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Public Figure Foul: Whoopi Bashes In-Hospital Breastfeeding Support

Remember a few months back when the AAP released new breastfeeding recommendations, based on the growing, impressive body of scientific evidence that breast milk makes for healthier babies (and communities and economies, too)? Remember how those guidelines not only suggested babies breastfeed exclusively for at least six months, but also held hospitals, pediatricians and workplaces (not moms alone!) accountable for having a role in helping to make this doable for moms? Remember how I also blogged about the difficulty I had in getting in-hospital breastfeeding support, two years ago, when I gave birth in New York? And how – also meanwhile – a recent study has shown that because workplaces (and society as a whole, really) is not exactly breastfeeding-friendly, moms actually suffer economic loss in direct proportion to their breastfeeding durations (therefore making those AAP guidelines for hospitals, pediatricians and workplaces all the more relevant)? WELL. Here’s some cool news. New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg has launched a new initiative in the city intended to support nursing moms, from the hospital to the workplace, and everywhere in between… including the public eye.

In some unfortunate and mystifying news, however, this initiative has been met with a bit of public resistance, most notably this past week from Whoopi Goldberg, who called lactation consultants “boneheads” in front of millions of Americans on her daytime TV show, The View. Here, watch the video:

It strikes me as wholly bizarre that a high-profile (if, like, D-list, and now pretty dumbed-down) celeb would bash an effort to support people who need and want support. A lactation consultant is just that: support. For someone who wants it. (No one’s marching through hospitals and demanding new moms breastfeed, as Whoopi seems to believe.) And since the proof is there that 1) women have more breastfeeding success when they receive more breastfeeding information and support; 2) women aren’t getting enough breastfeeding support (see the AAP guidelines' cited studies); and 3) breast milk is really good for babies (again, check out the AAP report), an effort to put the new AAP guidelines into practice in America’s largest city by providing more breastfeeding support to new moms seems appropriate. And awesome. Breastfeeding rates among African-American moms still lag behind other groups, too; that an African American woman would be so quick to bad-mouth this effort is not only weird, it's also detrimental to the hard work of many who are attempting to support these women and thereby boost their breastfeeding rates.

When I read this writer’s response to Whoopi’s comments , calling them irresponsible, I had to agree. Whoopi’s choice to get all fired up about an already controversial topic (although it doesn’t affect her personally at all) seems like a cheap maneuver to get attention and drum up drama on TV. Unfortunately, because of her visibility, she’s perpetuated unnecessary divisiveness among women – among moms – in the process. Much like the working mom versus stay-at-home-mom debates, if we expend our energies judging each other’s decisions and insisting “MY way is better”, the public is let off the hook when it comes to supporting women and families. These issues are distorted as ‘women’s’ issues alone, as mere cat-fights, when in fact we need society to recognize these issues as legitimately shared by all, and as meriting public policies that support ALL women and families. The AAP guidelines shifted the conversation back to scientific and social research-based rationale, making recommendations for society as a whole, and Mayor Bloomberg did the responsible thing and acted on those guidelines. Now Whoopi wants to go and start the less relevant, less intelligent (also, in this case, staged) conversation up again, and is inaccurately portraying both the role and current reality of in-hospital breastfeeding support -- and for what? For some ratings?

Sure, it’s just bad daytime TV, but unfortunately a lot of people form their opinions based on what they see on television, whether or not the messages they receive are actually fact-based, or promote total fallacies (cough *FOX News* cough). Public perception is a major focus of Bloomberg’s new initiative because public perception makes a difference to how employers, voters, family members and community members approach and support (or don’t support) nursing moms -- remember, breastfeeding moms are still regularly kicked out of stores, churches and buses in our country, and some have even been arrested. Whoopi would do well to remember that her thoughtless commentary has far-reaching implications, and that she could use her visibility and celebrity to improve people’s lives, rather than make them even more challenging. At the very least, she should get out of the way of those who are actually taking concrete steps toward making positive change, especially when said change benefits babies.

In other good news, though, Beyonce’s now publicly advocating breastfeeding (we knew she would)! And she’s totally A-list-baller-amazing. She’s also far more influential than Whoopi, and I think more reflective of the changing tide when it comes to women's choices, and society's attitudes. So, keep at it Bloomberg, Beyonce, and Breastfeeding consultants! And moms – whether you're nursing, formula-feeding, or somewhere in-between (as so many of us are, or were; this doesn’t have to be either/or!) – let’s remember not to take the bait to fight amongst, and therefore against, ourselves. We have better things to do with our talents and time. 

What's your reaction to Whoopi's comments?