Against breast feeding

Breast-feeding may be a little bit healthier, concedes Hanna Rosin in The Atlantic’s The Case Against Breast-Feeding. But it’s not so wonderful that “breast-feeding fascists” should make formula-using mothers feel like trailer trash.

While thousands of studies link “breast-feeding with healthier, happier, smarter children,” they share a flaw, writes Rosin.

. . .  breast-fed infants are typically brought up in very different families from those raised on the bottle. In the U.S., breast-feeding is on the rise — 69 percent of mothers initiate the practice at the hospital, and 17 percent nurse exclusively for at least six months. But the numbers are much higher among women who are white, older, and educated; a woman who attended college, for instance, is roughly twice as likely to nurse for six months.

Rosin thinks breast feeding makes life too difficult for working women and should be seen as nice but not essential.

I thought it was easy, free and healthy, but I had a six-month maternity leave.

Of course, I also had a baby who spent 12 days in neonatal intensive care, while I frantically pumped in hopes that someday I’d be able to feed my baby.  And hold her and watch her grow up. I did a lot of pumping and crying. Then my husband rented an electric breast pump attached to a container big enough to milk Elsie the Cow. I actually laughed when I sat it, and those were not laughing days. Fastening that to my breast was an act of courage. So, once I could breast-feed a healthy baby it was a piece of cake — and a victory.

See 11D for more.

About Joanne


  1. The only difficult thing about breastfeeding is taking the baby out, and trying to figure out how and where to breastfeed without bothering others, since he’s a fidgety little guy, and will pull blankets off, and pushes my breastfeeding cape aside. I don’t have any modesty, but I also am not a LLL fanatic (key word there is fanatic) that likes to bother people.

    But I’ll agree about the ease of it compared to an electric pump for a baby in the NICU–mine was there for five weeks because he came eight weeks early. Those first five weeks were a hard and scary time, which made pumping even harder than it would have been otherwise.

    But cheaper? You bet! I’ve seen figures than run around $450/month for formula.

    And WIC pays for it, so a lot of mothers that use WIC will use formula as a matter of course. That might account for the difference in demographics.

  2. I breastfed my healthy, full-term baby for 18 months. I thought it was far less hassle than formula, but I’m a cheapskate and wasn’t about to pay for the cow when I had the milk for free.

    FWIW, we have new mommies in my building all the time (young staff), and we vets are very proactive about making sure they have places and opportunity to pump in a building in which private space is nearly unheard of.

  3. I think that if the kid can drop the teat and say, “Other side, Mommy!” the whole fad has been taken way too far. And yes, I know somebody who breatfed her kid that long. He’s going to grow up to be a serial killer.

  4. Homeschooling Granny says:

    The President of the American Academy of Pediatrics writes: In the article, “The Case Against Breast-Feeding” by Hanna Rosin, the author skims the literature and has omitted many recent statements including the 2005 statement of the American Academy of Pediatrics which supports the value of breastfeeding for most infants. This policy references every statement with scientific evidence from over 200 articles which meet scientific standards for accuracy and rigor.

    The American Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine writes: Clinical and basic science research supports the role of breastfeeding in the development of a baby’s immune system and the presence of maternal antibodies protect infants against infection. Artificial feeding is also associated with increased risk of common disorders of early childhood such as ear infections, asthma, skin disorders, digestive problems, and respiratory tract infections. Studies have also linked artificial feeding to increased risk for obesity, type 1 and 2 diabetes, childhood leukemia, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and necrotizing enterocolitis. Mothers benefit as well, and a history of breastfeeding has been associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and of breast and ovarian cancer.

    So why didn’t the editors of Atlantic have Ms. Rosen’s article vetted by relevant experts competent to review all the scientific research which she only cherry picked?

