Is there a breastfeeding backlash?

Jennifer Block, author of Pushed: The Painful Truth About Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care, has a great piece up on Babble about the backlash against breastfeeding. (Specifically, she takes on Hanna Rosin’s recent Atlantic article.)

We tell women that breast is best, we tell them to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months, we even tell them it will raise their kid’s IQ (and we should give that a rest), and then we send them home with formula samples, or with a baby whose throat is too sore to suckle, or a mom whose milk is delayed because of surgery, and we don’t teach technique, and we are offended when a woman breastfeeds in public, so we make her feel housebound, and we don’t give a mother and her partner paid leave, and we send her to go back to a workplace without on-site childcare, and so her only alternative to formula is to plug her nipples into a machine, and if she’s lucky she gets periodic breaks and a “non-bathroom lactation room” in which to pump, and if she’s not she gets a toilet, and so on and so forth.
It’s no wonder women are ready to burn their nursing bras.

For more takes on Rosin’s piece and breastfeeding, check out Pandagon, Kay Steiger, Broadsheet, Rachel’s Tavern, and Lawyers, Guns and Money.

Join the Conversation

  • queenb

    Not really. This is from the American Cancer Society, the AMA and other groups. It’s a question of science. Not an “agree to disagree” based on what’s convient for your argument situation.

  • purplepeople

    Um well, no offense, no other person will ” keep me imprisoned at home”, thanks. When I let other people make my decisions for me, I will let you know.
    Breastfeeding was one of the greatest feminist acts I have ever accomplished. I said “fuck you” to the corporate patriarchy that was shoving formula down my consumer throat, and am damn proud that I never bought a single drop of it. Don’t even get me started on how evil these companies are, go google Nestle and their WHO violations.
    I also took great pride in discreetly nursing wherever the hell I needed to, cause that’s what my breasts are for. They are not to sell beer, cars or cater to a man’s fantasies. And by the way, it all about your attitude, I never had a SINGLE negative comment in the whole 5 years of nursing, and that included nursing 2 toddlers too in public. I was confident and self assured, and that showed on my face.
    Its only an anti-feminist act if you LET it be. Why the hell would I choose to be a victim and be imprisoned in my house? Screw that.
    And honestly? I don’t give a flying hoot if you formula feed, I don’t need to be proud of anyone else’s actions but my own.

  • is_fa

    “And by the way, it all about your attitude”
    Hmmm… I disagree.

  • feministabroad

    Sometimes I want to have a child…just so I can breast feed in public. And then wait for someone to say something negative and beat the shit out of them. That pretty much sums up how I feel about this. For some reason, breast feeding is a really big issue for me. Society has sexualized breast so much, that when women use them for their actual purpose (to store and give milk) their told it is obscene. Yes, breast can be sexually pleasing to look at. That doesnt mean that was their original purpose. Walking down the stree with my breast out or having on a low top shirt or seeing sexualized ads and movies, thats okay. Feeding my child, not so much. Ridamndiculous.

  • whaler

    Yeaaah that’s fucking harsh.

  • whaler

    Can I just say I love your attitude? Seriously I am just imagining future me breast feeding in public and flipping someone off for giving me shit about it.

  • purplepeople

    You made me spit out my tea laughing!
    Honestly, I am not as violent as I sound. This was really one area that peeved me, the more I realized that what my body was naturally made to do was being trivialized, sexualized, and NOT normalized, the madder I got.
    A huge part of breastfeeding was reclaiming MY BODY. THIS is what my body was meant to, breastfeeding is NOT sexual, NOT dirty and NOT offensive. That you can’t judge me because of how I look, what my weight is, how pretty I am, because dammit, this is real, this is natural. Hear me roar. ;)
    That’s why I honestly don’t get the whole “tied down” and “anti-feminist” connotations. This is reclaiming what our female bodies are meant to do, feeling powerful and right in our bodies. Because GAWD DAMN our bodies and what they are meant to do are just beautiful ladies!

  • FrumiousB

    Women have also not had their milk come in and babies have failed to latch for thousands of years. Just b/c something has happened for thousands of years doesn’t mean it has always been successful for thousands of years. Lactating and breastfeeding are not the same. The first just happens (or not, as the case may be), the second benefits greatly from instruction.

  • FrumiousB

    Indeed, “We actually don’t know if feeding infants human milk has the same benefits as breastfeeding,” says Labbok.
    This is an important point. Many of the benefits attributed to breastfeeding may in fact be due to close contact between mother and child. A mother can cuddle her kid while feeding it from a bottle just as well as she can while feeding it from a breast. More importantly – a father or other care taker can cuddle a kid while feeding from a bottle, thereby a) freeing the mother to do other things besides be a wet bar and b) giving the father or partner a chance to bond with the kid.

  • FrumiousB

    For this woman, bottle feeding will be a first resort, and those who don’t like it can go screw.

  • FrumiousB

    Er, is soy formula not vegan? I mean, aside from it being poison and all, you can feed soy formula and have a healthy child.

