The Case Against Breast-Feeding
March 16, 2009 1:21 PM   Subscribe

Hanna Rosin has written a piece for the Atlantic claiming that the actual health benefits of breast-feeding are surprisingly thin, far thinner than most popular literature indicates. This is pretty controversial following "decades of indoctrination delivered with evangelical fervor," causing American women "to take it as an article of faith that if they don’t breast-feed their children, they'll grow up to be underachievers plagued with health problems and lacking a bond with their mother".

For a more indepth discussion, see Mother's Milk, where Ms. Rosin and three friends discuss the science and culture of breast-feeding.
posted by ND¢ (109 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
I was adopted and so not breast fed, and I turned out all rright uzis bugs on face screaming blue monkeys.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:22 PM on March 16, 2009 [29 favorites]


The FPP should only be read if you are wearing one of these t-shirts.
posted by flarbuse at 1:26 PM on March 16, 2009


I'll confess that the headline furrowed my brow a little bit when I saw it. But then I read it, thought it was reasoned well, and found nothing objectionable in it.

I also think it's going to drive certain quarters into a frothing madness. My wife (who has nursed all of our children) hasn't read it yet, but I relayed the nut of the argument to her. Her response was along the lines of a shrug and a 'duh'.

Facts is facts, and the ironclad research just isn't there to support the rapturous claims, especially if you throw in the socio-economic stuff which seems like it's impossible to control for. I'll defer to the researchers here on that one.
posted by jquinby at 1:32 PM on March 16, 2009


One afternoon at the playground last summer, shortly after the birth of my third child, I made the mistake of idly musing about breast-feeding to a group of new mothers I’d just met. This time around, I said, I was considering cutting it off after a month or so. At this remark, the air of insta-friendship we had established cooled into an icy politeness...

Sneering at them as "overachievers" in a national magazine have been satisfying revenge.
posted by Joe Beese at 1:33 PM on March 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Having an eight-month-old, I can vouch for the fact that new mothers are strongly encouraged to breastfeed both by doctors and by other mothers. I remember my wife telling me that one of her friends said that she felt like giving her baby formula was like giving him poison. Which is funny because my mother-in-law was discouraged from breast-feeding by her mother in the 80's because she was told that breast-feeding was something that only poor people did.
posted by ND¢ at 1:37 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


The FPP should only be read if you are wearing one of these t-shirts.

I wonder how well those sell as a whole, and per design. This design seems to be an open invitation, and that creeps me out a bit.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:38 PM on March 16, 2009


I think the American fascination with huge breasts started with the widespread use of infant formula. It's one of my pet theories.
posted by Mister_A at 1:40 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is related, and since I almost posted it at the time, I'll throw it in here: Jill Lepore in the New Yorker on the history and contemporary role of the breast pump - she goes from wet nursing to milk banks to noting that breastfeeding used to be spurned by wealthy families to broader issues of maternal feeding anxiety. She calls into question whether this is just another form of anxiety around/within women, notes the dificulty of managing both breastfeeding and work in a society where the very best a working woman can expect is a six-month leave, and challenges readers to think about how important it really is, given that recommendation for universal breastfeeding is so recent.
posted by Miko at 1:43 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


From the intro: Or is it this generation’s vacuum cleaner—an instrument of misery that mostly just keeps women down?

A lot of women used vaccuum cleaners as vibrators. So there.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:45 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was breast fed until I was 14 so I consider myself superior to all you.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:46 PM on March 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Nurses at our hospital freak the mom's out but good on this one. Me, I'm more in favor of not pushing an already sleep-deprived, anxious parent over the edge with guilt. The ones that don't want to breastfeed will generally think your an ass for browbeating them. The one's that do but are having trouble rarely benefit from a lactation specialist making them feel worse. It always helps for me to remind them that a poor feeding effort/latch is pretty common. It took my wife and I two weeks and a third person sometimes to get our little bugger on there properly.

So yeah, someone with guts needs to step in and bring some sanity to this, because I can only do so much at six am.
posted by docpops at 1:47 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


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.

So "the case against breast feeding" appears to be: OK, maybe breastfeeding is better - but it's an embarrassing pain in the ass and I'd rather concentrate on my job.
posted by Joe Beese at 1:47 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yes, pretty poor title, Joe. It's really more like, "Breastfeeding: Maybe Not Quite as Awesome as You Heard. Still Fairly Awesome, Though."
posted by Mister_A at 1:50 PM on March 16, 2009 [14 favorites]


All of this breastfeeding controversy has a real element of titillation that is never honestly discussed - women argue one side, then the other, and lots of men tune in thinking, "Heh. Boobies." It wouldn't get near the media attention it does if some men didn't find it intriguing.

These articles are being published in part because the editors and publishers know how irresistible some men find boobs to be. Nobody will ever win these arguments. They're very genteel versions of jello wrestling, performance for the sake of the money and the male gaze.
posted by pomegranate at 1:50 PM on March 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


Suit yourself; all the more for me!
posted by not_on_display at 1:50 PM on March 16, 2009


I've never had children and I have no real dog in the breastmilk race but as long as the FDA doesn't make DHA mandatory instead of just a more expensive option in formula then the game is rigged and fucked up and weird and stupid and unfairly favors rich babies.

I do not blame mothers who can't or don't breastfeed for whatever myriad reasons, but I do blame a broken regulatory system that doesn't seem too interested in regulating.

And I have a cousin with a double cleft lip who couldn't latch, so I think of myself as pretty sympathetic to people who can't breastfeed.
posted by birdie birdington at 1:51 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


OK, maybe breastfeeding both parents staying at home all day with your children is better - but it's an embarrassing pain in the ass and I'd rather concentrate on my job.

Really, are we obligated to maximize the best-ness of all our childrearing strategies? Who should bear the brunt? Why? I know a lot of people who were breastfed and a lot who weren't, including me. The gains advertised seem incredibly minor compared to other, more impactful, health choices such as diet, exercise, a lead-free home, etc. There are a lot of things that are ideal for children. Should we do them all? If we think so, should women be responsible for doing them all - and making the sacrifices that entails?
posted by Miko at 1:55 PM on March 16, 2009 [15 favorites]


Why one would read "popular literature" for medical advice in the age of the Internet, I have no idea. I just go to any old website for info... No, really, you can read what real experts say pretty easily on the intertubes, right? I've never read anything substantive that said "breast only or le deluge." Besides, now that I have a newborn and a 15 month old in the house, I know for a fact that it is impossible to keep two youngin's from starvin' if you go breast-only. At least the way we do it...
posted by MarshallPoe at 1:55 PM on March 16, 2009


Do non-breast feeders get stigmatized? Really? Are there legions of people pointing at people in the baby formula aisle yelling "Shame! Shame ! Shammmmeeee!"
posted by GuyZero at 1:56 PM on March 16, 2009


I dunno, pomegranate, deciding what to feed your baby is a fairly important thing for many women. By "fairly" I mean "extremely, almost overwhelmingly." I don't think that such an important issue needs a titillation angle to justify an article in The Atlantic, but thanks for insulting men and women with your comment.
posted by Mister_A at 1:57 PM on March 16, 2009 [7 favorites]


Haven't we banished non-scientists opinions on science to the back room now that the Bush administration has been shut down?
posted by pianomover at 1:57 PM on March 16, 2009


Miko--don't you want your children to win?
posted by shownomercy at 1:57 PM on March 16, 2009


So "the case against breast feeding" appears to be: OK, maybe breastfeeding is better - but it's an embarrassing pain in the ass and I'd rather concentrate on my job.

