Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Case Against ‘The Case Against Breastfeeding’

Many of you may have seen Hanna Rosin’s article ‘The Case Against Breastfeeding’ in The Atlantic. You may have heard it referenced, most commonly by mothers who chose not to breastfeed for personal reasons. If not, here’s a link. Grab your vomit bucket before you read it because you are about to be bombarded by a claptrap of whining and self-pity.

Done reading? Good. Now let’s pick this apart, shall we?
“In certain overachieving circles, breast-feeding is no longer a choice—it’s a no-exceptions requirement, the ultimate badge of responsible parenting.”
According to Rosin breastfeeding has only recently become a requirement. How interesting! I thought it was something all mammals have been doing in order to survive for thousands of years. You would think us overachievers would have known that!
“Yet the actual health benefits of breast-feeding are surprisingly thin, far thinner than most popular literature indicates”
Actually there are no health benefits to breastfeeding. You see, breastfeeding is what is biologically normal. Anything less is simply inferior.
“Is breast-feeding right for every family?”
While it may not be the preferable choice for every mother, it is the right choice for every baby. Anyone who argues otherwise is severely misinformed on human infant physiology.
“Or is it this generation’s vacuum cleaner—an instrument of misery that mostly just keeps women down?”
Again Rosin seems to think that breastfeeding is a new fad. If you are miserable and its keeping you down I think it’s safe to say: You’re doing it wrong.

Next Rosin muses about the times she told other mothers that she was planning to stop breastfeeding after one month. She says she ended up “…in the class of mom who, in a pinch, might feed her baby mashed-up Chicken McNuggets.” Is that really such an unfair comparison to lump together mothers that knowingly feed their infant an inferior product? What is really in infant formula? Let’s take a look at Enfamil, the most popular brand of formula in the United States:
• Cow milk, a substance designed for a 100 lb. creature with three stomachs.
• Extra lactose to sweeten it up a bit (and we wonder why so many people are lactose intolerant!)
• Palm Olein Oil, a modified triglyceride, which is known to cause constipation in most formula fed babies.
• Soy milk, a substance known to cause hormonal problems, especially in boys (and we wonder why kids are hitting puberty so much earlier these days!)
• Excessive amounts of iron, turning baby’s feces green and contributing to lowered I.Q. and other neurodevelopmental delays (For more on that see Martha Kerr’s 2008 research study "Neurodevelopmental Delays Associated With Iron-Fortified Formula for Healthy Infants," Medscape Psychiatry and Mental Health ).
• Whey, a waste by-product of producing certain dairy products, particularly cheeses. Now dairy factories have a place to send their trash!
• Melamine, a dangerous chemical which causes kidney damage.
That’s just brushing the surface. I could keep going but I think you get the point. Let’s continue with Mrs. Rosin.
“From the moment a new mother enters the obstetrician’s waiting room, she is subjected to the upper-class parents’ jingle: “Breast Is Best.” Parenting magazines offer “23 Great Nursing Tips,” warnings on “Nursing Roadblocks,” and advice on how to find your local lactation consultant (note to the childless: yes, this is an actual profession, and it’s thriving).”
Yet more contempt for those who promote breastfeeding. What a horror that soon-to-be-moms are bombarded with information designed to help them and their infants! Yet Rosin fails to mention that pregnant women are also besieged with formula advertisements and samples from the day they get pregnant until the day they take their baby home from the hospital or longer (hell, I got an unwanted sample of “Next Step” formula for my toddler in the mail just the other day!). How dare those parenting magazines squeeze in breastfeeding related articles in between all of the formula ads! It appears she doesn’t have much respect for lactation consultants. I suppose it’s better to be a woman who writes articles full of misinformation than to be someone who helps mothers successfully feed their babies.
“I was launching a new Web site and I had two other children to care for, and a husband I would occasionally like to talk to. Being stuck at home breast-feeding as he walked out the door for work just made me unreasonably furious, at him and everyone else.”
I’m not sure how breastfeeding would interfere with your ability to talk. I think that would, again, fall under the “you’re doing it wrong” category. But there is no reason at all for breastfeeding to keep you stuck at home. If you can bring bottles, water, and formula out with you and find somewhere to measure, mix, and warm your formula than surely you can find somewhere to sit down and lift one side of your shirt!
I’d like to take a moment to point out a few subtleties in Rosin’s article such as “…ratio of tasteful wooden toys to plastic…” and “…barking at my older kids to get their own organic, 100 percent juice.” It seems like Rosin feels pressured by any suggestion she receives as a parent and only listens to them because she is pressured. I suppose if she wouldn’t be looked down upon by other mothers Rosin would be content to give her children formula, lead-filled plastic toys, and sugared down juice cocktails. Maybe it’s a good thing there’s so much pressure put on her. Her motives are never “I’m going to do this because it’s best for my child” but instead are “I’m going to do this so people will shut up and leave me alone.”
Rosin then spends several paragraphs trying to poke fun at the hippie founders of La Leche League and then moves on to a weak attempt at debunking research studies that have shown breastmilk’s superiority over formula. There’s no point even attempting to correct her claims, anyone can easily search and find hundreds of studies showing how much healthier breastfed infants are and how their health risks proportionately decrease as the amount of time they breastfeed increases. She argues that observational studies don’t take into account other factors, like the fact that higher income educated women are more likely to breastfeed. This is true, and may affect the studies showing that breastfed infants have higher IQs and lower obesity rates. But do diabetes, heart disease, ear infections, and other illnesses magically know whether your mom went to college and has a lot of money? Probably not.
“Given what we know so far, it seems reasonable to put breast-feeding’s health benefits on the plus side of the ledger and other things—modesty, independence, career, sanity—on the minus side, and then tally them up and make a decision.”
According to Rosin, the negative impacts of breastfeeding are “--modesty, independence, career, [and] sanity—“. If she thinks modesty has anything to do with it she is clearly a part of the “breastfeeding is offensive” crowd, people who think that nursing mothers should have to hide their breasts. They do nothing but make breastfeeding difficult and uncomfortable for mothers and babies because of their own personal hang-ups. Apparently independence is more important to her than feeding her baby properly. Of course, if she really needed to get away from the baby for a while all she would have to do is pump breastmilk and let daddy feed the baby. As far as career goes, there are thousands of working and breastfeeding moms out there (see previous sentence, Re: pumping). And finally: sanity. If breastfeeding is driving you insane, once again I say… you’re doing it wrong!
“In 2004, the Department of Health and Human Services launched the National Breastfeeding Awareness Campaign. The ads came out just after my second child was born, and were so odious that they nearly caused me to wean him on the spot.”
Another stunning example of how she doesn’t do anything because she wants what’s best for her child – a commercial was almost enough to make her wean her son in protest.
Rosin complains about the unequal dynamic between a husband and a breastfeeding wife and how her husband continues to sleep while she is up during the night breastfeeding. This is a common argument you hear against breastfeeding, and yet is one that makes no sense. Who was the one waking up to pee all night long because of a pregnancy induced weak bladder? Who was the one that spent hours in labor pushing a baby out despite excruciating pain? It’s always the mother because it is her biological responsibility. That’s not an anti-feminist statement, it’s simply the truth. Perhaps Rosin and her cohorts will only be satisfied when they can make men get pregnant and give birth.

