Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Breastmilk Storage Bag Challenge

My friend and colleague, Jen had a baby girl about 6 weeks before I had my daughter. We've been swapping tips of the trade when it comes to breastfeeding. Jen's an exclusive pumper, so she has a lot of experience with storage. We each have a deep freezer in which to store breastmilk, and our husbands say we are OBSESSED. Okay, maybe we are a bit obsessed with that liquid gold that nourishes and sustains our babies!


Under both our insurance plans (we work for the same employer), we can order Ameda bags free every 3 months. We have also tried most every other bag on the market. We'll be reviewing them for you, covering everything from price, to toughness, to ease of use. Depending on your personal preferences, you might choose a different bag as your favorite than ours. For price, we'll use Amazon.com to compare (except for Target brand); however, you may find better prices elsewhere. All the bags we tested are 100% BPA free. We both pump directly into bottles, so we were not as concerned with the measurement marks or the ability to pump directly into the bags as other mamas may be. 


I found the measurements highly inaccurate and we both like to freeze the milk flat anyway. Medela and Ameda bags both have the holes at the top to pump directly into them. Most bags can store 6-8 oz, but the Ameda and Medela bags are smaller, storing only up to 5 oz. These bags can stand up on their own for pouring, which I don't use, but is an important feature to Jen.

THE RESULTS...

1st Place (Best Bag): Dr. Brown's
The Dr. Brown's bags are the closest we found to perfect. Thick, smooth plastic, with double sealed zippers and a tamper proof sanitary tear-off strip. The zipper is nice and wide, the writing tab open with a white background. These bags have a contoured top for pouring. They don't "stand up" on their own perfectly. They are one of the more expensive brands at 28 cents per bag. Overall, these are the best bags we tried. 

Best Overall Value & Quality: Target's Up & Up

The Target Brand Up & Up bags are a very close second in quality, and they are actually the least expensive bags on the market. Other than the material being slightly stiffer, they have all the great features including thick plastic, wide double zipper, sanitary tear-off, high storage capacity, contoured top for pouring, and a decent writing tab (although reverse/upside-down labels). They also don't stand up on their own superbly. Best feature - these bags cost only 15.5 cents each! That's half the price of the more expense bags!

Recommended Bags:

NUK

Overall, The NUK bags are a solid choice. Smooth, thick plastic that hasn't leaked for Jen or I. Double zipper, and holds a good amount, and a pretty affordable price. The con of the NUK bags is that they don't each have a tamper proof tear-off.  I'm also picky about the place where you write the description of the contents. I like it to have a background so the writing shows up. I also like to be able to write on it with any pen, and not have to use a Sharpie. The NUK bag is clear, so you have to use a dark colored Sharpie. 

Ameda

Jen really likes the Ameda bags because they stand up on their own very well when pouring milk into them. They are strong and neither of us have had them leak. They are expensive, however, unless your insurance covers them, and they only hold 5 ounces and have a narrow zipper.

Not Recommended:

Honeysuckle

I actually liked the Honeysuckle bags and never had any problems with them, but Jen had leaks. The feature that matters the most to me in a bag is the width of the zipper. Because I only have one hand, pouring can me difficult. I like a bag with a wider zipper, because I can turn the top of it inside out and place it over the neck of the bottle to dump the milk in. This prevents any milk from getting in the zipper.  And it's super easy with one hand! Because of this, the plastic material also makes a difference. The smooth bags are easier to turn inside out and back after the milk is in them. The Honeysuckle bag does well on these counts, but if it leaks, none of these features matter. Another downside is that it's hard to feel if the zipper is properly sealed.

Medela
When it comes to the labels on breastmilk storage bags, I like the text (amount, date, etc) to be right side up. I am annoyed by bags with several text spots; I particularly hate the tabs with "name" as a category on them. Medela has the best writing tab - white background and no labels - you write what you want, how you want, in any direction you want. These bags are strong, stand up relatively well, but are small with a narrow zipper. They don't freeze flat as nicely as the bigger bags.

