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Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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212 Responses

  1. sabrina
    sabrina October 5, 2011 at 4:36 pm |

    also, what about moms who have used a surrogate or who adopted? Are they also horribly irresponsible mothers because they use formula? The ableism involved in trying to claim breast feeding supremacy is mind boggling.

  2. Sara
    Sara October 5, 2011 at 4:40 pm |

    I feel like the nastiness directed at folks who choose to bottle-feed is at least partially influenced by a common (but totally asinine) assumption that “natural” is inherently good. If we could get past that worn-out trope, maybe it would be easier to remember that choices are good, and telling people they should always be making the same choice regardless of the particulars of their situation is silly.

  3. Sara
    Sara October 5, 2011 at 4:42 pm |

    P.S. – sabrina posted while I was typing, but I think that’s also an important point. It’s not just moms, either – gay male couples also, of course, can adopt.

  4. Deborah
    Deborah October 5, 2011 at 4:48 pm |

    All other things being equal, breastfeeding *is* better. But that’s All Other Things Being Equal. So often, they are not. When they are not, formula feeding is an excellent choice.

    None of which negates the huge problems with the marketing of formula. But that’s a different issue from strangers, and non-strangers, policing the decisions that I make with respect to my parenting.

    My daughters are thirteen, ten and ten (twins). Sadly, the mummy-policing goes on. My choices as a parent seem to up for constant criticism from other people, who all too often have no idea about my children’s, and my particular needs. But what really gets me is that sometimes when I explain why we have made a particular choice, people still leap in with helpful suggestions. It’s as though they simply cannot believe that I have an excellent knowledge of my daughters’ and my needs, and that I am almost certainly the person best placed to make good decisions about what to do.

    For the record, breastfed one, bottle fed two.

  5. Melissa
    Melissa October 5, 2011 at 4:48 pm |

    I’m a labor and delivery nurse, and while I absolutely agree with Jessica’s overall point, when she talks about removing formula from hospitals, I assume she’s talking about hospitals attempting to comply with the WHO’s “baby friendly” initiative (which, I agree, the name and what it implies is problematic) to promote breastfeeding. One of its requirements is that hospitals don’t supply free samples of formula to new families, like the cans that come in the complimentary diaper bags. It’s not “remove all the formula from the hospital and make people bring their own if they want to bottle-feed/need to supplement/are having difficulty breastfeeding.” Formula is still available to those mom’s for free for their hospital stay (I mean, I’m sure if hospitals had to pay for the formula, another part of baby-friendly, that cost would be passed on to patients, but they’re not charged for it as a discrete item) , at least in the US (and nurses have been known to tuck a few extra bottles in for mom’s using formula for whatever reason, but that’s neither here nor there).

    The rationale behind “banning the bags” or the complimentary gifts provided by the formula companies is to not undermine those mothers who choose to exclusively breastfeed. Now, I realize this has some problematic elements too, such as assuming mothers are not informed enough consumers to recognize marketing of formula when they see it, but I just wanted to clarify the point.

  6. sabrina
    sabrina October 5, 2011 at 5:12 pm |

    to sara,
    I wasn’t trying to erase gay men who adopt, sorry if it sounded like I was.

  7. Matt
    Matt October 5, 2011 at 5:34 pm |

    I WISH my mom had fed me a bottle full of bigmacs, actually angus and cheese 3rd pounders. cause i hate all the nasty vegetables on big macs.

  8. chava
    chava October 5, 2011 at 5:37 pm |

    Meh.

    The number of “breastfeeding supremacists” is a lot lower than the legions of people who think breastfeeding is disgusting, should never be done in public, or never past a certain age, etc, etc.

    Not that women who spout BS comparing bottle feeding to feeding your child liquid meth aren’t really, really irritating (and vocal)…but I don’t think they’re our main problem. They are, perhaps, representative of the larger, root issue–America still wants motherhood to take place in the private, not public sphere.

    Only women with the means and desire to retreat to that sphere to some degree, can realistically breastfeed in the U.S. And if you’ve got a problem with that, little lady? Maybe you were too selfish to have those kids in the first place.

    All women should have the choice to breastfeed or formula feed*. Realistically, we don’t. We don’t have the maternity leave, space (at work or in public), legal backing, or education (free ILBC visits, maybe?) to make breastfeeding a viable choice for women who are otherwise able and willing. Which…seems like a larger issue than a handful of cranky, upper middle class bloggers sending Valenti pissed-off tweets. Because that’s what this *is*–a small, classist infight between a very selected set of people. On other words, I’d wager that very few of those “arguing on each other’s social media pages” (Lorrie Hearts) about formula vs. breastmilk make up the population hit hardest by our lack of breastfeeding support. No one is taking away formula, mmkay? It is in NO danger of happening.

    *or, frankly, feed with donor milk from milk banks. Helps NICU babies tremendously when available, which it hardly ever is.

  9. Amanda Marcotte
    Amanda Marcotte October 5, 2011 at 5:49 pm |

    I strongly disagree, chava. You are suggesting there’s opposition between the “breastfeeding is mandatory” and “breastfeeding is disgusting” crowds, and in fact in my experience, most people hold both opinions at once. They feel you are obligated to breast feed, and that you should do it behind closed doors. There’s no reason to think that society is suddenly flinching at putting women in no-win situations.

    I’ve never seen much evidence that breast is really so much better it’s worth these tremendous sacrifices. When you actually look at the evidence, the benefits of breastfeeding are surprisingly small, especially considering the sacrifices women are expected to make.

  10. igglanova
    igglanova October 5, 2011 at 6:08 pm |

    Eh, I don’t think this is erasing gay men even though they can adopt kids. I have never seen anyone shame a gay couple for formula feeding in my life – this ‘mommy wars’ shit is way more about judging women than judging men. Also, the logistical problems of breastfeeding when both parents are cis men are much more obvious to the casual busybody, so you’d look pretty stupid.

    (Am I awful for thinking it would be really funny to see someone scold a man for giving a bottle to a baby? ‘WTF you doing, man! BREAST IS BEST.’)

  11. Ashley
    Ashley October 5, 2011 at 6:12 pm |

    As a bit of a disclaimer, I’m an accredited peer breastfeeding counselor, meaning that amongst other things I get calls at odd hours from distraught postpartum women who need help breastfeeding. I also consider myself a pro-formula breastfeeding advocate.

    I fully support a woman’s right to choose how to feed her child and I sincerely wish that the only people using formula were those who made an active choice to do so. If you WANT to use formula, great! Use formula. It’s wonderful that there’s a product that’s readily available and allows babies to thrive.

    However, we have an 80% breastfeeding initiation rate in this country, but by 3 months less than half of those women are still nursing (at all, not just exclusively). This is mostly because for the past several generations the vast majority of American babies were formula fed. Because of this, too many medical staff at all levels know jack all about breastfeeding and don’t care to learn. Moreover, formula is touted as the solution to all breastfeeding problems, including those caused by ignorant medical staff.

    When I get a call at 6 am from a mom who was told to give up breastfeeding 24 hours postpartum because her nipples hurt when the solution is as simple as ibuprofen, gel pads, and latch101, I get pissed.

    When a friend who has gone through hell to breastfeed is told by her doctor “you should stop at a year, breastmilk loses all benefits by that point” I get pissed.

    Day after day I hear one outright lie or pile of bullshit pushed on mothers who want to breastfeed, and all too often they stop because of it. Most breastfeeding problems can be prevented with sufficient education, and as a breastfeeding advocate that education needs to be directed at the frontline medical staff that deal with new moms. But considering my local hospital won’t even pass out information on LLL or BFUSA or any other non-profit breastfeeding support group because of “conflict of interest” it’s not going to happen.

    It’s also an unfortunate fact that postpartum women are uniquely vulnerable. I don’t mean this at all dismissively, but they are hormonal (been there myself..really really hormonal), exhausted, overwhelmed, and there’s this tiny person they’re trying to do everything in their power to help thrive. So much of normal breastfed baby behavior is misread by people (new moms, medical staff, grandparents, etc.) as something “wrong” that can only be fixed by formula. Yes, a newborn nurses frequently, more often than one whose bottlefed. That’s how it works. A baby sleeping for only 2-3 hours at a time is normal and healthy; too many think it’s because they’re starving, there’s not enough milk, and breastfeeding just doesn’t work. It’s this level of undermining that pisses me off to no end.

    Also, for the record, it’s NOT breastfeeding (specifically not sufficiently emptying the breast) that causes breast infections, not breastfeeding itself. I’ve helped several weaning mothers through bouts of severe mastitis. As long as a mom makes it to 20 weeks of pregnancy, when that baby delivers your breasts will try to make milk (99% of the time). Even moms who have stillbirths at 22 weeks have to deal with their milk coming in, preventing engorgement and consequently breast infection.

  12. Bijan Parsia
    Bijan Parsia October 5, 2011 at 6:15 pm |

    I think this is a tricky issue.

    On the one hand, picking on or shaming women is not good. Even with respect to breastfeeding advocacy, it’s counterproductive. I don’t think it’s particularly distinctive to breastfeeding advocacy: Lots of health things get moralized and it’s typically counterproductive.

    On the other hand, there are tons of people who work very hard to enable and support breastfeeding, which nearly disappeared in many cultures. Successful breastfeeding typically requires a supportive environment and a hostile environment can make it impossible. (This works at several levels: Obviously, hostility can make women choose not to breastfeed. But also, stress or other problems can inhibit lactation.)

    I would say that the mainstream of breastfeeding advocacy is to take an institutional, global, and feminist approach. Lots of measures which support breastfeeding support mothers in general (e.g., workplace creches, flexible time).

    I don’t think it’s disrespectful of women’s rationality to observe that certain conditions tend to systematically depress breastfeeding rates. Lactation and breastfeeding are psychologically influenced biological processes that involve interaction between at least two people.

    (Disclosure: My beloved’s mother, who died recently, was a long time breastfeeding advocate and lactation consultant, so I’m, by default, rather pro breastfeeding and pro breastfeeding advocacy. See https://sites.google.com/site/chrismulfordmemorial/ for some of her approach to advocacy.)

  13. Bijan Parsia
    Bijan Parsia October 5, 2011 at 6:38 pm |

    Amanda Marcotte:
    I strongly disagree, chava. You are suggesting there’s opposition between the “breastfeeding is mandatory” and “breastfeeding is disgusting” crowds, and in fact in my experience, most people hold both opinions at once. They feel you are obligated to breast feed, and that you should do it behind closed doors. There’s no reason to think that society is suddenly flinching at putting women in no-win situations.

    FWIW, my experience is contrary to yours. I don’t doubt there’s a significant group of people who push breastfeeding as an modality of oppression (analogous to pregnancy), but they don’t really seem to be breastfeeding advocates per se (any more than anti-abortion activists are pro-woman’s health).

  14. OldTrout
    OldTrout October 5, 2011 at 6:59 pm |

    I breastfed my son for 1 year – hated most of it (painful cracked nipples, having him continually fall asleep during it, and after a year, having to wrap an ace bandage around my chest for weeks to get the darn things to finally turn off). A good friend of mine would’ve breastfed her son until he got his driver’s license if she didn’t have to go to work instead. We still laugh about how different people are. She found it to be an almost spiritual experience; I did it listening to classical music (so my son would grow up associating great music with something pleasant like having a breast in his mouth!). People (moms, dads, & babies) are DIFFERENT. Get over it. Choose wisely. Know yourself. Don’t be swayed by marketing. Don’t be bullied by those who “know best.” Trust yourself and your body and your baby’s body. (All easier said than done, I know!).

  15. La Lubu
    La Lubu October 5, 2011 at 7:25 pm |

    You are suggesting there’s opposition between the “breastfeeding is mandatory” and “breastfeeding is disgusting” crowds, and in fact in my experience, most people hold both opinions at once.

    Huh. Must be an NYC hipster thing. It’s possible that your life is/has been far more mother-and-infant-centric than mine, but I have yet to hear both of those opinions from any one person, ever. Never heard from a breastfeeding advocate that breastfeeding is something that should be done in private; the lactivist contigent is pretty blunt that breastfeeding should be done whereverthehell it happens.

    It’s also worth mentioning that breastfeeding—all in all—doesn’t require any more “sacrificing” than bottle-feeding. Whether one experiences it as such has more to do with other factors than the actual work involved. On the practical front, there isn’t much difference (at least, for a full-time working mother. Pumping and cleaning the bottles for expressing milk isn’t any different from preparing bottles of formula and cleaning them. Perhaps stay-at-home mothers find breastfeeding less work because there isn’t any extra cleaning; I dunno). Nutritionally, there’s an advantage to breastmilk, but the real advantage is the strengthening of the immune system (passing along antibodies). That’s not a “small” advantage, especially for kids in daycare.

    I think whatever one’s choices in parenting, what we really need to get rid of is the meme of SACRIFICE!!! for mothers. This idea that if you don’t feel like you’re up on the cross, you’re doing Motherhood wrong. Fuck that.

  16. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub October 5, 2011 at 7:26 pm |

    You know, I know a couple of mothers who were roundly shamed by lactation counsellors and lactation activists because they couldn’t get their babies to latch on, so they turned to formula so the kid could eat. They wanted to breastfeed their babies, but were having a difficult time when they were home (and even in the hospital when the LC wasn’t there). In each case, they were roundly scolded for being lazy, bad mothers, and generally horrible people. “You aren’t trying hard enough” and “You’re looking for excuses to give up” were some of the gems lobbed their way.

    Which, when you’re a first time parent, is really helpful. It’s extra-special helpful when you’ve just gone through 40 weeks of pregnancy and scolding from the general population about every little thing you do KILLING THE BABY.

  17. Meaghan
    Meaghan October 5, 2011 at 7:29 pm |

    Preach it, sister. The “Teat Nazis” as Tina Fey called them are horrible.

  18. llama
    llama October 5, 2011 at 7:40 pm |

    igglanova: this ‘mommy wars’ shit is way more about judging women than judging men.

    Sadly though, it is frequently about women judging women. From personal experience I know that friends and family put immense pressure on women about child rearing issues.

