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Another political rant (this time about breastfeeding)

April 25, 2009

Recently there have been several very hyped editorials arguing against breast feeding & pumping.

Here they are:

http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200904/case-against-breastfeeding
http://warner.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/04/02/why-i-dumped-the-pump/
http://www.slate.com/blogs/blogs/xxfactor/archive/2009/04/23/breast-feed-more-earn-less.aspx

They suck. They make me feel literally, physically ill. Not because I’m nervous they might be right. But because it makes me really sad for all the women who read these articles, don’t get any real breastfeeding support, have a shit time breastfeeding, and think the women who wrote these articles know what the hell they are talking about. Ugh.

I got an email today from the friend of a friend with the articles, offered as perspective. I sent back these articles as additional perspective:

http://www.babble.com/The-Backlash-to-Breast-is-Best-Why-exactly-is-breastfeeding-under-attack/
http://mothering.com/guest_editors/quiet_place/quiet_place.html

The response I got back was basically that she didn’t feel like the articles adequately addressed the guilt women feel who can’t breastfeed.  A friend of hers had gone so far as to to lie about giving her baby formula because she felt so bad for not being able to feed her baby breastmilk.  

Here’s my response to her about why I think the guilt issue doesn’t sit well with me:

I agree that “mommy guilt” is a very real and powerful thing. Women are under an extreme amount of pressure to raise the perfect child, to be the perfect mom, and often to do that while also working. It’s all very challenging, and basically impossible.

My issue with these recent articles is that (in my opinion) they miss the point that I think breastfeeding advocates are trying to make. First off, of course formula isn’t outright dangerous to babies (or at least no more-so than the water we drink or conventional foods, etc).**  I personally liken it to a medicine—it plays a very necessary role in certain situations, but you wouldn’t want to take a medicine you didn’t need all the time. But, there are benefits to giving a baby breast milk and we do women a disservice when we give them misinformation to assuage their mommy-guilt. Women are empowered by having all the information they need to make an educated choice, not by giving them the selective information we think will make them feel good.

Further, I think that the idea that a large percentage of women just can’t breastfeed is similar to the argument that 30+ percent of women need to have c-sections for the health of their baby. We take a society that gives women very little prenatal information about birth and breastfeeding, send them into hospitals with staff untrained on normal birth and breastfeeding and financially dependent on formula companies, and then push them out of the hospital two days postpartum having received very little, if any, breastfeeding support and we expect that they should just figure it out. While breastfeeding is natural it’s not exactly easy to figure out in the first few weeks unless you’ve got support people around you (either family, friends, or professionals) who know what they are doing and can help. And then we have moms who “just couldn’t breastfeed” or “never had enough milk” and they blame themselves instead of the system that didn’t provide them with the help they needed to make breastfeeding easy, painless, and normal. I think the problem is with the system, not with the moms, and articles that assume that a large percentage of moms really can’t breastfeed do much more damage than good by putting that blame on the mothers.

I was at my lunch break at work when I wrote it, so it’s not everything I have to say about the topic (by far).  But who the hell are these women to say that A) feminism is defined by your ability to make money,  B) that not giving women the support to do something that can be empowering is the same thing as women “just not being able to breastfeed” and that C) it’s okay to withhold information from women and take away their ability to make educated decisions to make them feel better?

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 25, 2009 3:24 am

    Hot damn! Right on. I read the NYT blog “article” and it just left a bad taste in my mouth.

    Being a mother is not about taking the easy road. However, I think women tend to trust only doctors and take their advice verbatim which is quite terrifying – we need to trust ourselves and the sage advice of those who are willing to give it and the support it takes for a woman to feel comfortable enough and empowered enough to trust herself and her instincts. It takes a village and I absolutely love what you wrote here. (My husband is in agreement with you 100% as well!)

    Excellent post.

  2. April 25, 2009 4:55 pm

    Amen! The Atlantic article infuriated me. Is it just me, or is it ironic that the author is complaining about the judgment that accompanies formula feeding, and yet her article is filled with stereotypes of breast-feeding mothers, and condemnation of these women?

    The most disturbing thing is that these articles portray breast-feeding as a black and white issue. Breast-feeding, like every aspect of motherhood, is not a one-dimensional thing. It is a personal decision that is affected by a number of outside influences. It is undeniably the best way to nurture your child, both nutritionally and emotionally.

    However, many women who do not desire to breast-feed, or quit after a short trial, do so because they lack support, knowledge, and training. Mom-guilt certainly plays a part, but that is because our society has made motherhood & parenting a competition, rather than a group effort.

    Ughhh…I could go on and on here. Thanks for sharing the articles along with your response. Well done!

    (This is P’s cousin, by the way – Rachel. I enjoy keeping up with you guys via your blog! Take care!)

  3. Tom permalink
    April 27, 2009 12:17 am

    The author’s of these articles are clearly highly educated, driven, literati who themselves couldn’t (wouldn’t) slow down long enough to breast feed their own babies. It’s more important for them to be published in the Atlantic Journal or Slate, then to have a healthy, well nourished and attached child. Their interest and ego is engaged in a methodical march toward Vanity Fair and The New Yorker–not their kids. These women are using their positions and junk science to absolve themselves of the guilt they clearly are feeling.

    Also, BAN THE PUMP? No way. My wife and I both work so the pump allowed me to feed our babies the best food possible in her absence; feeding a baby is an important bonding activity for a father as well. And all those little frozen bags of gold in the freezer came in handy when we were out of half and half…*

    * True story that makes people cringe and gag when I tell it. My response is always: “So, it’s ok to put the milk of a different species in your coffee, but not your own? The very stuff that is making your baby thrive? Have you ever been to a commercial dairy or driven past Harris Ranch on I-5? Overcrowded, sick, hormone injected bovine wallowing in their own crap offer you something LESS disgusting? Talk about being detached.

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