Cupcake Bosoms and Public Opinions

Madeleine, April 10, 2013

The Event 


To further understand what the public’s opinions and knowledge are outside of the Chittenden County WIC office, we tabled at the Davis Center on March 27th for two hours.  I developed a quick, six-question survey and to entice community members to participate, I baked yummy vanilla cupcakes decorated to look like boobs, with light pink frosting for the fairer skinned and chocolate ganache frosting for a darker complexion.  They were delicious and a huge hit!  I will include the cupcake and beet and chocolate frosting recipe in another post.


Lori at the WIC office generously loaned us one of their lovely cutouts of women breastfeeding in public.  The cutout—Saudia (yes she has a name!)—was another attention-grabber.  On the table we had WIC flyers, magazines and comics on breastfeeding, pins and other infant/mother nutrition resources.  It was also nice to be a resource alongside Nicole when passerby had questions about BF.

Results and Quotes

The questions were as follows:

1.  Is breast milk more nutritious than formula?  Yes or No

2.  If you have had/plan on having children, have you/do you plan to breastfeed or want your partner to breastfeed? Yes or No

3.  Do you believe a woman should be able to breastfeed in public?  Why or why not?

4.  Would you want to/want your partner to BF in public?  Yes or No

5.  How long do you think women usually breastfeed for?

6.  What barriers do you think may exist to breastfeeding?  Ex. Hyper-sexualization of breasts

We also had a gender and age clarification question.  For question 1, all 45 participants said that breast milk is more nutritious.DSC00804  Question 3 had the greatest variation in response next to number 6.  Of the total 45 participants, 25 were female, 4 unknown and 16 male.

88.9% of participants said that a woman should be able to BF in public.  60% female, 30% male and 10% unknown made up this statistic.

11.1% of participants said no, with 20% female and 80%

Some interesting responses from the males who said no…

“No.  Can a man pee in public?  Didn’t think so.” and “No, it is disturbing.”

And for the women in favor of public BF…

“Yes, it’s a human right!”   “Yes!  Absolutely!  Our society is f***** if we cannot handle watching basic life processes happen.” 

“Yes.  A baby is hungry when it is hungry.  Location should not matter.  Everyone eats in public, why not babies too?”


-A majority said they would want to/want their partner to breastfeed in public.  Many said they wouldn’t go out of their way to do it, but that when a baby needs to be fed, it needs to be fed regardless of the environment.

-It was a a recurring theme that those in favor of public BF suggested a woman be tasteful about it by covering up a bit.

-The average length of BF according to participants, falls between 2 months-3 years.

Problems with the Survey

Although we had a great turnout and some interesting results, there were a few problems.  1) There were not enough cupcakes! 2) Most of the participants were college aged and female 3) The survey did not take in account all the different partnerships that exist where breastfeeding may not be possible.

If I were to do this over given more time, I would have liked to distribute the surveys online via various campus listserves, to UVM staff and businesses/people downtown.  If successful, it would have been a more realistic sample population of the Burlington community as well as include more women who have had experience with breastfeeding-related decisions.



Gibson & Jumper. Davis Center Tabling and Survey (March 27, 2013).


WIC National Participant Composition

Margaret, April 8, 2013

Participant Makeup/Composition:

The current population of WIC participants is young, racially and ethnically diverse, and has a lower rate of formal education (With 67% having the equivalent of, or less than, a high school education), compared to the general U.S. population (2) In 2010, there were 10,021,136 participants enrolled in the WIC program nationally.  52.9% of participants were children, 23.6% infants, and 23.5% women.  Broken down, the 23.5% of women consists of 10% pregnant women, 6.6% that are currently breastfeeding, and 6.8% postpartum (1)

Age: 84.6% of pregnant participants and 86.6% of postpartum women are between the ages of 18 and 34.  (1).  34.8% of children enrolled in WIC are 1 year old, 26.2% are 2 years old, 22.8% percent are 3 years old, and 16.1% are four years old.  Most WIC infants (92.4%) are between the ages of zero and three months. (2)

Racial & Ethnic Categories: Racial categories of WIC participants consists of 60.9% reporting their race as White only, 19.3% reported as Black/African American only, 10.5% American Indian/Alaska Native only, and 3.5 % reported as either Asian only or Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander only.  Only 4.2% reported that they were of two or more races.  A large percent (42%) of participants reported being Hispanic/Latino. (1).