  19. EG
    EG October 5, 2011 at 7:44 pm |

    The overarching problem seems to me to be that we, as a society, conceive of reproduction and its attendant duties as some sort of weird aberrant quirk of individual women, instead of as, you know, a regular part of life for many, many people. So, when a mother uses formula, there’s just a shitload of people who know that she should be breastfeeding, and the only reason she’s not is that, I don’t know, she’s lazy and selfish with her boobs and doesn’t want to be interrupted while she’s out getting her mani-pedi (probably the older sister of that girl who gets an abortion so she can fit into her prom dress).

    But in real life, this doesn’t have much to do with personal choice. Obviously, there’s some, but for the vast majority of women, who have to work, and who work in places that make no allowance for women’s needs during their reproductive years, breastfeeding isn’t viable. And if we want to encourage breastfeeding, which I think isn’t a bad idea for various reasons, we shouldn’t be harassing inviduals; we should be targeting workplaces for campaigns to provide accommodations.

    All that said, there are some women are never going to want or be able to breastfeed–like someone close to me who did her best for several months, but found that being off her antidepressants was causing her to have suicidal ideation. She switched to formula so she could go back on her meds, and said she felt a little guilty. But the reality is that while antibodies and bonding are good for a baby, what’s really excellent for a baby is having a mother who isn’t considering suicide. To say nothing, obviously, of what’s good for the mother.

    Out of historical interest, my mother said that for her generation, breastfeeding was a significant feminist issue, that perfectly healthy women were told by allegedly qualified doctors that their breasts were too small, they wouldn’t be able to produce enough milk, and they should use formula instead, or that formula was better for the baby, etc. And that part of the reclamation of childbirth and getting rid of the idea that women’s bodies are defective and useless was reclaiming breastfeeding, which was not easy to do–my mother actually had to consult with La Leche League when she moved in order to find a pediatrician who was breastfeeding-friendly.

    It seems to me that part of the problem is that breastfeeding has been separated from a larger feminist awareness of women’s agency, or lackthereof.

  20. MH
    MH October 5, 2011 at 7:54 pm |

    A lot of this shaming came from a study several years back that implied that breastfed babies are smarter. What the public didn’t know is that the study didn’t control for other factors such as the parents’ level of education or level of income (both of which correlate to “smarter” children.) Of course, the people most likely to breastfeed and to participate in such a study…women who don’t have to hold down a job because they’re affluent, and educated women who understand there are benefits to breastfeeding, um, DUH. I don’t think breast milk is “magic” even though the scientists came out and said so: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1002467,00.html

    That being said, I breastfed my son until he was 13 months old. I do think the actions of a breastfeeding mother (which I believe can be done by a bottle-feeding mother as well) make a big difference in a baby’s development. I’d love for lactation consultants to help respectfully educate mothers on the needs of their bottle-fed baby, too.

    I will say, while I was nursing, was told to cover up on numerous occasions both in public and relative private, by strangers and by family members. There is still a lot of public shame about tits – for some reason, especially when they’re used as a food delivery system.

  21. DammitJanet
    DammitJanet October 5, 2011 at 8:35 pm |

    La Lubu:
    Never heard from a breastfeeding advocate that breastfeeding is something that should be done in private; the lactivist contigent is pretty blunt that breastfeeding should be done whereverthehell it happens.

    Seconded. I never had anyone who supported my breastfeeding ask me to do it elsewhere. Never.

    I nursed and I gave bottles. Not one single person criticized me when I gave my kids bottles, but more than a few said to my face that they thought nursing was inappropriate. I’m not even talking about nursing in public, though that did happen. I’m talking about when I would tell people I needed to get home to nurse and they would be completely horrified that I was still nursing a 6-month baby.

    I get that it sucks the left one when people on the internet are mean. It sucks even more when it happens in actual life, and in my experience, people are much more likely to rude about nursing than formula-feeding.

    This entire debate is just kinda dumb to me. No one is taking away your formula, and no one is getting a goddamn medal for nursing. Jesus, people. Disengage.

  22. JetGirl
    JetGirl October 5, 2011 at 8:49 pm |

    Amen. My best friend had a real problem with her milk supply after having her first kid, and the lactation specialists were jerks to her because she had to supplement. She would call me up, sobbing. I know some of that was hormones, but sheesh.
    Also, my mom was a social worker in a NICU, and occasionally had patients who were HIV positive. Their babies were not infected, but breastfeeding is a mode of transmission, so they were not supposed to. The lactation experts were all eager that these women breastfeed, and because of HIPAA they didn’t know about the HIV. My mom was always terrified these women would go along, and inadvertently infect their babies.

  23. Rebecca
    Rebecca October 5, 2011 at 9:06 pm |

    La Lubu:
    It’s also worth mentioning that breastfeeding—all in all—doesn’t require any more “sacrificing” than bottle-feeding. Whether one experiences it as such has more to do with other factors than the actual work involved. On the practical front, there isn’t much difference (at least, for a full-time working mother. Pumping and cleaning the bottles for expressing milk isn’t any different from preparing bottles of formula and cleaning them. Perhaps stay-at-home mothers find breastfeeding less work because there isn’t any extra cleaning; I dunno).

    I think it depends what the full time working mother’s job is. Not everybody has access to a clean and private place to pump, or a place to store their milk, or gets breaks long enough to pump.

    On a lighter note, my boyfriend just linked me to this article about men who can breastfeed: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=strange-but-true-males-can-lactate&sc=rss AWESOME

  24. Bagelsan
    Bagelsan October 5, 2011 at 9:08 pm |

    When a friend who has gone through hell to breastfeed is told by her doctor “you should stop at a year, breastmilk loses all benefits by that point” I get pissed.

    Is that not true? While the “should” wording seems … silly? … I’d thought that 1 year was basically the goal for breastfeeding duration, from WHO and all. Don’t babies start getting their own immune systems by that point? :p If breastfeeding was “hell” then saying “don’t worry about it after a year” might be a nice message for some struggling moms.

  25. Bagelsan
    Bagelsan October 5, 2011 at 9:09 pm |

    Pumping and cleaning the bottles for expressing milk isn’t any different from preparing bottles of formula and cleaning them.

    But only one of those requires your boobs to be in the room and can’t be done by a husband etc.

  26. llama
    llama October 5, 2011 at 9:28 pm |

    DammitJanet: It sucks even more when it happens in actual life, and in my experience, people are much more likely to rude about nursing than formula-feeding.

    Yes! and because you have a baby in your arms it is unlikely you are going to remonstrate, even accompanying persons (male or female) can’t because the baby’s well being comes first.

  27. Azalea
    Azalea October 5, 2011 at 9:59 pm |

    Melissa:
    I’m a labor and delivery nurse, and while I absolutely agree with Jessica’s overall point, when she talks about removing formula from hospitals, I assume she’s talking about hospitals attempting to comply with the WHO’s “baby friendly” initiative (which, I agree, the name and what it implies is problematic) to promote breastfeeding. One of its requirements is that hospitals don’t supply free samples of formula to new families, like the cans that come in the complimentary diaper bags. It’s not “remove all the formula from the hospital and make people bring their own if they want to bottle-feed/need to supplement/are having difficulty breastfeeding.” Formula is still available to those mom’s for free for their hospital stay (I mean, I’m sure if hospitals had to pay for the formula, another part of baby-friendly, that cost would be passed on to patients, but they’re not charged for it as a discrete item) , at least in the US (and nurses have been known to tuck a few extra bottles in for mom’s using formula for whatever reason, but that’s neither here nor there).

    The rationale behind “banning the bags” or the complimentary gifts provided by the formula companies is to not undermine those mothers who choose to exclusively breastfeed. Now, I realize this has some problematic elements too, such as assuming mothers are not informed enough consumers to recognize marketing of formula when they see it, but I just wanted to clarify the point.

    Nurses gave me extra for my first baby and told me breastfeeding is too much of a headache, I wont want to do it much longer. Luckily for me, when I told my OB/GYN that I wanted to breastfeed , she sent me a lactation consultatant who assisted me the whole way through my hospital stay and they had a clinic not too far from the hospital just in case I needed more help along the way. That’s what I call choice. There were complimetary bags with formula AND lactation consultants on hand at all times.

  28. Azalea
    Azalea October 5, 2011 at 10:06 pm |

    Amanda Marcotte:
    I strongly disagree, chava. You are suggesting there’s opposition between the “breastfeeding is mandatory” and “breastfeeding is disgusting” crowds, and in fact in my experience, most people hold both opinions at once. They feel you are obligated to breast feed, and that you should do it behind closed doors. There’s no reason to think that society is suddenly flinching at putting women in no-win situations.

    I’ve never seen much evidence that breast is really so much better it’s worth these tremendous sacrifices. When you actually look at the evidence, the benefits of breastfeeding are surprisingly small, especially considering the sacrifices women are expected to make.

    One of the benefits of breastfeeding meant lowering the chance of my boys having digestive problems and boosting their immune system. Thats not small. We can say woman A chooses not to breastfeed because that shit hurts and its time consuming because thats true and that is still asking a lot of anyone who just shared her body and nutrients with a fetus in order to deliver it to this world as a baby and fellow human being. But to insinuate there is no “good” scientifically proven reason to breastfeed is false and formulas THRIVE to be as good as breastmilk. That deserves just credit. A mother’s ability to produce milk and feed her child is a huge deal, especially if she puts it to use. Its a sacrifice for her with great gain to her child. But thats AFTER she’s already made countless sacrifices to bear the child in the first place.

  29. La Lubu
    La Lubu October 5, 2011 at 10:06 pm |

    I think it depends what the full time working mother’s job is. Not everybody has access to a clean and private place to pump, or a place to store their milk, or gets breaks long enough to pump.

    True. But if that’s the case, breastfeeding is a non-starter anyway. I’m a union electrician so I (a) had breaks, (b) always had access to electricity for the breast pump, and (c) since I was at a construction site and had to bring a lunchbox anyway, it was pretty easy to leave space in it for the bags of pumped milk. If I was still waitressing, I wouldn’t have had any of that, and that would have sealed it–I wouldn’t have had a choice in the matter.

    But only one of those requires your boobs to be in the room and can’t be done by a husband etc.

    Heh. I’m a single mother, so my boobs were always in the room anyway, and there isn’t any husband. Basically, the main factors for me were: the immune benefits for my preemie, and breastfeeding is so much cheaper (pump rental is a fraction of the cost of formula). But again—it was a choice I could make because I didn’t have a workplace that prohibited it (in actuality or by circumstance). I wanted to do it, found it easy, and didn’t have any insurmountable barriers—which is why I didn’t find it a “sacrifice”. If I tried to do it and found it hard, I would have quit—full stop.

    (I did find it funny that some brothers would gasp when I told ‘em—when they asked—what was in the blue box I was carrying. Same guys that would spend most of break time talking about tits would *freak* about breast pumping. Go figure. Nobody was an asshole about it, though.)

    I just bristled at the word sacrifice being applied to the gendered activity of breastfeeding. I mean, I love (love! love!) to cook (and am really good at it), but find it far more difficult to get a home-cooked meal on the table, and consider the frequency of my home-cooking a much larger sacrifice than breastfeeding ever was—and I breast pumped on construction sites. (that’s probably a whole ‘nother conversation that involves food deserts, long drives to cross-town grocery stores since neighborhood stores are a thing of the past, piss-poor produce quality in midwestern stores, second jobs and single parenthood…but coming from Amanda, that really struck me, ‘cuz she is all about making the sacrifice to get home-cooking on the table close to every night, but doesn’t regard it as a sacrifice—which it definitely is for most people, who have more already-spoken-for-time than she has). Or the shorter version: perspective counts.

    Which is exactly why we shouldn’t be second-guessing other folks’ triage in their struggles.

  30. karak
    karak October 5, 2011 at 10:08 pm |

    Women in my family have been known to completely run out of milk at two to four weeks. Nothing to be done about it, just some weird quirk of genetics.

    I read a comic the other day where two adults were discussing their toddler. The mother says to her husband, “We ARE going to fuck her up. It’s inevitable. If the worse thing we ever do is let her eat cat food, then I think we’ve done well.”

    If the worse thing you ever do to your kid is not breastfeed, then you are waaaaaay ahead of the curve.

  31. Azalea
    Azalea October 5, 2011 at 10:15 pm |

    JetGirl:

    Also, my mom was a social worker in a NICU, and occasionally had patients who were HIV positive. Their babies were not infected, but breastfeeding is a mode of transmission, so they were not supposed to. The lactation experts were all eager that these women breastfeed, and because of HIPAA they didn’t know about the HIV. My mom was always terrified these women would go along, and inadvertently infect their babies.

    These women are supposed to be advised by their OB/GYN of all the ways they could infect their babies during and post pregnancy so they could make educated decisions.

    The idea that there are actually doctors out there who would have HIV positive new mothers and NOT tell them about the risk of breastfeeding pretty much tells us how breastfeeding is viewed by them; unlikely. Why else would they NOT do their jobs and inform their patients unless they thought it was information they didnt need to know because they werent expected to breastfeed/show interest in it.

  32. mishimagirl
    mishimagirl October 5, 2011 at 10:49 pm |

    I think that breasfeeding advocates should take the time to understand the families needs before applying too much pressure to breast feed. My brother died unexpectedly after the birth of my first and only child. I had an advocate who tried to tell me not to follow my doctors instruction to augment with formulae because my daughter had lost too much weight. I did end up breastfeeding because of a lot of inputs telling me that if I didn’t I would be a bad mother. (I did augment for a while and you know what, my daughter did not stop breastfeeding like they told me.). What would has been most helpful for my daughter and me would have been to look out for my physical and mental health and not to blindly focus on one component of my daughters care.

  33. JetGirl
    JetGirl October 5, 2011 at 11:09 pm |

    @Azalea: Oh, the women knew. But my mom said that for many of her patients, it was really hard to deal with visiting lactation specialists who were insisting that “breast is best” and not taking no for an answer. And when you’re already exhausted from labor, and in pain from stitches, etc., you’re in a very vulnerable place.

  34. evil fizz
    evil fizz October 5, 2011 at 11:19 pm | *

    It’s also worth mentioning that breastfeeding—all in all—doesn’t require any more “sacrificing” than bottle-feeding.

    Sure it does: it’s a task that you cannot hand off to anyone else. I found it incredibly stressful to have to be the one to handle that piece, even when I had others around to help with other aspects of care. Also, I found pumping *wretched*. It was inconvenient, awkward, and uncomfortable, even though I had time and space to do so at my job.

