How #Breastfeeding is Like Fishing

Bear with me while I make an analogy between breastfeeding and fishing, and tell me if you think I’ve gone off the deep end.

There is an old saying:  “Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; teach a man a fish, you feed him for a lifetime.”

It would be easy to apply that to breastfeeding:   “Give a newborn artificial baby milk, you feed him for a day; teach the baby’s mother to breastfeed, you feed, nurture and improve the health of both for a lifetime, so that mothers, babies, healthcare, employers, society and the planet benefit.”

08 Catania Sicily 012
Upon visiting this fishmarket in Catania, Sicily, I learned that aggressive industrial & commercial fishing threatens the livelihood of local, small-scale fishermen.  It also destroys the breeding ground of the bluefin tuna, diminishes biodiversity and threatens the health of our planet.  Breastfeeding is also threatened.

But . . . What if it is not easy to teach a man to fish?   What if men have had the best intentions of fishing, only to go to the lake, and find that the fish have been depleted by aggressive practices, or the waters polluted, or signs and fences put up threatening anyone who tries to fish?   What if men were being told that fishing is great for them, and healthy too, but every day they are handed a few nutrition bars which just seems so much easier than getting prepared for fishing, and putting in the time and effort to secure a good catch of fresh fish?  What if the teachers who are supposed to teach men to fish are being bought out to promote convenience food, too, because while fishing has huge long-term advantages, it takes just a little more work, a little more support?   What if the few fishermen who succeeded in fishing, are heckled and jeered at?   How many fishermen then, do you think, will really survive this process?

It’s no different for breastfeeding. 74% of new moms have the desire to breastfeed, but given all the cultural and institutional barriers, i.e. “the booby traps” that we have written about, it is no wonder that so few mothers are learning how to breastfeed.   (For more about the “booby traps”, see our Moms Rising piece in response to Hannah Rosin, our Martin Luther King Day inspired post, and hey, we even wrote a song: The Twelve Breastfeeding Days of Christmas).

So that leaves the question.  What do we do? Do we continue to try to teach the man to fish, one man at a time, and leave him to fend for himself against the forces that threaten the fishing industry?  Do we continue to send mothers to support groups, or to get expert lactation counseling (if they can afford it), and stand by wringing our hands as they are being failed by the lack of a breastfeeding infrastructure, and are being undermined by barriers?   Do we continue to tell them the benefits of fishing breastfeeding, and heap pressure on them while allowing them to be threatened and suffer botched and negative breastfeeding experiences?  Do we wait for them to tell each other their horror stories–stories that did not need to be, most of which could have either been prevented or easily solved by preparation and early, proper lactation management–and discourage each other?  Do we stand by as more mothers are robbed of an exquisitely intimate and precious experience with their babies that is as instinctive as kissing the ones we love?

There is another way, the way of social entrepreneurship. Ashoka Founder Bill Drayton, once famously said that “social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry.”

Social entrepreneurs are “change agents,”  creating “large-scale change through pattern-breaking ideas,”  “addressing the root causes” of social problems,  possessing “the ambition to create systemic change by introducing a new idea and persuading others to adopt it,”  and changing “the social systems that create and maintain” problems.  These types of transformative changes can be national or global. They can also often be highly localized—but no less powerful—in their impact. Most often, social entrepreneurs who create transformative changes combine innovative practices, deep and targeted knowledge of their social issue area, applied and cutting-edge research, and political savvy to reach their goals. For all entrepreneurs, whether in the business or social realm, innovation is not a one-time event—but continues over time.–Skoll Foundation

And that is precisely what the breastfeeding movement needs, and what Best for Babes aims to deliver:   the passion, drive, creativity and innovation needed to revolutionize the breastfeeding movement and make it the Mother of All Causes.

We need your help. These days, it takes a village to protect the mother so she can feed her baby; and we are building that village one volunteer, one advocate, one influencer, one donation at a time.   It is your involvement, and your commitment to us, that will determine whether we succeed or fail.   It is our collective collaboration that will determine whether we can bring together not only the 2% of women who made it to one year of breastfeeding exclusively (the “choir” most of us are preaching to) but the 72% of women–some three million every year–that try to breastfeed, and the billions more that wanted to breastfeed but were set up to fail.     Moreover, let’s bring in those who are affected by a society that doesn’t support breastfeeding; the spouses, the employers, the health care system, the schools . . . and take to the streets, like those marching under the other pink ribbon, and race for the cure literally under our nose.  Trust us, if we can get everyone past the destructive trio of pressure, judgment and guilt, and unite all who have been affected by “the booby traps,” our numbers will be greater than any other cause to date.  It’s time to harness that formidable energy.

