Thursday, September 27, 2012

Breastfeeding: Who Cares?

Have you noticed that apathy is cool? I began noticing in college and although it's less pronounced with my peers now, that attitude is still common. It's cool to have a "cause" with which you're involved, perhaps a t-shirt or catchy slogan. But once you get emotionally involved or start trying to influence other people? Calm down. It's not that important.

So if an issue is important to you, it's necessary to have an answer to, "What's the big deal?" For me, breastfeeding is a big deal. Here's why.

The International Breastfeeding Symbol

1. Women deserve accurate information. Baby formula is a for-profit business with a substantial presence in marketing. That's fine. I have no problem with companies being able to market their products. But health professionals (midwives, OBGYNs, pediatricians, nurses, etc.) need to work diligently to provide the other side of the story. An expectant mother needs to be fully educated about the pros and cons of both formula and breastfeeding to make an informed decision. (Hint: There are significant health benefits to moms, too!)

2. Babies deserve to be healthy. Breast milk is the best nutrition a baby can receive. Although formula can literally be a life-saver in certain circumstances, it will never equal the nutritional value of breast milk. If a mother cannot nurse her own child or cannot provide enough milk, the next step can be seeking donated breast milk. Supplemental formula can be considered if donated breast milk is unavailable.

3. Families deserve independence. While breastfeeding costs the mother's time and increased caloric needs, the financial cost of formula is steep. If a child has an allergic reaction to certain types of formula, the financial cost can be astronomical. (It is exceedingly rare for a child to be allergic to breast milk.) Breastfeeding frees families from dependence on prepared formula, with the requirements to carry around formula and bottles. Also, no more late-night grocery runs or stumbling to the kitchen to heat a bottle.

4. Finally, mothers and children deserve respect. What frustrates me most about our current lack of support for breastfeeding is the disturbing prejudice against breastfeeding, particularly in public. I know multiple women who consider breastfeeding to be disgusting and would never consider nursing their children. As a society, I think it is extremely important to stop viewing breasts as purely sexual and to recognize the value of feeding our children. Women are not sex objects. Children are not manipulative parasites. Breastfeeding is good.

Disclaimer: I don't think parents who use formula are bad parents. I don't think their children are doomed to be less intelligent or unloved. I do think it is unfortunate that so many children end up on formula, but I think this is a societal problem. If society encouraged breastfeeding, provided adequate information to expectant parents, and supported breastfeeding women by allowing the time and space they needed, fewer parents would have to choose. They could give their kids the best nutrition AND stay healthy and sane themselves.


  1. What a topic! It seems so obvious and natural, but it isn't. Before both our kids were born, we decided on breastfeeding after doing a lot of reading and researching - even on what we were going to do when my wife had to go back to work. However, things never seem to work out as planned. With one child very premature and the other being lactose intolerant with GERD, breastfeeding became difficult. This was compounded by my wife's postpartum depression with the first child and all the stress she got about breastfeeding from family, friends, and medical personal. Often she got the message that if she wanted the best for her kids, she should try harder to breastfeed. She was so anxious at times she was crying while trying to feed our kids. She always felt like a failure each time it didn't work. There were tons of loving people telling her different things that worked for them, but when the tricks didn't work, she felt more like a failure. However, there was no one there to tell her that it was okay if she couldn't breastfeed her kid. It was more than sad. It became such an issue with people telling her she could do it if she just tried harder. I eventually told her that she could quit if she wanted to, that she was so much more than a meal, and that our kids needed their mom for so much more irreplaceable things. And she is so much more! Especially since she felt free to stop trying. There is so much more I could say, but I just wish there was someone else that could have told her it was okay, that things happen, and that she was not a failure just because she couldn't breastfeed her kids!

    1. Heartbreaking. Yes, moms are definitely more than food! And sometimes even with all possible support, it just doesn't work. Given that wet nurses are rather out of style, I wish the process to donate and receive donor breast milk was simplified for women like your wife and others who have tried all they can. Your wife deserves so much credit for even trying in difficult situations. And YOU deserve credit for knowing that what is healthiest for mom and baby sometimes means calling it quits. Your kids are blessed indeed.