Poverty Status: When compared with the general United States population, WIC participants are notably poorer69.6% of WIC participants are at or below the poverty line (compared with 14.3% of the US population). (1)

Screen Shot 2013-04-06 at 1.54.02 PM

Breastfeeding Data:
Within WIC, 63.1% of children between the ages of 6 months and 13 months are currently breastfed or have previously been breastfed.  There is a considerable range of breastfeeding rates in the United States.  Among all WIC offices in the United States, rates of breastfeeding initiation ranged from 80% or higher to as low as 5% (2). Four States report less than 40% of infants aged 6 to 3 months ever breastfed, 21 States report between 60 and 80%, and 5 states report 80% or greater.  Since 1998, breastfeeding rates among WIC participants has risen 21.6 %! (1).  On average, WIC participants have breastfed their children for approximately 6 months, while exclusively breastfeeding for about 3 months (2).

Breastfeeding rates among racial and ethnic groups are very similar to one-another, with one exception: rates among Hispanics are much higher than that of all other WIC women (39.2% of WIC women are Hispanic; yet, they make up 49.4% of breastfeeding women). Alternatively, Black/African American women make up a very small percentage of breastfeeding women (2).

Breastfeeding Advantages, as Noted by WIC Participants:

-84% of participants noted that their main reason for breastfeeding was to have a healthier & happier baby.

-23% listed mother/baby bonding as an advantage.

-15% of women noted that it was cheaper and more convenient than breastfeeding. (2).

Barriers to Breastfeeding, as Noted by WIC Participants:

Pain, discomfort, time constraints, and dependency on the mother as disadvantages or barriers.  Forty percent of WIC women couldn’t find any disadvantages to breastfeeding. (2).

As you can see, the National WIC participant population is extremely diverse, but they all share the same love for their babies! Stay tuned in to learn about our local WIC participant population here in Vermont!

Works Cited:

1. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, Office of Research and Analysis, WIC Participant and Program Characteristics 2010, WIC-1-PC, by Patty Connor, Susan Bartlett, Michele Mendelson, Kelly Lawrence, Katherine Wen, et al. Project Officer, Fred Lesnett Alexandria, VA: December 2011.

2. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, Office of Research and Analysis, National Survey of WIC Participants II: Participant Characteristics Report, by Daniel M. Geller, Ph.D., et al. Project Officers: Sheku G. Kamara, Karen Castellanos-Brown, Alexandria, VA: 2012.D

