THE FAMILY GROOVE is a long-standing partner of Best for Babes. In fact, TFG's publisher,
is an inaugural board member of the burgeoning nonprofit whose message, after a few years of being
honed and strengthened, is finally hitting in a major, major way.
Simply put: It's the right message at the right time. And we at TFG couldn't be happier for the Best for Babes
founders Bettina Forbes and Danielle Rigg—or for the legions of women who are finally getting the support they need (both by Best for Babes and through the ground swell of popular consciousness) to keep on keepin' on with their own personal breastfeeding goals, whatever those goals may be.
Here, we talk to Bettina about Best for Babes, the rising tide of consciousness and what every woman needs to know about nursing.
Two of a Kind: Best for Babes Co-founders Bettina Forbes and Danielle Rigg
THE FAMILY GROOVE: Tell us about Best for Babes. Why breastfeeding? Why now?
BETTINA FORBES: Best for Babes is fighting the barriers—what we call “the booby traps”—that keep moms who want to breastfeed from achieving their personal breastfeeding goals. We cheer all moms on without pressure, judgment or guilt, whether they want to breastfeed for two weeks, two months, two years or not at all. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 86 percent of expecting moms say they want to breastfeed, 74 percent try to breastfeed, and most are not able to breastfeed exclusively for three weeks, let alone the minimum six months recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics—only 14 percent make it that far, and it’s not their fault! Moms’ best intentions are being undermined by poor hospital practices, lack of maternity leave policies, social disapproval and a myriad of other “booby traps.” All this at a time when obesity, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, allergies and breast cancer rates are soaring; the risk for all these diseases is lowered by mostly or exclusively breastfeeding.
TFG: Tell us about your background and how it led you to want to start your nonprofit.
BF: I have a background in social entrepreneurship—I designed a strategy for Merrill Lynch to keep 250 inner-city kids across the country from dropping out of school, with the result that 90 percent graduated high school. My partner, Best for Babes co-founder Danielle Rigg, was an employment lawyer and ran a highly successful breastfeeding support group and lactation counseling practice in Montclair, N.J.
TFG: Since Danielle's previous experience was, in part, in the same field, how has it informed your mission?
BF: I didn’t want to breastfeed, so I guess you could say I was “booby-trapped” by the cultural barriers—because of my experience, I know what it is like to be squeamish or on the fence about breastfeeding, and I can empathize with women who don’t want to nurse. Danielle was determined to breastfeed but was “booby-trapped” by the institutional barriers—she was astonished by the lack of knowledge and support she encountered in the hospital and among health care professionals. We knew we had to market breastfeeding and make it appealing to the mainstream instead of hitting moms over the head with the benefits, and we knew we had to put pressure on the barriers, not moms—moms don’t need more pressure!
You Sexy Thing: 2011 BfB
cover girl Juanita Ingraham
TFG: What hurdles have you experienced along the way and how have you overcome them?
BF: The biggest hurdle was Danielle’s breast cancer. She was diagnosed at age 37 and underwent a double mastectomy and reconstruction. It was a huge irony that she had been counseling women about breastfeeding and then lost her own breasts, and it made her more determined than ever to help moms reap the benefits of breastfeeding, which reduces the risk of breast cancer in mothers, and very importantly, in their baby girls. If Danielle’s mom hadn’t been “booby-trapped” (breastfeeding rates were lowest when she was born—doctors and hospitals were aggressively marketing formula, and the women’s lib movement was telling women they didn’t need to be “tied down”), Danielle’s risk for breast cancer would have been lowered 25 percent. Because of her experience, Danielle won’t support breast cancer organizations that don’t focus on “the cure” literally under our nose—breastfeeding provides a tremendous preventive boost. Having breast cancer and dealing with chronic health issues has really caused her to re-examine her priorities. She’s much better than me at knowing what is truly important, and although she works really hard, she always puts her family first. Danielle’s cancer has given us lots of perspective—we’ve had lots of hurdles, just like any business or nonprofit, but honestly we don’t like to dwell on them. What gets us through is that we believe we were called to do this work, and the fact that we are best friends—at the end of the day, no matter what hits the fan, we can still have a good laugh about something or go shopping! We love and try to live by a lot of the messages promoted by THE FAMILY GROOVE—finding balance, creating meaning, having fun and being groovy.