I think its more like: OK, breastfeeding may be slightly better - but women are entitled to an honest appraisal of those benefits so that they can do a cost benefit analysis and decide whether they want to do it or not.
posted by ND¢ at 1:58 PM on March 16, 2009 [6 favorites]


My mother tried to breastfeed me but couldn't, and if her grandmother hadn't noticed I was malnourished I might have freaking died. Instead I'm just short and can't grow facial hair. To this day I still haven't figured out who to blame.
posted by tepidmonkey at 1:59 PM on March 16, 2009


Are there legions of people pointing at people in the baby formula aisle yelling "Shame! Shame ! Shammmmeeee!"

Not in the aisles, but it's pretty clear you don't read the comments section of mommy blogs.

And good for you. That's where the madness bubbles up to the surface.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:00 PM on March 16, 2009 [5 favorites]


Nice, I like how pomegranate's point was immediately backed up by not_on_display. Way to go!

When my mother had me and my siblings in the 60s/70s, she was strongly advised to feed us formula. It was a miracle of modern science! Exact nutrients! Way better than her inferior human milk. You might even say she was violating her doctor's orders by breast feeding us. Now women are being told their kids are gonna be a walking after school special if they don't breast feed. Hmmm...does anyone notice a trend? Whatever happens, you can always blame it on dear old mom, amirite?
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 2:01 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


When you're in the hospital after delivery, there is a lot of pressure to breastfeed as well. Advocates can get pretty zealous about it.
posted by Mister_A at 2:01 PM on March 16, 2009


A colleague of mine wrote about the paucity of the research on this back in 2006.

People really do go crazy about it. I was at a meeting of new mothers once and one had an extra case of formula (which can be quite expensive) and offered it to the others because her baby had to use another type. I forget why this one couldn't breast feed-- but her reason was seen as acceptable. Still, from their reaction, you would have thought she'd offered them a baby syringe of heroin-- so she just left it on top of a trash can and one of the mothers snuck back later to retrieve it.
posted by Maias at 2:03 PM on March 16, 2009


All of this breastfeeding controversy has a real element of titillation that is never honestly discussed

Hmmm. Good point. I think that the importance of the element of titillation to a discussion of the nutritional value of what you feed your baby versus the impact that decision has on the baby's mother may not be honestly discussed because THAT IS THE SINGLE DUMBEST STATEMENT I HAVE EVER READ IN MY ENTIRE LIFE.
posted by ND¢ at 2:04 PM on March 16, 2009 [11 favorites]


The person who wrote this article is not a scientist, and this is not a peer-reviewed survey of the medical literature. I hate articles like this because they want the reader to imply a conclusion different than the one that they make explicity. The expressly stated conclusion of the article is that the scientific literature is not unanimous on whether breast milk is generally better for babies than formula.

The conclusion the author wants you to implicity draw is that there is no difference between breast milk and formula. That statement is patently false.

Furthermore, the article makes distinctions such as the following:

Both the Kramer study and the sibling study did turn up one interesting finding: a bump in “cognitive ability” among breast-fed children....What’s more, the connection he found “could be banal,” he told me—simply the result of “breast-feeding mothers’ interacting more with their babies, rather than of anything in the milk..."The IQ studies run into the central problem of breast-feeding research: it is impossible to separate a mother’s decision to breast-feed—and everything that goes along with it—from the breast-feeding itself.

The scientific response to this is a big "So what?" If the benefits of breast feeding extend from all the aspects of the process other than the actual properties of the milk, that still suggests that breast feeding is better, because it is extremely unlikely that someone feeding a baby formula would duplicate the entire breast-feeding process.

More to the point, nothing in this article suggests that breast feeding is worse for the child than formula, and furthermore, none of the studies make clear which formula is just as good as breast milk. In fact, the entire point of the article seems to be to assuage the over-stressed mothers of their guilt for putting their babies on formula.

Why is this necessary? If you don't want to feel guilty, don't. If you are fed up with breast-feeding and want to stop, then stop. It's not my kid, I don't care what you do. It's not a law that you have to do it, and no one will care by the time the kid is 2. But don't pollute the discourse with self-interested articles that confuse your neuroses with scientific fact.

But don't pretend that there are no differences between formula generally and breast milk when there are absolutely zero studies that come to that conclusion, and a great many studies that demonstrate that breast milk is more beneficial than some specific brands of formula on some specific characteristics of the child. In other words, the literature seems to be that if you want to be certain that you are not subjecting the child to an inferior feeding option, you should breast-feed.

Is it a pain in the ass? It sure is. As are schlepping kids to piano practice, little league, paying for tutors and private school, etc. That's life.
posted by Pastabagel at 2:05 PM on March 16, 2009 [27 favorites]


So, I'd say there's a difference between people who are advocates and there being actual shaming. My read on it is that breastfeeding has benefits but that it's actually kind of a pain and is hard to start so if it wasn't for breastfeeding advocates a lot fewer people would do it. Plus breast feeding avoids issues like people thinning the formula if money is tight, etc.

you don't read the comments section of mommy blogs

No. The same way I don't read the comments on LGF - comments are where crazy people go to die - loudly.

uh, wait, you know, except here...
posted by GuyZero at 2:05 PM on March 16, 2009


These articles are being published in part because the editors and publishers know how irresistible some men find boobs to be.

Here is your point, expressed through video and music.
posted by pokermonk at 2:06 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


“Formula is wonderful,” she said.

So is ketchup.
posted by pianomover at 2:06 PM on March 16, 2009


Shoot! Link above is tasteful but probably NSFW.
posted by pokermonk at 2:06 PM on March 16, 2009


ND¢: "I think its more like: OK, breastfeeding may be slightly better - but women are entitled to an honest appraisal of those benefits so that they can do a cost benefit analysis and decide whether they want to do it or not."

Then I wonder why the author didn't title her piece "An Honest Appraisal of the Benefits of Breast-Feeding" - rather than "The Case Against Breast-Feeding".

Oh, right. The cheap attention.
posted by Joe Beese at 2:07 PM on March 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


Okay, fully read all 3 links (counting Miko's), and I have to say the Rosin piece was about a page and a half too long.

Seems to me that parents get enough messed up information as it is, and if I learned anything from the MMR vaccine thread it's that even in the face of overwhelming facts some parents are going to still choose what's in the worst interest of their child and society. I don't see a win in the breast feeding debate. With no clear choice I feel for anyone actually having an opinion on this issue.

It is nice to focus on something that doesn't really seem to matter either way for once.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:08 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Do non-breast feeders get stigmatized? Really? Are there legions of people pointing at people in the baby formula aisle yelling "Shame! Shame ! Shammmmeeee!"

Actually, sort of. I have a four month old, and I have twice been accosted by total strangers in public who saw me bottle feeding. And I live in Texas, not exactly a hippy-dippy hotbed of lactivism. I've also been told by a pediatrician colleague of mine that bottle feeding was "tantamount to child abuse." As a point of fact, I adopted my son and am currently pregnant, so lactation induction was not so much an option for us. That does not stop the crazy people.

