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Breastfeeding in Asia is not what I expected

“This baby feeds from his mother’s milk,” I answered in my newly-acquired language. Stepping out with a newborn in Indochina, I had expected the typical questions to be “Boy or girl?” or “How old?” But what I heard was very different – “No Breastfeeding!”

Local friends, waitresses, fellow passengers on the city bus, taxi drivers, the neighbor’s housekeeper — everyone in this foreign land wanted to know if my baby was breastfed. I answered with quiet confidence: “My baby drinks milk from his mother.”

Breastfeeding in Asia is not what I expectedLiving in a developing country, I assumed breastfeeding in Asia happened for all babies. After all, breastfeeding is very economical and many countries in Asia offer some of the most generous maternity leave laws in the world. It took some time to synthesize the complexity of their perspectives on breastfeeding in Asia, however. Not everyone thinks breastfeeding is all that great, so it took fortitude and commitment to fight through the shame and to continue nursing my child during my stay in Southeast Asia.

From young mothers I often heard, “I couldn’t feed my baby. I didn’t have milk.” I wanted to take these moms in my arms and say, “I’m so sorry. They lied to you. You have milk for your baby if you’d only use it!” These moms were shortchanged the opportunity to breastfeed because of ignorance. Somewhere deep in the psyche of their mothers and the neonatal nurses in the hospital was the belief that formula was a better source of nutrition than breast milk. Perhaps the third world has the same problem the United States had in the 1950s – 1970s. They are playing catchup.

Despite the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services pronouncements on the importance of breastfeeding, many Americans also don’t believe breastfeeding is all that important.

Ignorance about a scientific problem called nipple confusion is rampant. This problem happens when newborns and mothers find bottles easier during the first days following birth. But the long term consequences are significant as children and mothers never learn to properly breastfeed.

It is difficult when doctors and nurses tell parents to only give babies formula, because their patients believe them. Mothers are often told something similar to “Your baby was hungry, and you don’t have milk.”  Aware of this practice, I taped self-published notices in the local language to my son’s crib that read: “This baby only breastfeeds.”

In parts of Asia many middle-aged women have a perception that breastfeeding is dirty and something animals do. Only the unclean, uncivilized, uneducated would breastfeed. So, I quietly took my place, stereotyped as the unclean, uncivilized, and uneducated by breastfeeding in Asia – but I held firm to my belief that breastfeeding was right for my child.

Southeast Asian grandmothers, with pride sparkling in their eyes, would say to me, “We have money to buy milk powder (formula) for our grandchild.” These grandmas had raised their children during a famine. Some days, they had only the runoff water from cooking rice to give their babies. With increased wealth and food, these grandmas scraped together what money they had to get only the best for their grandchildren. The look on strangers’ faces communicated disapproval for my not buying the best for my baby.

Other third-world countries experience the same perils when parents arrive in urban areas where “science” influences their decisions to breastfeed. The best way to feed, these mothers will often conclude, is the formula powder that came in shiny cans from industrialized nations.

“Many of the women from the countryside usually do breastfeed, even up to one year, even if the lactating mother is malnourished. But when these women come to Mogadishu, they see the women here bottle-feeding with formula, and believe it is better. Then they start changing their ways.”
– Counselor in Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) practices, Shamso Abdullahi

From an impoverished, underprivileged, rural woman on the city bus, I heard condemnation. One moment stands out in my memory about breastfeeding in Asia, when I met a fellow traveler who was going to peddle a few handmade trinkets in the city. She asked, “Does your baby breastfeed?” although by this time, my one-year-old son had weaned. I was quietly relieved to be able finally to give the acceptable answer. “My son drinks powdered milk.” My relief was vain and fleeting when she looked at me with pride in her accomplishments and in pity for my failure. “My baby is two years old, and she will still drink milk from her mother.”

Turns out the tides may be changing in favor of breastfeeding, after all. Event this rural woman in a third-world country new the benefits of breastfeeding beyond one year.

How I got a free dinner for breastfeeding in public

My family and I were enjoying a nice dinner at a local restaurant. We have three children each several years apart – two boys, 11 and 8, and my little 12-month old princess. I had breastfed my little girl since she was born while the boys were bottle fed when they were babies. It was a choice I made, and I don't question other parents who decide not to breastfeed. I've done both. BreastfeedingIn the restaurant we had already ordered and were waiting for the food to arrive. My little princess suddenly became a royal problem when she decided it was time to eat, screaming at the top of her lungs. I wasn’t going to console her by distracting her toward something else; instead, my weapons are built in and ready to go at all times. My baby was getting nursed. So, I sit her on my lap, cradle her, kiss the top of her head, and let her begin to feed – instantly, the crying stopped. During this day and age we have advanced in so many ways, but in other ways we are stumbling to call ourselves civilized. We offer our children the best in processed milk, and a nipple placed on the end of a bottle, but acceptance and support for breastfeeding mothers is available as long as you do it in the privacy of your own home. In that restaurant I didn’t have a cover-up over her head. It was hot in their – not that I need to make excuses for breastfeeding in public. I was wearing a maya wrap, a cloth baby carrier that contours to my curves, and my baby's head was blocked by the wrap. Here's where the story gets weird. I was approached by our server and informed that there was a bench in the bathroom that can be used for that. I was so stunned I think I muttered "thanks" before she walked away. Not that I went anywhere, and a few minutes later another person came to ask, "Do you know about the restroom to feed your baby?" What kind of idiots are these people? I asked to speak on the manager. When the manager came over I asked him if he would mind taking my dinner and serving it to me in the restroom. He looked as though I was off my...
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Are parents to blame for childhood obesity?