TFG: Can you tell us more about the breastfeeding/breast cancer connection? How does breastfeeding lower a woman's chance of getting breast cancer?
BF: A recent study found the strongest association yet that breastfeeding lowers the risk of breast cancer—by 59 percent for women who have a family history of the disease. Even better, that risk appears to be lowered no matter how long women breastfeed, whether it’s for a lifetime total of three months or three years. While nobody knows why breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer, Alison Stuebe, author of the study, suspects that when women do not breastfeed, inflammation and engorgement shortly after birth cause changes in breast tissue that may increase risk for breast cancer. Breastfeeding followed by weaning may prevent this inflammation.
TFG: Three years into your mission, how has the landscape changed?
BF: We’re starting to see the ripple effect. We’re seeing a shift in the media, from news about the benefits of breastfeeding to greater awareness of the barriers, which we hope will spur action to dismantle those “booby traps.” More celebrities have been talking openly about breastfeeding, and Brad Pitt’s picture of Angelina Jolie on the cover of W magazine and Salma Hayek’s noble act of breastfeeding a starving baby in Sierra Leone reached millions and were positively received. We think the time is right for the tipping point where this will become a true cause on par with Susan G. Komen and the American Heart Association’s Go Red campaign. Breastfeeding is a human rights issue and a health issue; moms, babies, families, society and the planet are suffering. We aim to turn this into the “mother of all causes!"
Kelly Rutherford and Bettina
TFG: What are you most proud of accomplishing thus far?
BF: There’s a lot we’re proud of, but I guess the foundation of everything has been our ability to enroll leadership to this cause, and it’s because our message is positive, hip, fresh and inclusive. We’re lending a little levity to a serious subject and having fun. We’ve attracted celebrities like Kelly Rutherford; been granted a top-notch ad campaign pro bono by Frank About Women, the leading marketing-to-women communications firm; been endorsed and heralded by leading medical and health organizations; and have won over both the breastfeeding advocates and the moms who couldn’t or didn’t want to breastfeed. When we all embrace that allowing women who want to breastfeed to succeed helps everyone, then we all win!
TFG: Where is Best for Babes in 2020?
BF: Honestly, our goal is to put ourselves out of business. A cultural shift that spurs a dramatic rise in breastfeeding rates can happen serendipitously. It could be as simple as getting celebrities who are currently nursing to breastfeed at the Oscars and show that breastfeeding is beautiful. Once the cultural perception changes and breastfeeding is embraced and truly valued, everything will fall into place: Our society won’t tolerate the many “booby traps” that keep moms from succeeding. If our hospitals treated breast cancer patients as poorly as they treat breastfeeding mothers, they’d be out of business.
TFG: What's the biggest misconception about breastfeeding?
BF: The biggest misconception is that it’s either easy (i.e., you don’t have to prepare and it will come naturally with little help) or that it’s too hard (no matter what help you get, it is nearly impossible). The truth is in the middle. A better way to think of breastfeeding is that it’s challenging, like working out or learning to ride a bike. You might get a skinned knee or have sore muscles, but it’s worth it. Breastfeeding needs to be learned and mastered—it’s only when moms are being “booby-trapped” that breastfeeding becomes truly difficult or painful. That’s what we need to change urgently—moms deserve to have a positive breastfeeding experience and to feel fabulous.
TFG: What are a few top FAQs that most often come across your desk? And what are your answers?