So "the case against breast feeding" appears to be: OK, maybe breastfeeding is better - but it's an embarrassing pain in the ass and I'd rather concentrate on my job.

Hurray! The working-mothers-are-selfish brigade shows up early!
posted by LittleMissCranky at 2:10 PM on March 16, 2009 [11 favorites]


The scientific response to this is a big "So what?" If the benefits of breast feeding extend from all the aspects of the process other than the actual properties of the milk, that still suggests that breast feeding is better, because it is extremely unlikely that someone feeding a baby formula would duplicate the entire breast-feeding process.

But what about the obvious class implications? Working-class women are among those who are less likely to be able to manage lengthy breast-feeding, and use the most formula. They're also likelier to have less education and less cognitively challenging environments for their children. I don't think the problem is so much separating the breastfeeding process from the benefits of breast milk; I think it's separating the associated class factors with being able to breastfeed from the benefits of the milk.
posted by Miko at 2:11 PM on March 16, 2009 [11 favorites]


That does not stop the crazy people.

I tend to tune out crazy people so I have some observation bias I guess. Personally, I'd tell them I was undergoing chemotherapy and if that doesn't shut them up, also say I have an MRSA infection in one of my nipples. Because that kind of nosiness has nothing to do with public health policy and everything to do with begin an ass.
posted by GuyZero at 2:16 PM on March 16, 2009


begin an ass

I love that typo. I may use it as a play title.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:19 PM on March 16, 2009


Why is this necessary? If you don't want to feel guilty, don't. If you are fed up with breast-feeding and want to stop, then stop. It's not my kid, I don't care what you do.

Not everybody can act like that. People are subject to peer pressure, to social and family pressure. And the point this article makes is precisely that there is a prejudice (social unacceptance if you like) against mothers who don't breast feed. Not only that, women who aren't able to breastfeed or whose milk quality isn't enough to nourish their babies (which is often not discussed, women's bodies aren't all alike and perfct, so why assume everybody's milk is great?) feel inadequate and develop a negative self-image. As the article says, the research is not conclusive enough simply because what influences a baby's development is too complex and the way they are fed is just one of the myriad of factors. So why do some women have to suffer for something that might not be worth it?

(this seems to be tied to the overparenting theories, btw)
posted by lucia__is__dada at 2:22 PM on March 16, 2009


Are there legions of people pointing at people in the baby formula aisle yelling "Shame! Shame ! Shammmmeeee!"

Pretty much yes. But then I'm in Berkeley, land of no tolerance.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:23 PM on March 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


LittleMissCranky: "The working-mothers-are-selfish brigade shows up early!"

The author (grudgingly) acknowledges that Choice A is better for her child. But Choice B is better for her. She makes Choice B. This would seem to be the dictionary definition of "selfish". And I don't have a problem with it either. If there was a parent who never made a selfish choice with respect to their child, they'd probably be an insufferable martyr.

If this leaves you feeling insufficiently aggrieved, maybe we can work something out.
posted by Joe Beese at 2:31 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


By the way, there's a great discussion about this article over at 11D.

The author (grudgingly) acknowledges that Choice A is better for her child. But Choice B is better for her. She makes Choice B.

No, she doesn't. I'll copy the ending of the article for you:

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. I do it partly because I can get away with breast-feeding part-time. I work at home and don’t punch a clock, which is not the situation of most women. Had I been more closely tied to a workplace, I would have breast-fed during my maternity leave and then given him formula exclusively, with no guilt.

My best guess is something I can’t quite articulate. Breast-feeding does not belong in the realm of facts and hard numbers; it is much too intimate and elemental. It contains all of my awe about motherhood, and also my ambivalence. Right now, even part-time, it’s a strain. But I also know that this is probably my last chance to feel warm baby skin up against mine, and one day I will miss it.

posted by lucia__is__dada at 2:35 PM on March 16, 2009


All of this breastfeeding controversy has a real element of titillation that is never honestly discussed

I take it you are not referring to the sexual bond breast-feeding forges between mother and child (but you should be).
posted by jamjam at 2:35 PM on March 16, 2009


This would seem to be the dictionary definition of "selfish".

Not exactly. Putting the kid in a trash compactor and going on tour with Phish would be selfish. Mothers who work outside the home benefit their children as there's more money for the household, which benefits the child fairly directly. So it's not really an either-or argument here. It's a question of global optimization versus local optimization (at least I would hope - I'm assuming the mother is making rational decisions here and isn't giving up breastfeeding to get more time playing golf or something)
posted by GuyZero at 2:37 PM on March 16, 2009


Are there legions of people pointing at people in the baby formula aisle yelling "Shame! Shame ! Shammmmeeee!"

I went to grad school with a woman who was a local organizer for La Leche League (this was in Iowa City in the early/mid-'90s). On more than one occasion, while we were out in public (having coffee, walking down the street, whatever), she would stop our conversation to hurry over to a bottle-feeding parent to do exactly that.
posted by scody at 2:37 PM on March 16, 2009


My wife had some extenuating minor medical issues which interfeered enough with breast feeding that it became nigh impossible.

My son son is four months old. He does not have any massive defects as a result of only spending 6-8 weeks on the breast (and much of that time as a breast/formula combination). If he has massive defects, it will be because of something he's born with, or a failure on our parts to encourage him properly. I find it hard to believe that my wife made my son 5 points stupider on the IQ scale just by handing him a bottle of formula. I somehow just keep feeling that a recent XKCD sums it up well: correllation is not causeation. I'm smart, my wife is smart, and even if my son is kicked by a donkey, he'll have enough encouragement to reach his full intellect by the time he's 18, should he choose to do so.

If we were capable of constructing a GLM which outlined every factor which lead to a better developed baby, nutrition would definitely be *a* factor, but it would not be the only factor, the major factor, or even a critical factor. Based on a bit of gut instinct I'd say this: if you have the time to breastfeed your child for 9 months, you are maintaining an active and involved relationship in a key developmental cycle of your childs life. By spending more time with him, he is gaining an emotional bond with you. Rich people are generally the only ones who have the luxury of one income.

So, if you are poor, don't live in a crime ridden area, maintain a good diet and teach your child to eat properly throughout their life, maintain an active role in your child's life, encourage your child learn and grow, and challenge your child to strive for a better life - I assure you - your child will not be 5 points stupider than they would have been just because you didn't breastfeed. You will have a much stronger bond with your child because you sacrificed your wealth to be there for your child's time.

As for the classism expressed in my piece: full disclosure: I am the provider in a 1 income family of three. I am certainly not overpaid, and as such we work on a very tight budget (I'd even consider my initial membership to Metafilter a $5.00 splurge). My wife doesn't work because the cost of childcare in our area would wipe out any increase in earnings. What we lack in finances righ now we make up for in the amount of face time we get with our child. Would I have sacrificed my career to raise my child in a similar manner? Hands down yes. Had she had the same income and income potential (in 5 years), I would have loved to be home - clearly not breast feeding our child.
posted by Nanukthedog at 2:39 PM on March 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


This is related, and since I almost posted it at the time, I'll throw it in here: Jill Lepore in the New Yorker on the history and contemporary role of the breast pump

Thanks for that, Miko. A very interesting article (substantially more so than the link in the original post, in my opinion). Lepore makes a very interesting point on the constantly-changing trendiness of breast feeding:
A brief history of food: when the rich eat white bread and buy formula, the poor eat brown bread and breast-feed; then they trade places.)
posted by dersins at 2:41 PM on March 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


I read this article a week or so ago and went looking for other perspectives. I found this which seems to include comments from two of the researchers Rosin sites in her article.
posted by nangua at 2:42 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Are there legions of people pointing at people in the baby formula aisle yelling "Shame! Shame ! Shammmmeeee!"

