Thursday, March 12, 2009

Feminist Reading Day: On Breastfeeding

I always enjoy Hanna Rosin's writing - this time, on the overinflated benefits of breastfeeding. After discussing much of the science - the real science - which gives inconclusive results regarding the benefits of milk - she gets into the sociological side of things:

About seven years ago, I met a woman from Montreal, the sister-in-law of a friend, who was young and healthy and normal in every way, except that she refused to breast-feed her children. She wasn’t working at the time. She just felt that breast-feeding would set up an unequal dynamic in her marriage—one in which the mother, who was responsible for the very sustenance of the infant, would naturally become responsible for everything else as well. At the time, I had only one young child, so I thought she was a kooky Canadian—and selfish and irresponsible. But of course now I know she was right. I recalled her with sisterly love a few months ago, at three in the morning, when I was propped up in bed for the second time that night with my new baby (note the my). My husband acknowledged the ripple in the nighttime peace with a grunt, and that’s about it. And why should he do more? There’s no use in both of us being a wreck in the morning. Nonetheless, it’s hard not to seethe. . . .

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. Let’s say a baby feeds seven times a day and then a couple more times at night. That’s nine times for about a half hour each, which adds up to more than half of a working day, every day, for at least six months. This is why, when people say that breast-feeding is “free,” I want to hit them with a two-by-four. It’s only free if a woman’s time is worth nothing.

7 comments:

monkeymom22 said...

And it is worth every minute! Six months is just a tiny fraction of your life. Losing a little sleep is nothing compared to the benefits and bonding you and your infant get from breastfeeding. I can't understand how anyone would choose to give something artificial and man-made to their baby over something naturally perfect unless they had to.

Kerri said...

Very interesting article, thanks for the link, cd. I especially love the last two sentences of the second paragraph that you quoted.

The breastfeeding issue is so huge in the "mommy" world. I think it is very unfortunate that moms are made to feel bad when they can't or choose not to breastfeed. I have one friend who adopted her son and would compulsively tell people he was adopted when she pulled out the formula, I think because she feared she was being judged for not breastfeeding. I felt HUGE guilt when breastfeeding almost killed me (literally) and I had to stop. The whole thing can get a little bit insane!

Anonymous said...

According to most medical sources, the benefits to the child can be accomplished by breastfeeding for as short as three months.

That seems worth it...

cd said...

According to this article, the meta studies reveal that benefits are only hinted at and are far inflated by pop culture.

I can understand about 1000 reasons why people would choose not to breastfeed and many thousand more reasons why they can't or don't even have a choice.

The fear of Mommy Judgment may be the single greatest roadblock between me and parenthood. I have several parenting role models that give me hope (including my own mother), but the overwhelming cultural sentiment just makes it seem unpleasant and judgy.

monkeymom22 said...

If that's your biggest fear about motherhood you probably aren't ready to be a mother. ;)

Jacqui said...

Mommy Judgment goes both ways. While breastfeeding my son, I got many comments (including from some certain much loved family members) about how long I had decided to breastfeed him and was given more than a few "odd" looks for breastfeeding him in public. Once you become a mommy, EVERYONE has an opinion in how you parent your child, and often you are doing it wrong (at least in there eyes).
As far as this author's take on breastfeeding, honestly, breastfeeding is one of my favorite things about motherhood. As I am sitting here breastfeeding my brand new baby girl, I can't imagine anything else. It isn't a chore. It is a cost. It is a beautiful thing that only I can do for my child, and I cherish every moment. When my son self-weaned at 2, I mourned the loss. Regardless of whether I thought it was the best food source (I don't think formula is evil, by the way, but I do think breast is best) I would choose to breastfeed my baby for so many other reasons...just a few...the special bond that is created, the warm fuzzy feeling you get when you breastfeed (yup, you get some awesome hormones released when nurse...better than drugs!) And heck, I am lazy, breastfeeding is SO much easier. When I need to leave the house, lunch is packed! And in the middle of the night...not warming or bottle mixing. Just pop the baby on and go back to sleep!

monkeymom22 said...

Well said, Jacqui! Congrats on your new baby girl! My daughter is 2.5 and still nursing once a day and showing no signs of weaning, and my little boy is 9 months and still 100% booby fed. Enjoy every moment!