Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Two articles, one in Brain, Child magazine, and the other in either the NYTimes or the WashPost (I forget which), intersected for me this week. Brain, Child, which calls itself "the magazine for thinking mothers" and is much more intelligent than any other parenting magazine I've ever looked at, had an article on mothers and public scolding. Examples given were mothers who didn't notice an older child had undone their seatbelt in the back seat, a mother who ran into a store for a second on a cool day, leaving her kids in a locked car after removing the keys, and some other issues, like a crying baby in a restaurant. In all cases, complete strangers ripped these mothers a new one. And felt justified in doing it.

One of those two daily newspapers I read had an article about some group or the government or whatever now mounting a public health campaign about breastfeeding. I am a loyal advocate of breastfeeding and do feel that it is in the best health interests of both mother and baby alike to do so. HOWEVER, I've also noticed that the lacto-nazis are getting out of control, and not just with this new proposal. Even though I am a proponent of breastfeeding, I was still while in hospital, emotionally pressured by the Lamaze types to pump and store milk so that I would never, I repeat, never give my child a bottle of formula when left with a babysitter, or so that my husband could take a night feeding, etc.

This strikes me as a little over the top. Infant formula is actually a much better product than it was even a decade ago, and it's been what's been keeping Robert alive for the last eight years. And thriving, healthwise. If you can do it, breast is best, but there are plenty of women who are simply not able to do it--women under pressure to return to work early (that's another story of injustice), women who for genetic or health reasons do not produce enough milk to feed their infants themselves, women who develop health complications while breastfeeding and need to stop. And occasionally babies who do not tolerate mother's milk and are best off on a soy-based formula.

Yes, we've just concluded a period where women who breastfeed in public are scolded or asked to leave restaurants, etc., but I hardly think we need to begin another period in which women with a bottle of formula are subject to public scolding and humiliation. Choice is choice. If you can choose to carry or terminate a pregnancy, you should be able to choose how you will feed your child, using your own best judgment. Yes, women should receive information from their pediatricians explaining the benefits of breastfeeding--but the decision to start or stop or discontinue should be between a woman and her doctors.

The lingering stereotype of women who use formula is the same as all other forms of mater-misogyny: that selfish woman! How dare she feed her baby with formula because--irrational hypothesis a--she doesn't want to 'ruin' her breasts--irrational hypothesis b--she's lazy and irresponsible--irrational hypothesis c--she's more concerned about what's convenient for her, rather than what's good for her baby.

There are a lot of benefits to breastfeeding: health benefits for mother and child, the deepening of close emotional bonds, the financial savings from forgoing formula. But there are downsides, too: the need to pump at work to keep up a milk supply or if you take a trip, the inability to go anywhere without your kid, inability to really share feedings equally with your male (or female) partner (especially at night), and, lastly and honestly, breastfeeding is really, really tiring. You don't get your normal hormonal balance and energy back until you stop. It's a big decision and women should be able to make it on their own, based on the needs of their families.

1 comment:

Valérie Bédard said...

I'm a family physician who once had a pre and post-natal clinic ( though I don't deliver the babies...). One of my patients was so brain-washed by the lacto-nazis she had a post-partum depression because she could not breat-feed her child.
First thing I say now to a pregnant woman is to beware of them!
Thanks for your article,
Valérie Bédard, md