Pretty much yes. But then I'm in Berkeley, land of no tolerance.


Here in Georgia, land of no tolerance in the other direction, there is still a lot of bias against breast feeding. When my daughter was a newborn and my wife was concerned about the fact her milk had not come in the response of everyone in the hospital was to offer some formula rather than reassure her that the milk would come (which it did in about 3 days; with a vengeance). In general the attitude among health care providers here is that if breastfeeding becomes the slightest bit inconvenient, then hey, let's break out the formula rather than solve the problem. While articles like this are good as far as helping to tone down the rhetoric of the militant lactation faction, there is still a lot of need for encouragement of breastfeeding in much of the US.
posted by TedW at 2:44 PM on March 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


One thing that gets lost in this discussion is the value of breastfeeding during the immediate postpartum period. New mothers produce colostrum for a few days, which contains proteins that confer the antibodies of the mother, at exactly the time when the child's gut is "open" to receiving them. If all mothers would breastfeed during this period, then infants immunity to common diseases would be greater. Otherwise the baby has to build her own immunity by suffering through the disease (ie colds, flu, etc) herself.
posted by ackptui at 2:45 PM on March 16, 2009


Nanukthedog, what I meant by class implications in the scientific research is that I think on the aggreggate, the set of people who are breastfeeding (want to and can) is probably highly correlated with the set of people who are more affluent and whose households are thus more likely to provide all the other correlative factors for health and intelligence. By that I definitely don't mean that a low-income household can't also provide those factors, or that all high-income households do a good job of providing those other factors, but that when the world is divided into breastfeeders and nonbreastfeeders, right now, working-class and poor women are probably disproportionately represented in the non-breastfeeding group, and their households are likely, on the whole, to offer fewer of the other correlative factors. If that wasn't clear.
posted by Miko at 2:48 PM on March 16, 2009


Breast milk isn't perfect; there is some concern about the amount of pollutants and dioxins which, upsettingly, are present. At any rate, breast-feeding has always been socially tagged as one thing or another: if you were upper class you could afford a wet-nurse, if you were lower class, you nursed your own. It's always been a marker of status, just as much as it is today.
posted by jokeefe at 2:49 PM on March 16, 2009


BreastfeedingMetaFilter: Maybe Not Quite as Awesome as You Heard. Still Fairly Awesome, Though.
posted by Brak at 2:50 PM on March 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


One thing that gets lost in this discussion is the value of breastfeeding during the immediate postpartum period. New mothers produce colostrum for a few days, which contains proteins that confer the antibodies of the mother, at exactly the time when the child's gut is "open" to receiving them. If all mothers would breastfeed during this period, then infants immunity to common diseases would be greater.

This was not lost in the discussion. It's addressed on page 2:
Some of the magical thinking about breast-feeding stems from a common misconception. Even many doctors believe that breast milk is full of maternal antibodies that get absorbed into the baby’s bloodstream, says Sydney Spiesel, a clinical professor of pediatrics at Yale University’s School of Medicine. That is how it works for most mammals. But in humans, the process is more pedestrian, and less powerful. A human baby is born with antibodies already in place, having absorbed them from the placenta. Breast milk dumps another layer of antibodies, primarily secretory IgA, directly into the baby’s gastrointestinal tract. As the baby is nursing, these extra antibodies provide some added protection against infection, but they never get into the blood.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:55 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


On more than one occasion, while we were out in public (having coffee, walking down the street, whatever), she would stop our conversation to hurry over to a bottle-feeding parent to do exactly that.

This just makes me wish for a public service announcement against telling complete strangers how to raise their kids. Really, nosy people, you don't have the whole story and no one owes it to you. The child could be adopted, he/she might be allergic and need a soy based formula, there might have been complications keeping the child from nursing, or there might be goddamned expressed milk in that bottle. What do all of these things have in common? They are none of your business. You. Are. Not. Helping. You are just heaping negativity and stress onto someone who is probably already sleep deprived.

That goes the same for people who are freaked out about breastfeeding in public. Mind your own business and calm the eff down.

So next time, nosy people, when you are tempted to say something to a parent just think your little thought and keep walking or go and be outraged on the internet, but leave parents and children alone.
posted by Alison at 2:57 PM on March 16, 2009 [12 favorites]


GuyZero said: Do non-breast feeders get stigmatized? Really? Are there legions of people pointing at people in the baby formula aisle yelling "Shame! Shame ! Shammmmeeee!"


Yeah..the Nipple Nazis do. They are insane people. I will never, as long as I live, NEVER forgive the La Leche league for the shit they put me through when my son was born. They are horrible, narrow-minded, evil bitches who exist only to terrorize new mothers. Even now, 6 years later, I hate them with the sort of burning rage that starts jihads.

I had nurses, in the hospital, coming in and pinching my nipples, after 27 hours of labor and then a C-section...PINCHING my nipples and slapping my breasts to "get the milk flowing". They rubbed sugar on my nipples so that my "son would like the taste". They told me that formula was poison and that if I gave it to him, that the state would want to talk to me.

These were the FREAKING NURSES, employed at the hospital...who by the way wanted me to buy the $700 milking machine before I left.

It was horrible. Those bitches kept me from enjoying my son until I could escape. Never. I will NEVER forgive them Never. I hope they all die horrible, lonely, unloved deaths. I hate them. Apparently, because I couldn't produce enough milk to feed an 11 pound newborn right off the bat, I didn't deserve to have a baby.

Breast feeding is just one more thing that some people use to feel superior. Fuck those people.
posted by dejah420 at 3:21 PM on March 16, 2009 [21 favorites]


the site nangua links to is interesting. It features a criticism of Rosin, by Parke Wilde, for misstating the findings of two researchers and then a comment largely defending Rosin from one of those researchers! Here's what the researcher in question (Siobhan Reilly) has to say:

If we thought that Hanna Rosin were in the pocket of the formula makers, we might read her piece differently. But we think she's raising an important point. The costs of breastfeeding, like so many of the costs of bearing and raising children, are difficult to measure, often staggeringly large, and borne almost entirely by parents (frequently, solely by mothers). It is certainly important to have a careful measurement of the benefits, and to recognize that, just as there is harm done when they are understated, there is harm done when they are overstated.

We wonder whether the following would be ideas with which both Parke Wilde and Hanna Rosin might agree?
1. Major research to convincingly measure the effects of breastfeeding is in order, and expense should be no barrier. The answers really matter.
2. Careful study of the costs of breastfeeding, and who bears them is warranted.
3. If breastfeeding is beneficial, more support for breastfeeding mothers is long overdue.
4. Every mother is owed the best and fullest information upon which to base her breastfeeding decision, and respect and support for the choice she makes.