BF: Well, we get a lot of “what do you do exactly?” because people tend to think of nonprofits as providing a direct service, like counseling moms. The best way to understand what we do is to understand social entrepreneurship: instead of giving the man a fish, or teaching him to fish, social entrepreneurship changes the fishing industry so it works better for everyone. We’re not teaching moms to breastfeed as much as we’re changing the culture to celebrate breastfeeding and removing the barriers so moms can succeed, and get the next best if they can’t or decide not to breastfeed: donor milk. Ultimately, we think social entrepreneurship and marketing will raise breastfeeding rates a lot faster than trying to help women individually—though we do lots of that, too, in the information we provide through our celebrity interviews, handouts, resources and Facebook page.
Tanks for the Mammaries: Danielle dons
the organization's signature
TFG: What's your advice to women who can't (or decide not to) breastfeed?
BF: We encourage them to look into and advocate for pasteurized, screened donor milk from a human milk bank, which is the best substitute for breastfeeding or pumped breast milk—it is far superior to infant formula, and can be requested by prescription. It’s not as widely available as it should be but will be if more moms demand it.
We would also encourage moms to inform themselves—if you’ve been told you can’t breastfeed due to a certain medication, for example, consult Thomas Hale’s Medications and Mothers’ Milk, which is the best reference guide and which most doctors don’t know about. The more informed your decision is, the better you are going to feel about it, and the more confident and empowered you will be as a parent. For some moms, there are truly too many barriers to breastfeed—in some parts of the country, trying to breastfeed is like being told to run a marathon in stilettos—and we all owe these moms compassion, support and understanding. There is no question that breastfeeding provides a better foundation for human health, but there are many other things we do as parents that influence how happy and healthy our children are! Finally, I would encourage parents who don’t breastfeed to use a co-sleeper, have lots of skin-to-skin [contact], and practice baby-wearing to improve bonding and lower the risk of SIDS and other diseases. They should also learn to read baby’s cues so they don’t overfeed; bottle-fed babies (whether drinking pumped breast milk or formula) don’t self-regulate during feeding like breastfed babies do, putting them at greater risk for obesity.
TFG: Are there foods or products that women should avoid while breastfeeding?
BF: Generally, there are far fewer restrictions than people think. It’s fine to enjoy a glass of wine from time to time, and spicy foods don’t bother all babies; each baby is different. If you run into any problems, consult a reputable lactation consultant. We encourage all parents, breastfeeding or not, to reduce their and their baby’s exposure to toxins by using organic nipple butters and other products; there are lots of great resources available to help them—there are even organic nursing pads and bras coming out. And while all you really need to breastfeed are at least one boob and a baby, there are lots of great products that can make the process easier and more enjoyable—in the first few days, a good breastfeeding pillow like My Brest Friend and a stool for your feet (proper posture is key) are two must-haves. A sexy lace bra isn’t necessary, but it’s fun, and if it makes you feel good, go for it—you deserve to feel fabulous when giving the best to your babe!
TFG: What should every mom-to-be and new mom know about breastfeeding?
BF: Don’t get overwhelmed! Read “Get Your Best Game On, Girlfriend” to get off to the best start. Get a good support group that cheers you on. Take it in small chunks—a feed at a time, a day at a time, a week at a time. Remember it’s like working out, and acknowledge yourself! Bumps in the road are normal and most can be easily solved—if you get a bit derailed, remember there are a lot of booby traps and that you are doing your best, and get more help. The biggest mistake moms make is trying to do it alone, or not turning to the right resources.
TFG: How can our readers get involved in the Best for Babes mission?
BF: Help us spread the word, or donate to our cause (www.bestforbabes.org/donate)! Most moms are unaware of the booby traps and blame themselves if they couldn’t breastfeed or had to quit before they wanted to. We would love to see moms be gentle with each other and themselves and join together to make sure their daughters, sisters and friends can have the success and the experience that they deserve.
For more information, go to www.bestforbabes.com.