Friday, December 12, 2014

In all that we do...let it be to help more moms to freely breastfeed and to freely provide their milk

As I drink my coffee this morning, I'm reflecting on the turmoil in the breastfeeding community as we watch the battles of two US corporations over the supply of human milk in that country, with non-profit milk banks caught in the line of fire, and the milksharing community standing by, frustrated.

Zeus forces Heracles on a sleeping Hera.

: The Origin of the Milky Way is a painting by
Italian late Renaissance masterJacopo Tintoretto (1575-1580), in
National Gallery, London,
formerly in the 
Orleans Collection.
I keep coming back to this question - how will all this help more babies get human milk?

The background image for this blog is from the painting, "The Origin of the Milky Way", by Renaissance painter Jacopo Tintoretto. It is a portrayal of the Greek myth of Hera, the goddess of marriage. It's lovely to think of the milk of the goddess, spraying across the heavens, creating what we see as the Milky Way.

It's a little darker, though - the way the story goes, Zeus attempts to feed his illicit son Heracles at the breast of his wife Hera, goddess of marriage, while she sleeps. She wakes up, realizes she's been tricked, and pushes him away. Another version has an abandoned Heracles rescued by Athena, protector of children, who brings the foundling to Hera for milk. Hera nurses Heracles, not knowing who he is. This painting is of the former version with Hera pushing away the baby and her milk spraying across the heavens, creating the Milky Way. Either way Heracles gets his super powers from the milk.

The painting feels especially appropriate this morning. Whose version of the myth is correct? Who's exploiting whom? Where are the mothers in all of this? And the innocent babies? I like that either way, Heracles gets his super powers.

Are mothers today being coerced or tricked to provide milk that they otherwise would provide freely? Some say there's a shortage of milk, others say there's enough milk to go around. We know fragile premature babies in NICUs are going without. It's clear the system is somewhat broken and needs reform, but it's not clear how broken, or how much, or what reforms are needed. Who sorts out all the competing interests, protects mothers from exploitation, and makes sure fragile, vulnerable babies get the human milk they need?

As we struggle with the ethical issues around supply and demand, commerce vs altruism,  this must be core of all that we do:  we must ask ourselves, do my actions support, protect, and promote breastfeeding? Are there negative consequences, whether intended or unintended, that will harm moms, harm babies, harm breastfeeding?

In all that we do, let it be to help more moms to freely breastfeed and to freely provide their milk. Let it be to help more babies be breastfed, to help more babies receive human milk.