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Progressive Mama: Got Milk?
by Jennifer "Emiko" Kuida
Rafu Column June 22, 2005

Jenni, Tony & Maiya in Little Tokyo, April 2005
When I was a little girl in the late 60s, my favorite doll was Drowsy. She was soft, wearing pink pajamas with white polka dots. When you pulled her string, she would talk in a cute baby voice and say things like, “Mommy, I’m sleepy,” “I want another drink of water,” and “I go sleep now, night, night!”

My sister and I would play with our blonde-haired, blue-eyed dolls together. It seemed so normal for us Japanese American girls with black hair and brown eyes, to be feeding our dolls a bottle. It’s one of my earlier childhood memories.

Now that I’m a newly breastfeeding mother, I have some ideas about how I want to raise my 5-month old daughter, Maiya Grace. As a Japanese American community activist, I have approached my parenting style in a way that I believe echoes my social and political views and actions.

Last fall, when I was still pregnant, I wrote a column “Project J.A. Baby: The Politics of Baby.” My husband Tony and I are still novices, testing the waters, and learning every day about being parents, but I wanted to expand on some of the ideas I mentioned in that column.

I have read several books and articles on the web about Attachment Parenting, a nurturing style that encourages parents to trust and follow their instincts for child-rearing based on the baby's needs, by responding attentively to the baby's cries and minimizing the parent-child separation.

Tony and I have found that Attachment Parenting validates a lot of the things we are doing to bond with Maiya such as encouraging breastfeeding when she’s hungry, co-sleeping (sharing a bed), cloth diapering, "wearing" and carrying your baby as much as possible in cloth carriers or slings, and limiting the use of infant carrier buckets, strollers, and swings.

I have also learned from a community of “lactivist mamas,” who are creatively working together to create awareness of the legal right to feed and nourish their babies in public spaces.

Last summer, after a mother in Maryland was asked to feed her baby in the restroom at Starbucks, mothers organized a “nurse-in,” bringing their babies to Starbucks with signs saying, “What’s more natural than coffee and milk?” and “Could you drink your latte in the bathroom?” Mothers also started a letter writing campaign, and challenged Starbucks to create a “national corporate policy that mothers will not be asked to leave, cover up, move or hide when breastfeeding their babies.”

A few weeks ago, 200 mothers staged a “nurse-in,” holding signs and nursing their babies at ABC headquarters in New York after Barbara Walters remarked on “The View” that she felt uncomfortable because of a woman who was nursing in an airplane. Their efforts brought nationwide media attention to the issue of breastfeeding in public. Another co-host had previously said that breastfeeding was “gross and disgusting.”

Closer to home, I learned about Project “Got Breastmilk?” a few months ago. The idea is that “breastfeeding is the womanly art of nourishing her offspring. This art is rarely seen as such, but rather an act that should be confined to privacy or not practiced at all.” A photographer sent out a call looking for volunteers to be photographed feeding their babies in public places for a calendar/book/photo exhibit project. Maiya and I went to The Grove/Farmer’s Market with a small group of mothers who also were photographed feeding their babies.

And as I consider my own role as a new “lactivist,” I am nursing whenever and wherever Maiya gets hungry, and seeking places that are comfortable for us. Lately, I've had two little girls very fascinated with watching me nurse.

At my family reunion, Maiya's 5-year old third cousin Mika asked me, “Where does the milk come from?” I paused and said, “Umm, from my chest.” She said, “Oh, from your chest? That's how she eats?” I kind of fumbled to make some kind of response. She then asked me questions about nursing, when babies start eating food, when they get teeth, etc.

Then more recently, Tony’s friend’s 10-year old daughter Catalina was holding Maiya, talking to her, and rocking her in the chair. She was watching me feed Maiya closely and asked, “Is breastmilk very bad for Maiya?” I was shocked and said, “No, it's very good,” without going into any more detail. Catalina asked why she didn't drink from a bottle. I simply told her that some babies drink milk from their mothers and some drink from bottles.

Afterwards, I thought that I missed an opportunity to give Mika and Catalina better answers to their honest questions. I could have told them that I choose to breastfeed Maiya because mother’s milk is proven by far the healthiest food for the baby, it helps babies grow and develop better, and provides antibodies that reduce colds, ear infections and allergies. I could have told them that it is better for the environment than preparing heavily-marketed expensive formulas, which consume packaging and resources to process, and is just easier. Or more simply, feeding Maiya instantly comforts her and creates a strong bond between us.

If I give these young girls better info, then hopefully they will remember some of it when they become moms themselves, 10, 20 or 30 years from now. Tony suggested that I write a children's book for young girls who have these questions. It’s definitely something to think about.

I just read on the internet that Mattel brought Drowsy back a few years ago with their Classic Collection. I also read that there were ethnic Drowsy dolls with brown and black hair. I’m going to see if I can find ethnic Drowsy or an Asian American doll. And instead of handing my daughter a plastic bottle to feed her baby doll, I might just make her a sling so that she can nurse her doll. Or, if she prefers, we’ll put the dolls on hold, read a book, cuddle, or go outside to play.

Jennifer "Emiko" Kuida is active in the JA community and is currently a stay-at-home mom. She can be reached at kuidaosumi@yahoo.com. For more info, see askdrsears.com (attachment parenting), aap.org (American Academy of Pediatrics), lalecheleague.org (breastfeeding support), NurseatStarbucks.com, ProjectGotBreastmilk.com and drowsydoll.com. Opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo. © 2005.

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Originally published in The Rafu Shimpo, June 22, 2005
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Updated: 6/29/05