Moms all over the internet are chattering about Hanna Rosin’s Atlantic article “The Case Against Breastfeeding” and after a few days of thinking it over, here’s some of my musings.
.1. The most significant problem to me isn’t breastfeeding itself, but the mommy culture of competition and venomous judgment. Taking good things (breastfeeding, organic food, natural toys, whatever) and making them a barometer for deciding who is and who isn’t a good mother turns the good things toxic. What we need most is to be for one another, and encourage one another. Parenting is full of choices, and we don’t all have to make the same ones. Even if we agree something is an ideal, we all fall short of the ideal in many ways, and we have to extend grace to one another and ourselves.
.2. The scientific argument that Rosin makes wasn’t that compelling to me as I followed her rabbit trails. So, breastfeeding doesn’t prevent childhood obesity. That wasn’t my primary reason for breastfeeding anyway. The study she cites of the sibling pairs is much more nuanced than she makes it out to be. As breastfeeding is the natural choice (“human milk for human babies”) isn’t the burden of proof on formula and not breastmilk?
.3. Breastfeeding for many women is difficult, especially in the early weeks. My first month with Kate was full of stress and tears. But once we got over that hump, it was a wonderful experience. Perhaps the struggle at the onset is so that new moms stop and rest and take care of themselves, we’ll never know, but it helped me to appreciate the gift of breastfeeding and not to take it for granted. Nursing did forge an amazing bond between the children and me. In all my busy-ness and bustle, I appreciated the reminder to stop and enjoy my baby, and breastfeeding was a regular way to do that. It was a sacrifice at times, but so are many parts of parenting, it comes with the territory. Maybe I have a hard time identifying with Rosin because nursing itself was never ever an overwhelming burden to me, nor did it feel like just another duty. Perhaps it’s those endorphins, but breastfeeding calmed and centered me and now that it’s over, I miss it.
.4. I do appreciate her thoughts on part-time breastfeeding. A lot of breastfeeding advocates are very afraid of supplementing with formula, as we have all known mothers for whom supplementing was a slippery slope of diminished milk supply. But we have also all known mothers for whom supplementation works just fine! As mothers’ milk production varies widely, what works for one, may not for another. Thus part-time breastfeeding might not be the “best practice” in the sense that for those with tenuous supply issues it might be harmful, but it’s certainly not a bad idea in and of itself.
.5. If breastfeeding itself after a good college try is causing a mother to be extremely stressed out and not enjoy her child, I would be the first to say to lay down the idol and pick up the bottle. It’s not worth that. All things being equal (without extenuating health problems, etc.) I found breastfeeding to be much simpler and less time consuming than all the steps necessary to make a bottle and feed the baby that way. So I was flummoxed by her arguments about breastfeeding not being free, as a mothers’ time is worth a lot, etc.
.6. Is breastfeeding really to blame for employers not being supportive of working moms pumping? Let’s place the blame squarely where it belongs, with the government, employers and society’s views of breastfeeding in general.