Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Still pity the fool

Okay folks, we need to shift this argument a bit. Encouraging women to breastfeed is NOT about making them feel guilty. Encouraging a look at non-tech, out of hospital birth is NOT naive. As a nurse, these issues are about SAFETY. Safety of the mother, safety of the baby, period. As I prepare for my presentation for an upcoming conference on African-American women and breastfeeding, and as I read countless research articles in that preparation, it comes across loud and clear that techno-birth followed by artificial milk feeding is DANGEROUS to babies and moms- especially African-American babies and moms. But a study of African-American populations has really given me a bird's eye view of the havoc these cultural norms have wreaked in the health of women and babies in our country as a whole. A look at AA culture as a microcosm of all the worst effects of our perinatal healthcare practices and policies reflects a bleak and horrifying picture. Of course I knew this before reading those articles, hell, I've been saying the same thing for 20 years (just a voice, crying in the wilderness...) but the articles put it in writing with pie charts and graphs. Caucasian mamas and babies bear it better only because they have a socio-economic cushion in the form of better access to healthcare and other necessary resources. The meatiest article I came across was a study from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies Health Policy Institute out of Washington DC. Barbara Philipp and Sheina Jean-Marie from the local infant mortality commission penned this research as cautionary tale. "African American Women and Breastfeeding" links low rates of breastfeeding with high infant mortality rates. This isn't about warm fuzzies, its about life and death. Our city has an infant mortality commission as well. There are also national/ federally funded organizations devoted to lowering infant mortality (ever hear of Healthy Start?) Breastfeeding and access to quality care has long been part and parcel of those plans (high tech and high quality are not synonymous in my vocabulary- as a nurse I saw technology used just because it was available not because it was beneficial). Don't let naysayers throw up a smoke screen about homebirth or natural birth just being 'a nice experience for the mother' or breastfeeding promotion being about 'making women feel guilty.' It's a matter of infant and maternal health. So the next time this pitiful fool has a conversation about the impact of birth and breastfeeding practices, it will be framed in terms of sound healthcare policy and the impact on our national health.