Monday, January 11, 2010

Lactation Consultation or Sales Pitch?

A good friend of mine recently had a baby by C-section at the hospital, and though I am quite unqualified for such a role, I ended up being the one to stay with her, question the doctors and nurses for clarity, and even ended up being the one to accompany her into that most alien space, the c-section operating room.

Yes, my partner and I will be embarking on the procreative bandwagon sometime this year, so I am sure it was good for me, but since I will never be going through those same halls as the patient, it was a little odd. I will admit there was magic in hearing the baby's first cry as he was lifted from her open womb. And I will never forget the face of a young new father I spotted as they wheeled my friend into her recovery bay. He was standing a ways down the hall from me, holding his new baby in his arms, and he just looked poleaxed, all his love and terror and awe combining into a stunned, wide-eyed expression on his face.

What I want to write about, though, is the "lactation consultant" who came in to talk with my friend about breastfeeding. My friend's birth is being paid for by the government. She is a single mother who works full time, barely makes enough to keep her head above water financially, and though the father of her 5 year old is an active shared custody parent, the father of the new baby is out of the picture (and good riddance, honestly).

To put it bluntly, the lactation consultant's presentation was classist. She told my friend that she needed either this name-brand make and model pump or that make and model pump, and spoke of the price of each of these pumps as afterthoughts, though they were about $200 and $350. My friend had been thinking of a hand pump she had seen for $10, but the consultant pooh-poohed it because it took too long. When asked about milk storage, she only spoke about the official milk storage bags that get sold by name-brand companies, not any cheaper or around-the-house common sense options (will ziplocks or mason jars work?), and again in a dismissive tone. Finally, she wanted to know how long until my friend goes back to work, 6 or 8 weeks? My friend said 6 (was shamed into saying 6?), though since her maternity leave is unpaid, she has no idea how to pay her rent in the meantime and has talked about going back to work as soon as she is physically able to do so (3, 4 weeks, she hopes) because she has no choice, financially.

The only useful thing the consultant did was give my friend a copy of the law concerning a lactating mother's rights to express milk in the workplace. This will allow her to fight her already suspicious and reluctant employer for time to pump milk while she is at work (she currently only gets a lunch break in her 9 hour shift, but needs at least 2 other breaks for pumping).

I wonder if the name-brand, high-end "consultation" was really a disguised sales pitch, considering that this hospital has a "lactation boutique" that sells such supplies located next door to the nursery room and on the loop new mothers are encouraged to walk as post-partum exercise.

On the plus-side though, at least it was better than my sister's experience when she had her latest baby. My sister left the hospital with a "care package" of free formula and bottles even though she had expressly told them she would be breastfeeding. I was shocked that was even legal, honestly.

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