Siobhan Reilly
Associate Professor of Economics

posted by yoink at 3:37 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


2. Careful study of the costs of breastfeeding, and who bears them is warranted.

Is the cost of breastfeeding really any greater than the cost of raising a child in general? (per Pastabagel's comment) I don't seem to recall parents who bottle-fed living lives of carefree spontaneity.
posted by GuyZero at 3:53 PM on March 16, 2009


My mom was poor and heroin-addicted in the '80s so I was breastfed. I got increased cognitive function and tasty tasty heroin.
posted by birdie birdington at 3:54 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I take it you are not referring to the sexual bond breast-feeding forges between mother and child (but you should be).

Sexual bond between mother and child because of breastfeeding? What??? Are those the same adults who get off on shitting in diapers and then being changed?
posted by hal_c_on at 3:58 PM on March 16, 2009


Is the cost of breastfeeding really any greater than the cost of raising a child in general? (per Pastabagel's comment) I don't seem to recall parents who bottle-fed living lives of carefree spontaneity.

Not "carefree spontaneity," no--but being able to leave the baby with babysitters and bottles of formula is immensely liberating compared to having to be on tap as a baby-feeding-machine. Similarly, not having to deal with the problems of expressing and storing milk if you're trying to work and breastfeed would be a huge relief. Being able to share the nighttime feeding duties with your partner is also a massive re-equalization of the burdens of childrearing.

Mothers I've known who breastfed certainly found it rewarding, but they also found it a constant and trying demand on their time--especially if they had other little children to care for at the time.
posted by yoink at 4:05 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Not "carefree spontaneity," no--but being able to leave the baby with babysitters and bottles of formula is immensely liberating compared to having to be on tap as a baby-feeding-machine. Similarly, not having to deal with the problems of expressing and storing milk if you're trying to work and breastfeed would be a huge relief. Being able to share the nighttime feeding duties with your partner is also a massive re-equalization of the burdens of childrearing.

Yep. I breastfed my son (and I was a member of La Leche League, too, back in the late 80s) and was never away from him for more than a few hours. For three and a half years. It's a big committment.
posted by jokeefe at 4:28 PM on March 16, 2009


I had severe and extremely painful problems with breastfeeding (at first), but I stuck with it because it was so important to me. It was worth it, regardless of whether the health and IQ benefits are all they are cracked up to be. I enjoyed pumping, I thought it was really cool actually. I was proud of how much milk I could produce, filling two huge bottles in about 15 minutes. But then I was lucky enough to have a workplace with a spare office for mothers to use.

People talk about what a pain in the ass breastfeeding is but it was great for lazy old me to get my daughter to sleep. 2-5 minutes and she was out, no need to make her cry or fuss. Not to mention all the times 30 seconds of suckling erased her tears, after bonking herself on the head or some other small crisis. And when she needed to eat at night, I just rolled over and was able to go back to sleep without even getting up.

I was a bit of a lacto-geek for awhile (I used to read LACTNET regularly) but never criticized anyone for their choices. Mostly I just felt sorry for the ones who had obstacles to breastfeeding that they weren't able to overcome. A lot of mothers need help to make it work, and sadly many don't get it and then they blame themselves for failing.

I most likely will not have any more children, and a big reason is that I probably wouldn't be able to breastfeed with all the medication I need to survive these days. I couldn't handle raising a baby without it. (There are many other reasons for me not to have another kid as well, don't get me wrong.)
posted by marble at 4:29 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I didn't find the article unbiased. It's anti-nursing, seemingly "I didn't want to, so freakin' sue me." Plenty of women are told they can't nurse, often for stupid reasons. It's a shame that women are persuaded not to nurse their babies, but those who make informed decisions should be left the fuck alone. Dejah's experience is appalling. I know at least 1 woman who nearly didn't nurse her baby just because she got so much pressure. Sadly, my experience w/ La Leche was wretched, as well.

Working-class women are among those who are less likely to be able to manage lengthy breast-feeding, and use the most formula. In my experience, nursing my baby was much more affordable. There's virtually no equipment to purchase. The formula sample from the hospital covered the instances of babysitting that required it. I'm fairly modest and was easily able to nurse inconspicuously. Nursing meant that we were really portable; just grab the diaper bag and go.

My son and I both loved the time together, and it was the only time I got to read. After 6 months, I lost all the baby weight & then some, one of the nicest surprises about nursing.

But. If you can't, don't want to, etc., people should MTOFB(Mind Their Own Fucking Business) So many of us have 1 or 2 children, so there are a lot of 1st time Moms, and they get harassed, hounded and given so many stupid opinions and bad information, it's a wonder there are any living children. Cherish your beautiful child. Do what's best, because it matters, really, it does. And when annoying busybodies try to make you feel bad, give them your sternest gaze, and assure them you and your beloved infant are doing just fine.
posted by theora55 at 4:32 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, from my current point of view (my son is 22 and on his own way) all these markers used to judge "good" or "bad" parenting are so much forest for the trees. Breast-feeding or bottle? Not important. A bath daily? Not important. Proper organic taste treats vs hamburgers/junk food? Not important (within reason). Flash cards, Baby Einstein, etc.? Useless. What matters is this: that children feel loved and secure, are given a decent education and space to play, and have adults in their lives who are also feeling loved and secure. The rest they will figure out.
posted by jokeefe at 4:34 PM on March 16, 2009 [7 favorites]


A bath daily? Not important.

I know what you mean, but seriously, get close to my kids' heads sometimes. Wearing a toque every day can make you ass smell like a bed of roses compared to your hair. I ain't gonna love no stinky children.
posted by GuyZero at 4:37 PM on March 16, 2009


I disagree with Rosin's conclusions, but I respect the way she gives the arguments for the other side. For example,

And extended breast-feeding did reduce the risk of a gastrointestinal infection by 40 percent. This result seems to be consistent with the protection that sIgA provides; in real life, it adds up to about four out of 100 babies having one less incident of diarrhea or vomiting.

But I have a feeling this particular benefit may be much greater than she realizes. Right now, this country has a big problem with irritable bowel syndrome:

The total prevalence of irritable bowel syndrome in 5009 screening interviews was 14.1% (medically diagnosed: 3.3%; undiagnosed, but meeting irritable bowel syndrome criteria: 10.8%). ...

IBS prevalence is estimated to be 10-15% in Western countries.[5-9]...

IBS places a significant financial burden on society. Symptoms can significantly impact on the quality of life of sufferers, with considerable socioeconomic consequences.[14-18] For example, absenteeism from work is more prevalent in individuals with IBS than in those without,[1,19] and employers in the United States (US) are estimated to pay, on average, $1251 more for individuals with IBS than matched control beneficiaries over a 1-year period ( P <>

I haven't been able to locate much research on the impact of breast-feeding on the development of IBS in later life, though I did find one behind a pay wall saying it reduced it in infants.

posted by jamjam at 4:38 PM on March 16, 2009


OK, so I'm a guy so what do I know about breastfeeding except my wife worked, and our child got used to waiting till she got home from work to breastfeed. (This was after the first four months, which probably would have been more problematic.) Our girl was breastfed for at least two years, and although I would never dis any parent's choice about anything except abuse, parenting being as hard as it is, breastmilk has been baby's food of choice for quite a while.

In the Fifties and Sixties, when breastfeeding was supposedly not cool, all six of us were breastfed. Most of the doctor's wives breastfed their kids in my parents' circle of friends, as far as I can remember.

