Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Vitriol Over Breastfeeding Research

The recent study from the Journal Pediatrics is getting a lot of coverage. In response there have also been a lot of public comment on it. Feminist Breeder summarizes the vitriol that is being expressed in response to it.

Most breastfeeding advocates, and moms who don't advocate but breastfeed happily or even ever comment on the good side of breastfeeding has heard the defensiveness that is sparked immediately from a mother who has used formula with her baby for whatever reason. (Can you tell that I have?)

A friend recently described what this is like to be on the receiving end of the defensiveness, and since she captured it so well, I'll link to her it (hope you don't mind Aimee!). Though she was talking about fertility, its very similar to discussions regarding breastfeeding and formula usage.

When speaking about breastfeeding or giving encouragement or advice to help someone continue breastfeeding, it is not condemning those who do not, yet it it stating what is factual: breastfeeding is better. Its the norm. It is right in the vast majority of circumstances. Stating fact is not a reflection on a person. Defensiveness is not necessary. There is compassion for those who struggle or regret or do not regret and feel comfort in knowing it was the right decision for their family, or who have "the serenity to accept the things [they] cannot change."

For whatever reason that is faced that leads a mother to supplement or to turn entirely to formula, the fact does not change that breastfeeding would be better. Its not said to make anyone feel guilty. Like a quote shared by a friend, "Ideals are stars to be guided by not sticks to beat ourselves with."

When breastfeeders are saying these facts, we are not disrespecting you. We are not dismissing your experiences. To quote Aimee from above:
I just ask for the same respect. I invite you to share with me your struggles and feelings about trials you have to endure. We can build understanding even through our differing challenges and being dismissive of each other's circumstances will only erect barriers between us.
But beyond all that, there is more to the issue. For many women it is not about choices, but its about making the best out of the circumstances they are faced with. On the Feminist Breeder's post, I responded in support of Shannon Drury, a member of the Mothers & Caregivers Rights’ Committee of National NOW, who said this:
They pretended to care about why more women don’t breastfeed, but they never mentioned the totally [expletive removed] obvious: THIS COUNTRY LACKS THE POLITICAL WILL TO ENACT FEDERALLY MANDATED MATERNITY LEAVE. Forget pumping stations. Forget “some women just can’t,” which as you pointed out is crap. GET ON THE STREETS AND DEMAND MATERNITY LEAVE FOR EVERYONE. Everyone. Everyone. Everyone.
I added to her comments by saying, what I discovered when studying family policy in my master's program. I'm sharing here what I posted there highlighting the policies I feel are necessary to provide the level of social support needed to acheive a 90% exclusive to 6 months breastfeeding rate:

"Beyond choice, and physical difficulties is the need for public policies that are designed to respect a woman’s ability to breastfeed and care for her baby exclusively. Paid, extended maternity leave is necessary to establish the breastfeeding relationship. At home subsidies for stay a home mothers would also be appropriate here (Sweden is essentially doing this for up to 1 year). After that requiring employers to allow mothers to pump milk at work and NOT making them clock out to do so, providing on site childcare, and flextime/telecommuting options are important steps in maintaining the breastfeeding relationship beyond 6 months. Insurance paid for lactation consultants, public health campaigns on the ease of increasing milk supply via oatmeal and herbal tea, expanding the WIC give-aways of breastpumps are all ways to assist mothers in having success breastfeeding.

I’m sick of the partisan politics that maintain that parents are expected to “pull themselves up by their boot straps” and “do the best they can with what they’ve been given” and “suck it up.” That does not a healthy nation make. Charity, benevolence, compassion and kindness need a more central part in our public discourse."


Liz said...

That's all well and good, but you know, as someone who was told on a subway in a public place that I was poisoning my son for feeding him formula after I had mixed a bottle, I think I have reason to be defensive against so-called lactivists who have made it known that I just didn't try hard enough and it would have worked if I had tried harder.

There really is no compassion for people who went through what I went through.

Jenne said...

Liz, you are right. I didn't specifically address the lactvists who say such insensitive, and purposefully offensive things, though the warning I quote from Aimee certainly applies to them. I'm sorry that was your experience. No one is going to be won over or "convinced of the error of their ways" (as the lactivists view things) when they are being old things like that.

Anonymous said...

Where you write, "the fact does not change that breastfeeding would be better," I think you participate in the kind of broad and mistaken judgment that makes some women feel burdened with unnecessary guilt or sadness. It is flatly not true that breastfeeding would be better in all cases because not all situations are ideal, and some women have to live with facts that make breastfeeding NOT a good option. In some cases, the reality of a woman's life is that breastfeeding would not be better for her baby, for her situation, due to circumstances that cannot be changed. Breastfeeding may be better for MOST babies, but that does NOT mean that it is better for EVERY baby. For some babies, not breastfeeding is safer considering the realities with which they live. For example, a mom may be on chemotherapy or lifesaving prescription medication. For her baby, it is not better to breastfeed. Hypothetically, it might be better if the mother did not have cancer and did not need to take the medication--but that is not her life. The last thing that mother needs is your or my judgment because she has done the very best thing for HER baby. There are lots of ideals upon which we could judge one another that don't relate to the realities of each woman's life.

--an exclusively breastfeeding mom

Jenne said...

Anonymous, I'm going to respectfully disagree with you. The biological ideal, and how the human body is made to function, will always be the ideal. Certain circumstances and situations will make other solutions necessary but the fact with never change that a woman's body is intended to feed and nourish the young that she bares from it. Life gets in the way, even nature gets in the way at times, but the exceptions do not make the rule invalid.