The other day I saw a bumper sticker on a mini-van that read "BREASTFEEDING: EVERY BABY'S BIRTHRIGHT!"

I get so annoyed by stuff like that. I'm very pro-breastfeeding for all the usual reasons: it's better for babies than formula because of nutrients and antibodies, it's good for bonding with the mother, it's cheaper than formula, better for the environment, yada yada yada. I'm certainly of the opinion that mothers should assume they will breastfeed their babies unless they find that they can't for some reason (see the next paragraph), and I wish that there would be better breastfeeding support in this country in general. Breastfeeding isn't as easy and natural as you might think. It can be painful at first, not all babies latch on very well at the beginning, there can be duct infections and stress that negatively affect milk production; for these reasons and more, a lot of women give up before they need to because they don't have adequate support and available lactation consultants. It makes me sad to know that there are many women out there who resort to formula before they have to, or because they are made to feel that breastfeeding is disgusting and indecent. It certainly doesn't help that women who breastfeed in public are discriminated against in many parts of this country. (I could go on and on here about our society's unhealthy obsession/disgust with women's bodies, but that's another topic for another day.)

BUT at the same time, saying things like "Breastfeeding is every baby's birthright!" is the sort of self-righteous, even hostile assertion that polarizes mothers and alienates women who don't breastfeed for perfectly legitimate reasons, making them unnecessarily defensive. Like women who just can't produce enough milk, women who have to take certain medications that would endanger their baby's health should they receive it through milk, women who work outside the home full-time and can't pump enough to feed their baby during the day, to name a few. And let's not forget adoptive moms. There are adoptive moms out there who induce lactation so they can breastfeed their adopted babies, but it's expensive and difficult and certainly not for everyone.

Is breastfeeding best for babies? Of course. That fact is undisputed in the medical community. Even formula companies attest to that on their cans of formula, like the blurb on this unopened sample I got in the mail soon after Daniel was born: "**** is a blend of DHA and ARA, important nutrients also found in breast milk that promote brain and eye development. Experts agree on the many benefits of breast milk. If you choose to use infant formula, ask your doctor about the many benefits of ****." (I'm sure the FDA makes them do that.)

Just because breastfeeding is best doesn't mean that formula is bad. Breastfed babies statistically have slightly higher IQs, slightly lower risks of asthma and allergies and a whole bunch of other stuff I won't bother to list here. (Google it, and I promise you'll find plenty.) Unfortunately, breastfeeding advocates, while they're listing the benefits of breast milk, neglect to mention that feeding your baby formula will not doom him/her to a life of sub-par intelligence, hay fever and emotional problems. I'm sure there are plenty of prostitutes and criminals out there who were breastfed. For that matter, I was formula-fed as a baby, and I'm neither a prostitute nor a criminal, nor do I have asthma.

The bottom line is this: a good parent feeds his or her child when he/she is hungry. Would a mother who can't produce enough milk starve her child just to avoid using formula? I seriously hope not. Breastfeeding is not a possibility for everyone and that's okay. Not only that, but breastfeeding, especially very young infants who get hungry every hour or two, can have an incredibly restrictive effect on a mother's lifestyle and it means the non-breastfeeding parent (like the father, but I wouldn't want to leave out the possibility of lesbian couples - this is an equal-opportunity blog, after all) has to work twice as hard to be an equal partner in the parenting those first several months. I mean, sure you can pump breast milk and make someone else feed it to your baby in a bottle so you can go get your hair cut or just have a break, but your body is still on demand at all hours of day and night.

OK, I've blabbed long enough, but before I wrap this up, I just want to say that it took incredible restraint on my part not to make any snarky comments about Dr. Sears. That is all.


Tooz said…
There was an old Law and Order episode where the young, young mother actually did let her child starve, since she was told that breastfeeding was the ONLY way to feed her child. I'm sure they didn't think up that plot on their own--most of their plots are stolen from headlines. Sad, isn't it?
Thorny said…
Hear hear!

I also hate that attitude because it discourages most mothers from trying to make /both/ work, which would be, I suspect, a great option for a lot of mothers. It takes some work to get things going, but I've known so many moms who went, "Well, I can't keep up and I'm going nuts, so I guess I'll have to wean, even though I would rather not." And the thing is, many of them don't /have/ to. It takes some more diligence to keep supply up (and how much diligence I'm sure varies from mom to mom), but the attitude on the part of some "Lactivists" burns more bridges than it builds.

And honestly, the more we can get mothers breastfeeding even /some/ beyond the first 3-6 months, the stronger support there will be for women and among women for making those institutional changes we need to protect mothers' rights to breastfeed if that's what they choose.

(Whoo! Pardon me! Who left that soapbox here? grin.)
Suze said…
thorny, i suppose i forgot about the whole deal with mothers with twins!! (a situation you're quite familiar with, eh?) i guess some people nurse twins without formula to help things along but i can't imagine how.
Becca said…
I had intended to breastfeed but wasn't able. My milk didn't come in and I didn't realize it (although now that I look back, I should have known since I never had engorgement, hardness, or pain that many of my friends complained about). CJ became jaundiced and dehydrated after four days, and I switched to formula for peace of mind. It's funny Tooz mentioned that Law and Order episode because that was going through my head, and I was determined NOT to be that mom.

I tried pumping to mix the formula with water, but I was only able to pump a little over 3 oz a day--barely enough for one feeding, let alone his only source of food. Eventually, that little bit of supply dried up completely. I'm still not sure what happened that I couldn't breastfeed.

In a way it was a blessing since it alleviated the concerns Tom and I had about equal parenting, and I wasn't sure how to handle pumping after going back to work. But I also regret that I couldn't, like maybe CJ and I missed out on something really cool. But then, I'm romanticizing the idea of breastfeeding without ever having the reality of the logistics.
Anonymous said…
I will never ever forget that day when I took you, maybe 2 weeks old, to the library where I used to work, to show you off. (You were an extraordinarily beautiful baby) I was descended upon ( attacked by?) a horde of successful breast-feeding moms who made me feel totally inadequate for not being able to do the same. I went home upset and dejected, where I was followed by a friend who had adopted a baby. She helped me immensely by putting the whole business into perspective. Now almost 30 years later, I can recall this incident without rancor, but it has taken many years to get over the hostile feelings engendered by those la leche extremists.

Popular Posts