WIC’s Peer Counselor Program

Nicole Jumper, April 4th, 2013

For my part of this research project, I decided to look into the peer counseling program at WIC, “loving support”, and find out what about it how it works, what is effective and what isn’t.  To learn about the program in Chittenden County, I interviewed the peer counselors in the Cherry Street about their experience with the program.
So what is it that these peer counselors do?  Peer counselors are former WIC clients that are now employed by WIC who have, themselves, breastfed their baby/babies for a certain amount of time.  Lori Dotolo, in the WIC office on Cherry Street, is the head of the peer counseling office for Chittenden County.  She explained to me that her requirements when hiring are that the potential counselor has breastfed for at least one year, exclusively.  (These requirements vary by state).  These women go through and interview process and if hired, attend training classes on how to be a peer counselor.  They are given a caseload of clients and give information and support to new mothers.  The counseling is usually done by phone, but in the Cherry Street office they are beginning to have the counselors sit in at the WIC clinics.  These jobs are on a part-time basis, and can usually be done from home.
I sat down with the peer counselors a few weeks back during their monthly staff meetings to ask them about their experiences working for WIC.  As I waited in the meeting room (the break-room as it were) the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly.  It appeared most of these women hadn’t seen each other in a long time and were ecstatic at the chance to catch up with one another.  A handful of children were around the room playing, and one mom kicked her feet up and breastfed while we talked.  The mood was pleasant and calm, and everyone seemed pleased to be there.
Their office employs seven breastfeeding peer counselors who work on a part time basis, roughly ten hours per week.  This varies between states and counties.  They recently had had ten counselors but had scaled down.  Lori mentioned that some women found the job too part time, and decided to find work elsewhere.  Others find it the perfect number of hours, allowing them to either hold down another part time job or to spend more time with their kids at home.  What I wanted to find out was if this setup is effective and how the counselors feel about the program and their job.
I began my questions with, “what is a typical day in the life of a peer counselor?”  The first mom piped up and said that she usually making calls on her couch at home, a book at her side, her kids running around the room trying to get attention, and a dog at her feet.  She grinned as she said this and explained that it is a very relaxed setting where she can multitask while counseling.  She can still watch her kids and be at home while doing her work.  She explained that most of the counseling is through short phone calls.  They will have a caseload of about 40 clients and each client is variable about the consistency of contact and the length of time.  Some people don’t answer or call back, and others will be in regular contact and have a rather intimate relationship with their counselor.  Each new mother varies with the degree she uses the resources provided to her.
I then asked about themes of problems women face with breastfeeding and in turn, what they do to counsel these women.  The most common issues they hear are concerns about milk supply, going back to work or school, time constraints, discomfort, or latching issues.  One answer I loved in response to what they tell their moms was “I try to make them feel empowered and good about what they have accomplished so far.  I ask them what makes them concerned, find out specifics, then gather information and give them the facts.”  Another counselor said that it is important to “give them encouragement and validation about what they have already done.  Moms are so frustrated.  Some are really appreciative and sound more confident (after talking to a peer counselor)”.
At this point someone touched briefly on breastfeeding culture, saying that one of her clients lives with her boyfriend and his brothers and feels uncomfortable breastfeeding in her own home.  We talked about breasts being sexualized in our culture and that sustained breastfeeding (past 1-2 years) is considered “abnormal” in the United States.  Someone mentioned “closet nursing”, that being when women nurse in secret, longer than the cultural norm.  We began a talk about personal experiences when breastfeeding has been taboo in their own lives. One women said that her husbands parents are extremely uncomfortable and can’t even say the word “breastfeeding”.  “She will ask, ‘will you be done with that soon?”‘.  They chose to leave the room rather than stay with her while she breastfeeds.  Another counslor laughed and said at Thanksgiving with her husband’s family she can “clear a room” when she begins breastfeeding.  Another piped in saying that when she had her first baby, she and her husband went down to Miami to visit his family.  The family was outraged that she brought her baby out in public and breastfed and his aunt gave them an especially hard time, but that her husband stepped up to the plate and supported her.
I ended the conversation by asking what types of things were lacking in the peer counselor program at WIC and what kind of improvements could be made.  Here are some of their suggestions:

  • more awareness for mothers about the program, outreach improvement
  • a way to get moms together with one another in the community so that they can get to know each other and have additional support
  • meeting face to face, or meeting the counselor beforehand at the WIC clinic might make them more inclined to answer the phone and be receptive to help

It had been shown that support from family, friends, and community are some of the most important factors in successful breastfeeding.  It sounds like this program is doing a great job of helping breastfeeding mothers so far.  For my next part of this research project I will be looking at other states to see how their programs differ from Vermont and if there are other methods of success in reaching out and supporting breastfeeding moms.

Breastfeeding in the News

You might be surprised at how much literature and information there is about breastfeeding out there.  Breastfeeding pops up in the news all the time!

The Huffington Post has a section devoted to breastfeeding:

Also, Science Daily has a whole archive of articles on the science behind breastfeeding:

Check it out!

Cultural Barriers of Breastfeeding in the United States

In the United States, it is widely known that breastfeeding provides long-term health benefits for both mother and child that cannot be achieved with formula. Breast milk is incredibly rich in healthy fat and vitamins, natural, and produced by a new mother’s body at no cost. Physicians, women’s health organizations and experienced mothers all encourage expecting women to give the incredible gift of breastfeeding to their children. Given all the benefits that breastfeeding provides, why do many women continue to use formulas instead? In 2002, a study conducted showed that although 71% of US mothers initiated breastfeeding, only 35% of those women were still breastfeeding at 6 months (Taylor). What are the influences that are preventing new mothers from utilizing the economic and nutritional benefits of breastfeeding? There are many social and biological barriers at play in this cultural phenomenon in the United States and beyond.

A study conducted on 2006 aimed to determine breastfeeding rates and durations among first-time mothers in the United States across numerous demographics. Taylor found that overall, 62% of first-time, singleton first-time mothers started breastfeeding and only 36% were still breastfeeding at 3 months. The study determined that many demographic factors play a role in the initiation and duration of breastfeeding. The population most likely to breastfeed past 3 months is older, married and with more education (Taylor). Breastfeeding being more common for those who have been educated shows that women of a lesser educational level need to be more exposed to the benefits of breastfeeding through women’s health organizations and physicians. This is a barrier that can only be improved with better public health care and better health education.

