Naturally, this has the breastfeeding community up in arms. Let me explain to you why.
Hanna Rosin begins her article talking about the cool reception she met from moms at the park when she mentioned weaning her child at one month old. She describes the other moms as trendy types, who breastfeed as a "signifier" of their trendy status. She also goes on to describe how she herself came to breastfeed her own child, after reading several magazine articles about how easy it would be, and the health benefits of it. Now on her third child, she has become disenchanted with the idea of breastfeeding, and wrote this article to show us why she doesn't want to breastfeed anymore, and why we should not judge her for doing so.
This time around, nirvana did not describe my state of mind; I was launching a new Web site and I had two other children to care for, and a husband I would occasionally like to talk to. Being stuck at home breast-feeding as he walked out the door for work just made me unreasonably furious, at him and everyone else...When I looked at the picture on the cover of Sears’s Breastfeeding Book—a lady lying down, gently smiling at her baby and still in her robe, although the sun is well up—the scales fell from my eyes: it was not the vacuum that was keeping me and my 21st-century sisters down, but another sucking sound.Her primary motivating factor seems to have been the feeling of being shackled by the chains of motherhood. She spends a bit of time talking about the feminist movement, and how breastfeeding is the modern equivalent of indentured servitude. To women who want to have careers, who want to be liberated from our biological imperative, that sounds great! But there is an easier solution:
DON'T HAVE KIDS.
You don't want to "do" the wife and mother thing? Then don't get married and have kids. We are designed by God (or nature, if you prefer) to carry our young for 10 months, to birth them vaginally, and to suckle them at the breast. That is why we are classified as mammals. I will never understand why women want to have children, but don't want anything that goes along with having children: birthing them, nursing them, and being home to raise them. But I digress. Let's move on to the meat of the article.
The author's moment of "enlightenment" came while reading another magazine. The results of this study that she read about prompted her to do further research into the alleged benefits of breastfeeding, which caused her to conclude that the benefits were exaggerated, and that knowledge helped her to feel less guilty about not wanting to breastfeed.
One day, while nursing my baby in my pediatrician’s office, I noticed a 2001 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association open to an article about breast-feeding: “Conclusions: There are inconsistent associations among breastfeeding, its duration, and the risk of being overweight in young children.” … The breast-feeding advocates’ dream—that something in the milk somehow reprograms appetite—is still a long shot.This statement is just one of the many statements she makes about the benefits of breastfeeding, without looking at the comparison to formula. Yes, it is true there is no direct correlation between breastfeeding and its ability to prevent obesity, but why would there be? It's not a weight-loss drug or anything. It's just food. However, if one looks at formula:
A Scottish study concluded that formula feeding is associated with an increased risk of childhood obesity. (Armstrong, J. et al, 2002)
A German study found a 40% higher prevalence of obesity among children who were formula-fed, over children who had been breastfed. (Von Kries, R, 1999)
and so on. While breastfeeding by itself doesn't prevent obesity, when compared to formula feeding, the rates of obesity are significantly lower. So her statement about how breast milk doesn't "reprogram appetite" is not pertinent to the discussion, if her point is that formula is not necessarily worse than breast milk.
The author is a product of her generation, equating infant formula with scientific progress, and paying little heed to the history or science of formula creation itself. She states, "Formula grew out of a late-19th-century effort to combat atrocious rates of infant mortality by turning infant feeding into a controlled science." Infant feeding was NOT a controlled science in the late 19th century. The first infant formulas were just cow's milk. Period. It was considered a last-ditch attempt to save babies for whom human milk was not available. Most of the babies died anyway. Later on, someone developed the ability to condense and store milk for delivery and shelf-life, and hence mass-marketed infant formula was born. Infant formula was still just evaporated cow's milk. Infant formula did not become a "science" until it became marketable. (For more information about the history of infant formula, please read the book Milk, Money and Madness.)
