It appears that the breastfeeding debate continues to rage and divide women. I was SHOCKED when I read “The Case Against Breastfeeding” by Hanna Rosin in the Atlantic.
The article is prefaced with, “In certain overachieving circles, breast-feeding is no longer a choice—it’s a no-exceptions requirement, the ultimate badge of responsible parenting. Yet the actual health benefits of breast-feeding are surprisingly thin, far thinner than most popular literature indicates. Is breast-feeding right for every family? Or is it this generation’s vacuum cleaner—an instrument of misery that mostly just keeps women down?”
Seriously? Breastfeeding is a life sucking vacuum? That’s not the experience I remember so well. My children breastfeed for 14-16 months each (depending on the child) and I didn’t resent one single moment of it. (Plus, I’m lazy, so breastfeeding was perfect… no bottles to wash, formula to mix, I didn’t even have to get out of our bed at night.)
In Ms. Rosin’s breastfeeding bash, she fails to mention any of the POSITIVE benefits of breastfeeding for Mothers:
- Reduced chance of breast cancer
- Reduced risk of ovarian cancer
- Less likely to experience postpartum depression
- Reduced risk of developing adult onset (type 2) diabetes
The United States Department of Health and Human Services points out the cost savings ($1,160 and $3,915 per year, depending on brand of formula), and points out several societal benefits of breastfeeding:
- Breastfeeding saves on health care costs. Total medical care costs for the nation are lower for fully breastfed infants than never-breastfed infants since breastfed infants typically need fewer sick care visits, prescriptions, and hospitalizations.
- Breastfeeding contributes to a more productive workforce. Breastfeeding mothers miss less work, as their infants are sick less often. Employer medical costs also are lower and employee productivity is higher.
- Breastfeeding is better for our environment because there is less trash and plastic waste compared to that produced by formula cans and bottle supplies.
If you are reading this, you are probably aware of the benefits. We all must stand together against blatant attacks against this primal food source. We were intended to provide milk for our children (I realize that not everyone can, so don’t go all defensive on me) and breastfeeding contributes to strong bond formation between mother and child.
Take a minute, read the article, and take a stand for women and families. The United States Breastfeeding Committee had this to say: “A storm is brewing against breastfeeding with the publication of Hanna Rosin’s article in the April 2009 issue of The Atlantic. Rosin was also featured on the Today show on March 16 with NBC News Chief Medical Editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman. Although their discussion deplorably misrepresented the medical research on breastfeeding, it also appropriately highlighted a much bigger issue: it can be very challenging to achieve optimal breastfeeding recommendations in the United States.”
Join the United States Breastfeeding Committee and write a letter to the editor of the Atlantic to let him know that perpetuating this divide among mothers will not be tolerated.
Photograph by Raphael Goetter on Flickr under Creative Commons License.
I actually thought the article “The case against Breast Feeding” was well written and very thoughtful. It was also written by a woman who had breast fed her children herself. In her own words “I dutifully breast-fed each of my first two children for the full year that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends. I have experienced what the Babytalk story calls breast-feeding-induced “maternal nirvana.” But at the point of writing this article, she had come to question claims about the extreme benefits of breast feeding, questioning the difference in how popular literature and medical literature understand the benefits. She also brought a feminist consciousness to the topic and asked “WHY” breast feeding was supposed to be a feminist activity when in many cases it puts additional strain on a working mother.
It is extremely unfair to say she didn’t say anything good about breast feeding. When she looked at the medical benefits (documented in medical journals and scientific studies), she found “that breast-feeding is probably, maybe, a little better; but it is far from the stampede of evidence that Sears describes.” Given the very large claims in the popular literature makes about allergies, mother-infant bonding, IQ, leukemia, cholesterol, and diabetes, I think it is very important that these claims be backed up by sound medical evidence.
On page two, she says “So overall, yes, breast is probably best. But not so much better that formula deserves the label of “public health menace,” alongside smoking. 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.” Sounds reasonable to me.
