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The Preemptive Strike on Breastfeeding

All around the internet, women are circulating an article. Whether you’re formula-feeding and proud or an out-and-about breastfeeder, this article is for you.

When people say that breast-feeding is “free,” I want to hit them with a two-by-four. It’s only free if a woman’s time is worth nothing

After I wrote a blog called “Formula is Voldemort“, Crimson Wife shared the link to this, er, interesting op-ed.

Hanna Rosin wrote “The Case Against Breastfeeding” for the Atlantic. Monday, it was reposted on MSNBC.
Her argument is that breastfeeding isn’t nearly as beneficial as its made out to be.
At best, kids get a few less tummy aches and colds.
At worst, breastfeeding is a tool that keeps us from true equality with men.

Rosin breastfed her two older children. Now for her third, she is questioning the benefits.
She lives in this uber-urban world where mamas compare organic snacks and clothing for their kids and choosing not to breastfeed would turn her into a leper with the other yoga moms. She’s trying to have a career and juggle her children and her marriage, and she wants to quit.

This time around, nirvana did not describe my state of mind; 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.

Go ahead and read the article. Then we’ll discuss. It’s three pages, so you might want to put the baby on a leash, or at least in a baby cage, so you can have peace for a few minutes. I wouldn’t want you to be hindered by the chil’ens.

Too harsh? Maybe. I don’t fault Rosin for choosing not to breastfeed, though her science (degree?) is questionable. Breast is best, but you already knew that. I’m a recovering formula-feeder myself. And I promise, I definitely noticed a difference when Little L quit breastfeeding at 10 months. Immune system, shmimune system. Bless you!

Rosin poses that the science on breastfeeding is flawed. Even the sibling studies. Older one breastfed, younger one not = older one has better immune system. But what if, she says, we were more careful, as all parents are, with the first child? You know, keeping the pacifier clean and not letting the cat climb on baby’s face? But by the second or third, we’re like, “Hey, it won’t kill ’em!” Yes, good argument.

But what about me and others like me? I was once a single mom, so my first did indeed get doted on. But now I have a dh and a Baby E, who has breastfed longer and is healthier. In my relationship with Mark, I have a bit more peace of mind and solidarity, so I feel more supported. And Baby E is indeed getting treated like “the first”, because he is our first. Anecdotal evidence says breastfeeding improves health. I’d put my anecdotal evidence against Rosin’s any day.

But here’s what I believe happened to this woman. She confused “feminism” with “just like men”. I’ve been a feminist since I knew what the word meant. And I’ve got a confession: the more feminist I became over the years, the more domestic, too. Yep, during my Women’s Studies education in college, right after my “Shaving Your Head and Growing Your Armpit Hair” class, I’d go home and try out a new recipe from my cookbook or hand-sew backless hippie shirts. I’m not sure that was a cause & effect type of relationship. Rather, I was probably doing what we all do in college: becoming a whole person.

Somewhere along the way, it seems like Rosin was told that to be “equal” meant to be “the same”. Let me give some her some news: women have breasts. Breasts make breastmilk. Breastmilk is for feeding human children.

(One could also argue that breasts are also for attracting mates, considering other primates don’t have the prominent T&A that human females do, but I digress. Point is, there’s also a useful purpose to the boobies.)

Rosin could also argue that having our periods makes us unequal to men. In the corporate world, we have to spend a bit more time in the washroom one week a month. There’s an argument, then, that if we took hormonal birth control year-round, we’d never have our periods and therefore “be equal”. Sure, we might be off our rockers and pumping millions of dollars into pharmaceutical companies, but that’s what we do with formula!

Let’s not think that just because our amazing bodies were made to do something like give birth or breastfeed or menstruate, we’re not equal.

Anyone else think that the corporate, working world should bend toward equality? How about bringing your baby to work? Paid maternity leave? (Or paternity leave, for that matter?) Working from home? Tossing on a sling and getting everything done? Works for Sarah Palin and Kathleen Sebelius.

I think that Rosin, who is a helluva writer and will no doubt be successful in any arena, chose to give up breastfeeding her youngest child. It worked for her; it was a choice that she made for her family. Then, as an intelligent, articulate woman, she made the “Case Against Breastfeeding”. She attacked the act of feeding our children naturally because she knew that in her little world, she’d be the one attacked.

In my world, out here on my island deep in the country, what I do (that is, feed my child) is seen as odd. Especially for a year-old. But just because I’m the outcast of my little niche doesn’t mean I’m going to point fingers at the other side.

“Beat the Formula Feeder” is indeed one of those familiar blame games. But how about “Gape at the Public Breastfeeder“? That’s also a popular one.

One thing I like to say about parenting is that you’re going to be wrong no matter what you do. Somewhere, someone will question your parental choices. And once they’re old enough, your kids will join in the fun.

Rosin took a preemptive strike against breastfeeding. Though I think she’s wrong in her reasoning, I don’t fault her for choosing formula for her child. I fault her for attacking the natural processes of my body in the name of feminism.

I, too, have bought into the wealth of studies about the benefits of breastfeeding. Silly ol’ me!:

Related links:

For the intelligent breastfeeder: “Response to ‘The Case Against Breastfeeding‘” and The case against “The Case Against Breastfeeding”.
My bloggy interview with my Breastfeeding Guru friend on extended breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding for Working Mamas, our guide to help you adjust to the corporate world. (Sorry, doesn’t help with your boss’s bad jokes.)
Breastfeeding is a Feminist Issue.

Image: Raphael Goetter on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.