She comes to this conclusion about all the "evidence:"
What does all the evidence add up to? We have clear indications that breast-feeding helps prevent an extra incident of gastrointestinal illness in some kids—an unpleasant few days of diarrhea or vomiting, but rarely life-threatening in developed countries. We have murky correlations with a whole bunch of long-term conditions. The evidence on IQs is intriguing but not all that compelling, and at best suggests a small advantage, perhaps five points...
Breast milk is not magical, no, but it doesn't cause any negative effects, which cannot be said for formula. And her conclusion also does not factor in that breastfeeding in comparison to formula feeding isn't just better - it saves lives. Her concluding statement illustrates this point perfectly: "So overall, yes, breast is probably best. But not so much better that formula deserves the label of “public health menace,” alongside smoking."
In fact, the author is careful to not include any studies about formula - maybe because studies about formula paint a much darker picture? The author neglects to put up any studies about the very real dangers of formula, including increased risk for asthma, allergy, respiratory disease, reduced cognitive development, infection from contaminated formulas, childhood cancers, nutrient deficiencies, chronic diseases, diabetes, ear infections, environmental contaminants, and death. (ref) How is it that a product that causes death does not deserve the label of public health menace?
Ay, there's the rub! The elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. Formula causes death. Sure, most babies use formula and live. I formula fed my first child, and she grew up to be quite healthy and very intelligent. But then, George Burns smoked cigars until the day he died, at the ripe old age of 100 - does that mean that tobacco doesn't kill people?
According to this article,"between 1982 and 1994 alone, there were 22 significant recalls of infant formula in the United States due to health and safety problems. Seven of these recalls were classified by the FDA as "Class I" or potentially life threatening." In fact, powdered formula is not sterilized at all, and subject to contamination by any source. According to this article by the FDA:
As background information for health professionals, FDA wants to point out that powdered infant formulas are not commercially sterile products. Powdered milk-based infant formulas are heat-treated during processing, but unlike liquid formula products they are not subjected to high temperatures for sufficient time to make the final packaged product commercially sterile.
Google e. sakazakii, melamine contamination, or BPA.
This article finds that formula use doubles the US infant mortality rate.
A 1989 study conducted by the U.S. National Institue of Environmental Health Sciences estimated that four of every 1,000 infants born in the United States each year die because they are not breastfed. In 1992, 4.1 million American children were born. If half were bottle-fed (which is a conservative estimate), there would have been 8,168 unnecessary, preventable deaths.And it doesn't just kill babies - it kills mothers. According to phdinparenting:
The Canadian Cancer Society reports that in 2008, an estimated 22,400 women in Canada will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 5,300 will die of it (source: Breast Cancer Stats). It has been well documented through research that breastfeeding lowers a woman’s chance of contracting breast cancer (for other ways of lowering your risk see It’s Your Health - Breast Cancer). In fact, studies have shown that if women breastfed for at least 16 months over their lifetime, the incidence of breast cancer might drop from 6% of women to 3% of women (source: CBC article “Breastfeeding protects against breast cancer, study confirms”).So if infant formula kills babies, is subject to contamination, increases health risks, and harms mothers, why is it still marketed to women as their "right to choose?" As if choosing to breastfeed or use formula is no more important than choosing Coke over Pepsi?
...in any case, if a breast-feeding mother is miserable, or stressed out, or alienated by nursing, as many women are, if her marriage is under stress and breast-feeding is making things worse, surely that can have a greater effect on a kid’s future success than a few IQ points...The debate about breast-feeding takes place without any reference to its actual context in women’s lives. Breast-feeding exclusively is not like taking a prenatal vitamin. It is a serious time commitment that pretty much guarantees that you will not work in any meaningful way...
...Given what we know so far, it seems reasonable to put breast-feeding’s health benefits on the plus side of the ledger and other things—modesty, independence, career, sanity—on the minus side, and then tally them up and make a decision. But in this risk-averse age of parenting, that’s not how it’s done...
...We were raised to expect that co-parenting was an attainable goal. But who were we kidding?... Even in the best of marriages, the domestic burden shifts, in incremental, mostly unacknowledged ways, onto the woman. Breast-feeding plays a central role in the shift...