The culture of breastfeeding in the United States is something that also inhibits women from fully committing to breastfeeding their children. Much of this is rooted in the understanding that it is a natural act and should therefore be easy. Most new mothers lack knowledge regarding the basics of breastfeeding such as positioning the baby and achieving the “latch” (Mozingo). When their first few attempts consequently fail, many women will give up within the first two weeks post-partum and choose to use formula (Mozingo).

Not only is the act difficult to become skilled at, but breastfeeding has proven to cause controversy over women publicly feeding their babies. Bottle feeding has become the norm for new mothers through the increased use of infant formulas over breast milk, making public breastfeeding something more uncomfortable for onlookers than it once was. A study conducted in 2001 revealed that only 43% of United States adults feel mothers should have the right to breastfeed in public (Li). The stigma that surrounds the modern culture of public breastfeeding leaves mothers embarrassed and inconvenienced, which much of the time leads to bottle-fed formulas.

Another important aspect of breastfeeding along with public approval and education is support from within the family. Women with friends who have breastfed are much more likely to breastfeed than those who do not (Heinig). Additionally, fathers play a massive role in a woman’s likelihood to breastfeed. They may be opposed to breastfeeding because they cannot share and bond over that experience like the mother can. But fathers who support the nutritional and maternal benefits to breastfeeding can be an immensely positive support system through the process.

Biologically, breastfeeding is difficult to learn and painful for the mother. A woman can experience problems with sore nipples, pain, mastitis, lack of milk and teaching the infant how to latch on. Many women base their future experiences with breastfeeding on past ones, decreasing the chances of trying again for future children (Moore). The biological difficulties that nursing mothers face can be a large player in the decision to discontinue breastfeeding. Without advice from professionals, a mother can consider the act too difficult to continue.

What breastfeeding rates boil down to is a lack of education provided for and pursued by new mothers. Cultural ideologies that discourage breastfeeding can overpower all the natural benefits that breastfeeding provides for the infant and the mother. Without social support systems in families, friends, public health and medical professionals, the act of breastfeeding will become further stigmatized and discouraged by the glaring public eye. If we can increase awareness of the benefits and realities of breastfeeding, rates will increase and the general public’s understanding of it will decrease the negativity toward it. And who doesn’t like a happy, healthy baby?

Why wouldn't want a happy, healthy baby?

Works Cited:

1. Taylor J.S., Risica P.M., Geller L., Kirtania U., and Cabral H.J. “Duration of Breastfeeding among First-time Mothers in the United States: Results of a National Survey.” Acta Pediatrica 95 (2006): 980-84.

2. Mozingo J.N., Davis M.W., Droppleman P.G., Meredith A. ‘“It wasn’t working.” Women’s experiences with shortterm breastfeeding.’ American Journal of Maternal Child Nursing 25 (2000): 120–126.

3. Li R., Hsia J., Fridinger F., Hussain A., Benton-Davis S, Grummer-Strawn L. “Public beliefs about breastfeeding policies in various settings.” Journal of American Dietetic Association 104 (2004): 1162–1168.

4. Heinig M.J., Follett J.R., Ishii K.D., Kavanagh-Prochaska K., Cohen R., and Panchula J. “Barriers to compliance with infant-feeding recommendations among low-income women.” Journal of Human Lactation 22 (2006): 27–38.

5. Moore E.R., Anderson G.C., Bergman N. “Early skin-to-skin contact for mothers and their healthy newborn infants.” Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007(3).

Breastfeeding in the Media

Madeleine: March 18, 2013

The media has a powerful influence over what society deems normative.  Given the incredible benefits for both baby and mother, it would make sense that media outlets would encourage breastfeeding, that for every baby formula commercial  there would be a nice ad explaining how incredible women and their mammary glands really are!  However, mainstream media has done otherwise, despite the medical establishment’s promotion of breastfeeding.