  • visibility

    There is relatively good evidence that breastfeeding is in and of itself associated with a (slightly) decreased risk of breast cancer. There was a meta analysis published a few years ago in the Lancet ( a well regarded medical journal) that demonstrated this with great statistical power and significance. You are correct in stating that the risk of breast cancer is further diminished with the duration of breastfeeding – that was one of the key findings of that study. The abstract is here:
    You mentioned the American Cancer Society. I’m not sure if you are a medical professional and what site you were looking at, but I went to their patient information page regarding risk factors for breast cancer, and they unequivocally state that several studies show that breastfeeding, especially for long durations, slightly decreased the risk of breast cancer. They also have a section on that page where they discuss “uncertain” risk factors for Breast Cancer – breastfeeding is NOT one of them (because…it is certain that it is a negative risk factor). Here is their patient information page:
    The AMA says nothing specific that I could find about the link between breast feeding and breast cancer one way or the other. However, the World Health Organization and ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) and the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics – probably the biggest doctor-based advocate of breastfeeding in America) all reference similar data that the ACS does. Which is not surprising – because it is good data.
    So, unless you can find some evidence with as compelling statistical power and significance that refutes the findings of the many studies included in the Lancet meta-analysis, among others, I don’t think your statement that the relationship between breast cancer and breastfeeding is equivocal holds any water. That is simply not supported by the strong data available.

  • MomTFH

    No, breastfeeding is well documented. In fact, it is not breastfeeding that should prove its benefits since formula feeding is the intervention. Breastfeeding should be the norm.
    If you read the entirety of the Jennifer Block piece, she strongly defends the scientific advantages of breastfeeding. You can’t prevent necrotizing enterocolitis by cuddling a newborn.

  • MomTFH

    Rarely? It’s always asked! Unfortunately, breastfeeding vs. bottlefeeding is treated as a lifestyle choice rather than what it is, a health decision.
    Yes, social and cultural factors matter in all health decisions, but the most important pros and cons should be the proven health benefits to mothers and infants.

  • MomTFH

    Why do we need to STFU about breastfeeding? The rates of breastfeeding are abysmal in the United States and increasing breastfeeding rates is an objective of the Healthy People 2010 objectives.
    It is a health decision. It is not icky or secret. It is not to be shunned to prevent guilt.

  • Jewel

    Responding to several posts.
    Somebody said: “That’s the real dilemma– a woman has to chose between breastfeeding and paying for a home for herself and her child.”
    THIS is what we have to change! The fact that women are forced to choose between breastfeeding (which is just part of being a woman) and keeping their jobs is just wrong. Can you imagine men having to choose between manhood and employment? No way!
    During the WWII employment shortage, companies enticed women to work for them by offering onsite daycare. Imagine that. Women could work and still have their babies close enough to sit down for a little feed every couple of hours. That would be far preferable to pumping.
    someone else: Indeed, “We actually don’t know if feeding infants human milk has the same benefits as breastfeeding,” says Labbok.
    Where is this quote from? I’d like to see context, but it has two meanings that are both true.
    1. Pumped breastmilk consumed from a bottle is different from regular breastfeeding PHYSIOLOGICALLY, not just emotionally. Breastfeeding is a feedback loop. When an extra link (the pump) is inserted into the loop, the supply/demand part still works. But if the baby isn’t often sucking on the nipple, part of the feedback from baby to mother gets lost, including immunological stuff. So…while pumped breastmilk is a heck of a lot better than formula, the societal goal should be to enable all women to have the CHOICE to breastfeed (rather than pump.)
    2. The other point is also valid, that one of the benefits of breastfeeding is PSYCHOLOGICAL, due to the eye contact and sweet conversations happening between mother and baby at the same time the baby is ingesting sweetness. This process is part of what wires the brains of infants and without it, attachment disorder and other problems ensue. Loving formula-feeding parents can & do create that loop to some extent, by cuddling and talking to the baby while she eats. However, this is NOT the only benefit to breastfeeding, so doing this doesn’t make it an even bargain.

  • Jewel

    purplepeople, love your posts!

  • mahadevine

    I had a brilliant anthropology (medical anthropology) teacher once who was talking about breast feeding in other cultures and how it often goes on for many more years that it does in our world (sometimes up to age nine or ten even). After class I was talking to her more about it, and she proposed a idea to me that birth control should not be about regulating periods, but instead stopping them by means of stimulating lactation. She then went on to say that we should harvest the milk and sell it instead of formula. At first, I was a little freaked by the idea (but made myself think about it more because she was a really cute teacher), and it does make sense. Our own milk is right for our bodies, especially our children’s bodies. Our culture is so afraid of women and boobs and breast feeding that it’s become so secretive and “gross,” when really there’s nothing more natural.

  • kissmypineapple

    I did not say that there is no value in breastfeeding.
    I will say however, that people who browbeat, like you are doing, are not support for women who have a hard time breastfeeding, at all. If I am in too much pain to go on breastfeeding, guess what doesn’t make me want to try for a while longer? Someone who tells me I’m feeding my child garbage, and equating formula feeding with putting a kid in a car without a carseat.
    You catch more flies with honey, Luna, and all but calling women who don’t breastfeed poor mothers is one of the least feminist or woman friendly things I’ve ever heard on this website.

  • Gopher

    Yeah, its not like the men are out there fighting for paternity leave.