AAP_Bfing_Section_Newsletter_Fall_2009-0Will you join us?   This year we have accomplished much to set this ball into motion–our innovative celebrity interviews and our groundbreaking ad campaign are gaining steam (80 blogs are now carrying it!).  We are getting our message and our CREDO out into the media (through incredible coverage in SHAPE and Fit Pregnancy magazines among others), and we are the first non-profit to change the conversation by shifting the pressure OFF moms and on to the barriers that keep them from achieving their personal goals.   Despite being “outsiders” to the medical/scientific world, we’ve won over the breastfeeding movement leadership (see left, we made the front page of an AAP newsletter!)– we brought down the house at the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, and we’re slated for the Healthy Children Conference and the United States Breastfeeding Committee Conference in January–trust us, our message will shake up the status quo.   We have jumped headfirst into social media, becoming one of the fastest growing breastfeeding causes on Facebook and one of the only breastfeeding non-profits that is blogging and is active on Twitter.  We have dazzled more potential corporate allies than we’ve been able to follow up with, and there is tremendous untapped opportunity here to follow in the footsteps of the great cause-related marketing campaigns.

Truthfully we’ve bitten off more than we can chew, and that is the curse of being passionately obsessed with social change:  we can see so clearly what needs to happen to help moms and raise breastfeeding rates that we tend to ignore our very human limitations of time and funding.   But that’s okay.  As much as we’d like to be the type that does one thing and one thing well, instead of the type that sets a bazillion things in motion, we know that it is more important right now to act as a catalyst to put a little rocket fuel under this cause and elevate it to the stature that it deserves.   There is much, much work to be done, but we know you will stand with us, shoulder to shoulder!

We look forward to an awesome 2010 with you!

8 thoughts on “How #Breastfeeding is Like Fishing

  1. Congrats I think what y’all stand for is great. I am currently pregnant with my second child who is due in March and I intend to breastfeed this time and I am excited about it. Thanks so much for all you do


  2. Congratulations, but I just want to comment on a point or two. You talk about the woman who breastfeed exclusively (2%) and the 72% that try. Where do we fall who breastfeed for a year, but give a bottle of formula once in a while to just get out of the house? Are we the 72% that try? I am still breastfeeding my twins (almost 11months) but now I feel that I am not worthy if I dare give them a bottle…I am all for breastfeeding and advocate to anyone who will listen, but wonder if more mothers feel like I do. Breastfeeding in the third world is almost a given, but here in North America, the pressures are almost unbearable. No wonder it is not mainstream!
    Jacolette Hattingh, MD.


    1. I gave my son formula too, and agree that there is way too much pressure on moms–everywhere in our site you will see we say that moms do not need more pressure, judgment or guilt! Instead, I wish there was more pressure on the barriers that keep them from achieving their personal goals. Our issue though is not as much with the one year mark as it is with how many moms are being prevented from making it through the first few days or weeks of breastfeeding! That said, I wonder if it would help if the CDC would track a third category, in addition to “exclusive breastfeeding” and “ever breastfed (i.e. some breastfeeding)”; such as “mostly breastfeeding, or almost exclusively breastfeeding”. The rate at one year is 2-3% for exclusive breastfeeding, and 21% for ever breastfed, which still isn’t really that high.


  3. I have considered the analogy between fishing and breastfeeding too. Great minds think alike. Ha ha. Congrats on being recognized for all the amazing work you do. I think 2010 is going to be a really good year for breastfeeding. I just feel it.


  4. I think the mom breastfeeding her 11 month old twins deserves an award! All nursing moms need validation, encouragement, and support. If your twins could talk, they would thank you! Congratulations Bettina and Danielle on the nomination of the prestigious Ashoka fellowship! I hope you win. You are doing priceless work that our society and culture desperately need. Thank you for your dedication. I am thrilled with what you have done so far, and I look forward to seeing all that you will accomplish in 2010! Also, it is my understanding from the CDC’s 2009 breastfeeding report card that at 12 months the CDC tracks the percentage of babies still breastfeeding. I believe that exclusive breastfeeding means nothing else (no water, formula or solid food), and hence any baby who has started solid foods isn’t exclusively eating breast milk. I know many moms who have a goal of nursing for at least a year because of the AAP guidelines. Some of them have used a little formula and other have not, and they all deserve to be celebrated! It is also interesting to note how many more babies would be exclusively breastfed for the first six months if some hospitals didn’t give formula in the first twenty four hours. Another reason why we need more baby friendly hospitals! The CDC breastfeeding report card numbers are fascinating. 38.4% of Vermont babies are still breastfeeding at a year, but only 8.7% of babies are breastfed at a year in Mississippi. The five states with the highest percentage of babies still nursing at a year (Vermont, Oregon, Hawaii, Washington & Utah) don’t have a lot in common. I wonder if it is the cultures in those states, the hospital policies or the lack of “booby traps” that is enabling a higher percentage of moms there to meet their goals. For example, what are hospitals/communities in both Utah and Hawaii doing that other states are not doing? Here is a link with the report card numbers:


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