  35. Lisa
    Lisa October 5, 2011 at 11:21 pm |

    Canadian here. This was a topic on cbc radio’s health podcast White Coat, Black Art earlier this year. Really good podcast about how breastfeeding is pushed to such an extent that there have been situations where babies actually became malnourished because their mothers didn’t have enough milk and nurses and doctors refused to recommend formula. The trauma the mothers experienced due to this is just incredible. http://www.cbc.ca/whitecoat/blog/2011/05/06/mothers-milk-show/

  36. Kyra
    Kyra October 5, 2011 at 11:39 pm |

    When a friend who has gone through hell to breastfeed is told by her doctor “you should stop at a year, breastmilk loses all benefits by that point” I get pissed.

    What, it stops being nutritious? It stops being free?

    The extent to which some people just don’t think boggles the mind.

  37. Kathleen
    Kathleen October 6, 2011 at 12:30 am |

    two things that I don’t like about the breastfeeding absolutists are:
    (1) they constantly emphasize that for most of human history we relied exclusively on breastfeeding ergo it’s best / most natural /etc. but what they don’t address is that for most of human history infant mortality rates were really, really high. Higher than can be explained by childhood illnesses / epidemic disease. The idea that formula has only been bad news for humanity is just wrong; for mothers who have trouble breastfeeding, or who are sick or exhausted or overburdened or whatever, formula means that babies can thrive *anyway*.

    2. they are so all or nothing, in a way that is patronizing and dishonest. A message I got a lot during my kid’s babyhood was that *any* amount of formula was a gateway drug; if you *ever* used it, pretty soon you’d be hooked! down the slippery slope to no booby at all! After my kid was 4 months old, I tried out one 5 oz. bottle of formula / day. IT WAS FANTASTIC. With that feeding, I got one long break per day from what felt like a relentless feeding schedule. My kid was positively enthusiastic about formula. My milk production did not as a result wither away, and I continued to breastfeed past the 12 month mark.

  38. Drahill
    Drahill October 6, 2011 at 1:31 am |

    For real, this post is timely and needed. My son is three months old. I have bipolar disorder (which I generally manage very well without pharmaceutical assistance – but that’s neither here nor there). I went through the pregnancy without any medications. But, after he was born, because I am a realist, I started taking lithium in a rather small dosage. I was realistic that, in the frentic and hormonal time after birth, I was likely better off using meds to help me keep afoot.

    Lithium, however, has been linked to renal failure and some other nasty business in young babies whose mothers take it and then nurse them. It’s pretty established that you should not take lithium and nurse. So, I chose to not nurse – not from the beginning, not ever. It’s just easier for everyone. Well, the looks and comments I get when I buy formula are…interesting, to say the least. And, here’s the thing: am I probably “excused” from nursing because I’m mentally ill? Perhaps. But should I even have to justify the decision by disclosing that to anyone who questions me? HELL NO. No mother (mentally ill, able bodied, ect.) owes anybody an explanation of what she does with regards to nursing.

    I am not anti-breastfeeding. But I do think there’s a problem with considering it the standard or norm of motherhood. When that is the expected standard, anyone who deviates from it is presumed to need an explanation or excuse to justify it. I am fortunate enough to have one most people would judge to be “valid enough.” The problem is needing one in the first place.

  39. chava
    chava October 6, 2011 at 2:04 am |

    Er….I’m pretty sure you’re insinuating that breastfeeding caused high(er) infant mortality rates, which seems…odd? And not supported by any evidence? In developing countries, forumla feeding is associated with high infant mortality rates at a MUCH higher incidence than breastfeeding (contaminated water).

    *Bottle* feeding can save lives when a baby is unable to latch, and very rarely, formula can save lives when an infant is born lactose intolerant. But on the kind of scale you’re suggesting…no.

    Again, I’m a big proponent of milk banks/milk sharing as an alternative to formula feeding (for very young or premature babies).

    http://www.texasmilkbank.org/

    Kathleen:
    two things that I don’t like about the breastfeeding absolutists are:
    (1)they constantly emphasize that for most of human history we relied exclusively on breastfeeding ergo it’s best / most natural /etc. but what they don’t address is that for most of human history infant mortality rates were really, really high. Higher than can be explained by childhood illnesses / epidemic disease. The idea that formula has only been bad news for humanity is just wrong; for mothers who have trouble breastfeeding, or who are sick or exhausted or overburdened or whatever, formula means that babies can thrive *anyway*.

  40. Bijan Parsia
    Bijan Parsia October 6, 2011 at 2:58 am |

    I think that if LCs are shaming the patient, explicitly or implicitly, then they are not practicing correctly. That’s absolutely worth calling out.

    However, there has historically been a tremendous amount of implicit and explicit anti-nursing information and practice by health care practitioners (read, the probably somewhat dated, Politics of Breastfeeding).

    I’m concerned by the move from critiquing jerky moves by some advocates and practitioners to 1) ignoring the issues faced by nursing mothers or women who might choose to breastfeed, 2) overstating the problems in the breastfeeding advocacy movement (in particular, not acknowledging that a lot of people in the movement are doing exactly what’s being called for, are against shaming, etc.), and 3) overstating the case against breastfeeding.

    (Now, obviously, experience of jerky behavior esp. right after birth is a big deal and it’s understandable that one would be greatly put off by that.)

    In particular, wrt 1, women have lost custody of their children for nursing them. Nursing mothers face all sorts of institutional barriers to nursing (including “decency” laws). A lot of the current difficulties of breastfeeding are due to societal arrangements which, esp. from a feminist perspective, are not designed with women’s (or children’s) interests in mind.

    One thing that’s worth noting is that nursing isn’t just feeding: It’s a significant and distinct mode of interaction between a woman and a baby. It can be highly pleasurable, satisfying, and comforting both physically and psychologically. As such, the nigh eradication of it, the shaming of it (both for failing and for trying and for trying and failing esp. when the support isn’t there), the false choices and burdens put on nursing mothers are similar to the forces working against women having and enjoying sex.

    How can we build solidarity here? Calling out jerkiness and shaming is important, but it’d be helpful to acknowledge advocates and organizations who are working against that tendency in the movement. Take Jill’s post. It does contain “both sides”, but it implicitly lumps all breastfeeding advocates as “breastfeeding supremacists.” It would strengthen the non-jerky part of the movement to be acknowledged, if only to prevent defensive reactions.

    (Note that I’d separate analysis pieces from experience reports. I don’t think people who’ve suffered nasty experience have an additional burden to make their discussion nuanced.)

  41. Drahill
    Drahill October 6, 2011 at 3:20 am |

    Chava, I absolutely mean no disrespect at all. I was curious about the link you posted (mostly because I was unfamilar with such a thing). I did notice this, however, on the page that discussed eligibility for donations:

    Donor mothers must be:

    •In good health and lactating
    •Willing to have blood tests to rule out communicable diseases
    •Not regularly using medications except for progestin-only birth control, thyroxin, insulin, prenatal vitamins, iron or calcium
    •Free from smoking, illegal drug use and regular alcohol use

    And, then, lower down, this:

    A woman may NOT donate if she:

    •Is at risk for HIV or has a sexual partner at risk for HIV
    •Uses illegal drugs
    •Smokes
    •Has received blood products or an organ or tissue transplant in the last 12 months
    •Regularly drinks more than 2 oz of liquor daily
    •Her doctor believes there is a contraindication to milk donation

    So, from the outset, the milk bank excludes a lot of women (trust me, the above criteria would cover a nice chunk of the population). I think that’s fine to do – I have no issue with it. But even if EVERY eligible woman in the country was donating, that’s not gonna be enough to meet the demand from women who, for one reason or another, are not breastfeeding. Yes, formula is a necessity for many women. And YES, I can resoundingly assure you, formula may be saving my son’s life. Without it, I’d have two options (I checked – there is no milk bank around me, sadly). One: Nurse him on Lithium and risk renal failure, kidney issues and all other kinds of stuff happening to him. Two: go off Lithium and nurse him in confidence, except for the possibility of experiencing a manic episode in which I could (very possibly) cause some kind of harm to him. So, yeah, formula is a godsend for me (and for most of the other moms in my group for mothers with mental illnesses). It’s not those “rare situations” in which a baby just can’t latch – there are far more times when formula can save a medically in need mother and her child from some nasty alternatives.

    Part of the problem is framing the debate in terms of ok-ing formula for women who “can’t” breastfeed. Well, what does “can’t” mean? I think you’re using it in terms of physical impossibility. But I use it more broadly. Can I nurse? Yeah, I could have. My son had no issues that I could see. I produced a great supply. I CHOSE not to. Because I weighed the options and risks and decided that I needed my sanity more than I needed the benefits of nursing. Using the term “can’t breastfeed,” to me, at least, erases a whole section of mothers who chose not to nurse for a whole variety of valid reasons.

  42. chava
    chava October 6, 2011 at 3:43 am |

    I think the misunderstanding here is that I was specifically responding to Kathleen’s suggestion that breastfeeding, itself, causes infant mortality. *Given the availability of breastmilk,* that isn’t true. But as you rightly point out, that availability isn’t always present, and yes, in our current situation, formula totally saves lives. As far as milk donation, I don’t think it would be viable for all mothers using formula for, say, a year, but I can see making it available for the first, say, month (which AFAIK, is when most of the immune benefits come into play).

    I do think that, like blood donation, if we make milk banks a priority, more at-risk babies could receive it for the first few weeks of life. Breastmilk lowers the rate of necrotizing enterocolitis in preemies by something like 30 percent*–well worth making milk donation a national priority along with blood donation. Of course, that would require admitting that the vast majority of premature infants in this country are born to poor, undernourished parents, and that those infants and parents are deserving of government help.

    Personally, I think that if breastfeeding is making you miserable, you shouldn’t do it. A happy parent is better than a miserable parent, hands down. The idea of maternal misery as somehow deeply worthy or redemptive is crap.

    *http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PII0140-6736%2890%2993304-8/abstract

    Drahill:

    So, from the outset, the milk bank excludes a lot of women (trust me, the above criteria would cover a nice chunk of the population). I think that’s fine to do – I have no issue with it. But even if EVERY eligible woman in the country was donating, that’s not gonna be enough to meet the demand from women who, for one reason or another, are not breastfeeding. Yes, formula is a necessity for many women. And YES, I can resoundingly assure you, formula may be saving my son’s life. Without it, I’d have two options (I checked – there is no milk bank around me, sadly). One: Nurse him on Lithium and risk renal failure, kidney issues and all other kinds of stuff happening to him. Two: go off Lithium and nurse him in confidence, except for the possibility of experiencing a manic episode in which I could (very possibly) cause some kind of harm to him. So, yeah, formula is a godsend for me (and for most of the other moms in my group for mothers with mental illnesses). It’s not those “rare situations” in which a baby just can’t latch – there are far more times when formula can save a medically in need mother and her child from some nasty alternatives.

    Part of the problem is framing the debate in terms of ok-ing formula for women who “can’t” breastfeed. Well, what does “can’t” mean? I think you’re using it in terms of physical impossibility. But I use it more broadly. Can I nurse? Yeah, I could have. My son had no issues that I could see. I produced a great supply. I CHOSE not to. Because I weighed the options and risks and decided that I needed my sanity more than I needed the benefits of nursing. Using the term “can’t breastfeed,” to me, at least, erases a whole section of mothers who chose not to nurse for a whole variety of valid reasons.

  43. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub October 6, 2011 at 4:57 am |

    When you’ve got actual mothers here talking about how they’ve been shamed, and when a few of us had friends and loved ones calling us in tears because the LC’s were being assholes during a particularly vulnerable time, it’s not just “mean people on the internet” and no, you cannot just “disengage.”

    This isn’t some nefarious plot to discredit breastfeeding, FFS. Every mother I know thought it was the best option and felt horriblee that for whatever reason, they could not do it. But it doesn’t actually help the cause–or help the mothers (the people I am actually MOST concerned with) when they are shamed and scolded by the people who are supposed to help them. THAT is part of the larger culture of second-guessing mothers, shaming mothers, and lecturing mothers on How They Are Doing it Wrong.

  44. Ish
    Ish October 6, 2011 at 5:08 am |

    I think one language issue is people are saying breastfeeding advocates but they likely just mean women, strangers or known, who advocated for breastfeeding in an annoying/disrespectful/ignorant/invasive way.

    I live in Northern California so that’s pretty much every woman here. Diversity of choice is alien. The professionals on the holistic & Western medicine end were awesome. The general public, awful. The ignorant assumptions and the disrespectful statements, “Well, of course you’ll breastfeed, bf babies are smarter!” from women I didn’t know & didn’t know my position one way or another were non-stop. I had decided to bf but it still made me want to smash their faces. Either classist assumption that I’d have the luxury to bf or reactionary formula-can’t-possibly-be-an-empowered-choice dogma. Either way, nonsense.

    The only conversation more annoying were the circumcision-will-make-your-baby-grow-up-to-be-violent-because-you-mutilated-him ones. Thank god I had a girl.

  45. bhuesca
    bhuesca October 6, 2011 at 5:08 am |

    My mom breastfed all her kids, all of whom grew up to be very high academic achievers and all of whom had straight teeth and good chldhood immune systems.

    Not a chance in hell I’m breastfeeding, should I have kid(s).

    Surprised this hasn’t been mentioned yet upthread (unless i missed it- sorry!) but many medications for non-neurotypicals and neurotypicals alike are teratogenic.

    I figure my baby having a ‘sane’, ‘with it’ with it being the conscious and haappy world, is so much more important than the benefits of breastfeeding, which i am well aware of.

  46. Ish
    Ish October 6, 2011 at 5:10 am |

    Actually, a small percentage of the pros were horrific too. Not all rosy, but they ran a good 90% of awesome.

  47. Heidi
    Heidi October 6, 2011 at 6:45 am |

    for me, breastfeeding saved my emotional life.

    finally, here was something I couldn’t fuck up. for forty years, I’d been waiting for something I could do that I couldn’t fuck up. and there it was. I was super-lucky that nursing was “easy” for me. well, “easy” meaning “not impossible”.

