Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Case Against Breastfeeding

There is an article in the April edition of the Atlantic magazine entitled The Case Against Breastfeeding. The author, Hanna Rosin, tries to make the case that the numerous studies that have proven that breastfeeding is superior infant nutrition and prevents myriad diseases and conditions like asthma and obesity, are flawed. She sets out to prove that there is very little difference between formula and breast milk and there is no reason for moms to nurse if they don't want to.

Now, obviously I don't buy it. One of her claims is that since certain women are more likely to nurse (white, educated, older, wealthy), outcomes will obviously be better for those babies because of the type of mother they have. I definitely believe that this is true, but we also know that low-income, less educated women have children with better outcomes if they are breastfed.

Also, Ms. Rosin states

Some studies have found a link between nursing and slimmer kids, but they haven’t proved that one causes the other. This study surveyed 2,685 children between the ages of 3 and 5. After adjusting for race, parental education,maternal smoking, and other factors—all of which are thought to affect a child’s risk of obesity—the study found little correlation between breast-feeding and weight. Instead, the strongest predictor of the child’s weight was the mother’s. Whether obese mothers nursed or used formula, their children were more likely to be heavy. The breast-feeding advocates’ dream—that something in the milk somehow reprograms appetite—is still a long shot.

Well, it's not the milk itself, it's the act of breastfeeding. Bottlefed newborns can't say, "I'm full mom, take the bottle away now." The act of bottlefeeding is parent-led. How many times have you seen someone continue to shove a bottle in a baby's mouth, even if they are trying to turn away? Bottlefed babies are also often on stricter schedules and since parents can count the ounces, they are more obsessed with the numbers. A bottlefed newborn is forced to continuously suck on the bottle and once babies become accustomed to that overly full or stuffed feeling, they require more and more to feel satisfied. Is it so strange that this would have lifelong implications?

The author also takes the stance that breastfeeding doesn't jibe with being a feminist. This argument is so tired and silly to me! I am a feminist, but I can acknowledge that there are some inherent differences between men and women. One of them being that we have biological differences. Does carrying and delivering a baby not fit in with being a feminist? I mean, don't we just have to accept that nature has given us certain abilities as women that haven't been granted to men and just move on. Our bodies were made to birth and nurture babies. Yes, with science and medical advances we can circumvent the natural way to do things (and honestly, who isn't happy that we have C-sections and formula because they are sometimes medically necessary) but that doesn't mean the natural way isn't the feminist way.

The author ends the piece by saying that it's probably not the actual milk, but the process of breastfeeding that provides most of the benefits and that this is what should be told to mothers and they should then go on to bond with their babies however they see fit. But even if she's right and there are very little benefits to breast milk, wouldn't it still be important for women to nurse if it helps them bond with their babies? A recent study showed that moms who nurse are better mothers. Annie at PhD in Parenting wrote about it: when a woman breastfeeds, she protects her child from herself. It's pretty powerful stuff.

We do know some things for sure. Breast milk is easily digestible and can prevent diarrhea and other gastrointestinal upsets. Breast milk is custom made food for babies. Breast milk is always sterile and at the perfect temperature. Breast milk tastes good. Breast milk is free. Breast milk has never been recalled.

We also know that breastfeeding creates an incredible bond between mother and baby. Breastfeeding helps mom's uterus return to its prepregnancy size and position quicker. Breastfeeding often helps mom lose the pregnancy weight faster. Breastfeeding helps prevent breast and ovarian cancer.

I could go on and on. How can anyone say that there are no real benefits to breastfeeding?

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