Archive for the ‘breastfeeding’ Category

Breasts: If you’ve got em’….why not use them? My take on the great breastfeeding debate.

June 17, 2012

Source:wellness.inside.tru.ca

I have always associated my above average intelligence with the fact that I was breastfed as an infant. The general consensus while I was growing up was that breastfeeding resulted in babies with higher IQs than those who were formula fed. A recent article by Elisabeth Badinter in Harper’s Magazine informed me that this theory has since been debunked, along with some other research on the benefits of breastfeeding. Her article, titled “The Tyranny of Breast-Feeding;New mothers vs. La Leche League” is a scathing criticism of the organization La Leche League (LLL) which she basically accuses of using unfounded facts, scare tactics, maternal guilt and other forms of bullying to manipulate women into feeling compelled to breastfeed. The article has stirred up a storm of controversy and discussion, with many women siding firmly with Badinter, feeling like the message pushed by LLL is at odds with the modern version of motherhood, and others horrified that she would dare call the superiority of breastfeeding into question.

Source:harpers.org

Not familiar with La Leche League, I perused their website. I didn’t find it quite as offensive as Badinter seems to. Of course, I’m barren at this point in my life so perhaps I am not as sensitive to the coercion tactics buried among the site’s pages. I did, however, find it a little over-the-top in it’s proclamations regarding the merits of breastfeeding, and quite frankly, a bit cheesy. I could also agree with Badinter’s criticism that the LLL seems to promote and support a stance that women who breastfeed are superior and hold a superior role in society to those that choose not to or cannot, and that women are the primary and most important child rearers in the family unit. “The loving help and support of the father enables the mother to focus on mothering so that together the parents develop close relationships which strengthen the family and thus the whole fabric of society. LLL further believes that mothering through breastfeeding deepens a mother’s understanding and acceptance of the responsibilities and rewards of her special role in the family. As a woman grows in mothering she grows as a human being, and every other role she may fill in her lifetime is enriched by the insights and humanity she brings to it from her experiences as a mother.” This seems to imply that the father’s role in parenting is simply to financially support mother and child so that mother is able to adequately nurture her child. This is reminiscent of the Don Draper type of father of the 1960s and 1970s who is successful and a good financial provider but is basically absent from his children’s lives. Many women and men have fought hard to change these gender stereotypes and create a new family ideal, one where the responsibility for the child’s development falls on both parent’s shoulders if possible. Furthermore, what does this statement by LLL say about single mothers? Widows? Low income families? God forbid the mother must work and she can’t focus solely on mothering as her single role in life. She will surely contribute to the downfall of society. Give me a break.

Badinter certainly makes some good points in her article. Many women simply can’t breastfeed. There are latching difficulties, they can’t produce milk, they develop infections in their mammary glands, etc. Many women breastfeed for as long as they can, but have to stop to go back to work, either out of personal choice or out of economic necessity. Women who adopt babies obviously can’t product milk to breastfeed their babies. LLL would like to make women think that by not breastfeeding, mothers will lose the chance to form important bonds with their children, thus making women who are not able to form this physical attachment to their child feel like failures as mothers. This is not fair, and it is also not true. Maternal bonding can and will occur whether or not a child breastfeeds or not as long as the mother is meeting her childs emotional, physical, nutritional and cognitive needs. I don’t have a statistic for you, but many formula fed infants have bonded with their mothers.

This is essentially where I stop agreeing with Badinter. Now, generally I roll my eyes when someone makes the argument that something is better for you because it is “natural”. This is true for most herbal products, organic pesticides, natural sweeteners like Steevia, natural soaps and deodorants (P.S.-they don’t work-you smell bad), and magic mushrooms. However, when it comes to breastfeeding vs. formula feeding, I am of the staunch opinion that breast is best. Our bodies were made to do many things. This is not to say we have to do them. As females we are designed to bear children often as early as 11 years old. This is because at one point the average life expectancy was under 40 and many women died in childbirth. We women had to get an early start to keep the human race alive. There was no such thing as formula, and women breastfed or their babies died. Obviously times have changed. We don’t need to birth children when we are still children ourselves (though unfortunately this still occurs), and as a matter of fact many women are waiting later and later to have children. And we have alternatives to breastmilk to nourish our children. The problem is that no matter how much you want to argue about it, study after study has proven the advantage of breastfeeding. It decreases the incidence of infections in the infant due to transferred immunity, it may decrease incidence of a variety of diseases, may improve speech development and prevent cavities. It also benefits the mother by reducing the risk of postpartum depression, anemia, ovarian cancer and osteoporosis due to lack of estrogen. Badinter notes that the research showing that babies of breastfed mothers have higher IQs and a lower risk of asthma have has proven unfounded. But these are only two of the purported benefits. It is not as if the vast number of other benefits are inconsequential. In her article, Badinter quotes sociologist Linda Blum who says that “formula is constantly being improved to reproduce the advantages of breast milk.” This is true. It seems that scientists are continuously finding new components of breast milk that are imperative for childhood development. It wasn’t until between 2003 and 2008 that scientists discovered that the addition of DHA to infant formula was important for eyesight and cognitive development. So how can we be sure that there are no other undiscovered molecules in human breastmilk vital for infant development that aren’t present in artificial formula?

