Saturday, May 15, 2010

What Would You Do, Breastfeeding Edition

The net (well, MY corner of it, anyway) has been all abuzz with a few stories the last few days - one being the Dr. Wonderful situation and ensuing #bringbiterback movement I've been posting about. The other is a recent episode of the ABC show "What Would You Do?", which features actors portraying controversial situations in public places, and recording the real-life reactions they elicit. Woman abused by her boyfriend, children abandoned by parent, you get the idea. The latest installment features nursing in public.

A woman (an actor) gets comfortable at a cafe and begins "nursing" her very small "baby" (not an actor, but a doll). The manager (also an actor) begins berating her. What will the other customers do? Though there were a few people siding with the manager, others came to her defense, quite vehemently so, and one even correctly cited the law, pointing out that his actions were actually illegal. They changed basic scenarios twice: How would the reaction change if the mother were black? How about if she were very young?

Turns out that the last of the above scenarios garnered both the most patronizing criticism (how about that guy giving the manager legal advice? "Don't make physical contact!") AND the most vigorous support (I was cheering the woman who stepped up the most; she was great), but then they added a twist to the original scenario. Same white mother of average age, only this time . . . she orders a beer.

I knew what was coming, and though it is generally considered fine for a nursing mother to have a single glass of wine or beer (much more info here), most people don't know this. It was no surprise when a customer joined the manager in condemning the mother. But then the actress makes matters worse, respondingto their condemnations by saying "She sleeps better at night!"

Dou-la-la's face --------> palm. Dou-la-la's head ------> desk.

Thanks, actress. Well, really, thanks producers. A good segment of your viewing audience walked away with the impression that moms who drink minimally are doing so to knock their babies out. I can somewhat excuse the actress for being on the spot and sadly not knowing any better, but that was just plain unnecessary to include without also including any actual information.

FOR THE RECORD: I am not supporting excessive amounts of alcohol. And yes, the threshold for "excessive" when you're nursing is more conservative than when you're not, if you're a regular drinker. Parenting when you're inebriated is risky IN GENERAL. But sending the message to mothers that having A beer once in a while is morally wrong, dangerous, verboten? I feel (and it goes without saying that this is my opinion) that this adds to the impression that the breastfeeding life is unpleasantly and unrealistically restrictive, and I think this is doubleplusungood.

From the trusty link above:
  • Current research says that occasional use of alcohol (1-2 drinks) is not harmful to the nursing baby. The American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Drugs classifies alcohol (ethanol) as a “Maternal Medication Usually Compatible With Breastfeeding.”
  • Many experts recommend against drinking more than 1-2 drinks per week.
  • It is recommended that nursing moms avoid breastfeeding during and for 2-3 hours after drinking (Hale 2002).
  • There is no need to pump & dump milk after drinking alcohol, other than for mom's comfort -- pumping & dumping does not speed the elimination of alcohol from the milk.
That pumping & dumping thing is especially pervasive in a lot of circles for some reason, like our breasts are somehow separate from the rest of our interconnecting systems and require us to manually wring the poison from our teats. Simply put, alcohol passes out of our milk the same way it passes out of our bloodstream, with time. We don't need to drain a pint (or so) of blood in order to sober up, do we? Just as laughable with alcohol. Kellymom continues:
In general, if you are sober enough to drive, you are sober enough to breastfeed. Less than 2% of the alcohol consumed by the mother reaches her blood and milk. [Anne notes: in other words, one beer is not going to "help her sleep at night."] Alcohol peaks in mom's blood and milk approximately 1/2-1 hour after drinking (but there is considerable variation from person to person, depending upon how much food was eaten in the same time period, mom's body weight and percentage of body fat, etc.). Alcohol does not accumulate in breastmilk, but leaves the milk as it leaves the blood; so when your blood alcohol levels are back down, so are your milk alcohol levels.
In short, the whole "If you drink it, your baby must be drinking equal or even similar amounts of it" line of reasoning is based on nothing. Again, in no way am I endorsing alcohol abuse. And I do understand erring on the side of caution; I do the same - for all my griping here, the number of drinks I've had since Lily was born two years ago don't even enter into double digits, and I used to be a social drinker. It's just a shame that an episode that was otherwise rather supportive of breastfeeding had to end on such an off note.

Semi-side note:
I wonder what would have happened had they included a toddler variation. Wait, maybe I don't want to know - though I will also say that I actually nurse Lily in public all the time and have detected only two hairy eyeballs, belonging to separate people. And we don't live in a particularly progressive area, to say the least. So there IS hope!

Ultimately, as my wise friend Jennifer observed and thus summarized the whole thing: "When we stop using the phrase 'public breastfeeding', we will have GOTTEN IT!"

