Monday, March 16, 2009

"The case against breast-feeding"



The article, "The Case Against Breast-feeding," by Hanna Rosin (from this month's The Atlantic), has been discussed elsewhere various members of TRS. I found this interview with Dr. Nancy Snyderman and Hanna Rosin, which was on this morning's Today Show, really interesting. For the record, I like Snyderman a lot. Each time I see an interview with her, I think she gives really practical advice, especially about medical issues associated with kids, often saying things like "Here is what I'd say to do as a doctor, and here is what I have done as a parent." I like that she recognizes that there is often a disconnect b/w the medical science and parenting.

As for Rosin's argument that breast-feeding may not always be the best choice for mothers, I agree. I find her argument that few people consider the time commitment associated with breast-feeding really compelling. I devoted a lot of time to breast-feeding Wild Man, especially in the first year of his life. It became less time consuming the older he got, and I'm glad I was in a position to breast feed exclusively. Not all mothers are, and not all mothers want to. And rather than continue the debate (which I find to be remarkably like the working mom vs. the stay-at-home mom debate), we should accept that this is a highly personal decision.

Oh, and for the record, I also agree with Rosin that the scientific evidence touting the medical benefits of breast-feeding isn't particularly compeling. For more on this, read articles by Joan Wolf, including this one.

8 comments:

p-duck said...

Whether or not breast is scientifically best is irrelevant to me. I do think there is enough evidence (emotional, physical, etc) to support the APA's continued promotion of b-feeding; however, I agree that the advertising is sometimes hostile to women who do not breastfeed. What I find appalling is the lack of legal protection available to women who do breastfeed and the conflicting messages about when and where women can do so.

megsg-h said...

I posted this on Facebook a few days ago and wanted to reiterate here that I'm really interested in breastfeeding (and organic food, clothes, etc.) as a middle class status symbol. Any thoughts?

harrogate said...

Hmmm.

Harrogate can perhaps buy in the abstract anyway, the notion of breastfeeding as a middle class status symbol. Enough time on the mother's hands to do it, for one thing. And what you say about organic foods and clothes reminds Harrogate of the vaunted Hierarchy of Needs that, inevitably, one student a semester will cite in an English paper.

But then given what what Situationers have been writing and saying to one another for years now, Harrogate knows well that the whole notion of "hierarchy" with respect to how babies are being fed, is as controversial as it is constructed.

M said...

Megs, I don't know if these things are as much middle or upper-class status symbols as they are symbols of the educated (whatever that means), if that descriptor makes any sense. It seems to me the more educated we are the more we buy into the rhetoric of fear that surrounds breastfeading vs. formula feeding, BPA-free bottles, phalate free skin products, and organic food and clothing. Granted, education and class often go hand in hand.

P-duck, what bother me about the scientific evidence is that it is often misleading. By promoting the adage "Breast is best," we set many, many mothers up for failure and guilt. The scientific research I've read actually suggests that breastfeeding has more long-term benefits for the mother than it does for the baby, and this point is rarely, if ever, discussed.

megsg-h said...

Ah, Maslow and his needs. These are really good points. I'm especially interested in your idea about education, M. I think that education status may lead to the desire for the hyper-natural, whatever that means. But you still need money to buy those things. And, frankly, no one in Queens seems to be able to afford it all. Brooklyn, on the other hand...

M said...

Megs, I've seen several studies (here's one that I found quickly: http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract;jsessionid=71ED963336AC47924AA2B1BD771A6089.tomcat1?fromPage=online&aid=4435504) that suggest that the more education a mother has the more likely she is to breastfeed. So women who have had attended college for some period of time are more likely to try to breastfeed than women who only went through high school. I'd venture to guess that women who have graduate degrees are more likely to breastfeed longer, although I have absolutely no evidence to support this theory. Every woman I know from grad school has breastfed at least one of her children for some period of time, and the majority chose to breastfeed for a year or more. There are also studies that suggest (and I'm not taking the time to find these right now) the health benefits that are often associated with breastfeeding are likely the result of lifestyle choices made by the parents rather than solely the benefits of breastfeeding. It seems mothers who breastfeed are more likely to eat a healthier diet, exercise, and make similar choices for their kids than moms who don't--this is something our friend Sarah has long argued, and a point I totally agree with.

What most interests me about Rosin's article is the idea that breastfeeding doesn't occur without some cost to the mother. When I recall the many, many late nights spent nursing Wild Man or the numerous days I spent on the couch nursing Wild Man, I know what cost she is speaking of. I know I'm going to take some flack for this next comment, but I sacrificed a lot--in terms of my freedom to do things on my own, to go out with friends, and to work--in order to breastfeed Wild Man for as long as I did. Part of that is due to the fact that he never liked taking a bottle, and even more of it is due to my insistence that he not have formula, ever. Don't get me wrong; I loved breastfeeding Wild Man (well, at least, 85% of the time), and I plan to breastfeed Z. But I realize something now that I didn't realize when I was pregnant with Wild Man: breastfeeding my kid isn't going to make him superhuman. It isn't going to guarantee that he won't ever be sick. It isn't going to make him smarter, or friendlier, or better adjusted to the rigors of the world.

Nowadays I find myself thinking giving Z some formula now and then might not be the worst thing in the world if it means I get to get out of the house a bit more often and don't have to plan my whole day around my breast pump.

M said...

One more thing, Meg. Now that we can no longer afford to buy as much organic food as we did before moving to CU Land (organic milk averages $8 a gallon in CU land, and as we go through a gallon and a half a week, we buy regular, hormone-laced milk, which only costs about $4 a gallon), I find myself staring longingly at all the organic items we used to buy. I was actually jealous of a woman I saw in the grocery store a few weeks ago. As I watched her unload her entire cart full of organic products, I became so upset and guilt-ridden that we can't afford to buy organic products for Wild Man anymore. So, are organic products a middle-class status? Maybe, but for me, they are also guilt-inducers and their very existence serves to remind me of my failings as a parent. And that is something I totally think the rhetoric of fear that so many of us buy into anticipates. It seems to me the logic of those who make organic products is that if they scare parents enough we'll pay any price to get the "best" for our kids.

megsg-h said...

M, thanks for the studies. I'll check that out. I want to write more about this after kiddie bedtime, but I will quickly say, no flack from me! (Both of my girls got formula in the hospital and in the first weeks thereafter, either as a calorie supplement--Kid A--or a when-I'm-at-my-best-friend's-wedding-and-the-milk-runs-out--Kid B).