So, What Do We Think About Breast-Feeding?

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I feel bad for not posting on my appointed day — incredibly busy week at work — so I thought I would share with you all this article from the New York Times regarding a new ad campaign that suggests that formula-feeding babies is bad for their health.

Now, I know that the audience for this blog is largely male, but that’s exactly why I thought it would be interesting to get some reactions. Here’s some background for those who’ve never thought about this issue: I don’t know the precise timeline, but mid-20th century breast-feeding fell very out of fashion and out of favor with doctors. Breast milk out, formula in. Over time, it became apparent that the switch to formula was not in fact better for babies, and evidence has been mounting that formula is greatly inferior to breast milk. But the formula companies had already sunk their claws into American culture and were not letting go without a fight. Large swathes of the country apparently still believe that formula is just as good as breast milk. Many of these same people find breast-feeding icky, think that “breasts are for husbands, not babies,” and that it shouldn’t be allowed in public (a la Barbara Walters on The View). Formula companies provide free samples that hospitals push on women, discouraging them from continuing to breast-feed at the first sign of trouble. Workplaces (except in California) are not required to accommodate breast-feeding mothers, and many don’t provide pumping breaks or a clean and private space to pump. All of this can and should change, in my view.

On the other hand, a lot of people find the ad campaign to be overstated and heavy-handed. I agree. Misstating the facts about the science on this issue, and in general using shock-value tactics to raise public awareness, seems the wrong way to go about this. When they feel preached or condescended to, people often tend to react by opposition — not what anyone who wants to improve the health of America’s infants really wants.

I don’t know where I’m going with this, I guess I just wanted to hear someone go off about the breast-feeding Nazis and how people should be able to feed their babies sugar water and put a nip in their bottles because that’s our God-given right as free Americans. Any takers? 🙂

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7 Responses to “So, What Do We Think About Breast-Feeding?”

  1. Michael Lasley Says:

    I’m in a rush, Sandi, so I didn’t read the NYT article (I’ll try to do that tomorrow). I’d never thought about it until my sister had her first child. The nurses in her hospital repeatedly told my sister how breast-feeding was the ONLY healthy thing to do for her baby. That formula would keep a baby from developing properly. The hospital even employed someone whose job it was to talk to expectant couples about breast-feeding. (I’m not making that up — that was this person’s sole purpose for being employed by the hospital was to promote breast milk.) And then around that same time, a couple of women in my family (large extended family that is very productive) had problems breast-feeding and were made to feel that it was there fault — that they were inherently bad mothers (both by nurses and by others in the community). Because the hospitals had done such a good job of brainwashing parents. Seriously, at church, there was a stigma attached to these women because they didn’t or couldn’t breat feed.

    Anyway, that’s my initial comment. I’ll read tha NYT article and comment about it as well

    Mikey

    ps. There were even billboards in Arkansas when my first nephew was born which were pro-breastfeeding. BILLBOARDS!

  2. Terry Austin Says:

    Yes, what Mikey said. When our first child wouldn’t cooperate with nursing, my wife felt like a failure. Although I will say the booby lady at the hospital (“Breast is best!”) was supportive and tried a heap of things to make things work. (Oh, the contraptions they built!) They even honored my wife’s request to stay an extra night in the hospital just to work on the nursing thing.

    (I will also say that post-partum women have, in my experience, put a lot of pressure/pain on themselves in this aspect. They’re not exactly at the top of their games emotionally speaking. Feeling like they’ve somehow “failed” their new baby just fuels the “baby blues” fire.)

    Funny thing: Our formula baby is way above average in terms of size and health (now at five years, he still charts to be 6’5″ or taller, which is remarkable given his pater familius’s hobbit-like size). Our 20-month-old nurser, however, is smallish and has been sick much more than his brother ever was.

    P.S. — The five-year-old is way advanced in vocab skills, too. He just called me away from the computer to help him with a video game. “Dad… I can’t beat this guy. He’s INVINCIBLE!”

  3. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Like the other commenters, my impression is that, right now, all the pressure is on moms to breastfeed. An unhealthy level of pressure. I understand the science says breastfeeding is ideal, but if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work; there are other options, and they’re good options. It seems sadistic to make it out to be the end-all be-all of motherhood.

    At risk of being labeled the callous male, I don’t know that I’d favor requiring employers to provide pumping breaks, or to set aside and maintain clean and private spaces for the purpose. The ladies room, during a normal break, seems like it would be sufficient. I’m open to being convinced otherwise, but that’s my inclination.

    The hospital even employed someone whose job it was to talk to expectant couples about breast-feeding.

    Sounds suspicious, to me; not quite in the spirit of abstinence-only education. Does Dobson know about this?

  4. Sandi Says:

    Hmmm. Interesting comments. It’s all about perception, I guess. There is pressure to breast-feed — in certain circles. In others, there is either little talk of it or pressure the other way. It’s very class-bound and also affected by race. Also somewhat generational.

    I think everyone understands that sometimes there are physical reasons why breast-feeding is impossible. But I was talking about something different — not the women who try and it doesn’t work, but the grandmothers who are telling their daughters that formula is great and it worked fine for them, and the formula companies who try to discourage breast-feeding by providing samples to new mothers. The hospitals are supposed to push those.

    Interesting too how this seems to be a red-state blue-state split. I am looking at where I don’t live (rural areas, the South) as the problem and so are you. Although in fairness the article didn’t break down rates by state or locality. I am glad to hear that hospitals are promoting breast-feeding. My impression was that they were always trying to sneak your baby a bottle of formula while you were asleep.

    P.S. The ladies room is absolutely unacceptable for pumping breast milk. Where are you going to sit, on the toilet? Otherwise it’s not private. Not to mention the cleanliness issues of preparing your child’s food in a restroom. We wouldn’t do that for adults.

  5. juvenal_urbino Says:

    It just seems impracticable, Sandi. What kind of space would be required for a pumping station? Would it need a sink? If so, there are a host of building requirements that go along with that. How much space would be needed?

    As for cleanliness, how much cleanliness should an employer be required to provide? Restrooms are usually cleaned daily. Would a pumping station need to be cleaned more often than that? Would it need to be cleaned differently, using different chemicals, etc?

    What you’re talking about would basically be a food prep area, would it not? With all the regulations attendant thereto?

    I’m not trying to be hardnosed. Just trying to think through the practicalities of it.

  6. Sandi Says:

    Well, I think that first of all, anyone who has an office with a door that closes (like I do) would just use her office, and that’s normally what happens in white-collar office settings. So, essentially, an office or other room with a door would work fine. But a restroom is unacceptable because of the particular types of germs (associated with waste elimination) that abound in bathrooms. I think you’re analyzing too much — it’s not that hard to find an office or even a large closet with a chair. I’m not talking about a specially built room, necessarily, although a lot of large companies have done that. Just a space with a chair and table that is private and reasonably clean (i.e., not a place where people defecate). I don’t think that’s at all unreasonable or even difficult in most settings.

  7. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I see. So no need for a sink and whatnot. It sounds like there really isn’t a problem for white collar moms, then, since most workplaces have a clean, empty office space of some kind.

    How would blue-collar employers provide the space?

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