Badinter also seems quite resentful towards the LLL about the fact that they have support from numerous medical organizations. As if there is some type of conspiracy against women everywhere, an evil puppeteer in the sky just itching for control of every mother’s breasts. She doesn’t seem to consider the idea that perhaps all of these organizations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Academy of Pediatrics are making their recommendations based on available research and in the best interest of children. She notes that currently the WHO recommends infants be breastfed exclusively for 6 months, and supplemented with breastmilk until 2 years. The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends breastfeeding for the first 12 months of the infant’s life. The LLL on the other hand recommmends tha women breastfeed until the child decides he or she should be weaned, and furthermore, the ideal is on-feeding, meaning the mother must be available anytime, anywhere. I agree with Badinter that for working mothers this is not feasible. A recent Time Magazine article titled “Are You Mom Enough” discusses this further. According to the article, the natural age of weaning is between 2 and 7, with the average worldwide weaning age being 4. Of course in North America this is not the norm. It would be extremely shocking to see a woman breastfeeding a 4 year-old as evidenced by the controversial cover of said Time issue featuring 26 year-old Jamie Grumet breastfeeding her 3 year-old. Many called the cover sexualized and inflammatory. In our modern society where many women have careers, and children are often in daycare prior to 2 years of age, breastfeeding often ceases much earlier than these recommendations. Even still, many health benefits of breastfeeding can be seen as early as 6 months or even earlier.

Source:Time magazine

What is most disconcerting about Badinter’s argument is not that she feels somewhat hostile towards the LLL for their superior attitude. This is entirely understandable given the organizations old-fashioned and unforgiving philosophy. It is also not that she discounts years of research, although this is just plain ignorant. What rubs me the wrong way is that she does not seem to have any valid argument in defense of choosing not to breastfeed. In fact, her statements almost ruin her case. She says “As far as LLL is concerned, all mothers should be able to breast-feed. There are no naturally insurmountable difficulties, physical or psychological. It would seem there is no such thing as maternal ambivalence and that women who balk at submitting are simply reckless or bad.” Maternal ambivalence? What is that to be taken to mean? Why would a woman be unsure of? Whether she wants to breastfeed? Whether she should? If it is the right thing to do? The evidence is clear. The medical associations have given their opinions. There seems to be no clear reason not to breastfeed your child if physically able. If a woman hesitates in the face of the decision between whether to take the responsibility for the nourishment of their child or not then perhaps she should rethink her decision to have that child in the first place. We live in a society that gives women many personal freedoms. No woman is forced to have a child she doesn’t want. When making the decision to take on the huge responsibility of bearing and raising a child you should be aware of all that encompasses and part of that is sometimes putting your child before yourself order to ensure that he or she is having their physical, emotional, social and intellectual needs met. That is being a parent. Badinter doesn’t think this is reasonable. Badinter says about recommendations that women returning to work expell their own milk with a pump for their child to consume in her abscence versus using formula that “many women find pumping repulsive”. I’m sure that breast pumping is not comfortable, but I would hope that most mothers wouldn’t think that providing the best food possible for their child to be a ‘repulsive’ activity. The author’s statement that breastfeeding is associated with “loss of freedom and the despotism of an insatiable child” is probably most concerning. What does she expect? Whether breastfed or not, a child will hugely impact a woman’s lifestyle. All babies need to be fed, burped, be coddled when they cry, etc. Unfortunately babies demand a lot more than milk, and will continue to do so for years after they cease relying on a liquid diet. Get used to it or get a plant instead.

I believe in women’s rights. I am firmly pro choice. But if you make the decision to bring a child into this earth, I don’t understand why you wouldn’t do everything in your power to ensure he or she has the best start possible. While I can understand resistance to conservative and seemingly old-fashioned notions about motherhood roles, especially in these times when the family unit is often less than traditional, I also believe that the role of mother asĀ  provider of nutrition to her infant has been long-studied and is the subject of much hard research data. Organizations like LLL can provideĀ  information and support but women need to stay true to themselves and keep their own values and lifestyles in mind when reviewing the recommendations and data quoted on such websites. Above all, use common sense and critical thinking to decide what is best for you and your family. The decision to become a mother is not an easy one, and consequently being a mother will be the hardest job you will have. There will be many sacrifices but many gains. I have not yet been on this journey, but I hope to one day. I can’t say with any certainty what decisions I will make, but I can only hope that I will have my children’s best interests at heart.