Breastfeeding is not all it’s cracked up to be. And the reasons for breastfeeding that most people give are not very smart, unfortunately.
Reason #1. “It’s best for my child! Studies show it is!”
Answer: These studies are stupid. Sorry, but there it is, and here’s why: they all assume that correlation equals causation. I dare anyone to show me a study about breastfeeding that doesn’t do this. Guess what else breastfeeding correlates to? Being educated and having money. So what really makes the difference – are smart, healthy children smart and healthy because they were breastfed, or because they were raised by educated, middle-class parents? Who knows? Breastfeeding “research” sure doesn’t.
Reason #2: “Well, even if it doesn’t necessarily make my baby smarter, it DOES make it healthier!! I care about my child’s health!”
Answer: Again, I dare you to produce research that doesn’t assume that correlation equals causation. I double dare you to produce research that compares breastfeeding to modern formulas (most studies are longitudinal and therefore compare breastfeeding to the formulas of 15 or 20 years ago).
Reason #3: “But the American Academy of Pediatrics/Dr. Sears/my mom/my OBGYN/La Leche says so!’
Answer: Appeal to authority is no argument. All those people are wrong unless they have thoughtful, logical research to back them up.
Reason #4: “But it’s good for the mom too! It helps her lose weight and stuff, and keeps her from getting cancer and stuff.”
Answer: Sure, maybe. Care to show me the research (remember, nothing that assumes correlation equals causation).
What about the downsides to breastfeeding?
Downside #1. Breastfeeding takes Dad out of the equation and makes bonding all about mommy and child, not parents and child.
Downside #2. If you work, you have to pumps. Pumps aren’t cheap, despite Mrs. Obama’s laudable efforts to make them a little more affordable. Pumping can be a logistical nightmare.
Downside #3. You must spend more time with the baby – whether you have that time or not and whether the baby needs you, specifically, or not.
Downside #4. Pushing breastfeeding as the ultimate Unshirkable Responsibility is not only based on ignorance and poor research, but it makes women who can’t breastfeed feel terrible.
There are reasons to breastfeed – it’s free, for one. But like anything else it has its downsides, and its strident champions need to be more compassionate, and more knowledgeable.