Friday, November 5, 2010

Breast Is Best, Where's the Confusion?

I received an email in my inbox today at work, from an industry magazine, linking to some new reviews that were available exclusively online. Since I do all of the collection development for my library, I decided to scroll through and see if there was anything interesting.

Well, hold on to your hats because apparently there are still people out there who are questioning if breast milk is really any better for babies and decided we needed a treatise defending formula feeding. The book is called Is Breast Best?: Taking on the Breastfeeding Experts and the New High Stakes of Motherhood. The author, Joan Wolf, decided to expound on a 2007 essay she wrote for the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law after the US government's ad campaign from 2006 used risk aversion as a means of promoting breastfeeding ("You'd never take risks before your baby is born. Why start after?" asked the ads, featuring heavily pregnant women log rolling and riding a mechnical bull at a bar).

Now, when a certain journalist tried to parse through the scientific studies and decided they were "flawed," she was criticized by nearly everyone, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the United States Breastfeeding Committee. So I'm sort of surprised that a gender studies professor somehow thinks she is more qualified than say, Dr. Melissa Bartick, to determine whether or not there is strong science to support the case for breastfeeding.

For goodness sakes, even the reviewer, a journalist and freelance writer says, "(Wolf) seems out of her element when describing perceived flaws in medical studies of breast milk and talking about financial issues." Her review also states, "Inexplicably, she fails to discuss the price of formula, which can easily run $1,000 to $2,000 a year. Instead, she talks about what she sees as the 'exorbitant' costs of breastfeeding."

This idea of the high price of breastfeeding gets brought up again and again. Yes, pumps and milk storage bags and nursing clothing can be pricey, but there is also this argument that breastfeeding is only free if a woman's time isn't worth anything. And honestly, I'm not buying it. Do bottles make themselves? Does formula just show up at the door? (wait...don't answer that.) Do parents not have to actually take time to feed the baby once the formula is prepared? And when families are bottle-feeding, is the work always split 50/50?

Are we seriously still asking women to believe that breastfeeding isn't compatible with feminism? Wolf seems to be. In an essay she wrote for the website Opposing Views, she says that breastfeeding promotion   "derive(s) from an ethos which presumes that a moral mother will subjugate herself completely to a culturally defined, all-inclusive notion of the needs of children. When mothers have wants, such as a sense of bodily, emotional, and psychological autonomy, but children have needs... then good mothering requires that mothers repress their own wants.  Each mother is responsible for adopting behavior that reduces even minuscule or poorly understood risks to her children, regardless of the cost to herself." Again, I would argue that the risks of formula feeding are understood and that those risks are not miniscule, but you don't have to be a martyr to breastfeed. Many women come to the conclusion that bottle-feeding was not as freeing as they were led to believe it would be. And isn't the harassment of nursing moms in public that we hear about every day, the judgment of our choices from friends, family and healthcare providers alike, the pushback to any accommodations that are made for us, just as worthy of feminist discourse? Where are the scholars writing about that?

So just be prepared come January, when all of the various media outlets and morning shows trot out this "expert" to tell women around the country that there is no reason to breasteed and sites like Mom Logic and Babble applaud her for her work. You can't say you weren't warned.

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