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Boob Patrol

I was on a flight this morning bound for a strategy meeting in our New York office and just as we were about to land, my fellow passengers and I were subjected to several minutes of intercom marketing. A flight attendant was explaining the benefits of owning said airline’s credit card, which allows for priority boarding, free in-flight wireless access and more. She went on and on for a few minutes, then walked down the aisles holding a brochure for those of us interested in learning more.

Now, I am not a betting kind of gal, but if I were, I’d be willing to plop down serious cash on the fact that most passengers on that plane this morning were annoyed, irritated and plain ol’ bothered by the credit card speech. There is noth ing worse than being marketed a product you don’t want and not being able to do anything to stop it.

There’s been a lot of controversy this week over New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s new breastfeeding initiative, which keeps formula out of sight unless requested by a new mother and ensures all new mamas get the lowdown on the benefits of breastfeeding from a trained nurse. The American Academy of Pediatrics asserts that breast milk is best, especially during thefirst six months of life, and overwhelmingly, the medical community agrees. So why are we so quick to criticize the speech that these nurses are now required to give? Last I checked, you don’t  have to nurse your baby. It’s completely up to you. And if you’d rather reach for formula straight out of the gate, which lots of mothers have little choice but to do, for various reasons, no one is saying you can’t. You’re just not going to get it tucked inside a free diaper bag branded with the logo of a formula maker and loaded with coupons prompting you to buy even more formula down the road.

Is that such a bad thing?

When I had my son, Jav, at 30 weeks, I was given one of those diaper bags. I was happy to have it because my premature delivery meant we had yet to build his crib, let alone buy a diaper bag. I was annoyed at the advertising that poured out of it, but I took it home anyway, and I certainly didn’t complain. As I shuffled to and from the hospital for the next two months while he was in the neonatal intensive care unit, I carried that bag like a badge of honor. It was big enough to hold my breast pump, and with him in the hospital, I had no choice but to pump for a whole two months—no baby in sight. Pumping every three hours with no baby around was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

During my 10-day hospital stay and two months of NICU visits, a nurse named Lorraine visited me regularly. Thanks to her, I was able to figure out the whole pumping thing, which wreaked havoc on my psyche. Your brain can tell when there is no baby nearby, and without those cues, it can be very difficult to continue providing encouragement. I drew a lot of strength from her, and when it was finally—finally—time to try nursing my son, she cautioned that babies didn’t always latch after so much time in a NICU, where they’re fed by a tube and a bottle.

Lorraine set Jav and me up in an optimal position, and told me to relax my shoulders. She showed me exactly what to do, and in a matter of minutes, my son latched on, and we were nursing. Truly, truly nursing, skin to skin, heart to heart. I couldn’t help the tears, they fell so easily, and when I looked up at Lorraine, she was tearing up too.

I realize that nurses like Lorraine are special. They have a way about them that makes you feel cared for and looked after, not marketed to nor judged. Not every new mom will have a Lorraine to explain to them the benefits of breastfeeding and encourage her to try it, to stick with it, to go for it. And some that do won’t be able to nurse anyway, for a variety of reasons, and that’s OK. Because the city of New York (or wherever you live) isn’t telling you that you have to, and neither is the government—thankfully. The choice is yours, just as it should be. If only I’d had similar options on my flight this morning…