Lansinoh
There are two things I love about Lansinoh bags: they are smooth and easy to turn the top inside out, and the double zipper CLICKS and you can both hear and feel that it's secure. So I loved everything about these bags, until my husband started thawing the milk frozen flat in these. The side seams leaked. Horribly. Such a shame.

AVENT
Jen did not have as much of a problem with these bags as I did. They are really pretty bags, just aesthetically pleasing. They stand up on their own great. They have two tear-offs, the first one for sanitary/tamper-proof purposes, and the second to use when you want to pour the milk out and use it. The zipper and bag is very narrow, and you can tell the sides are very secure. The writing tab is huge, but you have to get the milk through that tab, past the zipper and into the bag, which for me was nothing but a huge mess. I spilled milk and every time had to shove a paper towel down in there to dry off the zipper before sealing. So frustrating!

Comparison Chart

Brand
Cents/bag
Width
(in)
Zipper
Pour Spout
Label
Sanitary Tear-off
Material
Capacity
(oz)
Up & Up
15.5
5
Double
Yes
White
Reverse
Yes
Thick
Smooth
6+
Lansinoh
15.43
5.1
Double
Clicks
Yes
White
Reverse
Yes
Thin Smooth
6+
AVENT
17.04
4.5
Double
No
White
Reverse
Large
Yes
Thick
Stiff
Crinkly
6+
Honeysuckle
19.8
5
Double
Yes
Yellow
Upright
Yes
Thick
Smooth
Stiff
6+
Nuk
17.94
5
Double
Yes
Clear

No
Thick
Smooth
6+
Dr. Brown's
28.0
5
Double

White
Upright
Yes
Thick
Smooth
6+
Ameda
31.25
4.1
Single
Yes
White
Upright
No
Thick
Crinkly
5
Medela
32.72
4.5
Single
No
White
Blank
No
Thick Smooth





Saturday, June 27, 2015

Breastfeeding in Public

Breastfeeding in Public: To Cover or Not to Cover?

Recently there was a news story about a coffee shop in our city that had come under fire after a barista (who turned out to be one of the owners) offered a female patron who was breastfeeding a towel to cover up. Another woman who was with the mother wrote a scathing review on social media, and soon the coffee shop’s Facebook page was blowing up with negative reviews. As I read the comments, I realized there are two camps: the people who believe that women should be able to breastfeed any time and anywhere without being compelled to use a cover, and those who think that that women should use a cover when breastfeeding out of respect for others who may be offended or bothered by the sight of her breasts.

With my first child, I used the cover religiously. I would not have felt confident enough to breastfeed in public without it. Using a cover is a tricky issue for some mothers, including me. Because I’m disabled (I’m a triple amputee), it’s difficult for me to use a cover while breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is important to me, but doing it in public, without my nursing pillows and from my wheelchair is really difficult. It’s harder to get baby latched because I only have one arm, so if her clothes ride up or her hand is in the way, I don’t have another hand to move it with.  It’s tiring to hold her with one arm through the entire feed, and trying to finagle a cover in addition to all that feels like too much. Plus, it’s hot under there! Seriously, even though the cover is thin, it gets really warm with a nursing baby against your breast. I’ve heard other women say that their babies refuse to nurse if they try to use a cover. So, now that I’m breastfeeding my second child, I don’t always use a cover. I’ve decided that I don’t have to do something physically excruciating to feed my baby just to make other people feel comfortable.

My husband prefers that I use a cover. When he’s with me, he can help me get situated with a cover and it’s not a big deal, although it’s still hot. He says he doesn’t want men staring at my breasts if I don’t use a cover (I have never seen anyone staring at my breasts while nursing in public). The truth is, breasts are meant for feeding babies, but they can also be sexual. It makes him uncomfortable for him to think about anyone else seeing a private part of me that I only share with him. I get it. Importantly, he respects my choice not to use a cover when I opt not to, but I usually do try to use the cover when he is with me.