Again, I didn't do the breastfeeding, but I've done most of the parenting in the ensuing fourteen years!
posted by kozad at 4:40 PM on March 16, 2009


Oops, my comment was a bit too slanted; it should read:

I haven't been able to locate much research on the impact of breast-feeding on the development of IBS in later life, though I did find one behind a pay wall saying it reduced it in infants.
posted by jamjam
posted by jamjam at 4:41 PM on March 16, 2009


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 breastfed exclusively for a few months and was ravenously hungry the whole time. Now that I only nurse twice a day....I eat 2/3 to 1/2 as much and can actually concentrate between meals. Sometimes I wonder if the money we saved on formula just went into food for mom.
posted by debbie_ann at 4:52 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I do read the mommy blogs, and they have quite a few things to say about the article.

Personally, I don't buy it. There's not that much pressure to BF, and given the lack of any real nursing facilities anywhere, it's pretty obvious that culturally the default position is that you won't be whipping your tits out at a fancy restaurant. I live in NYC, hotbed of crunchy granola parenting, and there is no more substansial pressure to BF than there is not to. I smell manufactured drama.

Of course, that does not secretly prevent me from thinking that in some cases, some of those playground moms are working up bad-latch stories because they really don't want to end up with the whole rocks-in-socks vs. boob job debate later on, know what i mean?
posted by DenOfSizer at 5:10 PM on March 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yeah..the Nipple Nazis do. They are insane people. I will never, as long as I live, NEVER forgive the La Leche league for the shit they put me through when my son was born. They are horrible, narrow-minded, evil bitches who exist only to terrorize new mothers. Even now, 6 years later, I hate them with the sort of burning rage that starts jihads.

posted by dejah420

This is really spot on, when my girlfriend and I were in the hospital the head nurse came by on our last day to explain the benefits of breast feeding. L was planning to breast feed anyway but we thought this would be a good Q&A time, it wasn't. She spent 20 minutes lecturing us on why we should never use formula, I couldn't get a word in edgewise to ask a question (most of what she was telling us we had already heard to death). It was like listening to a cult member or religious nutbag ( I grew up around the religious I know what it sounds like) I was hoping for a reasoned explanation of the pros and cons of breast vs formula, call me crazy but I can't imagine there is never a good use for formula. L had trouble over the next month with getting the little one to latch, and when her nipples would start bleeding I would say, 'fuck it, lets get sorm formula'. She didn't want to, she had wanted to breast feed from the start, so I dropped it.
It wasn't until much later when she wasn't making enough milk (at about 8 or 9 months) that we went to formula. She cried, she was very much convinced that this was bad for our little girl, it broke her heart. The little one is 14 months now, healthy and happy we're giving her milk and less formula these days in her bottle and her mom is feeling better about the decision to use formula.

I think breast milk is a great idea, it's natural and it's free. But lets not make mothers work any harder by scaring them to death about formula. It is what it is.
posted by nola at 5:21 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Mostly I just felt sorry for the ones who had obstacles to breastfeeding that they weren't able to overcome. A lot of mothers need help to make it work, and sadly many don't get it and then they blame themselves for failing.

This. A lot of the impetus behind pro-breastfeeding, for a lot of women, is not "hey I'm building a supergenius with my milk and you're a child abuser if you don't" so much as "for the love of God, I'm trying to raise a baby here, can we please have some compassion/a better work-life setup?"

12 weeks of unpaid leave, at most, that's all the law says you have to get, and only if you work for a big enough employer. Most employers don't let you take time off to pump, and almost none even consider the most obvious and humane route of on-site daycare that lets a mom work and feed her baby too.

It's not that formula is evil, though at 35.00 or more a can (which lasts a week or less once they're past newborn age) it sure does fucking feel like robbery. It's that lots and lots of women put their babies on formula because we don't make any space in the working world for the equally important work of raising kids. Either you stay home and live on nothing, or you put your kids with strangers when they're 6 weeks old and give them formula, then go back to work and cry in the ladies' room because you feel like the world's worst mother.
posted by emjaybee at 5:24 PM on March 16, 2009 [7 favorites]


You don't have to worry about a melamine scandal with breast feeding.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:28 PM on March 16, 2009


culturally the default position is that you won't be whipping your tits out at a fancy restaurant.

This modesty is one of the most subtly oppressive sentiments. With breastfeeding, mother is freed from carrying around bottles & formula, paying for the formula, finding good water in public and assembling it all with two hands and a hungry baby. She has a magically replenishing supply of fresh food right here in her shirt at all times!....unless she is too modest to whip her tits out. Then she must (a) nurse in the bathroom (b) bottle feed or (c) not leave the house for a few months. :(
posted by debbie_ann at 5:28 PM on March 16, 2009


12 weeks of unpaid leave, at most, that's all the law says you have to get

That's only because the USA hates children. It's amazing that the US birth rate is as high as it is. Many other countries give the mother a year or more off. In Canada the mom gets a year, the dad gets several weeks (I forget the whole calculation, but both can get time off) and you get employment insurance. It makes breast feeding for the first year a whole lot easier.
posted by GuyZero at 5:29 PM on March 16, 2009


This "Canada" I keep hearing about sounds like a really nice place. Do you all have grits up their or should I just bring a big sack of 'em with me?
posted by nola at 5:57 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


*there
posted by nola at 5:57 PM on March 16, 2009


Canada is strictly BYOG. We have polenta though.
posted by GuyZero at 5:59 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


white upper class woman grouses about giving her tit to her kid.
film at eleven.
posted by liza at 6:05 PM on March 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


In my experience, nursing my baby was much more affordable.

It has much more to do with work schedules and accommodations. A lot of women can't make the choice to stay home, don't have a place to pump or time off the clock to do it, and have long commutes.
posted by Miko at 6:08 PM on March 16, 2009


...and child care costs don't factor in when child care is grandma, or big sister.
posted by Miko at 6:09 PM on March 16, 2009


Personally, I'd tell them I was undergoing chemotherapy and if that doesn't shut them up, also say I have an MRSA infection in one of my nipples.

Other options:

(1) If they start by asking if that's your baby, just say "No.'
(1b) If they ask whose it is, just shrug.
(2) Nah, my milk has way too much heroin in it.
(3) I used to be a dude.
(4) I had breast cancer.
(5) I haven't been able to since Baby's father was killed [start bawling].
(6) I don't want Baby to have AIDS like me. [start bawling]
(7) Great Cthulhu forbids it. Let me tell you about the majesty of Great Cthulhu, and how you can be eaten first on the day He awakens.
(8) NO, YOU CAN'T TOUCH MY BABY THERE!
(9) Nah, I'm selling it next week anyway.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:36 PM on March 16, 2009 [10 favorites]


Do non-breast feeders get stigmatized? Really? Are there legions of people pointing at people in the baby formula aisle yelling "Shame! Shame ! Shammmmeeee!"

I got my kids formula from a pharmacy,(*) so that was wasn't an issue. But our neighbour spotted the cans in the trash so she came and knocked on our door and explained that formula would make our newborn daughter sterile. She had leaflets. I am not making this up. To this day my wife and I use this incident as a private joke whenever someone is making particularly stupid health claims: "I hhhavv LEA-flets!"

(*) My kids' formula came from a pharmacy.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:38 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


culturally the default position is that you won't be whipping your tits out at a fancy restaurant

Well, really, culturally the default position is that you don't bring infants and small children to a fancy restaurant.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:38 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I breastfed my daughter, it was awesome, and that's all I have to say about that. However...