In Rosin’s conclusion she states,
“I continue to breast-feed my new son some of the time—but I don’t do it slavishly. When I am out for the day working, or out with friends at night, he can have all the formula he wants, and I won’t give it a second thought. I’m not really sure why I don’t stop entirely. I know it has nothing to do with the science; I have no grandiose illusions that I’m making him lean and healthy and smart with my milk. Nursing is certainly not pure pleasure, either; often I’m tapping my foot impatiently, waiting for him to finish.”
And that alone solidifies what I already knew: I feel quite sorry for her children. Besides the fact that she blatantly says that she only breastfeeds because society told her to, she admits that she is impatient and wants him to finish. She doesn’t care about his comfort or enjoyment, just that she does her duty and can get back to her life in which her son seems to be little more than an annoying accessory. If it is such a chore to feed your baby how nature intended that all you can do is gripe about how miserable it makes you and attempt to ridicule and belittle those who actually enjoy and support it then perhaps you just are not cut out to be a mother.

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  1. I can see where Rosin is coming from (she is more wrong that right, but...) - we don't like being judged for breastfeeding in public and yet there are many who are judging her for not breastfeeding at all. Can't we all just stop judging?!?!?

    Is it really better for the baby to be breast fed when this causes stress and anxiety for the mother? Certainly not! If you can't feed in public you should try to at least pump so your baby can eat "the good stuff". If you truly can't stand the idea of even pumping or your physician has informed you that you need to give your baby more, there are several "organic" type formulas that are much healthier than Enfamil.

    Why is Enfamil so popular? Because it is the only brand that WIC and Foodstamps will pay for. Yep, all women who have WIC and Foodstamps don't have much choice but to use this formula or breast feed - and most likely these women are working in places that don't provide a "breastfeeding friendly" environment - regardless of the FMLA. See both sides of this argument are forgetting that much of the population of this country is low-income and even when both parents are employed they can't seem to pull above the poverty line. These employers don't care if you have a kid - you work and you don't get anything extra - you should be happy that at least you get paid.

    Now, if you are a stay-at-home mom that can take her kids to the park for picnic on Wednesday morning then there should be NO QUESTION, there is no excuse for not breastfeeding! If you think you are "exposing yourself" there are LOTS of products out there to help you cover up comfortably. Get over it and move on!

    If your husband has a problem with you breastfeeding and talking to him or spending time with the family (in other words he's chaining you to the bedroom to feed) then tell him that he apparently has no need of more kids - or the activities that create them....[this is the point where you laugh]

    Please, we don't like when people judge us for feeding in public, so don't judge when someone chooses formula over breast because they really are not left with much other choice!

  2. But the thing is... Rosin breastfed all three of her kids! I also do not believe the whole "poverty makes you formula feed" thing one bit because my family of 4 is below the poverty line and I have nursed both children.