  5. Homeschooling Granny says:

    RE: LLL as fanatic. La Leche League got the reputation of being fanatic back in the days when feeding *solids* at six weeks was common and LLL recommended waiting until six months or so. LLL was fanatic for suggesting mothers might keep their babies close at night when conventional wisdom was that babies must sleep in a separate room. However in a 2005 statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics endorsed babies under six months sleeping on a separate surface proximate to their mothers. LLL is being held fanatic for having been right a head of time.

    As a grandmother, I see my grandchildren being breastfed with the support and information of LLL. I’ve discovered thru my contact with reps of LLL that they are trained not to make judgments or give advice but rather to offer information, understanding and support.

  6. Like anything, breastfeeding can be taken too far. In the past, I have seen LLL materials praising mothers who are still nursing a child while pregnant with another, who are still nursing a kindergarten child and (once) a picture of a fawn nursing on one side with a toddler on the other (complete with admiring caption). I don’t know if any of the above are still considered praiseworthy. However, as a health professional I knew many mothers who were helped to breastfeed by LLL volunteers. I nursed all of my children and think that breastfeeding offers many advantages, but think that a year is enough, in the absence of food allergies etc. I have also seen a number of situations where the mother was not even attempting discretion while nursing in public.

  7. “See 11D for more.

    Where’s the comics section?

  8. We have three children. I worked full time from home until my first child was about 18 months -not an easy task – and have worked both outside the home and from home at different times ever since. I have nursed babies just about anywhere you could imagine. However, I never just flopped my breast out of my shirt and dared anyone to say anything. No one ever even looked at me funny. There’s more skin showing in the windows at Victoria’s Secret than I ever showed.

    I nursed my first and third children each for one year, but my middle child for three months – that’s when we gave her a bottle when I was in desperate need of a couple of hours of sleep, and she never wanted to tire herself out getting milk from the breast again – she didn’t even want pumped breast milk. IMO, formula was more difficult than breastfeeding. However, our first child, who was almost exclusively breastfed, had ear infection after ear infection. Our formula baby – now 8 – is extremely intelligent and a couple of grades ahead in math and reading. I would take any research with a grain of salt.

    I read most of Hanna Rosin’s diatribe – it was too long. I could relate with some of it. I have met mothers like she speaks of – in real life and online as well – with their organic food and latest baby accessories. It’s utter nonsense. The difference between Ms. Rosin and myself is I just don’t care what people like that think – which is probably the reason I stopped getting invitations for playdates from a “naturopathic physician” acquaintance of mine. These people are with each other for self-affirmation and the need to belong to a group – not true friendship.

    I’m sure the shallow playground women didn’t know they made her feel like trailer trash. However, IMO, Ms. Rosin’s problem isn’t shallow women or breastfeeding. Her problem is perspective. Are any of the playground antics going to matter in ten years? Absolutely not. Hopefully, she will have forgotten about it by then. Being stuck at home and nursing children is just a season. They won’t stay babies forever – mine are now 11, 8 and 4! Like she said in the article, it’s impossible to pick out which of my daughters’ friends were breastfed and which were not.

    I would caution against going with the lastest parenting fad and reading too many parenting magazines. I would also warn that after “breastfeeding guilt” and “stroller envy” the next stage to hit is “activity guilt” – which is what you have because your kids are just involved in weekend soccer and not piano, ballet, karate, tai-chi, art, voice lessons, violin lessons, pottery…

  9. Homeschooling Granny,

    I didn’t mean to imply that all LLL members are fanatics. What I was referring to is a breastfeeding fanatic: she may or may not be a member of LLL, but will almost always claim it; she will breastfeed in public with no cover-up, and will make eye contact with random crowd members, hoping for a confrontation; and will always, when asked to cover herself and baby with a blanket, become belligerent and make a scene. She also does her best to make everyone who doesn’t breastfeed feel inferior, and those who’d rather not unexpectedly come face-to-breast with it feel rude.

    I hate people like that, whether they’re fanatics about breastfeeding, organic food, veganism, liberalism, conservatism, Christianity, Islam, Athiesm, Environmentalism…etc., ad nauseum.

