This week I read a piece by a former coworker of mine about how she is tired of people who “fat shame” her eight-month-old by remarking on her rolls and overall chubbiness. The response to her story was mixed, with some praising her for speaking out and others saying that it was her own issues with weight that were going to give her daughter a complex, not the comments of strangers.
I understand where the author was coming from. She had weight problems in the past that made her sensitive to “baby fat” comments, and she wants people to understand how such remarks make others feel. Likewise, I had infertility issues in the past that made me sensitive to comments about having more children. People who responded to my piece about it told me to chill out, that it wasn’t fair to expect everyone to be sensitive to my particular problem. An advocate for infertility awareness, I argued that yes, I do expect people to be more sensitive to it.
But in my case, the sensitivity I was arguing for was solely for my own benefit, not my child’s. He’ll hopefully never have to deal with infertility, and if he does, it won’t be when he’s a child (duh); although the attitudes he perceives about infertility as he grows up might affect how he comes to terms with it should it ever happen to him. But in the case of weight, it’s a little different. I have heard of girls in elementary school already worrying about how fat they are or how they need to diet. This hyper-awareness of weight in young girls is a problem we need to face.
At the same time, I believe that the most important factor in how a girl develops self-esteem and positive body image is her mother’s own views and attitudes. So I also agree with the commenters who argued that the author of the piece was putting her own issues with weight on her daughter by taking to heart comments about her roly poly-ness, and that that would be more likely than anything to affect her daughter’s views on her body.
I’m coming at this without a history of weight issues. I was always curvy but still thin growing up, through college and into my twenties. I used to be able to eat whatever I wanted and not gain weight (yes, you can hate me for that). My mother and sister were also naturally thin, so dieting was not ever a thing in our house. We ate healthy and my parents prepared homemade, mostly Mediterranean-style dinners. We were only allowed to have “sweet cereal,” like Lucky Charms or Cap’n Crunch (mmm), once a week. My parents didn’t keep junk food like chips in the house; although there were definitely cookies and ice cream to be had. But thanks for the most part to good genes, we never got fat.
Then I got older, had fertility issues and had a baby. I am about 11 or 12 pounds heavier than I was at our wedding, and probably more than 15 over my high school weight. That might not sound like a whole lot, but I’m only 5″1′. Plus, my stomach has taken to bulging out thanks to a slight case of diastasis recti, which a PT friend of mine diagnosed me with. So I am definitely wider than I used to be. Foggy Daddy gets really annoyed when I make him help me pick out clothes to wear, because it usually ends with me in a rage screaming, “Nothing fits me anymore!” But he’s no help with my losing weight — he looooves food, especially food that’s not necessarily good for you, and seems to find me attractive no matter what I weigh. Annoying, isn’t it? Just kidding. Of course I’m happy that he accepts me no matter what; I wouldn’t want my husband critiquing my weight. But a little encouragement or mutual agreement to eat healthier would be great.
My mother and sister are still thin. Actually, everyone on my mother’s side of the family is incredibly trim and in shape, including my 93-year-old grandfather, who still walks five miles on the beach in Florida every day. True story. But lucky me, I got my body type from my father’s side of the family, whose women tend to grow round as they age.
But my weight issues are not so deeply engrained that I worry about passing along my hangups to a daughter, should I have one. Although, I would have to curb my habit of joking about my weight gain (favorite weight-related movie quotes that I like to pull out when I’m feeling large: “I will always be just a little bit fat” from Bridget Jones and “Ooooh would we call her chubby?” from Love Actually). But in general, I think a parent with deep-seated issues with weight is much more likely to inadvertently teach their children that weight matters.
I do believe being “healthy” is key – obesity is a real problem, and it’s a fine line we walk between encouraging kids to be healthy and accepting them no matter what they look like. In terms of what’s healthy on a baby, though, fat is good. A breastfed baby (and I’m not sure if the baby in the piece I referred to was) cannot be overfed because they stop eating when they are full. It’s hard to get milk out of a breast, so you can’t force a baby to nurse the way you can, conceivably, have them drink more from a bottle than they need. When they start eating solids, it’s encouraged to give babies healthy fats like avocado because it helps with brain development. We give them whole milk. We are even told by doctors to load olive oil on the food of some slow-to-gain babies (like mine).