    I had gone round the bend with thoughts that I was the Worst Mother Ever, and that I should never have had a child because obviously I was going to screw him up beyond recognition, and he’d grow up to be some sort of serial-killer maniac, because everything I touch turns to shit and why should a baby be any different?

    and just when I’d feel the worst about that, it was time to nurse (again!) and everyone would feel much better. I guess for me it was hormonal or something.

    so for me, breastfeeding was the line between maternal happiness and full-on suicidal oblivion. because as he grew, I could see that, you know, I was actually having a beneficial effect. something I touched was actively NOT turning to shit. whadyaknow.

    I was really really fortunate that I found a job where I could nurse at work – not just pump at work, but bring the baby and nurse at work. that way, I could contribute to the needs of my family and still attend to the needs of an infant.

    I wish more women had that opportunity. and I say that, wherever I can, and people think I’m nuts. but I mean it. imagine if more women could just bring their infants with them to work if they wanted to? even for three or six months?

    key phrase being “if they wanted to”. and why restrict that to nursing moms?

    I mean, we all give lip service to the idea that moms need support etc. but what would the world be like if we actually gave support to all moms?

  48. chingona
    chingona October 6, 2011 at 6:48 am |

    Is that not true? While the “should” wording seems … silly? … I’d thought that 1 year was basically the goal for breastfeeding duration, from WHO and all. Don’t babies start getting their own immune systems by that point? :p If breastfeeding was “hell” then saying “don’t worry about it after a year” might be a nice message for some struggling moms.

    1 year is the MINIMUM goal from the American Academy of Pediatrics. 2 years is the WHO MINIMUM goal. Both organizations say “at least” so long and then as long thereafter as mutually desired by baby and mother.

  49. Heidi
    Heidi October 6, 2011 at 6:58 am |

    and I have a friend who’s had a completely different experience than I did. I often feel like I haven’t been supportive enough to help her through, and I feel like maybe I’ve let her down somehow. because, of course, since my experience was so positive, hers must be too, right? except not really. what made me want to live, made her want to die. formula saved her life, and how can I condemn that, in the name of mommy politics?

    the main thing about those first few months after your baby is born, maybe even up to a year – the main thing is, if you produce a live baby and live mama at the beginning and end of every day, you’re doing okay. I think that’s all you can reasonably ask of anyone. there’s so much pressure to be The Right Kind Of Mom, depending on who you are, where you live, race, class, other factors invisible until you’re right up on them – it’s dizzying. for me it helped to focus on a small and achievable goal. baby alive at 8 am? great. baby still alive at 8 pm? great. lather, rinse, repeat…

    and, for what it’s worth, the second-child experience has been way different from the first. she’s had formula (and didn’t die), and had donor milk in a bottle, and has nursed with moms who aren’t me. we’ve kept it up for a year now, despite many struggles, and I’m kind of proud of that. but my pride is tempered by knowing that similar results are just not possible for every woman.

    I think that to other people (that is, folks who aren’t The New Mom Trying To Feed Her Baby), the decision to breast feed or bottle feed represents some bigger statement about the kind of mom you are – which is funny. because the average person seeing me (tandem!)nurse in public (uncovered!) is going to make assumptions about me that just aren’t true. and people seeing my friend bottle feed in public are going to make assumptions about her that just aren’t true. and no one ever thinks to ask.

  50. chingona
    chingona October 6, 2011 at 7:03 am |

    Women should feed their babies the way that works best for them, but in our culture, all the structural support is for bottle-feeding and none of it is for breast-feeding.

    LCs who shame their patients need to reconsider their line of work, and other women who care about what women who are not them do should find more to do with themselves.

    BUT … one of the reasons breastfeeding is so hard and so isolating for some women is that there is no structural support for it. Bottle-feeding is the norm for our society. Everyone complains about the overwhelming pressure to breastfeed, yet the vast majority of women don’t do it for more than a few weeks. If the pressure was that overwhelming, I would think breastfeeding rates would be a tad higher. I’d argue that the pressure in terms of actual cultural cues is to bottle-feed. Breastfeeding is viewed as gross, going to “ruin” your boobs, spoiling the baby, denying the father the chance to bond with the baby and unfair to your co-workers (if you work and pump).

    It’s because of lactivists that many insurance companies now pay for visits to an LC, that more and more hospitals have policies in place that don’t sabotage breastfeeding in the first few hours/days, that most states guarantee a woman cannot be charged with public indecency for breastfeeding, that many states require workplaces to allow pumping breaks, etc. And all of those things are GOOD. They allow women more choices.

    But some people who prefer bottle-feeding will turn around and say all those things are bad because they make women who bottle-feed feel bad about their choice.

    In life, and ESPECIALLY when it comes to mothering, it’s pretty much a guarantee that someone, somewhere thinks you’re doing it wrong. Fuck that and all, but let’s not pretend that it’s just this one extremely marginalized group that’s the problem. At a certain point, you have to just own your own choices.

  51. Florence
    Florence October 6, 2011 at 7:16 am |

    I just had a baby (still on maternity leave) and I chose to formula-feed exclusively. I had done so with my first child for a variety of reasons (mostly maternal illness related to childbirth, and complete lack of maternity leave) and it turned out to be a good choice for me and baby then. My reasons were different this time around: needed to take medication for depression; as a sexual assault survivor, I have visceral/emotional problems with the idea of breastfeeding; wanting to be able to share feeding duties to other family members, and as much as people pass that off as a whatever reason, you’ve got to remember that newborns need to eat every 2-3 hours, and that that time is from the beginning of one feeding to the beginning of the next feeding; my husband was going to stay at home with the baby since he’s unemployed; and finally, being the sole breadwinner in the family in a workplace that technically complies with law but doesn’t actually support mothers, I didn’t want to spend these few weeks at home strapped to a pump.

    People get really cranky about calling some lactation activism narrow and shaming, but after my experience I can’t see it any other way. I do see that this movement is an attempt to reclaim agency around childbirth and women’s bodies, but so often the agency and bodies of women who don’t tow the line are dismissed as not being educated enough or committed enough to do the “right thing”. Enough of it is woo-woo without any basis in science whatsoever that I’m suspicious of most of the research, and a lot of the science that supports boob-magic attributes positive outcomes from “natural” practices that can be correlated with other factors, like the race, class, and education of the parents. There’s no good research since there’s no way to ethically control your observation groups. The natural-over-synthetic debate seems to be so tautological that it doesn’t leave room for people who want or need to explore other options in childrearing.

    My midwives and doula were unsupportive of my decision to formula-feed, and for months spent every visit I had trying to convince me that I must breastfeed for my own and my baby’s health. I knew that I didn’t have to explain myself, and yet I found myself doing just that, trotting out my list of reasons, getting shot down, and feeling more and more desperate and guilty as D-day approached.

    I tried really hard to have a “natural” birth despite my decision to formula-feed (my attempt to resolve traumatic childbirth issues from the first time, unsuccessful), so I was knee-deep in the “natural” rhetoric from the get-go. Regardless, because I had many friends who are community leaders in this area, I joined the classes and did the eating plans and the yoga and whatnot. I won’t lie, this was nice. I’m not in any way a person of means: my husband is perpetually unemployed and I earn a salary that just covers this family of four with the help of unemployment. Many of these classes were offered cheaply and had free sessions open to the public, which was great. But I noticed a few things: the natural childbirth community at large is composed of white nuclear families who are often financially secure enough to have one parent stay at home. And since only one of these people has boobs, it’s mom who quits the job and stays at home and washes the cloth diapers and homeschools. Eventually I started to feel like this was a movement that, despite the commitment to women’s *bodily* agency, modeled white 1950s era notions of sacrifice and motherhood, but with a lot of tattoos, dreadlocks, and green-washing. I have no doubts that this effect is an unintended outcome, but it is there nonetheless.

    Similarly, while the many in the movement try to avoid shaming tactics when extolling the virtues of breastfeeding, the underlying question is there: if there are so many virtues to breastfeeding, what kind of mother *wouldn’t* breastfeed? And while my lizard brain says, “You wouldn’t, because deep down you might be a shitty mom,” my rational brain says, “You wouldn’t, because everyone and everything else in your family is up to you; farm out what you can.”

  52. Florence
    Florence October 6, 2011 at 7:19 am |

    Damn, my comment only barely makes sense. I’m sleep- and coffee-deprived at the moment, but the sentiment stands, I guess.

  53. Heidi
    Heidi October 6, 2011 at 7:23 am |

    and for the record, I run with a pretty breastfeeding-supremacist-y crowd, I guess you could say? but not one of us would ever deny (to her face or behind her back) a mother’s right to feed her baby the way she needs to.

    sometimes I think my success is by definition oppressive to moms who have not had success. because motherhood is nothing if not oppressively guilty at all times…

  54. Florence
    Florence October 6, 2011 at 7:27 am |

    One other thing, since I’m here.

    There is a lot of noise made about the lack of support for breastfeeding moms, which I don’t doubt. In my experience, there is little support for formula-feeding moms too. If you ask your doctor/midwife/doula/LC which formula is best, what attributes might make you choose one formula over the next, or questions about making the formula and how to store it, you’ll often get met with a big, fat question mark. Literally no one I have approached in the last six months with these issues has been able to provide answers or even find a reliable source for this information. Point being that for all the noise about lack of support for this method or that method, there seems to be a lack of knowledge and support overall for new mothers that we need to address.

    For what it’s worth, there is a great blogger online that is trying to resolve these issues for formula-feeding parents: Fearless Formula Feeder. That site has been a godsend for me while I have been teasing out my personal feelings on all of it. Highly recommended for anyone who is interested in lactation politics at all.

  55. DammitJanet
    DammitJanet October 6, 2011 at 8:27 am |

    Well, maybe this is a geographic thing, because my OB/GYN was very insistent on what brands of formula to use (the most expensive ones that donated samples, oddly enough), as was my pediatrician. As a breastfeeding mother, I was the freak in my community (asked to leave the room to feed my daughter during religious gatherings, because, my god, I’m sure Jesus took a bottle). My LC in the hospital was entirely useless. The LC I contacted when I was having supply issues was incredibly helpful, probably because NO ONE in my area nurses past a month.

    If women are being shamed by LCs, then by all means, let’s take it up with specific LCs, hospitals, and LC accrediting organizations. But to have such a visceral response to assholes on Twitter just seems a bit silly. I mean, Twitter? Really? Who cares what assholes on Twitter have to say. That’s what I don’t get: All this defensiveness about what people who have no bearing on your life have to say about your parenting choices.

  56. Heidi
    Heidi October 6, 2011 at 8:43 am |

    That’s what I don’t get: All this defensiveness about what people who have no bearing on your life have to say about your parenting choices.

    I think it’s because all those Twitter assholes reinforce the negative messages we get IRL. and some of us can’t get observably angry at our mothers, our in-laws, etc – but we sure as hell can unleash at the Internet!

  57. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub October 6, 2011 at 8:44 am |

    That’s what I don’t get: All this defensiveness about what people who have no bearing on your life have to say about your parenting choices.

    Because it’s part of a larger culture where everyone and their goddamn dog wants to judge and shame mothers for Doing It Wrong, be it work outside of the home, bottle-feed, or whatever. Because women are under the microscope every goddamn day, because our choices and our personal and private lives are up for inspection and judgement no matter what, and it only gets worse when you have kids. And because these people who claim to be supporting mothers are acting like vicious fucking assholes and playing right into this trope. This isn’t a case of random douchebags on twitter not liking your shoes. This is a case of random douchebags on twitter engaging in the shaming behavior against mothers that every other goddamn asshole does in the larger culture.

    Here’s what I don’t get: for all of the talk about solidarity, when this shit happens, when mothers point out that they ARE judged and shamed by supposed allies, they get a lot of static for being defensive, erasing breastfeeding (even though most of them wanted to breastfeed) and for using this as an excuse to not do it. Instead of, oh, I don’t know, activists maybe telling the judgmental douchebags to help themselves to a nice hot cup of shut the fuck up. Or short of that, not dismissing what they’re telling you.

  58. Anna
    Anna October 6, 2011 at 8:51 am |

    Hate the shaming. Hate, hate, hate it.

    I tried to breast feed my child as much as I could those first few days and he ended up underweight and was nearly declared as a “failure to thrive”. I needed the formula to get him to “fighting” weight. In the meantime, I felt like I was a complete failure for being unable to produce enough milk to nurture my son. It’s terrible. Women should be able to make informed choices that work best for her and her child. Both need to be healthy to thrive.

  59. EG
    EG October 6, 2011 at 8:54 am |

    One note regarding pumping, which I’m told is almost universally unpleasant: as far as I know, the studies that have been done are on the benefits of breastfeeding vs. bottle-feeding with formula, not necessarily on breastmilk vs. formula as substances, and one of the interesting things about breastfeeding is that when the baby is nursing, there’s actually an interaction between the baby and the mother’s body (as well as, of course, the mother’s emotions and mind, but that’s not what I’m focusing on here) that includes things like satiety signals–apparently, when the baby starts to nurse and is hungry and nursing avidly, the milk that comes out at the beginning is thinner and comes out more quickly; after a while, as the baby slows down in its nursing and nurses more slowly, the milk thickens and becomes harder to draw out. Obviously, bottle-feeding with breastmilk can’t replicate this process, and that isn’t something I’ve seen addressed in the literature. So I can’t help but wonder if a bunch of women are going through what I’m told is the unpleasant task of pumping for less reward than they’re told.

    But again, as far as I’m concerned, that’s about a lack of structural support for breast-feeding, which is about a lack of structural support for women’s life-patterns in general. The model of the workplace seems to be based on the life-patterns of men in the 1950s, and if the years that are supposed to be your most productive in the workplace happen to coincide with the years in which it is best for you to have a baby, tough luck, ladies, you’re welcome in the workplace only insofar as you’re willing to conform to the standard, i.e. male, model.

    Eventually I started to feel like this was a movement that, despite the commitment to women’s *bodily* agency, modeled white 1950s era notions of sacrifice and motherhood, but with a lot of tattoos, dreadlocks, and green-washing. I have no doubts that this effect is an unintended outcome, but it is there nonetheless.

    I think that’s less a function of the pro-breastfeeding movement as a function of the larger misogynist culture in which it’s taking place and that has not yet been adequately transformed by feminism. Unfortunately.

