Don't Glorify My Breast Milk

| 8/3/2011 5:52:10 PM

Bottle feedingMy female colleagues have dealt with wacky spaces in the quest to pump breast milk at work: a conference room with a trick doorknob under which they jammed a chair, just in case; a senior staffer’s private office; a unisex shower stall that tended, by nature, to be very wet; and, strangest of all, a party room complete with foosball table that had displaced players milling outside asking, “Why is this door closed? Who’s in there? We want to foos.” The new mothers have good-naturedly endured the bizarre spaces, I was telling a friend. Her response: “That’s good that they’re pumping. If they didn’t, they would be selfish, bad mothers.” My friend spoke earnestly, confident that feeding formula genuinely compromises a baby’s well-being.

Whoa. Back up. With postpartum depression affecting many mothers, especially those who struggle with breastfeeding, uncritical devotion to nursing can do more harm than good. And the science isn’t there to back it up, argues women’s studies assistant professor Joan Wolf. While a wealth of research suggests a correlation between breastfeeding and better health, Wolf says “much of that research is flawed,” reports the University of Chicago Magazine. Her stance has earned her heated criticism, but Wolf has also received support “from lactation consultants and advocates who believe that the national conversation about breast-feeding has become ‘completely irrational.’”

Author of Is Breast Best? Taking on the Breastfeeding Experts and the New High Stakes of Motherhood, Wolf found that more controlled studies show breast milk and formula run nearly neck-and-neck when it comes to benefits. Nursing is an excellent option, but so is formula—just like green tea is considered marginally healthier than black tea, but in the end both are superfoods rich in nutrients and antioxidants. Yet the high rhetoric of breastfeeding advocacy vilifies what is already an emotional decision for many mothers:

[N]ot all women are able to nurse, whether it’s because the baby doesn’t latch, it’s painful for the mother, she doesn’t have time, or she simply doesn’t like it. In those cases, says Wolf, the pro-breast-feeding studies, without appropriate scientific evidence, make the mother feel inadequate.

Wolf makes a simple yet radical claim: It’s time to end the glorification of breast milk and the shaming of mothers who choose formula. For many women, nursing works; for many others, it doesn’t. But accusations of selfishness and bad mothering won’t contribute to anyone’s good health.

Source: University of Chicago Magazine 

Image by nerissa’s ring, licensed under Creative Commons. 

R A Skophammer
9/7/2011 2:04:13 PM

The hyperbole from some of the breast-milk advocates has created an environment where women that do not breastfeed are considered poor mothers. Yet millions of people were fed formula and are perfectly health. The lack of respect for the right and ability of a woman to make a choice about what is best for her and her child is nothing less than misogyny.

8/23/2011 2:26:02 PM

odds & ends: Bill, sorry to hear that your wife had that experience. Steve, either that is ironic trollery, or you have neatly encapsulated the pro-breastfeeding mafia mentality. Really, if you oh, have to work a job that makes no accommodation for pumping to keep your family from falling into destitution, then you do not deserve to have children? Really? Basically you are arguing eugenics against poor people, which may be okay with you based on your stated commitments to negative population growth, but I think is not a stance that most of us would endorse due to its obvious racism, classism and general moral corruptness. Generally women want to do what is best for their children. Unfortunately in a culture and economic environment that is largely hostile to motherhood, this means trade-offs, such as no breast-feeding b/c of no paid maternity leave; and no pumping due to the lack of accommodations (e.g. breaks long enough, safe and clean space). Stress is unquestionably a top factor for post-partum depression -- are women best served by a medical establishment that offers no alternatives to breast-feeding, and a society that feels entitled to share their uninvited judgments on parenting? Clearly a whole baby-boom generation was raised on formula and turned out just fine. Maybe breast milk is better, but lets not pretend that formula is rat poison.

8/8/2011 5:01:40 PM

A women’s studies assistant professor is probably qualified to speak about the issue facing women about the pressures of breast feeding, and judgment they face when they are unable to breast feed, but I question her qualifications to speak about medical research. She said she had read a years worth of studies and found many are based on correlation (she says studies have undeniably shown that breast-fed babies ingest certain antibodies that fight bacteria in the GI tract, but this is her only concession)... However, all this shows is that we need betters studies, she has not proven the hypothesis wrong. The exact make up of breast milk is still unknown, and there are over 100 ingredients in human milk not found in formula ( More research is needed but its too soon to say breast milk and formula are equal.

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