The comments on the coffee shop’s Facebook page elicited a lot of reactions. Women get so many mixed messages – you should breastfeed your babies but not show your breasts. Except women’s breasts are shown all the time in non-breastfeeding situations, say on the beach, or in advertisements. I was interested to read a few comments suggesting that that asking a breastfeeding woman to cover up is “against the law.” An Internet search will quickly yield your state laws related to breastfeeding. Texas law is simple: “Tex. Health Code Ann. § 165.002 (1995) authorizes a woman to breastfeed her child in any location.” It doesn’t say anything about covers, and Texas is not one of the states to exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws.
 
Women who breastfeed are trying to feed their babies the best nutrition possible. This endeavor should be respected. Breastfeeding is hard enough without feeling self-conscious or judged. If a woman doesn’t use a cover, that’s her choice. There may be a very good reason she chooses not to. Regardless, if someone is uncomfortable, that is his problem, not the nursing mother’s. Happily, the coffee shop made strong efforts to address the breastfeeding backlash. They held a “nurse-in, welcoming breastfeeding mothers and donated a percentage of all their sales that day to a breastmilk bank. Good for them!

UPDATE: Since I wrote this 3 months ago, I have abandoned the cover completely. I'm totally comfortable breastfeeding in public without it now. I haven't asked him, but I sense my husband is more comfortable with it too. Social media is blowing up about women's right to breastfeed. The new thing is the "brelfie," a selfie taken while breastfeeding. There's also the hashtag #normalizebreastfeeding. I love it, and I've been posting photos of my breastfeeding my baby daughter.  It feels great.








Monday, May 13, 2013

National Mobility Awareness Month

May is "National Mobility Awareness Month," according to the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA), which held a contest for the second year in a row to provide three accessible vehicles to individuals with disabilities. This contest is to identify a "a local hero" and to "raise awareness of the mobility solutions available in your community." According to the press release, to qualify as a "local hero," entrants had to submit either written or videotaped stories of how they are "triumphing over their mobility issues through their academic and career ambitions, as well as their family and local community contributions." Caregivers, friends and family members were also welcome to submit entries.
Thousands of disabled people entered this contest, including a good friend of mine. People were asked to vote once per day for their favorite entrant to win a vehicle. I wished all of them luck; who wouldn't love to win a brand new vehicle, regardless of disability status? I didn’t enter the contest this year, and I won’t any year; or any contest like it. You see, NMEDA is an organization that promotes the companies that design, produce, and sell adapted and modified vehicles. Vehicles just like the one in my garage. The one that cost almost $80,000 in total with the conversion (lowered floor, kneel system, and ramp) and modifications including an 8-way power seat and high tech hand controls that enable me to drive with one limb. Even though it often breaks and will soon need to be replaced, I already have an adapted vehicle.

I learned to drive when I was 17. It felt like I had to wait forever, when my friends were getting their learner's permits at age 15. My mom drove a huge Ford Econoline with a raised roof and wheelchair lift for years to transport my power wheelchair.  When my parents weren't transporting me, I rode the "short bus" to and from school; at times in my childhood, this meant getting picked up at 6:00 AM and having to ride the bus for miles around rural areas while all the other disabled children were picked up.

For the first vehicle I drove, my parents purchased a used Dodge minivan. The ramp was in the back and two wheelchairs fit in addition to the four regular seats. In order to afford to learn to drive, I was fitted for a prosthetic arm. The van was equipped with simple right angle hand controls, which cost us about $500 out of pocket. You see, insurance won't pay for hand controls, but it will cover (at least in part) for prosthetics. I drove this way for about 7 years. It was do-able, but physically very difficult. I had trouble getting the leverage I needed to apply the gas pedal and relied heavily on cruise control. When I was in graduate school, the van kept breaking. The ramp would stop working, the door had continuous problems, and insurance would assist with none of it.