    I think it’s also worth remembering that our culture makes all new mothers feel guilty and inadequate about something, and what’s happened is that breastfeeding has been assimilated into that culture. The new mother that’s breastfeeding and isn’t calling her friends and family in tears about asshole LCs is instead calling them in tears about not being able to afford whatever product is being hyped as stimulating brain growth this year, or about not being able to soothe a colicky baby, and what’s wrong with her, why isn’t she a good mother, or about the fact that for the love of God, sometimes she just wants the baby to shut up shut up SHUT UP, and what’s wrong with her, why doesn’t she automatically love her baby like she’s supposed to, or anything else. Instituting mother-guilt isn’t about breastfeeding or what’s best for the baby; it’s an aspect of a misogynist culture that causes women to feel shame about everything from the size of our labia to the cleanliness of our apartments (or lackthereof) to how we raise our children.

    And yes, women have lost custody due to breastfeeding. A few years back, a woman called a parental hotline of some kind to ask if it was normal that sometimes she became sexually aroused during nursing (answer: yes, it’s absolutely normal, somebody is, after all, sucking on your nipple, don’t worry about it), and the operator responded by calling CPS, who arrived at the mother’s home and took the kid away, and she had to wage a huge battle to get her back, and the child was massively traumatized. Other mothers have been reported for breastfeeding past the age when random people thought they should have been.

    Ok, for comic relief, my favorite childcare story of the year: I went to visit a friend of mine who has a one-year-old. My friend is very successful in her job, and for now, her husband is a stay-at-home dad (the kiddo breastfeeds; my friend’s job is one with a very flexible schedule). As she was changing the baby’s diaper, I noted that she used cloth diapers, and while I admired her environmental conscientiousness, there would not be enough money in the world to pay me to do the same when I have a baby.

    She said “Oh, it’s actually really easy, basically, you just toss them in the laundry.” [pause for thought] “Actually, I have no idea how easy it is, because Josh takes care of all that.”

    “Nice for you,” I said.

  60. Anna
    Anna October 6, 2011 at 8:59 am |

    DammitJanet:
    That’s what I don’t get:All this defensiveness about what people who have no bearing on your life have to say about your parenting choices.

    It would be great if it were just Twitter. I wasn’t on Twitter when my child was born. I wasn’t even on Facebook. I read books and magazines to supplement my knowledge of taking care of my child, and to be honest, I was pretty good at shutting out judgmental people during those first four months after birth, and yet, the pressure to breastfeed was there–subtly in text, perhaps, but not-so-subtle growing up, with so many people–educators and a variety of mothers alike, who told me what I should or shouldn’t be doing once I decided I would have a child of my own. It’s nice and all if you can shut out those imprinted voices in your head, but some couldn’t, and if it’s not Twitter, it’s somewhere else. You can’t *not* listen. Information (and judgment) just pours in from everywhere.

  61. Esti
    Esti October 6, 2011 at 9:07 am |

    DammitJanet: If women are being shamed by LCs, then by all means, let’s take it up with specific LCs, hospitals, and LC accrediting organizations. But to have such a visceral response to assholes on Twitter just seems a bit silly. I mean, Twitter? Really? Who cares what assholes on Twitter have to say. That’s what I don’t get: All this defensiveness about what people who have no bearing on your life have to say about your parenting choices.

    I have no dog in the breastfeeding/formula feeding discussion, but to this: really? Really? We spend a lot of time on this and other progressive/feminist sites critiquing things people say, either in person or on the internet, that we think are problematic or shaming or harmful. It doesn’t matter that the people saying them “have no bearing on your life” (especially when, as a number of people here and on Jessica’s post pointed out, these things were also said to them by people who do have a bearing on their life, like LCs and family members). Scott Adams is just an asshole with a blog, but that doesn’t mean it’s “defensiveness” when we call him out for it.

    I get that the criticism about how you feed your child goes both ways, but even if you think that breastfeeding is more marginalized than formula feeding, that doesn’t mean we should ignore the shit that formula-feeding mothers get. This site, and Jessica Valenti herself, have made posts that critique the hurdles breastfeeding mothers face, from public shaming to unsupportive workplaces. No one is saying that isn’t a problem. But the fact that breastfeeding is in many ways a marginalized choice that we need to push society to support does not mean that everyone should refrain from public discussion of the problems with the breastfeeding advocacy movement. This isn’t about one LC who was a jerk. It’s about an attitude that a subset (a subset, not all or even most) of that movement has. And the assholes on Twitter are part of that attitude and are what reinforces it.

  62. chingona
    chingona October 6, 2011 at 9:09 am |

    The real problem is that we live in a culture that places motherhood on a pedestal but doesn’t do jack to support actual mothers.

  63. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub October 6, 2011 at 9:16 am |

    chingona:
    The real problem is that we live in a culture that places motherhood on a pedestal but doesn’t do jack to support actual mothers.

    True.

  64. EG
    EG October 6, 2011 at 9:17 am |

    Ok, here’s the dichotomy as I see it:

    There is tremendous social pressure to breastfeed, but absolutely no material support. On the other hand, there is tremendous material pressure for bottle-feeding, but also a lot of social contempt for it.

    This seems a lot to me like the way our culture perceived motherhood in general: there is tremendous social pressure on women to have children, but absolutely no material support, whereas there is a ton of material pressure not to have children, but massive social disapproval of it.

    So like the relationship between women who don’t have/want children and women who do, the relationship between mothers who breastfeed and mothers who bottle-feed becomes very contentious, because each group perceives the other as being more privileged, and each group is, to a certain extent, correct.

    What that tells me is that it’s a false division, and pro-breast-feeders have to stop being assholes to bottle-feeders and acknowledge that breastfeeding isn’t for everybody, because trying to counter material pressure with social pressure just makes everybody’s life harder, and it would be good if bottle-feeders, in return, would acknowledge that the social approval breastfeeders get in many circles is in part an attempt to ameliorate the effects of the potential material punishments faced by breastfeeders (i.e. nobody’s ever been thrown off a plane for refusing to hide their bottle-feeding baby under a blanket).

  65. EG
    EG October 6, 2011 at 9:18 am |

    Or, you know, what chingona said.

  66. chingona
    chingona October 6, 2011 at 9:22 am |

    @ EG … Mostly agreed except that there also is social contempt for the sight of actual breastfeeding women, just as there is social contempt for the presence of actual children. Like I said higher up, pretty much no matter what you do, someone disapproves of it.

  67. EG
    EG October 6, 2011 at 9:29 am |

    Oh, absolutely. See, with mothering, you’re supposed to do it and do it perfectly without in any way causing anybody else to notice your labor at all, because that might make them slightly uncomfortable. So if you breast-feeding and child-raising ladies would just stay behind closed doors at all times so that men could get on with the important stuff, that would be great, ‘kay?

  68. chingona
    chingona October 6, 2011 at 9:33 am |

    We spend a lot of time on this and other progressive/feminist sites critiquing things people say, either in person or on the internet, that we think are problematic or shaming or harmful.

    In fairness, though, every time that critique is made, a whole bunch of people start yelling about choosing their choice and how dare you say it’s really those social messages that make me think period sex is gross (just to pick a random example ;-P).

    And which side someone comes down on depends a lot on whose ox is being gored and how strongly they, personally, feel those particular messages. (I fully include myself in this, btw.)

    This dynamic is not remotely unique to breastmilk/formula.

  69. DammitJanet
    DammitJanet October 6, 2011 at 9:35 am |

    I’m not dismissing anyone. I did formula feed, and I did read a lot of bullshit about how any amount of formula is OMG horrible. But random dipshits on the internet saying I was giving my baby poison are easy to ignore, while actual people in real life are impossible to get away from. And, yes, shitty lactation consultants are shitty and I cried quite a bit in the hospital due in part to all of the conflicting information I received about breastfeeding that all pointed to the fact that whatever I did was harmful. (Nurse on demand! Don’t let her use you as a pacifier! Sugar water will give you a break to sleep and is totally healthy, so have some self-respect and stop trying to be such a martyr! Sugar water is the devil! Pacifiers are horrible and you need to stand up for your baby! You need to get over yourself and give that baby a pacifier!)

    But guess which bugged me more: A blogger saying my kid would never live up to her potential because she took a bottle a couple times a day; an LC telling me it only hurt because, even though it’s totally natural and instinctual and my god any woman could do it if she would but try, I was doing it wrong (so much bullshit there); or a neighbor telling me that nursing a 1 year-old was the same as sexual abuse.

    One of these things is not like the others. Two of these people I never had to talk to again, and the third sentiment I heard all the damn time. And, yes, I get that this is largely geographic, and I’m sure there are pockets of the country where the majority of the judgey assholes are breastfeeders. I’m not denying that. I just think the entire internet “debate” is silly, especially when it boils down to some ridiculous competition over who is the Best Mom Ever, Who Is More Oppressed, and who is the Best Maker of Points.

    So when I say people should disengage, I’m not talking specifically to mothers who formula feed. I mean everyone. I don’t get lactivists who target individual women, either. It’s asinine, and why engage it? Assholes are going to be assholes, especially on goddamn Twitter, the largest gathering place of assholes in history.

  70. DammitJanet
    DammitJanet October 6, 2011 at 9:38 am |

    Forgot to add: I do think asshole LCs need to be called out, and I don’t think it’s the new mother’s job to do that. I *strongly* believe self-described lactivists should be taking up that responsibility because they’re certainly not doing their cause any favors by alienating and shaming women.

    I really think we are more in agreement than disagreement. I just don’t see the point in internet mommy wars. It’s a waste of time.

  71. chingona
    chingona October 6, 2011 at 9:47 am |

    Just as an aside, I was chatting with my neighbor the other day, and she said something that seems relevant to how this plays out in real life. She said that when her daughter was a baby, she felt like she needed to be around mothers who made the same decisions she did because she felt insecure and isolated as a mother. Being around women who made similar choices for similar reasons helped her feel like she was doing the right thing, when just about every new parent spends a lot of time worrying that they’re doing the wrong thing.

  72. Elena
    Elena October 6, 2011 at 9:53 am |

    My daughter is 12. When I look at her cohorts, children I have known since toddlerhood, there is no way to tell who was breastfed, or who spent time in daycare, or who listened to Mozart in utero. There are some kids who are messed up and everyone knows who they are and everyone knows why, usually the typical screwed up, unstable family lives.

    Most of the kids are doing wonderfully, and I can say now that some of us were way too smug when our kids were small, and most of us were way too hard on ourselves. Breast or bottle feeding DOESN’T MAKE any difference. This isn’t sub-Saharan Africa, we have potable water to make formula with in our kitchens. I mentally wrote off the lactavists when they wanted aid organizations to not send formula to starving babies after the earthquake in Haiti. A commenter in a Salon article thought all lactating women in Haiti simply had to band together to save the babes, their own broken bones, dead relatives and destroyed homes notwithstanding.

  73. Bijan Parsia
    Bijan Parsia October 6, 2011 at 10:02 am |

    Sheelzebub: Here’s what I don’t get: for all of the talk about solidarity, when this shit happens, when mothers point out that they ARE judged and shamed by supposed allies, they get a lot of static for being defensive, erasing breastfeeding (even though most of them wanted to breastfeed) and for using this as an excuse to not do it. Instead of, oh, I don’t know, activists maybe telling the judgmental douchebags to help themselves to a nice hot cup of shut the fuck up. Or short of that, not dismissing what they’re telling you

    I see some key words that I wrote, so I hope you don’t mind if I take this as partially addressed to me, and answer.

    I don’t, myself, encounter a lot of that, though sometimes when I’m discussing my mother-in-law’s work, or other breastfeeding issues, I am talking with women who did not breastfeed for a variety of reasons. I try to make sure that I don’t feed into any feelings of guilt or prior shamings they are likely to have experienced. I try to talk about general structural issues that make things difficult for mothers so that it is inclusive.

    In my posts here, I tried to balance what I’ve written so that no even implicit shaming comes through (don’t know if that worked, entirely, obviously). It’s a big challenge in public health work and not just in maternal care. “Breast is best” was a hard won slogan at a time when the great weight of (Western) medical practice was quite down on the validity of the choice to nurse. Now, it turns out that it interacts poorly with a lot of other societal feature, so we need to adjust. But to what is not entirely obvious.

    (“Informed choice” seems to be a good one, but then the issue shifts to what goes into the informing, exactly.)

    So, I do want solidarity. I repudiate mother shaming, whatever the form.

    Er…I don’t know what else to write. I don’t want to label the problem as “worse” either way. If a new mother is driven to tears by an LC, that’s awful. If a stress mom of a 4 year old is forced to go into a dirty toilet to breastfeed, that’s crappy. Etc.

    It is extra infuriating that people who label themselves as pro-mother are part of the problem.

    (And, of course, my reactions are shaped by my relationships and experiences, so I can’t be sure that I’m judging the negative side of breastfeeding advocacy correctly. I might be overreading Jill’s post, as well, as, after all, it does make the pro-case. So, sorry!)

  74. DammitJanet
    DammitJanet October 6, 2011 at 10:05 am |

    chingona:
    Just as an aside, I was chatting with my neighbor the other day, and she said something that seems relevant to how this plays out in real life. She said that when her daughter was a baby, she felt like she needed to be around mothers who made the same decisions she did because she felt insecure and isolated as a mother. Being around women who made similar choices for similar reasons helped her feel like she was doing the right thing, when just about every new parent spends a lot of time worrying that they’re doing the wrong thing.

    I think this is why a lot of lactivists sound so uncompromising. They do tend to be isolated, since most women do not breastfeed. Getting support via the internet, while wonderful in some respects, can make for a very insulated community. In that sense, I think it is important for some group mixing; but making it us against them helps no one.

    I’m saying all of this in retrospect, of course. I’m sure I was an insufferable know it all when I had babies. It comes with the territory, I guess. I just wish more women would see that in a very short time, relationships with other mothers are going to be way more important than how you fed your baby for the first year.

  75. Kathleen
    Kathleen October 6, 2011 at 10:06 am |

    EC and Chingona – what you all said, about the double-bind for both breastfeeding AND formula feeding.