At the end, we find that her personal decision was to “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.” And finally, she says that while she has ambivalent feelings about breast feeding and the way it has been pushed on mothers today- she also says that she will miss it.
I don’t see how anyone can construct this as an “attack on breast feeding” that we should take a stand against. This post itself portrays the exact phenomenon the author wrote about- women shunning other women for thinking critically about breast feeding. I am pregnant myself and plan on breast feeding for at least the first six months on the chance that it does benefit my baby. I can’t say how long I will or will not continue- but I will certainly weigh the benefits and try to critically evaluate them. As a thinking, feminist woman planning on pursuing a career, that is my right, and I hope others respect it just as I respect thinking, feminist women who choose to devote themselves to raising their children, with or without breast-feeding.
I certainly respect Ms. Rosin’s thoughtful presentation of a topic from an alternative perspective- reading about anything uncritically from one-side is highly unlikely to result in a fair or balanced perspective on it. (And yes, I will be reading and have read plenty of wholly positive articles on breast-feeding.)
Wow did she ever stop to wonder how humans as a species have survived for so long on breastfeeding alone? Sure formula is great if there are cases where a baby can’t nurse for whatever reason but honestly…it is obviously what we are meant to do. I dont’ bash her about not doing it why does she seem so hell bent on bashing women who do. I love when supposed educated people seem so not educated…oh yeah and while she was making her rediculous statement about how it isn’t good for us, did she bother to do research on the ways formula can harm children…chemical soup anyone.
I’m with you…really ?!? really ?!?
Jamie Ervin says
Sea- I definitely see your point, I didn’t say that Ms. Rosin failed to mention any positive breastfeeding benefits, what I said was that she failed to mention any of the positive benefits for the Mother. She was quick to bash all the positive health benefits (which are scientifically backed and endorsed by all major health organizations) for baby without looking at the bigger picture. IMO, if she felt this negatively about breastfeeding then perhaps she shouldn’t have. After all, it is a choice, the formula manufacturers have made sure of that.
Crimson Wife says
I think Ms. Rosin recognized the difficulty that moms face in trying to both exclusively BF their babies and have a demanding career. But she came to the totally wrong conclusion. Instead of bashing BF, she ought to be calling for paid maternity leave as is standard in virtually all other developed nations.
Wow, I gotta say that I’m a little surprised at this reaction. At the end of it all, I felt like Rosin was saying that we shouldn’t divide ourselves into these artificial camps – women who breastfeed vs. all other mothers. Shouldn’t we just be supporting mothers, any way we can?
It seems to me the larger, unasked question, overshadowed by the focus on breastfeeding, is, “What is a mother worth?” It’s heartbreaking that Rosin considers her free breast milk worthless because she does not get paid money for the time she spends breastfeeding her child. It’s a tragic fact that, today in America, a woman can make a comfortable living and have a satisfying career as a chef, teacher, daycare provider, chauffeur or nurse, among many other things, but when performing any of these services as the mother of her own children, many people believe she is wasting her time. She receives no paycheck or quarterly evaluation; it’s likely she has no special training. It is shameful that formula manufacturers make such enormous profits through the sale of their vastly inferior product; however, these days even Dr. Sears and La Leche League are finding ways to make money off nursing mothers. There is no one right answer for everyone, but one thing is certain: babies need their mothers. Mother substitutes are expensive, and companies thrive through promoting the belief that they are necessary. Women, mothers and otherwise, have a deep, human need to be valued — by themselves and those around them. It’s no wonder that modern women feel so conflicted. I applaud Ms. Rosin’s honesty and hope that her article helps guide us toward what is truly needed: better support for families.
Glenni Lorick says
I couldn’t agree more with you! I was appalled when I first read Ms. Rosin’s article. Interestingly enough, the next day I came across a study from Australia that seems quite relevant, so I blogged about it at http://conservativegranolamommies.blogspot.com/2009/03/atlantic-monthly-meets-scientific.html
Thanks so much for your post!