Although the author makes reference to how this is not the middle ages, when people had to stock up on food because no one had enough to eat, slow weight gain in babies is a real problem even today – one that the author is not sensitive to in her quest to make us sensitive to other issues. And I am very familiar with it, because LM was born tiny at 5 pounds 10 ounces. He was in the NICU for low blood sugar. We had major breastfeeding problems. His weight gain was always a source of anxiety for me – I even bought a scale and had to do “weighted feeds” to make sure he was taking in enough. So when he finally got the hang of nursing and grew rolls, I was ecstatic. I was proud of his chunky monkey legs. I loved when people commented on his baby fat. It was evidence that nursing was successful and that I was feeding my child. It did not even occur to me to think it was a case of “fat shame.”
I believe there is a biological imperative for noticing, commenting on and loving chunky baby legs – because, in general, it is a sign of a healthy child and the perpetuation of the species. Even though it’s not the middle ages, this is not always an easy thing to achieve. As long as it’s not presented in a negative way (like the “I hate my thighs” onesie), I’m OK with remarks on baby fat.
What do you think: Is remarking on baby rolls “fat shaming”?
Because of MIT’s recent contest to Make the Breast Pump Not Suck, there’s been a lot of talk lately about how the breast pump does, in fact, suck. I think it’s great that we are finally discussing ways to make it better. But I also think that no matter what, pumps are going to suck. Because no one wants to be hooked up to a mechanical device, especially when it replaces cuddle time with your baby.
The first time I used a breast pump was only a couple of days after I had my son. He was tiny and couldn’t latch on, and his blood sugar was dropping. The poor kid was shaking like a leaf, and he needed nutrition badly. So they hauled in the hospital-grade pump in the hopes that he would take breast milk from a bottle. I wasn’t prepared (why would I be? I didn’t anticipate having problems breastfeeding, because no one tells you you might), so without a pumping bra I literally had to sit there holding these two cone-shaped flanges over my boobs for 20 or so minutes every two hours. And I admit that I hated seeing my husband feeding our baby with a bottle. I was supposed to be the one feeding him, and I was not expecting that I wouldn’t be able to.
The nurses were amazed when I pumped 10 ml of colostrum. I had to keep pumping every two to three hours to get my supply up. One embarrassing moment happened while I was pumping and there was a knock at my hospital door. Without thinking, my husband said, “Come in,” and an old man (the hospital chaplain, perhaps?) opened the door, took one look at me and quickly closed it again. He never returned.
Eventually LM (my nickname for my son, short for Little Man) had to be moved to the NICU. There was a pumping room there, or I could pump in LM’s room when his roommate’s mom was not using the device (hospital pumps are “closed systems,” meaning multiple people can use the same pump without contamination). I feared I was still waiting for my milk to come in, because I thought I should be producing more. The lactation consultants looked at me with concern. But they didn’t realize that perhaps my body just didn’t respond as well to a machine as it would have to my baby.
It was in the NICU that I met another mom who told me about the wonders of a pumping bra. They’re a pain to put on – basically a bra that has cut-outs where the nipples are to put the flanges through. You can also make one yourself with an old sports bra (just cut holes for your nipples). This mom told me that without having to hold the stupid flanges, you can do this, as she motioned typing on her smartphone. And she was right – it was a lifesaver, or more accurately, a sanity saver.
After four days LM was sent home, but I wasn’t done with that monstrosity of a pump. Because hospital pumps are the strongest out there, I rented one. But even though the pumping bra made it hands-free, I still couldn’t get up and walk around. I was chained to the thing. And I was still trying to figure out how to get the baby to nurse directly from my boobs. So I’d try breastfeeding him, then when that wasn’t successful I would bottle feed him, then pump for the next session. My supply did seem to slowly be increasing, and soon I was able to use solely breastmilk, instead of supplementing him with formula. The supply of milk in the fridge hovered on just having enough, but there was not much I could really do to increase my output. I tried nursing teas, herbs, whatever I heard might work.