Negative Representations of Breastfeeding in the Media

  • According to Brown and Peuchaud, there are two fundamental facts about U.S. media that drive negative breastfeeding coverage: 1) The media are increasingly profit-driven conglomerates and 2) They are not in the business of health education (1).
  • It is no surprise that a majority of adverstisements push formula on mothers.  Artificial formula can be marketed and sold; breast milk cannot.  One analysis showed a dramtic increase in the numbers of ads promoting infant formula and related products in Parents magazine between 1972 and 1999, as the percentage of women initiating breastfeeding declined (1)
  • An analysis of 615 articles published between 1997 and 2003 from seven popular parenting, general women’s and African American magazines in the U.S. found the following (2):  More information was provided on breastfeeding than formula feeding; Responsibility for infant feeding was placed primarily on the mother.  The social benefits of partner, family, peer and/or other support were seldom mentioned;  African American magazines presented more breastfeeding benefits, and general women’s magazines contained the least infant-feeding info; Bottle-feeding images were nearly as common as breastfeeding images
  • The “dangers” of breastfeeding have garnered national interest numerous times.  In 1994, the Wall Street Journal covered a story on white mothers suffering from “insufficient milk syndrome,” depicting their babies as the victims of medical institutions that encouraged breastfeeding at all costs.  In striking racist contrast, Tabitha Walrond, a young black mother, was convicted of negligent infant homicide in 1997.  She was blamed for “failing to live up to her responsibilities as a mother” when her two-month-old son died from malnutrition.  Walrond had never been told that her breast reduction surgery might result in insufficient breast milk production yet was pegged as a failed, negligent breastfeeding mother instead of a victim like the white mothers (1).
  • How often have you seen a healthy, comfortable woman breastfeeding her baby on the news or in a television show?  Were those around her supportive and offered words of encouragement?
  • Articles and images depicting happy breastfeeding woman cause controversy   Complaints are launched that these images are too radical, intimate, provocative, erotic, disgraceful and unacceptable.  Check out the following articles for great examples!

Breast-Feeding In Uniform: Brave or Brazen?

Breastfeeding Images Turn Heads at Any Age

Breastfeeding Flash Mob (seen above)

The Terror Management Theory (TMT)

Developed from a relatively new psychological inquiry, TMT, could provide insight into why breastfeeding is rarely seen in the media and why public breastfeeding evokes such heated controversy   To put it simply, TMT says that humans have a “deep-seated aversion to reminders of the physical, animal nature of humanity” because it reminds us of our mortality.  A study found that thinking about death made people respond more negatively to a public breastfeeding scenario and made then avoid a potential task partner that was described as breastfeeding in another room.  Images of women posing with babies were not found to evoke such negative feelings.  Is it possible the media realizes this and deems breast-feeding a money loser?  Or is this just an excuse for a society’s inability (and immaturity) to handle boobs and babies? (1)

Positives in the Media

Fortunately, the Internet is a great place to find alternative media that embraces a positive breastfeeding culture, but also respects the individual needs of each mother and child.  In response to discrimination against nursing mothers, many have rallied together to provide accurate information and even take to the streets in protest (see “Lactivists” in action).  The following websites offer great information and updates on breastfeeding in the media:  WIC, Nursing Freedom, Womens Health, CDC, La Leche League, 50 Best BF Resources

Ways to Change the Media’s Dangerous Depiction of Breastfeeding

In lieu of my research, I think the following would be beneficial in creating a breastfeeding-positive media:

  • Become a lactivist   The organization of all people—not just women—around breastfeeding and positive BF images in the media can help educate an ill-informed public
  • Increased representation of women in positions of power in the media.  Historically, men have had control over what makes it through the wires and onto our newspapers and televisions.  What if we had more women as directors, advertisers, TV CEOs, etc. that talked about issues relevant to women’s health?  The development of partnerships between BF advocacy groups with media outlets (1) could also be beneficial and create positive portrayals.
  • Call on federal and local public health organizations to create concise media campaigns that inform the public on breastfeeding as a healthy and normal part of life.
  • Know your rights!  All states except for Idaho and W. Virginia protect a woman’s right to breastfeed in public.


(1) Brown, J. & Peuchaud, S. Media and Breastfeeding: Friend or foe? 2008;3:15 Int. Breastfeed J. [NCBI]

(2) Frerichs L, Andsager JL, Campo S, Aquilino M, Dyer CS. Framing breastfeeding and formula-feeding messages in popular U.S. magazines. Women Health. 2006;44:95–118. doi: 10.1300/J013v44n01_06. [PubMed] [Cross Ref]