditional Tibetan villages have been razed to make way for Chinese-government style buildings and development. Where they have not been razed, they are a tiny, impoverished outpost surrounded by modern development. The wooden "traditional" Tibetan house visited by Tony was clearly recently built. The rooms were huge, the house had two stories, and the food was abundant. Most telling: the butter tea, which is traditionally meant to taste rancid and takes some getting used to (I grew to love it), was adjusted to suit a western palate. Tony braced for the worst, but found the light frothy beverage he was handed actually tasted good. He was not being given the real thing - he was being given something to make him feel good.

Tibetans are not permitted to have a photo of the Dalai Lama, whom they revere as their spiritual and political leader (Tibetan government does not separate church and state in the western way) on display in their shops or windows, which may not sound like a big deal to a non-Tibetan, but for Tibetans, the Dalai Lama is at the heart of their identity as Tibetans. In Tibet, the monasteries were the places of education and housed the vast libraries of ancient texts relating to law, medicine, and the dharma.

My admittedly speculative conclusion: the Tibetans that Tony visited are well-connected cadres in the communist party and are happily participating in the ruse in exchange for the lovely accommodations and assured futures for their children and relatives. The "Tibetan" village in Yunan is being put forth by the government as the "real" thing so that people won't travel the extra several hundred miles to the very remote actual Tibet and witness what in fact has happened to the Tibetan people there.

Tony, dude, you got used.

8.06.2007

Are They Getting the Message?

The weekly grocery shopping changes from week to week depending on what I need to get. If I need some regular items that the Whole Foods won't carry, then I'll go to the local HEB. If I need to buy a lot of meat products, then I'll go to the WF to get the free-range, organic, etc. etc. meats. They're pricey, but I'm a big believer in the health benefits, plus organic agriculture is easier on the planet.

So this weekend I went to HEB because I didn't feel up to the expense of Whole Paycheck, and just figured I'd try to make the best food choices I could from what they had to offer. There are two food ingredients that seem to be ubiquitous in regular commercial foods, and that I have a strict policy against bringing into the house (even in blessed Blue Bell Ice Cream): high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils. HFCS because of the association with early onset type 2 diabetes and other health issues, and hydrogenated oils because that stuff just adheres to your arteries like cement and is a prime suspect in neurological disorders (the body needs good oils for healthy nerve and neuron myelination and function). Particularly because there is a little being in my tummy growing a brain from scratch, I'm very very obsessive about avoiding bad oils and supplementing with good ones.

So I was walking by the bakery breads on my way to the produce and longingly looking at the deceptively natural, no frills looking wrappers and labels, knowing full well that anything I pick up will have one or both of the two verboten ingredients. But just for the heck of it I picked up a package of garlic-herb breadsticks, and guess what? Natural sugar instead of HFCS, and no hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. I was stunned. To make sure I wasn't dreaming I picked up a few more bread items, and, as expected, there were the culprits on the labels. But not these particular breadsticks. How fabulous! They are now waiting in the fridge to be paired with tonight's chicken parmesan.

Buoyed by this tiny discovery, I continued checking labels that I have been ignoring for years to see if there was any difference. Guess what? Eggo whole grain waffles? No more HFCS or hydrogenated oils! And ten in a box for less than the fancy-label organic variety. Yes, I know, I'm still supporting the corporate-industrial food complex, but every now and then you gotta save some pennies when you can. And of all companies, Hormel now makes a lunchmeat ham with no nitrites. Unbelievable.

So I'm not doing handsprings for Archer Daniels Midland, and Monsanto is still (not so) secretly run by satan himself, but at least I have a few more options for those times that I need to not empty out my wallet at Whole Paycheck.