When I read this last week, I felt the article was at its core less about breastfeeding and more about mothering in general. Ms. Rosin may not have meant to, but she whined throughout in a way that indicated she's tired of being necessary to her tiny kids (up until the last paragraph, of course). My kid wears me out every. damn. day. But I'm her mother and she needs me. One day she won't need me so much anymore...and I'll probably miss it even while I'm enjoying pursuing only my own interests again. But small humans need someone to parent them, and that's what you sign up for when you have them.

Maybe she needs a weekend at a spa or something. Maybe we all do. :-)
posted by chihiro at 7:28 PM on March 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


I mostly breastfed my daughter, but gave her formula if I was out with her in public or if my husband was feeding her. Around ten months or so, she lost interest in the whole process and went to solid food entirely. Now that she's 26, 5'10" and getting her Ph.D. in English, I am only thankful that I didn't breastfeed her more, or she would be getting her Ph.D. in Philosophy and playing basketball.

. . . Though my mother didn't breastfeed me (hell, she smoked and drank during her pregnancy, just like everyone else back then), and while my Ph.D. is in the ever-so-slightly-more useful area of education, the last time my IQ was measured it was statistically meaningless, so perhaps, just perhaps, most of this obsessive mommyism nonsense is hogwash. I'm getting a tad weirded out by the expectation that every woman should be scrawny, an MBA, oddly well-manicured, and a perfect mother.
posted by Peach at 8:26 PM on March 16, 2009 [6 favorites]


I couldn't get past this: "Or is it this generation’s vacuum cleaner—an instrument of misery that mostly just keeps women down?" REALLY????? The vacuum is an instrument of misery? As opposed to the misery of sweeping the floor? Who thinks this stuff up?
posted by katiewa at 8:40 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Peach you should post more often, I like the way you write.
posted by nola at 8:41 PM on March 16, 2009


My first kid wouldn't latch for love or money. I started pumping to keep the milk bar open in the event that she'd eventually take it from the tit; I kept going after a wicked case of mastitis that had me afraid to stop pumping. I pumped for ten months total, so the kid got a mixture of breastmilk and formula for most of her infancy.

The delivery hadn't gone the way I'd hoped, and then my daughter had to go back to the hospital for a few days due to jaundice. In short, she was off to a rough start and I was devastated. Not being able to nurse felt like further evidence of failure as a new mother. I mindfucked this for a long, long time. You'd better believe that there is a lot of spot-judgement and casual condemnation about bottle-feeding, and it was salt on an open wound. So many people just don't know how to mind their own damn business.

In the fullness of time as my daugher grew strong and healthy and still blessedly attached to her mama, I came to be so grateful that we live in a time and place with good sanitation and good understanding of nutrition, and that formula feeding is a terrific way to feed a baby. Even for the La Leche Leage, rule #1 is "Feed the baby." If there were no bottlefeeding, for a baby that just will not nurse, well, the outcome is pretty freaking dire.

I think the whole stupid argument about bottlefeeding infants is an aspect of modern life (the controversy about vaccination is another) that totally takes for granted the standard of living that we currently enjoy, and has zero sense of perspective about where the practice arose and why, and what the consequences were when it wasn't available.

For the record, baby #2 took to the boob like a duck to water. Same tits, same mom, different baby, different outcome. What are you gonna do. I absolutely refuse to judge any mother about breast or bottle. As long as she feeds her baby it's OK by me.
posted by Sublimity at 9:17 PM on March 16, 2009 [8 favorites]


Preach it sister. I've got untold respect for mothers since I became a father and have seen what it takes for a mother to do her loving job as a mother. Nobody better mess with mother, she knows what her baby needs. Don't mess with momma. DON'T MESS WITH MOMMA.
posted by nola at 10:34 PM on March 16, 2009


Do non-breast feeders get stigmatized? Really? Are there legions of people pointing at people in the baby formula aisle yelling "Shame! Shame ! Shammmmeeee!"

Well, there is this crazy person.
posted by Snyder at 11:53 PM on March 16, 2009


Let's ignore the crazy person, they've already had quite a say this one is utterly ridiculous.
posted by DenOfSizer at 4:03 AM on March 17, 2009


Feed the baby.

I really couldn't care less if women like Hanna Rosin get the fish-eye at the Cleveland Park playground. But if some beastly nurse is telling you not to feed your obviously hungry baby because she's convinced you must be making enough milk, because it's natural, and breastfeeding is always perfect and sufficient, ignore her. Gotta be worth a few IQ points right there, not starving to death.
posted by palliser at 8:08 AM on March 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm a father of four, and I liked being able to take the night shift and feed my little ones while their mom got some sleep. All four were bottle-fed, and they're all smart as whips.

While recovering in the hospital ward, I thought it was funny that there was a channel of TV programs about breast-feeding, but not one about bottle-feeding. :7) The nurses, however, were very fine, professional people and they didn't pressure us either way. (We even had the same delivery nurse for three of them: hi, Pat, you're in our photo albums!) On the other hand, I have been told by people that bottle-feeding isn't as good for the baby; many of these people are waiting for their first baby to arrive, so I can only assume they're repeating what they learned in the hospital's you're-having-a-baby class or from their peers. *shrug* Best of luck, friend -- I only know what worked for us.

So you know, stack those two anecdotes up with the others.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:14 AM on March 17, 2009


Good Lord. I just clicked through to the msnbc piece, and found this:

Vote: Should mothers breast-feed their children?

Is this performance art?
posted by palliser at 8:20 AM on March 17, 2009


REALLY????? The vacuum is an instrument of misery?

Yes - the idea is not that a vacuum itself is bad, but that it became one of many artifacts that was used to raise expecations on women. If you review 20th-century history, what you see is that advances in home technology were gradually supposed to be liberating women from the drudgery of domestic chores. No bringing in coal for a coal stove, now we have a gas stove that runs at the turn of a dial! No doing laundry with a difficult, heavy tub of water and washboard and wringer - now we have a washer that does all the hard work for you! No more scrubbing floors on hands and knees, now we have linoleum that wipes clean with a quick swipe of the mop! No more dragging heavy carpets outside twice a year to beat the sand and dust out of them, now we have vacuums to suck it right up!

The problem was that these 'labor-saving' devices did not actually save any labor - they just changed it. Rather than allow women to be freed up from the domestic chores by using the saved time to do something other than houseclean, the society as a whole just increased expectations on women to keep their house cleaner and cleaner, filling the newly acquired time with...new cleaning responsibilities. So no longer did you drag your carpets outside for beating twice a year, instead you vacuumed twice a week, because the standard for a Good Clean Lady's Home became a constantly spotless carpet. No longer did you do a heavy exhausting load of hand-wrung laundry once a week -- instead, you did load upon load of laundry twice a week or even every day, because the standard for a Good Clean Lady's Family became wearing a new set of freshly laundered clothing every day, and owning much more clothing than people owned before. No longer did you have to lug in the coal for the coal stove and have one long, intensive cooking session each day to provide dinner and the next day's cold breakfast and lunch -- instead, you had the joy of now being expected to prepare three full, freshly cooked, hot meals each day on your convenient new stove. So, ironically, all these wonderful conveniences of home technology did not actually completely free women up to spend more time studying and reading, training for a new profession, or contributing even more volunteer hours to the social good -- much of the time gained was instead re-apportioned to keeping up with the new domestic standard of propriety, and yes, the women who didn't cut the mustard were given a chilly reception then as they are today.

