The Case Against Breastfeeding?

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.

14 responses to “The Case Against Breastfeeding?

  1. “Perhaps the struggle at the onset is so that new moms stop and rest and take care of themselves. . . 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.”

    Beautifully said.

  2. There’s really a book against it?! Unbelievable! I mean, to each his own — but making a case against something so ancient and natural? Huh.

    Beautiful post. And yeah, those first two-three months are no walk in the park. Valuable things rarely are.

  3. I JUST saw her on the Today show. (little embarrassed to admit I watch it on occasion) She sounded less harsh on the TV than in the article.
    I totally and completely agree with all your points. Thanks!

  4. Well said.

    Re: point #3 – I remember my mom encouraging me to slow down at the outset of my first (painful) journey with breastfeeding with a comparison to cats who have just given birth – they just lounge around and let the kittens suck. Of course it’s not a perfect analogy, but it did remind me to just take it easy and not expect so much of myself and my body because it was already working and adjusting a lot.

  5. Thanks for this post. As someone who longed to breast feed, but couldn’t, I think your first point is the most crucial. Even as I type this, I feel the need to explain all the circumstances of why I didn’t breastfeed more than 6 weeks, (Henry being in the NICU, only producing 1 oz in a 36 hour period, Henry needing more calories than breastmilk provides) and yet, in reality, my desire to justify my parenting decisions to you is really just a sinful desire to have you like me. (Which is silly, because I’m pretty sure you already like me. Love me even.)
    I think what it boils down to is that we all take mothering so seriously that we allow it to define us. Therefore when someone else does something different than us, we add value to it that is unwarranted.
    Undoubtedly, breastfeeding is the most natural, and in most circumstances, the healthiest option for both mother and child. But I’m confident that the same God who knew I’d dry up also provided me with a car to drive to the store and the money to buy my son his high calorie formula.
    Will I attempt breastfeeding with the next child? Probably. But what I won’t do is allow whether or not I breastfeed to define whether or not I’m a good mom.
    In the wise words of my lactation consultant–“I’m certain that some woman’s boobs will put your son in therapy, but it won’t be yours…”

  6. Elizabeth- I LOVE the “some woman’s boons” quote… too funny!

    I find it interesting when moms say it is more convenient to bottle feed than breast feed. Granted, it may be more convenient in a public place- especially if you are a little prudish like I am, and mom is always the go-to gal at mealtime; but by and large it was a relief to not have to pay BIG money for formula, mix the bottles, heat the formula, wash the bottles, always have a bottle handy, worry that I would be out longer than intended and not have a bottle, change nipple sizes/flow rates, figure out how many ounces formula I should be feeding now, pay attention to expiration dates on cans… the list goes on.

    I too appreciated the time to sit, snuggle, gaze at and pray for my child during nursing times. The first week was tough since neither of us knew what the heck we were doing, but thanks to tenacity on both our parts and a great lactation consultant at the pediatrician’s office, we had smooth sailing from there on.

    I feel that women who refuse to even try BFing just because they think it is gross or too inconvenient are missing out on a great experience.

  7. Elizabeth – I do love you. And I don’t want you to feel judged (you certainly aren’t by me!) or defensive. And I was rolling at what your LC said. :)

    When I judge about breastfeeding, it is mostly judging the culture in our society, that a grown women could find breastfeeding gross and not want to even try it. That makes me angry, and it makes me want to talk about breastfeeding and nurse in public and do what it takes to make it a normalized experience.

    I also talk about it because I know it can be hard, and I want to be encouraging when I can, to cheer on new moms who may not have much breastfeeding support. You’d be surprised!

  8. Hey Ladies — did anyone watch the 3-4 videos that went with the article? I thought they really helped provide a humanizing aspect to the “case” against breastfeeding (and Kristen, you hit it right on the head: Rosin doesn’t ever say that breastfeeding is bad, she just says that both women and the medical establishment have turned breastmilk into an idol). One of Rosin’s friends loved breastfeeding her first two babies… but got diagnosed with breast cancer two weeks after her 3rd child and the family had to use formula instead. What she said about that particular baby’s relationship to her husband was really interesting!

  9. Elizabeth, I really appreciate your comment. Although I’d intended to, I wasn’t able to breastfeed my first child, either, and although I, too, feel compelled to explain the circumstances, I’m not going to do that.

    But it often seems that people jump to the conclusion that only breastfeeding moms stop, slow down, bond with, and enjoy feeding times with their babies. Even though I was formula feeding, I always held my baby and fed him and enjoyed that time, too. It’s not necessarily either/or.

    And now that baby is almost 17, and he’s happy and healthy. We have a great relationship. :-)

  10. “But it often seems that people jump to the conclusion that only breastfeeding moms stop, slow down, bond with, and enjoy feeding times with their babies.”

    I know my quote and nod above did imply that. When my babies had formula, I too snuggled and rocked and held them. Many moms do.

    Yet. . . breastfeeding does facilitate that among mothers who aren’t as intentional with slowing down. I say this, having relatives and friends who bottle feed and think nothing of bottle-propping and have their infants in contraptions more often than in arms.

    I desire to encourage the moms in my circle of friends, I want them to nurture and feel nurtured. I don’t want them to feel “judged” because of what they do or don’t do as mothers.

  11. TG, I didn’t mean anyone specific when I said “people”. It’s just something I’ve noticed in general whenever this subject comes up.

    As I’ve thought about this more today, I’ve realized that with my soon-to-be 17-yr-old son, I do have some parenting regrets as I see his time at home shortening. Feeding him formula instead of breastfeeding him isn’t one of them. It’s really a non-issue.

    You’re right about encouraging moms. We need to be *for* each other far more than we often are. A friend calls it the mom-a-thon because we moms so often compete and judge and miss the point of it all.

  12. Anne, I didn’t think you were pointing a finger at me! *grin* Just reflecting on your words and the truth in them.

  13. Excellent post, Kristen.

    I just spent a week with my two daughters-in-law and my two three-month old grandsons. It was such a joy to watch them nurse and chat on different ends of the sofa. I may regret admitting this but I went through a real sadness because I couldn’t breastfeed (and thus console) my oldest grandchild.

    I especially appreciate your first point. We all want to be the best moms we can, and are often tempted to focus on details that won’t make or break our kids.

    Last year a young mom stayed at our house and pumped full time and fed her son with a bottle. I had never encountered that before, and still don’t understand the reasoning behind it. (She was a SAHM).

    I’ve learned (the hard way) to temper my vocal enthusiasm for breastfeeding in the midst of young moms “talking shop”.

    Doesn’t it all come down to showing respect?

    The comments section here helped me see something I think I’ve missed before: that twenty years down the road this will not be on the list of regrets.


  14. I’m always happy that you don’t appear to be one of those psychotic mothers who are just plain rabid for whichever rearing techniques they decided to back.

    Taking good things 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.

    Too many forget that admonition and mothers who choose differently (by deliberation or necessity—I was allergic to breastmilk myself, and this was before it was hip to be allergic to stuff) are often ostracized by mothers who would otherwise be their friends and part of their support system.

    Freakin’ mothers! :P

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