Thursday, March 10, 2011

Baby-unfriendly hospitals, baby-unfriendly country

We know that only 3% of hospitals meet the requirements set forth by Unicef's Baby-Friendly initiative.  Actually, this might be reflective of the portion of our country that's baby-friendly.  I just got back from taking an air trip with my 17-month old and have had my eyes opened to this ugly reality.
  • Why isn't breastfeeding in public accepted in most of the US?  Grownups are perfectly welcome to eat their species-appropriate food in public, but not babies.
  • Why aren't there family areas in airports and train stations?   The facilities in the airports I visited for things like pumping and baby/toddler play were nonexistent.
  • Why aren't there spaces for nursing moms in hotels?  I spent two days at a conference at one of the most famous and elegant hotels in the country, and couldn't find a suitable place to pump.  I ended up sitting on the floor of the handicap stall in a ladies' room.
The attitudes of people we met on our trip reflected this, too.  People looked at him and smiled or called him cute, but when it came to being helpful or even understanding to a mom traveling alone with a small child, they declined.  Sam ran off some energy around the gate area where we waited for several hours due to a delay; reactions ranged from blank-faced stares to outright scornful looks.  He cried and his nose ran, and people cringed.  When we look extra time getting through security, people behind shoved their plastic buckets onto the belt before I had time to get my kid out of his carrier and get his shoes and jacket off him.  One flight attendant took a look at me with a baby on my back, diaper bag over my shoulder, and toddler car seat in my hands as we were boarding the plane and went right on shoving Cokes into the plane's drink cart.

And I won't even get started on the recent debate about the no-brainer of making breast pumps tax-deductible devolved into a shocking political debate about whether nursing moms should work at all.

It's almost as if we Americans love the idea of adorable babies--we are quite comfortable using them to sell products, but back away from a real commitment to doing the best we can for them, from nutrition to childcare, maternal support, and education.  We can and have to do better on all.

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