...In her critique of the awareness campaign, Joan Wolf, a women’s-studies professor at Texas A&M University, chalks up the overzealous ads to a new ethic of “total motherhood.” ...Choices are often presented as the mother’s selfish desires versus the baby’s needs. As an example, Wolf quotes What to Expect When You’re Expecting, from a section called the “Best-Odds Diet,” which I remember quite well: “Every bite counts. You’ve got only nine months of meals and snacks with which to give your baby the best possible start in life … Before you close your mouth on a forkful of food, consider, ‘Is this the best bite I can give my baby?’ If it will benefit your baby, chew away. If it’ll only benefit your sweet tooth or appease your appetite put your fork down.” To which any self-respecting pregnant woman should respond: “I am carrying 35 extra pounds and my ankles have swelled to the size of a life raft, and now I would like to eat some coconut-cream pie. So you know what you can do with this damned fork...”
It's all about M-E. This summarizes the tone of the whole article, and I would submit, the tone of our culture today. I don't want to breastfeed because I am too busy. Because it's uncomfortable for me. Because I want to work. Because I want to have an exclusive relationship with my husband. Because I want a life that does not include children in a significant portion of it. Because I don't want to be inconvenienced
Now, far be it from me to judge someone for not wanting to be a parent. If someone wants to live a life free of constraints, to be able to go wherever they want when they want to, to have a career to dedicate themselves to for their entire lives, more power to them. No one is forcing anyone to have kids. But once you have children, you have already chosen your life! You cannot have your cake and eat it too.
Most importantly, once you have children, you cannot take away THEIR right to choose. Your right to choose ends when another life is affected by your choices. Infant formula is potentially harmful to babies. Period. You cannot "choose" to use formula simply because it suits your lifestyle better - you must breastfeed because it won't kill your baby!
The final word today's culture is about being judgmental. The phrase "don't judge me" has the same weight in today's culture as calling someone a pinko in the 50s.
What’s most amazing is how, 50 years after La Leche League’s founding, “enlightenment from the laboratory”—judgmental and absolutist—has triumphed again. The seventh edition of The Womanly Art, published in 2004, has ballooned to more than 400 pages, and is filled with photographs in place of the original hand drawings. But what’s most noticeable is the shift in attitude… The experience of reading the 1958 edition is like talking with your bossy but charming neighbor, who has some motherly advice to share. Reading the latest edition is like being trapped in the office of a doctor who’s haranguing you about the choices you make.
The shift in attitude of which the author speaks isn't a change in the book; it's a shift in the attitude of today's women - that of entitlement. When the book was first published in 1958, women didn't need to "harangue" each other about breastfeeding. They only needed to educate and support each other, because they assumed that women would naturally want to assume their proper role as mothers to their children.
Make no mistake - this article is not about the health benefits of breastfeeding. This article is about women who don't want to breastfeed, despite knowing the benefits of it, and despite knowing the risks of formula, without reproach or judgment. You will have no such luck with me. I judge you. I judge you for choosing something dangerous for your children for your own convenience. I judge you for trying to make other women feel good about their choice not to breastfeed, so you don't feel alone in your selfishness. I judge you for making the commitment to have children without having the integrity to follow through with everything motherhood entails.
I’m not really sure why I don’t stop entirely. I know it has nothing to do with the science...My best guess is something I can’t quite articulate. Breast-feeding does not belong in the realm of facts and hard numbers; it is much too intimate and elemental. It contains all of my awe about motherhood, and also my ambivalence. Right now, even part-time, it’s a strain. But I also know that this is probably my last chance to feel warm baby skin up against mine, and one day I will miss it.Author: this is your biology calling. Please answer.
** I wish we were all adults and I didn't have to make this disclaimer, but such as it is...I obviously don't judge anyone for whom formula feeding is not a choice, such as adoption and those with certain medical conditions. That is why formula was invented, after all.