    If you don't want to breastfeed, alright fine, that's your choice.
    The problem with Rosin's article is that she makes breastfeeding out to be something horrible and completely unnecessary.

  3. I can't believe this article. Rosin is diluted. Obviously she is unhappy with her 'choice' if she chooses to call it that to nurse her children. Perhaps it would be better for the both of them to formula feed, at least that way her children could eat in peace and not get bombarded with anxiety,stress and hostility for just needed to eat or wanting comfort.

    I feel that everybody should at least attempt to breast feed, it is what nature intended. But if you cannot or for some reason 'choose' not to then fine whatever, it's not my children.

    I dislike when mothers rather formula feed over breast feed just so they could have what they consider 'freedom'. My SIL formula feeds so she can leave her daughter with my MIL almost every night so she can party. Those are the FF moms i can not stand. I understand that there are some moms who can not BF, but keep in mind that's roughly only 2% of all mothers.

    Also, i would like to point out that WIC does make you purchase either Enfamil or Similac. However with Food Stamps you can purchase whatever it is that you want. There is no Food Stamp rule/law dictating what a person has to buy, with the exception of oh Alcohol and Hot pre-cooked meals. (fyi)

  4. This post is perhaps the best response to Rosin's ridiculous article that I've read to date.

    When I first read her article, all I could think about was "What a selfish, judgemental woman!" From her writing, it seemed that anything in the best interests of her children just caused her hassel and inconvenience. Apparently she is more concerned with her own comfort. It makes me wonder why she even bothered having children, especially 3 of them!

    It is also obvious that she didn't bother to check any facts or completely research the literature she referred to.

    Absolutely ridiculous.

  5. Maybe the foodstamp laws are different in my county but I remember with my daughter trying to get something and was told I had to put it back and get enfamil brand stuff. I hope this has changed!

    We are below the poverty line too and both my kids were breastfed - my point is that some people really DON'T have the option to breastfeed because of the work they do; maybe they had to return to work VERY shortly after they had the baby and didn't develop milk to start with. Scary but it does happen. It is more common below poverty level because you do have to ask for some "special" privileges in order to pump at work or take time off work you probably can't afford - and if you are making minimum wage your employers are less likely to go out of their way for you. Also, formula is free through WIC or Food Stamps but not breast pump or storage supplies (usually). I guess my point is if you try, great, but there is often a reason that is work related that those of us below poverty can't stick to breast feeding very long. I was lucky with my kids - I worked at home with my son and with my daughter I found a 4-hour-per-day job so I was able to go at least 9 months with both. My daughter had extenuating circumstances with my ex-husband why she stopped and my son weaned himself about 14-months. I was a lucky low-income person, not all are so lucky! :(

    And my cousin was in that 2% that couldn't breastfeed. She lasted for about 2 months and the doctor told her she really wasn't making enough milk - but then her son and daughter both were trying to eat like 24/7, so add sleeplessness and stress to slow milk production and you get BIG problems! :)

    I love that a lady in my church recently told me she was given this Rosin article from someone else in the church - because she would come down to the nursery and feed her son in the nursery. No one working the nursery took offense but someone who happened to walk by the window did. This lady told that person that when they show her an article published in a scientific or healthy living/healthy parenting magazine - and it was proven accurate information - the she would take it into consideration! LOL

  6. Wow that is absolutely disgusting that someone offended by a woman feeding her baby would give them an anti-breastfeeding article. Who on earth would see that and say "Oh, she must be right. I'll stop breastfeeding then!" What on earth did that person hope to accomplish by giving her that?

  7. I feel like this article is a joke. Like, was she mocking someone? Or writing in parody or farce?
    No one can actually believe that stuff, right?

  8. I think Ms. Rosin might have D-MER. It's not that she's doing it wrong, it's that for her - like me - breastfeeding really, really, sucks.

    "Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex is a newly recognized condition affecting lactating women that is characterized by an abrupt dysphoria, or negative emotions that occur just before milk release and continuing not more then a few minutes."

  9. Just found you. My, you have a lot of followers for being so new! I have had friends who desperately wanted to exclusively breastfeed and never produced enough, so I sympathize with the guilt they feel. But really what is most fascinating is how the article kind of illuminates the barriers to breastfeeding in our society. I agree with you that the bit about husband-wife inequality is ludicrous because of pregnancy. It's hard to get around the fact that a woman pays a higher price for procreation and possibly gets a higher benefit (9 months of bonding before the father can, for example).

  10. Hi April,
    I'm still nursing an incredibly independent 23 month old who in most situations where she needs help, calls for her Daddy. When she is exhausted and wants to be held to fall asleep she asks for her Daddy also. I very much believe that the most important role for a father in the early months and beyond is to teach their children love comes in other forms. Love is not just milk. My daughter feels love and has since her birthday when her Daddy dances with her, holds her while walking and explaining their environment around, or by singing to her while he baths her. That is bonding. No father is deprived of that due to nursing, in fact their role, when it comes to bonding, could be considered just as important as Moms.

  11. lol I'm so sorry! Betsy (Eco-Novice), I have an aunt named April and haven't had enough coffee yet this morning! Forgive me!