That's why I think it's worthwhile to take a critical stance with most advice about what Women Should Do. We've been hearing it for a long long time, but I think when it comes to the supposedly Superior Way, we are better off as people when we apply the formula NDc posed so succintly: [newly emphatically recommended approach] may be slightly better - but women are entitled to an honest appraisal of those benefits so that they can do a cost benefit analysis and decide whether they want to do it or not.

There's no need to make women so freaking anxious. Parenthood is hard enough. Despite all the handwringing, one can't help but notice that most kids turn out fine, happy and healthy with good lives, able to love and be loved and make a living. What the hell more do you want? Human perfectability is a fool's game.
posted by Miko at 8:27 AM on March 17, 2009 [16 favorites]


palliser said: Feed the baby.

See...that was my thinking too. And when my son went from just under 11 pounds to just over 8 pounds because my mother in law (a nurse) kept throwing out the formula and telling me that "I just wasn't trying", and the nurses at the hospital kept saying that if I would just spend more time hooked up to the milking machine every second I wasn't trying to put the boy on a boob, then I just lost it.

I told my mother in law she could get the hell out of my house...6 years later, she's still not speaking to me...which is fine with me. I told the nurses at the hospital that they could bite my shiny metal ass and that I was going t follow my doctor's orders and supplement the boy's feeding with formula, and as soon as I stopped freaking out all the goddamn time about my tits, the Boy and I bonded beautifully.

See, the thing is, that older mothers (like myself) have a much harder time breastfeeding, and women with ginormous tits (like myself) have a difficult time breastfeeding because you're always worried about smothering the poor thing with a boob that's bigger than they are. We did some breastfeeding, because once the pressure was off, it seemed to work a lot better. But my son was born as big as many 6 month old babies, and I just couldn't ramp up fast enough to sustain him.

"Failure to thrive" is what the doctors called it. But to these nurses, starving my son was a better option than giving him a bottle. They'd rather let my son die for their principles than let me have a bottle for him.

I'm all for the folks that can pop a baby onna boob and everyone is happy. Yay! My best friend produced significantly more milk than she could use, and breast fed her daughter constantly. 6 years later, our kids are both big, healthy, happy, brilliant, gorgeous children. My son tests (academically) at the 4th - 7th grade level in all academics, despite never having seen the inside of a traditional classroom.

Formula didn't hurt my son. Breastfeeding almost killed him.

I reiterate: Fuck those people.
posted by dejah420 at 8:57 AM on March 17, 2009


Man, reading all these stories brings up a lot of memories of my poor sisters-in-law. They both took a lot of flak for not breastfeeding their kids. Turns out that neither of them could make a go of it and they really took a hit from the Nipple Nazis (love that term, it's dead on) because they gave their babies formula when the other option was to have them starve. I remember this discussion clearly because I had it the first Christmas I spent with my then-boyfriend-now-husband's family. His mom was away with the younger sister who was having this problem, so I got the breastfeeding discussion from his dad. Awkward!

I wouldn't say that hearing the breastfeeding stories alone was enough to cement me on never having kids, but honestly, the constant stream of competitive mothering and bitching about how other mothers were inferior, of which Nipple Naziism is just one brach, was certainly a factor. To me it's just one more place where women can't win, and society and their own insecurities make them each other's own harshest critics.
posted by immlass at 9:41 AM on March 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is related, and since I almost posted it at the time, I'll throw it in here: Jill Lepore in the New Yorker on the history and contemporary role of the breast pump

Yep, I posted it at the time.

Personally, I really enjoyed Rosin's article. As someone who struggled for 6 month to breastfeed (and no, ti wasn't free, I spent upwards of $1,000 trying to make it work), and then finally gave up, much to my disappointment, yet relief, the Atlantic article was a huge breath of fresh air. I worried and obsessed for months about my failure to breastfeed and I even still feel sad about it. In all those breastfeeding and new mother classes, they never really talk about how difficult it might be or that in some cases, it's just not going to work. I thank god that formula is so good these days and that I have a healthy daughter. But yeah, there's a huge pressure to breastfeed and those who don't can often be made to feel like they are poisoning there child or that their child will never bond with them the way a breastfed baby would. It's a pretty crappy thing to do to a woman who already feels bad about the way her body has failed her but it's totally out there.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 12:02 PM on March 17, 2009


My wife went through similar hell from the boob nazis at La Leche League. The pregnancy was emotionally traumatizing for many reasons. Filled with complications. Kids were born in an emergency c-section. Until that point, we were gravely concerned about their welfare and survival. And then, the lactation nurses at the hospital tried to make my wife feel like an unfit mother when our preemie twins didn't latch on. Lactation nurses should never be allowed to emotionally blackmail a new mom. But, the hospital sanctions what they do, because they have established a culture which says that breast is best, and formula should only be used as a last resort. Even though as others have mentioned in this thread, adopted children (for example) do just fine on formula.

Three months later the boob nazis at La Leche League told her she was being selfish when she was unable to produce enough milk to keep up with their needs, and then again because she wasn't boob feeding. My kids were fed pumped breast milk out of bottles for *three months* before demand began to outpace production. When my wife called La Leche League to ask for advice, they lectured her. Pumped breast milk wasn't good enough. She was told by an LLL expert that she could be causing our kids irreparable harm by denying them an important tactile experience, because they weren't sucking it right out of the nipple.

I spent at least a day afterwards reassuring my brilliant, superhuman but completely stressed out wife that she wasn't being a bad mother. Infuriating.

We switched them to formula at around 3.5 months. They were and are constantly cuddled and loved and healthy and cherished. And they bonded with us just fine.
posted by zarq at 12:25 PM on March 17, 2009


Onlyconnect and I just became first time parents to a ridiculously cute daughter two weeks ago. No one at that hospital pressured us to breastfeed. Some people asked about our feeding plans, apparently to determine whether to provide formula or send the lactation consultants. It was pretty great.
posted by NortonDC at 4:25 PM on March 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


*beeps* NortonDC's daughter's cute widdle nose!
posted by scody at 4:35 PM on March 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Congratulations, NortonDC! You're not biased - she is ridiculously cute!
posted by chihiro at 4:37 PM on March 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


A baby! :)
posted by Snyder at 3:01 AM on March 18, 2009


Oh, is this where we are now? I'll get my torch later. The pitchfork is in the shop.

*settles down, grabs a beer*

Interesting - the foodpolicy link had a comment about wetnursing. When the Quad Squad (four cousins) were all still nursing, my sister went out to do something and asked me to "fill in" for her in case her kid got hungry. My dad was a little startled, but my brother picked up my kid and took him to play in the other room.

From the comment: In terms of the costs of breastfeeding, what we are really talking about is the costs of caregiving.

And that's pretty much it in a nutshell, as Miko and several others have pointed out. Older Boy took for.ever. to really get it, and I had the opposite experience of others - nurses shoving formula at me because he "was losing too much" in the hospital. We must have taken two or three gallons of samples home. Both kids got lots of milk and lots of formula.
posted by lysdexic at 1:48 PM on April 14, 2009


Well, hell. I didn't even look at the dates.
posted by lysdexic at 1:51 PM on April 14, 2009


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