    Chava, I wanted to clarify what I said above. I did not say that breastfeeding “caused” infant mortality in the human past. What caused high infant mortality was the lack of any good alternative in bad situations (dead mom, sick mom, tired mom, mom with too many other kids, mom with too many other obligations). If you have lived in a “traditional” society (I have) you see HOW physically demanding just regular old everyday life is. To say that once upon a time there was only booby and that was wonderful just ignores the fact that once upon a time there was only booby and lots of babies died as a result. Sure, aggressive formula marketing is terrible; aggressive formula marketing to women with no access to clean water (WHICH IS A SEPARATE INJUSTICE — you know what? Sure, advise against formula, but the dirty water is still going to be killing people unless you address that, too); but formula has *not* been a net negative for humanity. That’s a message built on a fantasy about “tradition”.

  76. Sandy
    Sandy October 6, 2011 at 10:06 am |

    What chava and Azalea said.

    I love Jessica Valenti, but she’s wrong about formula being just as healthy. It’s not just as healthy. Should it be available for those who cannot or do not want to breastfeed? Of course it should. And it is. No one is trying to take formula away. On the contrary, as other people have noted, most of the real-world structures around us push us towards bottle-feeding even as we’re told we ought to breastfeed.

    I recently had a baby and could not exclusively breastfeed at first, as much as I wanted to. I was not producing enough milk. My babe was slow to gain weight and I had to supplement with formula, take herbs and pump a lot to increase my supply. I was brokenhearted that my body was not adequately providing for my baby.

    And I’m told my experience is more or less normal. That starting out, many women find breastfeeding not as “natural” and easy as they’d hoped, and issues that can arise are many. That’s why lactation consultants can be a good thing (they weren’t in my case, but anyway) and that’s why the WHO doesn’t want new moms who want to breastfeed encouraged to give up by a very clever if unsubtle marketing ploy when the going gets tough and it’s 3 a.m. and the baby’s so hungry it’s crying too hard to latch on.

    But. If you make a conscious choice to give your baby formula, for -whatever- reason, then that’s a valid decision that deserves to be respected. I think formula feeding is a little like abortion in that we don’t automatically assume that other women’s reasons for doing it are good reasons. No, formula is not as perfect for your baby as breastmilk, but neither is it like feeding your baby pureed McDonald’s, and the benefits are not so great that breastfeeding is the be-all end-all of parenting. If you put 10 adults in a room, 5 who’d been breastfed as babies and 5 who’d been formula fed, who’s going to be able to tell the difference? Seriously.

    Also: lactation consultants and midwives who try to shame their clients or otherwise make them feel bad should be ashamed themselves. I tasted a tiny bit of that dish and didn’t care for it in the least, and I was on the same page as the consultant in the sense that I agree breast is best and I did desire to breastfeed exclusively. There’s rather a fine line between encouragement and shaming when it comes to an issue as charged as this one, but folks in the business of helping with something this personal need to find it and toe it. What they do is concern trolling and if you announce your intent to formula feed, after whatever small probing of your decision they should stfu and move on.

    Me, I like breastfeeding mostly because I’m lazy, and I find it much easier to plop my baby against my chest and nurse her then go in the kitchen and mess with powder and bottles. Sometimes it’s painful, I’ve had nipple pain and nipple itching and sharp, shooting deep-breast pain and lately my baby is gathering fistfuls of my skin and -squeezing- with her tiny strong hands… but again, lazy.

    I read an interesting question in a lactation book that said: if you could breastfeed your baby but formula came out of your breasts, or you could bottle feed your baby breastmilk (that you didn’t have to pump), which would you choose? (Hint: as with the real-world formula v. breast question, there’s no one right answer.) I’d like to say that I’d bottle feed the breastmilk, in the interest of my baby’s health, but the truth is I would probably breastfeed the formula.

  77. Kathleen
    Kathleen October 6, 2011 at 10:12 am |

    Sandy — wow. Just exactly an example of the passive-aggressive bs Jessica Valenti brilliantly put her finger on. Seriously?

  78. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub October 6, 2011 at 10:24 am |

    OK, I’m not getting where Sandy’s being passive-aggressive? She thinks that breastmilk is better BUT had problems breastfeeding at first AND thinks that if anyone wants to bottle/formula feed that the peanut gallery needs to STFU and respect their choice, that it’s akin to abortion in that everyone demands women justify their choices when it’s really no one’s business. As well as pointing out that the difference between the two isn’t so great that it’s akin to feeding your kid crack cocaine and Mickey D’s, and that kids end up doing just fine either way. Also has pointed out that the reason why she prefers it, even with all of the discomfort and pain, is that she feels like she’s lazy and would rather not wash the bottles, etc. (So pain is preferable to doing more work–I’d be different, and that’s okay?) That it’s just easier for her, but it’s not easy for other people and it’s okay if they don’t do it.

    Unless I’m totally missing something? I’ve only had one cup of coffee today, so, er, it’s entirely possible.

  79. Jessica Valenti
    Jessica Valenti October 6, 2011 at 10:27 am |

    Thanks to Jill for the linkage and to everyone for all the thoughtful comments.

    @DammitJanet Re: not engaging with assholes on Twitter. I am usually not baited by this stuff, truly! I didn’t start off wanting to reignite a debate I know has been done a million times over. But I got really, really mad and my outlet for that is writing. :)

    @Sandy When I wrote that formula is just as healthy as breastfeeding, I meant two things: 1) the science around breastfeeding being superior is actually not as solid as folks think (Joan Wolf’s book gets into this) 2) I was referring to whole-family health (and that babies who don’t have severely depressed moms are better off).

    I think what has made this issue so personally difficult is that before I had Layla (and was intending to breastfeed) I had readied myself for the lack of support and public disgust that people direct at breastfeeding moms. It’s something I had written about, and because I’m accustomed to dealing with patriarchal bullshit, I felt prepared for all that. But I was totally unprepared for the disdain thrown my way when I bottle-fed – almost all of it from the feminist and pro-breastfeeding community I sought help from. I was shocked to have women in my neighborhood come up to me at restaurants and say, “You know, breast is really best.” Or when I asked a local moms listserv for the best places to get a particular kind of formula (Layla was extremely allergic to dairy and needed a formula with these wacky broken down enzymes) just to have the local La Leche League representative send me an email chastising me. I could go on.

    And this was all AFTER I had spent two months pumping in the NICU (where Layla was given my breastmilk via feeding tube) while trying to recover from a complicated c-section, a liver that almost failed, and fucking pre-eclampsia – just to have my milk dry up from the stress of all of it right before she was discharged from the hospital.

    I killed myself trying to provide Layla with breastmilk – with everything she went through it felt like this was the one “natural” thing I could do for her. I took supplements, drank shakes, pumped every hour even though I was exhausted and often bed-bound. I was traumatized, in pain, still recovering, depressed, and hated every minute of my life. When I finally made the decision to formula feed – and to stop blaming myself for being a “failure” – it was like the sun started shining again in my life. I was a better mother, and Layla was better off for it.

    I had every support one could imagine: insurance that paid for a hospital-grade breast pump to bring home, a lactation consultant (again, covered by insurance), a husband who worked from home and co-parented, the financial freedom to take time off from work, a mother who lived close by and came over in the mornings so I could sleep. I wish all mothers had access to this kind of support so they could make the best decision for themselves and their family free from obstacles. But I also think it’s important to recognize that sometimes all the support in the world isn’t going to make breastfeeding a better choice for someone. And that sometimes a mother simply isn’t going to want to breastfeed and that’s fine too. I wish I didn’t feel the need to tell my story, but I still feel like I have to justify myself for why I’m not a “good” mom. For months I was apologetically polite to the people (strangers and family alike) who would ask me why I wasn’t breastfeeding. I’m well enough now that I’m fed up with all of that. So when I see people who are patronizingly “tolerant” of formula feeding moms without being fully supportive in the same way they want the public to be of breastfeeding moms, it just sets me off. (As this long ass rambling comment proves!) Anyway, thanks again for the thoughtful conversation; I’ll shut up now.

  80. chava
    chava October 6, 2011 at 10:28 am |

    Mmmkay, see where you were going a little more clearly.

    I still don’t think the data is there to say that formula is what turned the corner, rather than sanitation, bottles, clean water, etc. And in the “sick mom, dead mom, tired mom” scenario, most “traditional” societies will turn to some form of wet nursing. I’m not sure when Europe and the U.S. starting figuring milk sharing as dirty and shameful, but I wouldn’t put it past corporate interests. But a big fat YES to the naturalism fallacy. Booby does not have mystical magical powers. It will not replace antibiotics; it will not replace, for God’s sake, VACCINES (I’ve heard this one. For reals).

    I’m also really not sure that the marketing of formula to mothers with no access to clean water IS a separate issue. EC said upthread:
    Out of historical interest, my mother said that for her generation, breastfeeding was a significant feminist issue, that perfectly healthy women were told by allegedly qualified doctors that their breasts were too small, they wouldn’t be able to produce enough milk, and they should use formula instead, or that formula was better for the baby, etc.

    The thing is, this isn’t only a historical problem. Women in developing countries are still told this, all the time–with horrible end results. Formula in the presence of all our other lovely technological advances HAS been a positive thing–for a very particular slice of the world’s population.

    Kathleen:
    EC and Chingona – what you all said, about the double-bind for both breastfeeding AND formula feeding.

    Chava, I wanted to clarify what I said above.I did not say that breastfeeding “caused” infant mortality in the human past.What caused high infant mortality was the lack of any good alternative in bad situations (dead mom, sick mom, tired mom, mom with too many other kids, mom with too many other obligations).If you have lived in a “traditional” society (I have) you see HOW physically demanding just regular old everyday life is.To say that once upon a time there was only booby and that was wonderful just ignores the fact that once upon a time there was only booby and lots of babies died as a result.Sure, aggressive formula marketing is terrible; aggressive formula marketing to women with no access to clean water (WHICH IS A SEPARATE INJUSTICE — you know what?Sure, advise against formula, but the dirty water is still going to be killing people unless you address that, too); but formula has *not* been a net negative for humanity.That’s a message built on a fantasy about “tradition”.

  81. suspect class
    suspect class October 6, 2011 at 10:31 am |

    igglanova:
    Eh, I don’t think this is erasing gay men even though they can adopt kids. I have never seen anyone shame a gay couple for formula feeding in my life – this ‘mommy wars’ shit is way more about judging women than judging men.Also, the logistical problems of breastfeeding when both parents are cis men are much more obvious to the casual busybody, so you’d look pretty stupid.

    (Am I awful for thinking it would be really funny to see someone scold a man for giving a bottle to a baby? ‘WTF you doing, man! BREAST IS BEST.’)

    I had a shrink tell me he wasn’t sure he could recommend my transition because I wanted to have children after top surgery, and not breast feeding kids is a risk factor for poor development. Which is possibly more about his issues with trans men having babies than it is about “breast is best”–I think a lot of this shaming is really about deeper issues generally–but it was a pretty amazing moment. I was lucky to not need anything from him other than a certification that I was “sane” enough to transition.

  82. chava
    chava October 6, 2011 at 10:38 am |

    What is it they say? Big kid, big problems; little kid, little problems.

    Elena:
    My daughter is 12. When I look at her cohorts, children I have known since toddlerhood, there is no way to tell who was breastfed, or who spent time in daycare, or who listened to Mozart in utero. There are some kids who are messed up and everyone knows who they are and everyone knows why, usually the typical screwed up, unstable family lives.

    Most of the kids are doing wonderfully, and I can say now that some of us were way too smug when our kids were small, and most of us were way too hard on ourselves. Breast or bottle feeding DOESN’T MAKE any difference. This isn’t sub-Saharan Africa, we have potable water to make formula with in our kitchens. I mentally wrote off the lactavists when they wanted aid organizations to not send formula to starving babies after the earthquake in Haiti. A commenter in a Salon article thought all lactating women in Haiti simply had to band together to save the babes, their own broken bones, dead relatives and destroyed homes notwithstanding.

  83. Sandy
    Sandy October 6, 2011 at 10:45 am |

    I think people need to make their own decisions and have them respected. I was describing my own experiences and my own choices, absolutely not holding them up as the choices everyone should make, nor my beliefs as the beliefs everyone should have. I was getting at “live and let live,” not trying to be passive aggressive.

  84. chingona
    chingona October 6, 2011 at 10:49 am |

    What caused high infant mortality was the lack of any good alternative in bad situations (dead mom, sick mom, tired mom, mom with too many other kids, mom with too many other obligations).If you have lived in a “traditional” society (I have) you see HOW physically demanding just regular old everyday life is.To say that once upon a time there was only booby and that was wonderful just ignores the fact that once upon a time there was only booby and lots of babies died as a result.

    No. Not “as a result.”

    The main factors that have reduced infant mortality: Vaccines, clean water, antibiotics, availability of safe c-sections.

    Traditionally, women who could not make enough milk turned to other women who could. There are a variety of reasons we are very unlikely to see a revival of the wet nurse, but let’s not overstate formula’s contribution.

  85. chingona
    chingona October 6, 2011 at 10:59 am |

    aggressive formula marketing to women with no access to clean water (WHICH IS A SEPARATE INJUSTICE — you know what? Sure, advise against formula, but the dirty water is still going to be killing people unless you address that, too)

    The dirty water is A LOT more dangerous to newborn infants than it is to adults or even older children. The women who are really in a difficult spot are the women who are HIV+ and don’t have access to clean water. Statistically speaking, women in most of sub-Saharan Africa who are HIV+ are better off breast-feeding their babies. The risk of passing HIV is significantly less than the risk of the baby dying from formula made with the water they have access to. That’s how bad dirty water can be for a baby. (And yet, of course, if you breastfeed and your child does end up with HIV, you would feel like you made the wrong decision and hurt your child.)

  86. tinfoil hattie
    tinfoil hattie October 6, 2011 at 11:02 am |

    What is passive-aggressive about Sandy’s comment? I thought she was pretty clear. Breast milk is definitely more nutritious, but formula is definitely a perfectly healthy and sound choice.

  87. chava
    chava October 6, 2011 at 11:07 am |

    Don’t quote me on this, but I THINK the current medical opinion is that the best option for women w/o access to clean water, with HIV, is to breastfeed while on antivirals. Now, GETTING those antivirals is a whole other can of worms. But sadly, it’s often easier than getting clean water (thank you, shitty global health NGOs).

    chingona:
    aggressive formula marketing to women with no access to clean water (WHICH IS A SEPARATE INJUSTICE — you know what? Sure, advise against formula, but the dirty water is still going to be killing people unless you address that, too)

    The dirty water is A LOT more dangerous to newborn infants than it is to adults or even older children. The women who are really in a difficult spot are the women who are HIV+ and don’t have access to clean water. Statistically speaking, women in most of sub-Saharan Africa who are HIV+ are better off breast-feeding their babies. The risk of passing HIV is significantly less than the risk of the baby dying from formula made with the water they have access to. That’s how bad dirty water can be for a baby. (And yet, of course, if you breastfeed and your child does end up with HIV, you would feel like you made the wrong decision and hurt your child.)