I'll drink to that.


Side note that is only a side note because of the general subject range of this blog: If you're up for a real blood pressure elevator, watch one of the other segments of this show, also available from the original link - the one on whether the public will step in with an obviously abused woman.

In the first scenario, a white, modestly dressed woman gets defenders almost immediately, from multiple sources.

Dress the same woman provocatively, and no one steps in.

Dress a BLACK woman provocatively? Not only does nobody step in, she is thought to be a prostitute, and he a pimp. Oh, how I wish I were making that up.

God help us all.


  1. I finally caught the episode and no longer feel the need to blog about it because you've basically said everything that I would have. Totally irresponsible to act like drinking a beer while breastfeeding is some heinous act. I HATED the way they lauded the guy who gave the mom a tongue lashing over ordering a beer. They acted like it was a GOOD THING that this guy intervened and asked the mom to please not breastfeed her baby while having the beer. This kind of thing worries me, not only for the reasons you've listed, but what would happen if someone called the cops? I have nursed my baby while drinking a beer at my favorite sports bar. No one seemed to even notice, but what if they had? I think we all remember that case a few months ago where the woman accused of breastfeeding her baby while drunk lost custody of her child (the one who called 911 because her boyfriend was beating her and then SHE ended up getting arrested). SIGH.

  2. Oh yeah, I remember that case. Major ARGH.

    And you're absolutely right about the way they treated him. The whole Everyday Hero Post-Event Interview treatment was exactly how they framed it, including the line "Oh, I only did what anyone would do,' like he had just rescued a barrelful of drowning kittens from a burning building or something.

  3. I thought the beer thing was totally unnecessary - but I was most amazed at the physical reaction I had to the moms being singled out and how awful I felt, even to the point of tears, when they were being mistreated by the manager.

    I was so upset just watching it, I can't imagine how it would have been to be a person confronted like that. After breastfeeding my two kiddos many, many, many times over a three year period, I not once EVER had someone say something to me... I feel awful for those that have.

  4. I just finished watching my DVR'd version of this about ten minutes ago. I was SOOOOO annoyed by the beer part. WHY did that have anything to do with nursing in public? The two aren't even related. It seems to me they just wanted to end the segment with a mother doing something "wrong", or something that most people would find wrong, and somehow wrap up the Nursing In Public issue that way. WTF ABC??

    Also, the "breastfeeding is legal" language always PISSES ME THE FUCK OFF. The fact is there are a lot of things that are "legal" but not protected by law. It's "legal" to pick your nose in public, but does that means it's PROTECTED BY LAW? Uh, NO. Breastfeeding in my state is so protected that a mother can sue any establishment that tries to tell her not to. You can't sue someone for asking you not to pick your nose in their restaurant. There is a DIFFERENCE between "legal" and "protected."

    Everytime I see one of those dipshits on Twitter harassing nursing mothers I make sure I use the "protected" language, instead of just saying NIP is legal.

  5. I was really disappointed by this segment. I had been excited for it all week and was really let down. I felt like they should have spoken more about the actual rights of breastfeeding mothers (and of course, babies) as well as what you've said about the last portion of the segment. Absolutely ridiculous.

  6. That's a really good distinction to be aware of, Gina, thank you! I'll try to make sure I'm reflecting that language as well, whenever it comes up.

    I was thinking about watching some of the other segments, like an overweight woman being insulted by slim young hotties, or a lecherous man luring a plastered woman out of a bar, but I'm already feeling ill. Think I'll go to bed instead.

  7. While I sent out the message for folks to watch this on my FB page I ended up forgetting to watch it myself (too busy bark mulching!) so I am thankful to you for sharing what happened. :)

  8. I never watched this before and tuned in for the breastfeeding segment, but the woman getting abused by her boyfriend was what bothered me most. I was pleased overall with the breastfeeding part. You're right about the beer--I hadn't thought of it that way. I wonder why they didn't have the actresses ready to quote facts. Come to think of it, I noticed that the acting may have slipped at that point. It was like she didn't believe what she was saying, and thought it was funny. A good example of how women are seen as public property when they are pregnant/nursing.

  9. I didn't watch the show and hadn't realized they'd done that. How stupid. WTG ABC for making our lives more difficult. I occasionally have a drink and nurse my child. And it's absolutely fine to do so. I tell my nursing friends the same, and point them to the information in Dr. Jack Newman's Guide to Breastfeeding or to his website with the same information. Having a drink or two does not mean you have to pump and dump, feed your baby previously pumped milk, or substitute formula for a feeding or two (which I find pretty sad, actually!).

  10. i am nursing and drinking a delicious beer right now :)