A couple of days ago, a family asked me for advice about their child, a 10-year-old who is overweight. They were running out of ideas what to do about it. Their most pressing concern was their own responsibility about the situation. I had to answer whether I thought these parents are to blame for childhood obesity, a question that is not as straightforward as most might think. The increasing number of obese children represents a serious health problem, which also has far-ranging consequences on social relationships for children. Childhood and adolescence obesity is growing. In the United States obesity rates increased from 14.5 percent in 1999 to 17.3 percent in 2011. Europe is following suit, and if the current trend continues childhood obesity will affect 90 percent of children by 2050 in Britain. That's a lot of fish and chips. meme_chubbyThe fact of the matter is that parents are mostly to blame for childhood obesity, but it's more complicated than just what parents feed kids. Genetics is partly to blame, society is partly to blame, and the dynamics of a child's parents interacting between each other also plays a role. How to know your child is fat According to Pediatrician Roberta Anding, a registered dietition at Texas Children's Hospital and an editor for The Family Guide to Fight Fat, the best way to know your child's getting fat is not by how round his arms and face get or that he's too big for his age compared to the other kids on the block. Instead, she says, follow the growth chart. "If the child's weight is increasing at a faster rate than his height, that's a red flag," Anding says. Being fat is often associated with genetic factors, but most evidence points to the fact this excuse only works in a minority of cases. A study called "Genetics of Obesity" points to the real cause of obesity, and it's a great resource for answering the question Are parents to blame for childhood obesity?:
The increased availability of palatable, energy dense foods and the reduced requirement for physical exertion during working and domestic life contributes to a state of positive energy balance. – Genetics of Obesity
Don't blame society It is not easy to lead a healthy lifestyle with the availability of high...
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Should I spank my child? Let the parents decide

The recent police case of an 8-year old boy in New York, who got spanked by his father, has led some anti-helicopter parenting advocates to protest that the government is not letting parents deal with their own children as they see fit. The father, who was charged and convicted with child-endangerment, found vindication from a New York appeals court panel ruling who dismissed the case. These anti-helicopter parenting advocates can breath a sigh of relief after a court ruled that spanking is not excessive punishment, after all.

New York is one of many states confronting parents who go too far with corporal punishment. In Florida, for instance, a recent ruling outlines the single-spank policy, a policy enforcing a rule where a single spank does not qualify as domestic violence.

But anti-spanking advocates say these rulings fail to address the underlying problem with spanking. Should I spank my child should not be a question that a rational parent should be asking him or herself, the thinking goes:

“The problem with spanking is what you are doing is using a negative action and you are reinforcing that as a way in which to deal with life issues. Ideally, what you want to do is teach the child what to do instead – pro-social alternative actions that children can take, as opposed to using a negative action like spanking,” said Nava Silton, a child psychologist who thinks spanking shouldn’t be used by parents.

Spanking is not for meOthers think spanking, when used strategically, can be a good route: “I stopped spanking my kids after age 8, as they were able to be reasoned with,” wrote a user calling him or herselfr crackhappy on Reddit. “At this point, every once in a long while, they will push too far and I will spank them for it. But, considering they’re all teens now, it’s not the pain but the humiliation aspect that matters. I never spanked my kids until they were 2, and even then at the young age it’s not usually about the pain but the escalation that mattered. It’s not about abuse, it’s about demonstrating levels of importance to the child.”

The debate about “Should I spank my child?” continues to rage on blogs and newsgroups – both for and against spanking. Most anti-helicopter parents are against the government’s intrusion, whether these parents believe spanking is healthy or not. It’s for the parents to decide, they say.

Despite the recent actions by the U.S.’s more liberal states, most jurisdictions allow for spanking by parents. To spank or not to spank … that is the question. In fact, 38% of U.S. States allow school teachers or principals to punish public school students by hitting them.

Corporal punishment usually comes in the form of paddling in schools, with a well established tradition in certain institutions going back centuries. The Human Rights Watch and American Civil Liberties Union reported that there are abuse in the practice because the teachers or principals who hit students often do so as a first resort. The Human Rights Watch claims the U.S. corporal allowance unfairly targets students with disabilities. As autism continues to be diagnosed and treated within the school system, the rules for spanking children will assuredly change.

Another user on Reddit called CoffeeNTrees pushed the case for spanking: “There is a very easy clear line between swatting your bratty kid, and beating the hell outta them. People without kids don’t usually understand that. The problem comes when the swat is the only form of parenting that people learn.”