In order to complete my graduate degree program, I needed my own transportation. I could not rely on public transit to get to campus and my clinical rotations in the community. It was simply too unreliable and the routes and schedules too rigid. My family assisted me by gathering up enough money for a down payment on a new van. I opened a case through state vocational rehabilitation. My family contributed a large down payment on the new van, vocational rehab paid for the hand controls and conversion, and I was able to take on the monthly payment and maintenance. The total cost of this van was almost $80,000 in the end. I can drive much more easily with this set up - no cumbersome prosthetic; a seat that turns for easier transfers. I've had the van for almost 8 years now, and it has over 170,000 miles on it. I have put well over $10,000 in repairs into it. I take it everywhere. I drive to work, I take my 18-month-old son to and from daycare, and I run errands with it. When going places with friends or family, or taking a road trip, we always take my van so I have my power wheelchair and maximum independence.

I know soon it will be time to replace the van, and I dread it. I'm not really sure how I'm going to afford it. There is no assistance with such an expense for people like me. The resale worth of one of these vehicles used is very low, so I can't count on a good trade-in value. I do not believe that I am eligible for vocational rehabilitation assistance any longer because now I make too much money (they helped me get employed but don't believe it is important to help me stay employed); we'll find out when I meet with my newly assigned counselor at the state vocational rehabilitation program later this month. I will probably have to independently finance a vehicle that will cost almost what I earn for an entire year. The truth is, I must do it. My independence, my professional life, and my personal needs depend on it. Even though I have the same expenses as my able bodied peers, like buying a home, health care costs, a car payment, and paying for childcare, the expense of vehicle modification is in addition to that. The worst part to me is that the modifications on these vehicles break all the time. The ramp, door, power seat, and hand controls on my van have broken countless times, just from routine use. There is very little competition in the market, so the prices for the adaptations and repairs are astronomical. When equipment breaks, my independence is yanked away until it is fixed. In my case, the nearest repair place that is authorized by the manufacturer of my modifications to repair my van is over 80 miles from my home.

So what does this have to do with
 NMEDA's contest? And why didn’t I enter? If "National Mobility Awareness Month" was really about mobility awareness, it wouldn't be a bunch of pity stories trying to get votes to prove one has "overcome" disability. The disability pride community is speaking out against this type of objectification; we aren't here for anyone's inspiration. We are asking that individuals and organizations stop "othering" us and making it seem like doing everyday things is somehow extraordinary simply because of the presence of disability. All that this does is reveal prejudice: if the fact that I have a job is amazing to you, then you have low expectations for people like me.

If "National Mobility Awareness Month" was really about mobility awareness, it would include this type of information:

1 - The public para-transit systems (public buses and transit that is accessible to those with disabilities) in the U.S. are TERRIBLE. People with disabilities can't count on them due to a multitude of problems, including inaccessibility, segregation, unreliability, and lack of flexibility.
2 - The average person with a disability could never afford the adaptive technology
NMEDA promotes.
3 - The market is such that these technologies do not have to hold up even to routine wear and tear, and repairs and replacements cause additional financial burden to the consumer.
4 - Health insurance does not cover adaptive driving equipment.

If
 NMEDA really wants to give away a vehicle, draw a name out of a hat. Base it on actual need like income level. Or skip the giveaway all together and work on making the products more durable, with better designs, at affordable prices.

The things I do with my vehicle are hardly inspiring. I do regular tasks for myself and my family just like anyone else. The fact that I came from a family that could afford to help me learn to drive and purchase a vehicle isn't inspiring, either. It was just lucky for me. Winning a brand new modified vehicle would be lucky, too. My friend didn't win a van; I don't see how she is any less deserving than anyone else. She works hard and lives a full life; I guess that just not inspirational or sensational enough. I'm not sure what kind of story is needed to get enough votes, but I suspect it has to be a pretty pitiful one; that's not what my friend is about - the LAST thing she'd want is people feeling sorry for her because she's disabled. The way I saw it, she, and thousands of others, simply want freedom and autonomy.


Lucky for
 NMEDA, thousands of disabled people and their loved ones fell into the trap this year, lured by the chance of a promise for greater independence, to sell their stories for the profit of multiple corporations (NMEDA itself is non-profit, but it's an association of businesses that make huge profits off of disabled people). All the while, no one is talking about or advocating for a better system where the kind of independence that driving brings is no longer reserved only for the rich, or the lucky.