  88. EG
    EG October 6, 2011 at 11:09 am |

    Chingona, that is one of the most depressing things I’ve heard in a while.

  89. chava
    chava October 6, 2011 at 11:27 am |

    Ah, here is that cite:
    http://www.unicef.org/programme/breastfeeding/hiv.htm

    Some highlights:
    –”For HIV-infected mothers, especially in developing countries, the decision to breastfeed or to give breastmilk substitutes like infant formula or modified cow’s milk provides a dilemma. While breastfeeding increases the risk of HIV-transmission to the child with up to 15%, giving breastmilk substitutes instead of breastmilk increases the risk due to infectious diseases like diarrhoea and respiratory infections about 6 times during the first 2 months.”

    –”To minimise HIV transmission risk, breastfeeding should be discontinued as soon as feasible, taking into account local circumstances, the individual woman’s situation and the risks associated with replacement feeding (including infections other than HIV and malnutrition).”

  90. DammitJanet
    DammitJanet October 6, 2011 at 11:42 am |

    I heard a lecture by Stephen Lewis (who is AMAZING!) about breastfeeding and HIV transmission. I can’t remember all of the stats he presented, but I know he discussed the dilemma you’re describing, and he specifically highlighted the moral failing of not providing antivirals to breastfeeding women in Africa. It was really powerful. I’ll see if I can find it.

  91. Azalea
    Azalea October 6, 2011 at 11:53 am |

    JetGirl: Azalea

    It put me in a very cranky place. Did those consultants have a right to harass them? Stories liek this makes me appreciate the hospital I had my sons much more, if I didnt want you in my room you were shit out of luck.

  92. Sandy
    Sandy October 6, 2011 at 12:13 pm |

    @Jessica,

    Regarding the second point you raise. I myself am on an anti-depressant. My medication in the past sometimes came with a sticker warning not to breastfeed while on this medication. Then they changed it to a sticker saying not to drink alcohol while on this medication. They went back and forth, sometimes both were on there, these days I don’t get any stickers at all when I refill my script. I don’t know who decides what sticker should go on the bottle. Also the stickers contradicted the long writeup that comes stapled to the medication. Whatever.

    In the hospital I had at least 4 different doctors pop in to discuss breastfeeding while on this medicine. I’m not sure if there were more, I was in the hospital longer than I wanted to be and I got no sleep, so it’s all like one long, long day and kind of blurry. But 2 of these were pediatricians. None would say outright “Go ahead and take it, it’s totes fine!” but all of them suggested that taking my medication while breastfeeding was a risk/reward consideration given my likelihood of having PPD, and when I told them I intended to try going off of my medication and if that didn’t go well, that I was going to continue using it, I was universally told that was okay, and that I should breastfeed regardless if I chose to. That what that little blue sticker on my drug bottle said was untrue.

    Obviously if a woman’s medication is decisively incompatible with breastfeeding, and all sources say the same thing, she should formula feed. I knew what I wanted to do; I would not presume to know what choice is best for someone else’s particular set of circumstances or feelings. Your decision to formula feed was more than justified. And you don’t need me or anyone else to tell you that. I’m sorry it gets made into such a horribly stressful and fraught decision for you and other moms.

    I know what severe depression is like and I agree 100% that a woman’s and family’s mental health is of the utmost importance and primacy.

    Regarding your first point – breastmilk seems generally agreed by most to be the healthiest thing at the moment, by whomever the authorities are. I don’t know who decides these things, or how these changes slowly come about, but there’s certainly been a cultural shift since the days of “oh your breasts are probably too small, here just give the baby formula.” The WHO, my baby’s pediatrician, the doctors I’d never seen before who turned up to discuss my medication and breastfeeding with me, tons of information online, all strongly in support of breastfeeding. Sure these things change all the time (a cup of coffee is good for you, no we did more research, it’s actually bad for you, you should drink exactly this much alcohol every week to live forever, etc). I’ve read often that breastmilk has powerful antibodies in it and is more digestible than formula, so all I can say is that the science underlying the finding that breastmilk is more nutritious must have been fairly persuasive to many people, laypeople and people with medical degrees alike. (Because it bears repeating – the most important things at the end of the day are that women’s choices are respected and the babies get fed.) I haven’t delved into the actual studies myself so I don’t know; I know what I’ve read but reading a hundred articles online is clearly not the same as reading the results of a bunch of quantitative scientific studies and analyzing the numbers and what they mean on your own, with your own knowledge. I don’t have the background or the number-crunching skills to do that kind of analysis for myself, unfortunately, and come out with total confidence in my own interpretation.

    I hadn’t heard of Joan Wolf’s book, but I will check it out.

    And again, I am so not trying to attack you, as I said, I love your work, and I agree completely that policing women’s choices is not how any feminist should spend their time and activism.

  93. igglanova
    igglanova October 6, 2011 at 12:19 pm |

    Sorry, missed this.

    suspect class: I had a shrink tell me he wasn’t sure he could recommend my transition because I wanted to have children after top surgery, and not breast feeding kids is a risk factor for poor development. Which is possibly more about his issues with trans men having babies than it is about “breast is best”–I think a lot of this shaming is really about deeper issues generally–but it was a pretty amazing moment. I was lucky to not need anything from him other than a certification that I was “sane” enough to transition.

    Damn, that’s shitty. I want to clarify – When I wrote my original comment, I was thinking of the casual drive-by assholes who pass judgement on strangers just moving through their lives. Looks like I overlooked a significant source of asshole judgement. Sorry about that.

  94. Jessica Valenti
    Jessica Valenti October 6, 2011 at 12:49 pm |

    @Sandy, did not feel attacked in the slightest, so don’t give it a thought. And thank you for the kind words about my work.

    I’m sorry that you had a difficult time as well. It’s amazing to me all that new moms go through…

  95. Sandy
    Sandy October 6, 2011 at 1:01 pm |

    Oh, and I left out half my point. I am very, very careful about who I tell that I am taking this medication and how I tell them, because this drug is often considered incompatible with breastfeeding. Cause it’s right there on the sticker! At the best it’s considered an unknown. The rare occasions I tell someone, I make sure to include the fact that I was repeatedly told by different doctors that it was okay for me to take it and breastfeed, including two pediatricians. I’m wary, because child protective services have (temporarily) taken people’s babies away for less. And the much greater possibility assuming that bad-case-scenario doesn’t happen – I get judged hard. For not formula feeding, I guess. Or not stopping taking my meds, or not switching to a different drug. But this is what’s working for me and my family, and my baby is just fine.

    I wish I could make broader extrapolations but what it seems to come down to is that we don’t assume others are coming to motherhood in good faith, with the best intentions. We just don’t trust other mothers to do the right thing, and we aren’t supported as we should be in public policy or in the workplace, or we don’t get more then lip service, and we go on to defend our personal choices in part by criticizing those made by others. Hence, yeah, mommy wars, fought and re-fought.

    I’m going to shut up now.

  96. SWNC
    SWNC October 6, 2011 at 1:02 pm |

    Ashley:

    However, we have an 80% breastfeeding initiation rate in this country, but by 3 months less than half of those women are still nursing (at all, not just exclusively). This is mostly because for the past several generations the vast majority of American babies were formula fed.

    I wonder how much of it is that and how much of it is that so many American mothers get back into the workforce so soon after their babies are born. Personally, I had few problems with breastfeeding, but I had problems with pumping breast milk. When I was on maternity leave, breastfeeding exclusively was easy. After I went back to work, my milk supply gradually dried up–despite regular (and painful and discouraging) pumping sessions–so I had to supplement with formula. It wasn’t really what I wanted to do (formula is expensive, y’all!), but my kid needed nourishment.

  97. chava
    chava October 6, 2011 at 1:09 pm |

    A million times YES. Bravo for sticking it out while your daughter was in the NICU; supposedly the science does hold up that milk makes a substantial difference (in the early days) for preemies. I’m at a substantial risk for delivering prematurely myself, and I don’t know if I could–or would–do the same. I don’t think you can know until you’ve been through it.

    It’s definitely a valid point that even with all the support in the world, bfeeding won’t work for some. Nonetheless, if everyone had access to that support, it would at least be a real option for many women.

    Jessica Valenti:

    I was referring to whole-family health (and that babies who don’t have severely depressed moms are better off).

  98. Caity
    Caity October 6, 2011 at 1:09 pm |

    Fun story from my sister:

    She was in the grocery store with my nephew buying formula when some woman comes up to them and starts accusing her of feeding her baby poison, asking why she isn’t breastfeeding etc. My sister told her that a) it’s her choice and what she thought was best for her and the baby and b) it’s not some strange woman’s business.

    For the record, my nephew was born 3 months premature and she tried to pump but the milk dried up before he got home from the hospital. She did her best and, as a busy mother and student, formula would probably have ended the most practical option anyway. The annoying woman in the grocery store did not need to know anything about this because, as my sis said, it is none of her business and no one needs to justify their choices to her. Stupid, privileged people are everywhere unfortunately.

  99. Meredith L.
    Meredith L. October 6, 2011 at 1:11 pm |

    THANK YOU.

    I couldn’t breastfeed my first child. I tried; I failed. The guilt over that was the first drop in what later became the tidal wave of post-partum depression.

    Strangers asked me if I was planning to breastfeed. Strangers! And then they’d tell me how much better it was for the baby.

    Now I’m pregnant with #2 and people just assume I’m going to breastfeed. No one says, “So, if you choose to breastfeed…” They all – including my doctors and midwife – say, “So, when you’re nursing…”

    I know I’m a good mother. My oldest is happy and healthy. He’s tall for his age! I just wish everyone else would stop treating breastfeeding like it’s the default. I know plenty of women who nursed through horrible mastitis because they couldn’t bear to give it up because they were programmed to think of themselves as failures if they settled for anything less than nursing for a full year, at any cost.

  100. Heidi
    Heidi October 6, 2011 at 1:21 pm |

    SWNC: I wonder how much of it is that and how much of it is that so many American mothers get back into the workforce so soon after their babies are born.

    but if there was a way – for those who wanted to – to just bring one’s infant along, tucked away in a carrier, so s/he could nurse while mom was doing whatever she was doing, wouldn’t that be kind of great? even for a short period of time, like three months or so? (in those workplaces in which it would be safe enough for a baby to be.)

    I certainly wouldn’t mind if the cashier at the grocery store had her baby in a sling while she checked out my groceries. I wouldn’t mind if my doctor had her baby in a sling while she examined me. I wouldn’t mind covering for a co-worker while she went to go attend to her baby’s needs.

    to me, that’s one way to support moms who have babies to feed, and also need to continue work-for-pay outside the home.

    and I say this, and people freeeeeeeeeeeeeeak out! because babies poop, and pee, and cry, and have other needs that appear incompatible with Commerce. but I bet if more people tried it (who wanted to), it would be at least a good first step.

  101. Florence
    Florence October 6, 2011 at 1:33 pm |

    EG: I think that’s less a function of the pro-breastfeeding movement as a function of the larger misogynist culture in which it’s taking place and that has not yet been adequately transformed by feminism.

    Chicken or egg, IMO. From what I can tell, this throwback model is considered a radical, liberal thing to do because it’s intent is anti-corporate and anti-compulsory schooling (which, well, I’m not going to dive into this one) alongside the greening efforts. It appears to be anti-science as well for a variety of reasons, and anti-feminist, considering it’s the women who are expected to just quit their jobs and pick up the extra work like it’s no thang.

    This has a historical component in liberal circles from what I can see. For example, the original “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding”, the breastfeeding bible by the La Leche League, had a chapter on how to breastfeed when you go back to work. The majority of the chapter emphasized that if you wanted to do right by your kids, you’d quit your job so you could breastfeed if that’s what you needed to do.

    So, do liberal activist movements mimic partiarchy or does patriarchy just happen to seep into liberal activist movements? Who cares? This is a philosophical question. What matters is that anymore women can refuse the shit end of the stick and shouldn’t feel like they’re fucking over their kids for making pragmatic decisions about their daily lived-in lives.

    People who are committed to breastfeeding and are physically able to do so are going to find a way to make it work. Those of us who are agnostic about boob-magic have the right to ask for more and better pro-science research on both sides of the debate and less shaming rhetoric about “real moms” and the myth of maternal sacrifice.

  102. Heidi
    Heidi October 6, 2011 at 1:33 pm |

    for me, it was really easy to focus on breastfeeding as the only thing I was doing right. and I got a lot of positive energy back from my mom-community, which was awesome since I never did get much positive energy back from my family or community anyhow. so there I was, basking — basking! in the warm happy feelings you get when you receive approval.

    and so, when someone posed the question, should I continue to try to breastfeed, or should I see if bottle/formula works better? I was all “OMG, hang in there! you can do it!” because, well, if it worked for a total fuckup like me, how could it fail for anyone else?

    add to that a good healthy dose of True Believer instant fruit flavored beverage, and hey presto! Judgerina Judgypants is born!

  103. Melissa
    Melissa October 6, 2011 at 1:57 pm |

    Azalea: Nurses gave me extra for my first baby and told me breastfeeding is too much of a headache, I wont want to do it much longer. Luckily for me, when I told my OB/GYN that I wanted to breastfeed , she sent me a lactation consultatant who assisted me the whole way through my hospital stay and they had a clinic not too far from the hospital just in case I needed more help along the way. That’s what I call choice. There were complimetary bags with formula AND lactation consultants on hand at all times.

    Good for your OB/GYN and that hospital for making breastfeeding support available to you. Shame on those nurses who said those discouraging things to you. I absolutely agree with the point (I think) you were trying to make, that it’s not the availability of free formula that it itself problematic, but how its marketed to new mothers, and while my hospital doesn’t offer the complimentary bags, it also doesn’t pay lactation consultants to be there on evenings and weekends (which, often is when they’d be really useful), making me rethink whether getting rid of the bags really made much difference in that context. Thank you for making me think critically about this.