I was going crazy with it all, because I felt like I was spending my whole day feeding this child or preparing for him to feed. I found out you can store pump parts in the refrigerator for up to eight hours without having to wash them, so that helped a little. But LM was still not latching. I was about to give up on nursing, when finally, one day LM figured out how to do it.
When his weight got on track, I got the OK from the doctor to ditch the pump. I started EBF (exclusively breastfeeding) and enjoyed some pump-free time, but a couple of months later in preparation for going back to work I thought I should start building a “freezer stash.” This time, I used the pump I had purchased.
Insurance is supposed to cover a breast pump; but my insurance was not clear on how that worked. I got the Medela Freestyle, which is so small you can carry it around, because after all that time being chained to the hospital’s monstrosity I wanted something portable. The medical supplier I got it from told me I’d have to pay out of pocket and then get reimbursed. I knew that because I was getting an upgraded pump I might have to cover the difference, but when I got a check back from insurance for the $400 pump it was…$60. I fought with the insurance and the supplier but each blamed the other for whatever it was I did wrong.
Then the ironic thing was that then I heard Medela’s Pump in Style (which I might have been able to get without having to pay out of pocket) was actually a better choice, because the Freestyle’s motor was not as strong. I started to get very worried about being able to pump enough while at work, and that concern began to outweigh the mobility issue (after all, I was mainly going to be sitting in my office pumping anyway). But it was too late – even though unopened, I couldn’t return the Freestyle. So here I was with a pump I didn’t even want that insurance wouldn’t cover. Gah.
I pumped once a day to build a freezer stash. I also got a $35 Medela hand pump which, though not hands-free, worked really well for me. Because it didn’t seem as complicated to hook up as my other pump, I ended up using it more. I often pumped in the car while my husband was driving, because that was time when I wouldn’t really have been doing anything else with my hands anyway.
I was really nervous about finding time to pump at work. There had been days when I didn’t have time to pee or eat lunch, so how on earth was I going to be able to pump? True, I could work on my computer while pumping, but it meant interrupting my day to hook myself up, take it off, etc. I didn’t know how long I would be able to last, but it was really important to me to keep breastfeeding. I was faced with the dilemma that every working mother who wants to nurse is faced with. And it sucked.
My grand plan was to pump during my commute – while driving. I’m not sure if that’s illegal, but, I reasoned, why would it be? It was hands-free. Sure, it would be super embarrassing if I ever got pulled over, and I hoped it wouldn’t be dangerous if I got in an accident (can one be impaled on her flanges?). I did a trial run after my back-to-work hair appointment. I hooked myself up in the parking lot, covered myself with a nursing cover, and switched the pump on. I made it home fine, with 5 ounces of milk to boot.
Then I found out my position was being eliminated. A huge weight fell off my shoulders. I didn’t have to pump anymore. I actually did pump once in my office when I returned for a day to clean it out. It was weird, knowing that that would be the one and only time I would have to do something I’d been dreading for months.
After that I basically stopped pumping. The milk in my freezer went bad – I felt guilty I hadn’t donated it, but I wanted to keep it until the end just in case an emergency came up. There were a few other times I had to use the pump, but for the most part my $400 contraption sits in a box in my closet.
I cannot imagine pumping several times a day for months while at work. I’m not sure I could have done it. Because I got fired and then had the luxury of staying home with LM, I could breastfeed as nature intended. I hate that the pump purports to make women’s lives easier (and in some ways it does), but it also brings up so many other problems. It’s an excuse for not extending maternity leave – if you want to breastfeed, you can just pump! It’s unwieldy, it’s expensive, it takes time away from your child. If the choice is having a year-long maternity leave, like they have in other countries, or returning to work and using the pump, guess which one is better for mom and baby?
I have to be glad the pump exists, because without it NICU babies like mine and others who have it far worse than mine would not be able to receive breast milk. But personally, I was so happy to see the damn thing go. I haven’t had to pump in about six months, and don’t miss it one bit.
What was your experience with the breast pump? Do you hate it or love it?