Sunday, March 15, 2009

Breastfeeding vs. The BlackBerry

Check out "The Case Against Breastfeeding," by Hanna Rosin, in this month's Atlantic.

I read the article as I was breastfeeding my 15-month-old, trying to put him to bed at night. It was the first moment, after a full day at work, that I could relax, yet I was getting worked up. Rosin may be right about the slim evidence about breast feeding's benefits. But having studied the social and scientific approaches to childbirth around the world over the last million or so years, I know that evidence doesn't matter much. The real driver behind the decisions women make regarding pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period have more to do with fashion and zeitgeist. Right now, our culture says breast is best. Just ask Angelina Jolie. However, Rosin's point about breast feeding being a tool to keep women down in the way that Hoover vacuums did in the 1950s? Absurd. My BlackBerry is a far worse offender. It is a cynical and exhausted woman who thinks of breastfeeding as another thing on her to-do list. Yet we've all been there. Especially those of us with more than one child. But the real issue is not breastfeeding; it's everything else: The laundry, grocery shopping, mortgage, preschool tuition, and clients who don't care how many times a baby woke you up the night before. Instead of backbiting at the playground mommy circle over who is formula feeding, wouldn't it be more productive to fight the system over the fact that women are paid less than men for the same work? Or directing that energy toward fighting for paid maternity leave -- or even an unpaid leave of any substantial amount of time -- for all women of America?


cristymuranda said...

You are so right.

jomama said...

Amen! Breastfeeding has been nothing but empowering to me. Even as I tandem nurse my 3 year old and 12 month old and work outside the home full time. To know that I can nourish my children in addition to all I take on gives me confidence in my strength as a woman.

mfindley said...

Um, busy working mom of 2 here. Breastfeeding was never "an item on my to-do list" - it was the one chance I get to sit down and be peaceful and mindful with my baby. Same with pumping - a short break in my workday to do something for my baby. Breastfeeding isn't keeping me down - it never harmed my career - it lets me reconnect at home. You can have a negative perspective on anything. Or you can choose to see the blessings in life. Makes me almost sorry for that author.

Cassie said...

"Instead of backbiting at the playground mommy circle over who is formula feeding, wouldn't it be more productive to fight the system over the fact that women are paid less than men for the same work? Or directing that energy toward fighting for paid maternity leave -- or even an unpaid leave of any substantial amount of time -- for all women of America?"

yes! that's why it makes me absolutely sick that the atlantic perpetually promotes this mommy war bullshit instead of ever having some real pro-family, pro-woman reporting. this article made me want to tear my hair out!

pinky said...

Tina. YOu need not get worked up! I know it is easy to do. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.

I really liked you book. I thought it was fair and unbiased towards NCB.

In this day and age it is time for us to test what does and what does not work in childbirth using science.

I also agree with you when you say it is time to chane everything else. Business as usual in the hospital setting is not working for anyone involved. Not the patient, not the family of the patient, not the hcp. So what to do? ANy ideas?

Ani said...

i just spent some time with a postpartum mama who is having a hard time nursing and she said to me just what you have relayed Tina, that it wouldn't be nearly as difficult to persevere in nursing if there weren't other hungry kids, laundry, dishes, work, cultural expectations etc.... wouldn't it be lovely if our government could get off their high horse and supply postpartum doulas or nannies to women so they can do the most important work of nuturing?
i continue to nurse my 2+ yo because of the breif moment of silence (sort of)it gives and the reminder that THIS is what life is all about. we would all do well to have such gentle reminders

CfM Molly said...

You're absolutely right. The real issue isn't about "science" or "evidence" but about culture and society and how we treat women (and babies).


Sparkle Mommy said...

The scary thing about this article is the encouragement it is giving to new moms not to nurse. How awful, and the author admits she's been nursing for 28 months and counting. Her kids get the benefit of breastfeeding but other kids may not b/c of her article. Very saddening.

Yaminette said...

I really enjoyed reading your response and I totally relate as a breastfeeding mom of a 20 month old boy. I get mean looks when I am in public places and have been pressured to stop breastfeeding my child even when nursing has felt like a stress-reliever and very therapeutic to us, not in any way a burden.

I will say, however, that as a full-time working breastfeeding first time mom, it was very hard for me to feel like pumping was not burdensome at work because our society and culture is not "family friendly." My work environment was supportive, but it felt "strange" because I was part of a minority of women.

In fact, I went to a women's health care conference and when I asked for a space to pump, I was told to go into the bathroom (which I refused) and eventually given a space, which was not very private, but I managed. Eventually, I let the conference directors know that it was unfortunate for me to be shuffled around from person to person when I asked about where to pump; at leats I could speak up about it, but imagine all the other women who go through the same stuff and aren't as empowered?

All of this NEVER made me want to stop nursing my child, but it points to the double standards in our society of how breastfeeding is encouraged even when our society FAILS to support it through its institutions and bussinesses, etc. Why is that?

I will say that I understood the frustration expressed in the Atlantic article, even if I disagreed with it. It IS a valid question to ask and worth an important dialougue.

It goes beyond pragmatism into thinking about what we value as a society and culture. What do we do that promotes and un-family-friendly environment--maybe we're perpetuating living up to certain individualistic standards that hurt us all as families in the end.

Any thoughts?

mel817ski said...


First off I have read your book "Birth" and loved it. I just stumbled upon your blog today and thought, "Where do I know that name from?...Oh Yeah!!" I am an L&D nurse in a large urban hospital in the Northeast and am faced with the current crisis of maternity care in America on a daily basis. When I read Rosin's article I started to cry. I was so upset at how it could potentially harm the breastfeeding community, nevermind her poor, incomplete research and ridiculous, not revolutionary, conclusions. I had to blog about it myself! So as for your comment:

"Wouldn't it be more productive to fight the system over the fact that women are paid less than men for the same work? Or directing that energy toward fighting for paid maternity leave -- or even an unpaid leave of any substantial amount of time -- for all women of America?"

All I can say is AMEN! Well put! Thanks for your amazing book :)


Adirondack Autumn said...

Oh my freaking GOD!!!

The benefits of breastfeeding are in NO way slim for either mother or baby!!!!!!

Just a few days ago there was research outlining cardiovascular benefits for mom along with the benefits for babies...Then there are the well documented anti cancer benefits for moms (Ovarian and breast) and the fact that breastfed babies are statistically healthier than their bottle fed counterparts.

I could go on and on...and on!!

Tapa said...

I read this article too, and my first thought was that, of course her child will do fine if she feels she needs to feed formula this time around.

So, why can't she just stop worrying about what the other moms at the playground think and make her own, personal, decision, instead of writing this article equating breastfeeding with another form of "keeping women down?" This ignores the vast advantages we women have in bonding with our children in such a physical way. As the current economy shows, what's more important - money, or family? I've certainly "given up" alot with caring for my son, but I wouldn't give up anything that I've gained by doing so.

Breastfeeding is one of the most beautiful things I've ever done in life, and I wouldn't take back a day of my son's 18 months of nursing. I still miss those moments with him.

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