  1. Veggiemomma says:

    Ahhh! I read her article before reading your response and I was in tears! What kind of person would want to give up what makes them, as a woman, unique? Why did she have children at all? Being pregnant and bearing children is only something a woman can do, so therefore the ‘equality’ ends there. My thoughts were on par with what you’ve written here as I read the article. Penis envy is not feminism. Feminism should be celebrating everything that is truly feminine–and what is more uniquely feminine than pregnancy and breastfeeding? It’s something only we can do and it should be celebrated. Don’t even get me started on her ‘scientific’ side of it. No benefits? I think I’ll stick with DOCTOR Sears!

  2. This article is a great response to Hanna Rosin’s “The Case Against Breastfeeding”. Instead of knocking down breastfeeding and the evidence behind breast milk is best, maybe Rosin could have directed her article towards giving her audience some strong evidence that formula IS the “better” choice. I didn’t feel she gave us much of an argument. She certainly did not give me a reason to decide against breastfeeding or to falter in my opinion that I am giving my babies (currently breastfeeding twins)the best start in life. When Rosin commented that “when people say that breast-feeding is “free,” I want to hit them with a two-by-four. It’s only free if a woman’s time is worth nothing.” I shook my head in disbelief! Yes, true, my time is priceless..but I’m more than willing to spend it bonding with and breastfeeding my twins.

  3. You wrote a great article! My son turned two and I am still breastfeeding him. I have noticed that many people feel the need to validate their parenting choices to others, and in many cases that takes the form of putting down the other side in order to make themselves feel better. Sad that it has to be that way.

  4. As the 1st time husband of a 1st time mom who is struggling to breastfeed I have to say that it appears to me Mrs. Rosin’s issue isn’t breastfeeding it’s priorities and insecurities. I’m not casting aspersions on her, we all have trouble with priorities and insecurities and I see it on a daily basis with my wife.

    She is using “selling points” as reasons. To expand on Ms. Nelson’s point, female humans are mammals which means they have mammaries – oh wait, that’s where the word mammal comes from – in order to produce milk to feed their babies. And equal is nowhere close to same – an illiterate, rural 18 year old and a 90 year old retired corporate CEO are not the same but under the law they are supposed to be treated equally.

    As my wife is struggling with the isolation and boredom of being a stay-at-home nursing mom so it appears is Mrs. Rosin but Mrs. Rosin seems to be really conflicted about what the priority is. I’ve had this discussion with my wife on more than one occasion. First, she has a choice – no need to hate the game if you can’t play, or choose not to. If the other moms look down on you that needs to be their issue, its your baby, and your choice. Second, if you observe other mammals, a nursing mother does nothing but. Heck for that matter, if you look at traditional societies nursing mothers do little more. The infant strapped to them at all time and they continue the work the community of women do in that society. There is no shame in that. The problem, as I have discovered it, is that moms of newborns, especially breastfed newborns, are isolated. They don’t participate in the community of woman unless they make an effort. Its sad to see Mrs. Rosin is struggling so much but again, its not breastfeeding that is the issue.

  5. THANK YOU FOR YOUR RESPONSE..I read that article after I saw the ridiculous piece on the Today show (NBC).
    Her pathetic conclusion in the article is “Well I guess breast feeding on the whole is good for the baby..but it really is a personal choice!” No Duh! Any mother can tell you that..Also I don’t rely on non medical people to read and understand and then explain to me medical articles.
    But the really sad part is this..that in order to be equial women must be like men…how about in order to be equal women are celebrated for their unique biological abilities and society works to accomodate them..like a longer paid materinity leave, work provided day care, breast feeding or breast pumping rooms or at least a small pvt area! Just because I am a woman and mother does not mean I am not equal to a man or deserve the same accomodations in this culture..at the end of the day this is the lesson Mrs. Rosin does not ‘get’ and her entire insecurity stems from a petty sense of ‘competition’ at the play ground. How sad to see a woman give up her power to ask for change and to create change for her self and her children.
    PS I am a new mom who ‘combo’ feeds because I also work full time. I do have a sense of guilt everytime I feed my child formula but I also know I am doing the best I can in the circumstances I live. I love my son and I do belive he has a happy, confident mom…isn’t that also important?

  6. Great response to a very silly article.

    I really liked what your commenter Jai had to say as well.

    Great thoughts for my day.

    oh i’m an extended breastfeeder, so you are preaching to the choir here. Love it.

  7. Thanks for the great responses!
    I also posted this blog on Nature’s Child, where one of the study authors for the “Formula is Voldemort” blog (http://ecochildsplay.com/2009/03/11/formula-is-voldemort-or-that-which-must-not-be-named/) responded personally. He had much more to say about the differences between formula and breastmilk, and also mentioned other researchers who believed that breastfeeding is a feminist issue.
    Of course, I won’t vilify formula to you guys. We ALL must make choices for our families based on what we can handle. But I hope that Rosin and her silly argument won’t be part of your decision!
    Check out the great comments here:

  8. Thanks to JAi for his sympathy! To those who proclaim Rosin’s article “silly”- shame on you! You are just like those “uber-urban” moms who look down on those of us who can’t or won’t breastfeed. I tried to nurse my newborn- didn’t sleep for 48 straight hours because of the mental anguish and physical pain I was in trying to do this. My loving husband was perfectly fine with switching to formula and it saved all of us I think.

    And to all those studies that claim a bit higher IQ and less illness and “better behaved” children because of breastfeeding… I certainly have not seen that in my own experience. I have seen nursed children who were much more sickly than my formula-fed infant, and they are much more clingy crying toddlers!! As far as IQ- as far as I can see in my own reading that really doesn’t predict that your child will be a better student or have a better life. Many more circumstances come into play there.


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