I’m getting tired of hearing the same old thing over and over again. Every time a study comes out that talks about the benefits of breastfeeding, whether it is the benefits to the child, the benefits to the mom, or the benefits to society in general, people get their noses out of joint. They say things like “don’t make moms feel guilty for formula feeding” or “quit picking on moms who don’t breast-feed“. In fact that second statement is the title of a post published today on creators.com by Lenore Skenazy, the author of Free Range Kids.
In her post, which is in response to the study The Burden of Suboptimal Breastfeeding in the United States: A Pediatric Cost Analysis, which I wrote about a few days ago, Lenore says:
Why are we so eager to terrify mothers who don’t breast-feed? Why don’t we terrify the moms AND dads who put their children in cars? Every day, five or six children die in car crashes, even kids in car seats. Yet we don’t run national stories that say, “IRRESPONSIBLE PARENTS CONTINUE TO DRIVE THEIR CHILDREN,” or, “COUNTRY COULD SAVE BILLIONS IF PARENTS QUIT TRANSPORTING KIDS IN CARS.” That’s because driving is too important. Everyone understands that if we couldn’t drive our kids around, we couldn’t do anything. Walk them everywhere? It’s impractical. It’s impossible. The benefits don’t outweigh the costs.
But when it comes to a mother’s time, who cares? It’s hard to breast-feed? So what. It hurts? So what. It’s exceedingly difficult to go back to work and pump and schlep and get up for all the nighttime feedings and still function during the day? What are you, lady, some kind of baby killer?
I think she (and many others) missed the point of the study altogether. The intent of the study is not to pick on moms or to make them feel guilty. The point of the study is to achieve greater societal, political, and institutional support for breastfeeding.
To borrow from Lenore’s analogy, I think it would be more pertinent to compare support for breastfeeding with support for public transportation. We all know that travel by car is more expensive, more dangerous, and worse for the environment than using public transportation. However, when a study talks about the ills of car travel and points to the need for greater support and investment in public transportation, no one starts whining about car drivers being picked on (okay, maybe not no one….but those who do certainly come out looking like idiots).
It is time that we accept the facts. When compared with breastfeeding, formula has risks. That doesn’t mean that every mom who doesn’t breastfeed is “some kind of baby killer.” What it does mean is that every mom who does want to breastfeed deserves a fighting chance to be able to do so. She deserves knowledgeable health care providers. She deserves a supportive family. She deserves a supportive work environment. She deserves access to maternity leave. She deserves to be able to breastfeed in public without being harassed. She deserves to not have unsolicited free formula showing up on her doorstep.
I’m with you on this Lenore – it is time to quit picking on moms who don’t breast-feed, but it isn’t time to quit talking about the importance of breastfeeding and the risks of formula. At least not until most moms who want to breastfeed are able to do so.