    Rightwingprof–I think you’re right. I plan to stop breastfeeding when my son either self-weans onto food, or is a year old (adjusted for prematurity, that’s 14 months). And if he winds up saying “boobie, Mommy” before then…well, that’s also a sign it’s time to wean.

    According to research, it’s more important for preemies and less healthy babies, at least up to that time, than it is for full-term, healthy babies. In any case, my choice has as much to do with my convenience and my family budget as it does my son’s health. I don’t think other women must breastfeed, or they’re bad mothers.

  10. The babbling 8-month old currently sitting on my lap was breastfed for approximately 6-weeks. My wife was determined to try pumping when she went back to work. She was worried because she is in a Pediatric Anesthesia fellowship. She has seen many young mothers in her program, and not one was ever able to maintain breastfeeding when they went back to work. You just can’t break out the pump when you’re in the OR and somebody’s guts are being tinkered with right next to you.

    My wife tried pumping. It took nearly a week to produce the quantity we would’ve required for one day. I was supportive, but I knew it was a no go long before she was willing to admit it. She ached and agonized over the decision. Seeing what she was doing to herself, I finally told her that I didn’t want my daughter eating zombie breastmilk.

    The transition was smooth. Within a week she was totally on the formula – and, with the assistance of her Fuzzi Bunz diapers into which we squeeze two absorbent inserts for overnight, has been sleeping through the night ever since.

    God bless those who can breastfeed. For many, however, it ain’t gonna happen. Also, it should be pointed out that correlation does not equal causation. It is quite possible that the same factors which make people more likely to breastfeed are those that lead to what was mentioned. Correlation studies are of self-selecting groups. It’s like the studies of families who eat meals together: it’s not the meals that make the kids better adjusted!

  11. Homeschooling Granny says:

    Dare I make one more observation? I don’t mean to be contentious but rather I hope to add something to think about. One of my grandchildren is 28 months and still nurses. No, she doesn’t look much like a little baby anymore. Yes, she can walk and talk. No, she doesn’t nurse in public anymore. However, when she is over-tired, overwhelmed and over-everything, her mother nurses her and blessed peace descends. Should mother and daughter be without that resource?

  12. My advice to all new mothers is to put down the baby books and walk slowly away. I’ve got two ages 10 and 11. I breastfeed both for about 1 year. One was very healthy, the other suffered from frequent ear infections and asthma.

    Use common sense. Breatfeeding is cheap, available, and probably provides natual immunities, but it’s not the end all be all. There are millions of perfectly healthy adults walk around this country that were never breatfed, including myself and all my siblings.

    The worst thing a new mother can do it pay too much attention to all the “experts” telling her what she needs to do. Get a good general health book like What to Expect the Toddler years and then forget about it.

  13. It doesn’t matter to me what other parents do, just as long as they’re not physically/mentally/emotionally/otherwise abusing their children. Choices of when, how, and why to stop breastfeeding–or not stop–are personal.

  14. I’d have to get smelling salts for a couple of you if I told you how long I breastfed my last child. Let’s just say she could do simple math by the time I weaned her. It was a great run. But, I also can’t imagine using my personal choice as some sort of guide for other mothers.

    Stacy — I agree about the child care books. They’re full of today’s latest “scientific” studies on the one and only way to raise a baby, until next year’s books come out.

  15. deirdremundy says:

    I think where a lot of breastfeeding advocates go wrong is when they paint nursing as fun and easy.

    As someone who has been nursing for 5 1/2 years straight and has tandem nursed twice, all I can say is no, it’s not.

    And nursing while pregnant ISN’T wonderful. It stinks. But sometimes it stinks less than NOT nursing while pregnant.

    I know people who bottle feed. That’s not easy either.

    You know what? Feeding a toddler isn’t easy either. Neither is feeding a teenager, my friends tell me.

    Maybe if people realized that no matter what your choices it’s NEVER easy, they’d spend less time second guessing themselves and more time just doing what worked for their own family.

    And those ladies at the playground? The ones who do everything by the book, have perfect houses, are never stressed or worn out, and never, ever raise their voice at their child?

    They’re just lying to you……

  16. If you’re worrying about the playground mommies, you need to shake off them middle school blues.

    I rarely notice women breastfeeding in public, and I’ve never seen anybody being confrontative about it.

    As mother of a teenager and twenty-something (Mom, can we order the steak?), even formula looks like a bargain these days!

  17. The main point is that mothers should not feel inadequate simply because they choose not to breastfeed. In my case, I was UNABLE to breastfeed. (*gasp*) Yes, it happens. My baby became dehydrated because I was so incredibly pressured to breastfeed in the hospital. A nurse eventually came to my home and gave me an apparatus that assisted me in STILL trying to breastfeed. It was ridiculous. My baby and I were relieved to finally start bottle feeding formula (he was ravenous!)

    My neighborhood was full of breast-feeding mothers who even got together regularly in the afternoon for sessions. I was not invited. I felt left out of an exclusive “club”. Again, it was ridiculous and I hope that things have changed a bit since then (it was 12 years ago.)

    Please be sensitive to the fact that not everyone makes the same decision when it comes to breastfeeding. Also, not everyone is able to breastfeed due to medical issues. Excellent article!

  18. joanne, as the parent of 2 young children it’s a relief to read that your daughter was premature yet still became a high-achieving (stanford grad ?) person. i feel besieged by propaganda that i’m irreparably harming my child’s future if i let him watch tv, give him formula, have less than optimal daycare, etc. it’s nice to know that the child’s future isn’t determined by initial setbacks.

  19. David, you’d appreciate a piece I wrote for Stanford Magazine called Baby Steps about how we agonized over Allison being “the slow baby” — until she turned into the toddler who could read.

  20. What Dry said.

    I know people who were unable to breastfeed (I guess it happens) and they talked about the ostracization they suffered at the hands of their breastfeeding friends.

    I guess life really does remain like junior high school – where lots of people are still looking for reasons to claim themselves “superior” to others and to shun those who can’t or won’t travel in lockstep with them.

    I was a bottle-fed baby. I grew up normal. I earned a Ph.D., got a job, kept that job. I enjoy good health. Not breastfeeding your child does not condemn them to a second-rate life, and any mommyblogger or other who makes that claim is being unfair and, dare I say it, mean.

  21. Women dissing other women for not breastfeeding (or for using daycare, or letting their kids eat chicken mcnuggets) are just juvenile and insecure. But so are women who get their feelings hurt by studies that show breastfeeding is better than bottle feeding (or institutional daycare is bad or chicken mcnuggets are not nutritious). The studies aren’t saying that every mother who doesn’t breastfeed is evil, or that every child who is bottlefed will turn out badly. I wish women would stop crying about having their feelings hurt all the time and get on with raising their children in the way they think best.

  22. ricki wrote:
    I guess life really does remain like junior high school – where lots of people are still looking for reasons to claim themselves “superior” to others and to shun those who can’t or won’t travel in lockstep with them.

    Life is ALWAYS that way, from the day we’re born to the day we die. The only difference is during our younger years we don’t have the control of our lives necessary to minimize it, so it hits us full force and with leaves us with no recourse. Heck, with the kind of “Lord of the Flies” environment mandatory attendance produces I’d say the occassional small-scale school massacre is to be expected.

    On the other hand, once we’ve grown up we’re no longer forced into a particular social setting(job, city, etc.); we self-segregate. As you’ve noticed, however, even that can’t eliminate the problem.

  23. My mother did not breast-feed because she had to go back to work when my brother and I were born. This was in ths 1960s. Otherwise, she would have. So, my brother and I subsisted on formula.