  104. Kathleen
    Kathleen October 6, 2011 at 1:59 pm |

    chingona –
    ” The main factors that have reduced infant mortality: Vaccines, clean water, antibiotics, availability of safe c-sections.”

    Of course. I don’t disagree with this. But the fact remains that these factors don’t explain away *all* of the infant mortality rate in the past. It’s been really, really high. And — though I can’t back this up — my own sense of wet nurses is this was typically a more privileged woman relying on a less privileged one; that the idea that women just stepped up to the plate for one another in this way whenever it was necessary is a projection on to past lives that is not really borne out by anything we actually know about those lives. I mean, it sounds like we agree that the earth-mama variety of fantasies about the past is as suspectly-motivated as the “when men were men and women were women!” ev psych one.

    IN re: pushing formula in places where the water just isn’t safe. Yes, that’s bad. yes, babies are more vulnerable than older children. But my own sense of the politics around that is that it is heavily lecture-y on the badness of formula, and actually pretty uninterested in the larger context of everybody needing clean water (it’s also really terrible when 2 and 3 year olds die of gastrointestinal disease, and when adults are less functional than they otherwise could be because of it). Nicholas Kristoff’s article earlier this year about “why don’t all those third world women just breastfeed already” is a perfect example of what I find objectionable.

  105. Jennifer
    Jennifer October 6, 2011 at 2:04 pm |

    I see breastfeeding (to do it or not) as a human rights/bodily rights issue. It seems to me that when Jill talks about how breastfeeding can be “nearly impossible to balance with all of life’s other demands” and Amanda Marcotte says upthread that “the benefits of breastfeeding are surprisingly small, especially considering the sacrifices women are expected to make” they take for granted a misogynist social space in which women have to make decisions about this, and that happens a lot in supposedly feminist discussions of this issue.

    For example, in Hannah Rosin’s “Case Against Breastfeeding,” her shame about her body is palpable and is one of the reasons she doesn’t like breastfeeding (naked in public, the “stigmata” of leaking breasts). She doesn’t question that she has to go to some far off place to pump at work. She says that her breastpumping friend looks like a fetish ad and in the video that comes with the piece doubts that her husband will find her sexually attractive after seeing her pump. She says that the time commitment “pretty much guarantees that you will not work in any meaningful way,” which is an insult to nursing mothers who work and feeds the notion that mothers shouldn’t be hired.

    Valenti’s piece mentions that she trusts women to make their own choices and says that she was glad she had the choice of formula in the hospital, but doesn’t question why these are the only choices, as far as I noticed. With all the “breast is best” rhetoric among health care providers and public health officials, you’d think that donor milk banking would be more of a priority. But no, the policy stops at pressuring and shaming individual women.

    While formula isn’t unhealthy and it is a valid feeding choice that shouldn’t be questioned, there are benefits of breastfeeding for kids and for women and it shouldn’t be so hard—it should be a real choice, and I don’t think it is.

    As for the supremacists who to go for the blue-ribbon motherhood award by talking about the sacrifices they made for their baby, they are out there and this is another sign (to me) of the lack of women’s power. Instead of questioning the barriers to simultaneous motherhood and personhood, they internalize the misogyny and celebrate it in a dysfunctional Motherhood Olympics of suffering. I don’t like the hurtful comments from these disempowered women and it’s fine to call them out, but I don’t think they are the primary problem.

  106. Heidi
    Heidi October 6, 2011 at 2:16 pm |

    Jennifer, your whole comment is awesome but especially this:

    Jennifer:
    .Instead of questioning the barriers to simultaneous motherhood and personhood, they internalize the misogyny and celebrate it in a dysfunctional Motherhood Olympics of suffering.

    what would it take, for crying out loud, to remove those barriers? this is the stuff that keeps me up nights.

    also, for what it’s worth, I’d have been more positive about going back to work in a more, er, “meaningful” manner, if I could significantly out-earn my daycare provider. since I couldn’t, it didn’t make sense for me to go back to work (at some more-or-less-meaningless-and-menial job) anyway. maybe if I was doing something important or highly-paid, I might have had a different answer. but the decision to be a stay-at-home mom isn’t always rooted in middle- or upper-class privilege.

  107. chava
    chava October 6, 2011 at 2:24 pm |

    In medieval Europe, yes, wet nursing was a hierarchical/classist thing. In many societies, however, milk sharing happens/ed between family members, members of a group, etc.

    I’m still not seeing your evidence that lack of formula is secretly responsible for any meaningful part of the staggering infant mortality rates in, say, the 12th century. I’m not seeing any evidence that infant mortality rates aren’t plentifully accounted for already.* Yes, given access to clean water and a knowledge of germ theory, formula would have helped. But only in the presence of those things. Formula is so dependent on a first-world infrastructure to be successful. That doesn’t mean formula is bad! Just that it is an invention that is seriously contingent on a multitude of other factors.

    Kathleen:
    chingona –

    Of course.I don’t disagree with this.But the fact remains that these factors don’t explain away *all* of the infant mortality rate in the past.It’s been really, really high. And — though I can’t back this up — my own sense of wet nurses is this was typically a more privileged woman relying on a less privileged one; that the idea that women just stepped up to the plate for one another in this way whenever it was necessary is a projection on to past lives that is not really borne out by anything we actually know about those lives.

  108. Heidi
    Heidi October 6, 2011 at 2:30 pm |

    Kathleen
    my own sense of wet nurses is this was typically a more privileged woman relying on a less privileged one; that the idea that women just stepped up to the plate for one another in this way whenever it was necessary is a projection on to past lives that is not really borne out by anything we actually know about those lives.

    well, I can’t speak to past lives, BUT I can tell you that my experience was much different. for one thing, those women who nursed my baby for me were somewhat more privileged than myself, considering I was homeless, camping out on my friend’s sofa, about to embark on a two-week training period at a new job, and had a two-month old baby. so yeah, on the privilege scale, I was at least temporarily knocked down a peg. but they stepped up to the plate for me. I don’t call them wet nurses, I call them friends. I hope I can return the favor someday, to someone who needs that kind of help.

  109. zuzu
    zuzu October 6, 2011 at 2:44 pm |

    The concern over formula marketing in places where water is unsafe is neither new nor trivial. The Nestle boycott was started in 1977.

    That said, there’s quite literally a world of difference between marketing formula to poor, illiterate women who have no other way to feed their babies if their breast milk dries up and the water is unsafe to make formula, and women in the US whose decision whether or not to breastfeed rarely means life or death.

  110. La Lubu
    La Lubu October 6, 2011 at 3:19 pm |

    Jennifer, your comment was awesome, especially how you noted the “I’m SACRIFICING!!” as a reflection of *lack* of power, respect and acknowledgement.

  111. chingona
    chingona October 6, 2011 at 3:56 pm |

    my own sense of wet nurses is this was typically a more privileged woman relying on a less privileged one; that the idea that women just stepped up to the plate for one another in this way whenever it was necessary is a projection on to past lives that is not really borne out by anything we actually know about those lives.

    Obviously, “traditional” encompasses a huge number of practices that varied widely across time and place and subculture, but in Woman: An Intimate Geography, Natalie Angiers describes wet nursing in medieval Europe in which the wives of guild craftsman would nurse the babies of nobility and the wives of peasants would nurse the babies of the craftstmen’s wives. It was considered a good way to earn money for women, and because the “quality” of the woman was thought to contribute to the “quality” of the milk, middle-class women could charge enough money that they could afford to outsource the nursing of their own babies to poor women. Orphanages also employed wet nurses.

    There are lots of places and times in which women have shared breastfeeding among friends and family members. Lots of women don’t mind or even like breastfeeding, and lots of women have plenty of supply. Women’s experience of breastfeeding is diverse. (I would gladly nurse a friend or relative’s baby. Thinking about never nursing again makes me feel sad.)

    Formula is so dependent on a first-world infrastructure to be successful. That doesn’t mean formula is bad! Just that it is an invention that is seriously contingent on a multitude of other factors.

    Yup.

    I don’t know where you lived, but in the “traditional” society where I lived, everyone breastfed, many up to 2, 3, 4 years old, despite doing lots of hard physical work and having tons of other kids to take care of. I once asked the nurse at the local clinic about women with breastfeeding problems. He would clip a tied tongue if he saw one, but otherwise, he didn’t argue with the mother about it. He just did a back of the envelope calculation of what it would cost to buy formula, and the woman put the baby back on the breast and worked it out. That’s just one person’s anecdotal experience in one particular time and place, but the idea that breastfeeding is something paternalistic rich people are trying to impose on more realistic poor people just doesn’t jibe with my experience.

  112. Esti
    Esti October 6, 2011 at 4:14 pm |

    chingona: Obviously, “traditional” encompasses a huge number of practices that varied widely across time and place and subculture, but in Woman: An Intimate Geography, Natalie Angiers describes wet nursing in medieval Europe in which the wives of guild craftsman would nurse the babies of nobility and the wives of peasants would nurse the babies of the craftstmen’s wives. It was considered a good way to earn money for women, and because the “quality” of the woman was thought to contribute to the “quality” of the milk, middle-class women could charge enough money that they could afford to outsource the nursing of their own babies to poor women.

    That particular example doesn’t really show that wet nursing is not typically done by less privileged women. Kind of the opposite.

  113. chingona
    chingona October 6, 2011 at 4:49 pm |

    That wasn’t why I posted it.

    Just being informational.

    Esti: That particular example doesn’t really show that wet nursing is not typically done by less privileged women. Kind of the opposite.

  114. Kathleen
    Kathleen October 6, 2011 at 8:09 pm |

    In the traditional society where I lived, a lot of babies died. It does inform my view.

  115. Kathleen
    Kathleen October 6, 2011 at 8:10 pm |

    there were no doctors, and no formula. It was not awesome.

  116. tinfoil hattie
    tinfoil hattie October 6, 2011 at 8:24 pm |

    @Jessica, when I first read about Layla’s premature arrival, and your attendant physical trauma, my heart went out to you. I knew what it all meant, and I wished I could have been there to help in some way!

    I admire you for even trying to pump. Kudos to you. I don’t know how you did it. I am so sorry you have been getting such horrible feedback, on top of your truly traumatic experience. The hell with them all, you know? The hell with anyone who judges, lectures, shames, second-guesses, or blames ANY mother who chooses how and when and where to care for her baby. Not your kid? Not your pediatric patient? Then STFU.

  117. chingona
    chingona October 6, 2011 at 8:27 pm |

    Babies died where I lived too. But they didn’t die from lack of breast milk.

  118. Florence
    Florence October 6, 2011 at 8:51 pm |

    I’d be really happy if anecdotes about dead babies don’t become the trump card for either side of this debate on this thread.

  119. Bekah
    Bekah October 6, 2011 at 9:19 pm |

    As a breastfeeding mother I completely agree with the sentiment here. There is a definite degree of elitism which exist among privileged breastfeeding mommas. I am a working mother so I am not available during the day, which is the only time that our local La Leche League has meetings. I have no support when it comes to breastfeeding outside of the WIC office, as I do not have medical insurance and have no family assistance. My baby has a soy and dairy allergy, which is extremely difficult to rid ones diet of. It has been incredibly hard, and I have had to supplement with formula occasionally. The comments I have had from breastfeeding elitist amount to calling me out as a bad mother. I wish they could understand that they are in fact discouraging breastfeeding with this attitude of ignorance.

  120. suspect class
    suspect class October 6, 2011 at 9:24 pm |

    igglanova:
    Sorry, missed this.

    Damn, that’s shitty.I want to clarify – When I wrote my original comment, I was thinking of the casual drive-by assholes who pass judgement on strangers just moving through their lives.Looks like I overlooked a significant source of asshole judgement.Sorry about that.

    Yeah, I think it’s pretty hard to envision all the ways institutions (and individual douchebags working within those institutions) can interfere with what are, for a lot of people, basic life functions. It boggles the mind.

  121. EG
    EG October 6, 2011 at 9:28 pm |

    In my opinion, there are only two responses deserved by anybody who shames a woman for not breastfeeding:

    1) Go fuck yourself.
    2) [this one has to be done with wide-eyed sincerity] Of course! That’s why I’m using formula. I’m hoping to poison this baby! Why else would anybody do it?

    However, I think I would not advise #2 unless the non-breastfeeding woman is white and at least middle class, and so has some privilege to work with should the busybody to whom she responds call CPS.

  122. anyc
    anyc October 6, 2011 at 9:29 pm |

    llama: Sadly though, it is frequently about women judging women. From personal experience I know that friends and family put immense pressure on women about child rearing issues.

    Of course, everyone knows that the oppressed often take on the worst qualities of their oppressors, and since women are roundly punished for performing any facet of femininity incorrectly, it certainly isn’t surprising that we become complicit in our own oppression, and allow the system of pitting women against one another – as good/bad mothers, as virgins/whores, wives/career women, and on and on – to scare the shit out of all of us and force us to do whatever we feel we must to appease our oppressors, lest WE be the individual called out and punished.
    PLEASE don’t use the sorry, moldy “but it’s mostly WOMEN doing “X” to other women” b.s. to shift the blame from the patriarchal system that punishes and rewards women for playing the game in the first place.

  123. Laura
    Laura October 6, 2011 at 9:54 pm |

    My father was making a decent enough salary that my mom ended up staying home with me after I was born. (Whether or not this was truly her choice is another discussion.) With my father working and going to graduate school and her family and friends living in a different region of the country, she struggled to breastfeed me when faced with fierce opposition from the doctor. She ultimately managed to breastfeed me until I was nearly four years old.

    Despite being well-educated, middle-class, white, and not working, my mother still had to beat the odds to breastfeed me. I’d hope that it gives me a bit of appreciation for what less privileged women who want to breastfeed are up against. As a feminist, I can’t help but look the arguments about women’s “choice” with regard to breastfeed or bottle-feed and see echoes about other women’s “choices,” like control over their reproductive health or whether/how much to work after having children. So many factors out of women’s control affect their “choices” in all of these situations.

    I’ve read both Jessica’s and TFB’s accounts of what happened, and this situation seems to me like a classic case of a few unkind words spinning completely out of control on the internet. The Feminist Breeder saying that her side of this issue is the “pro-WOMAN” one, thus insinuating that Jessica was anti-woman, was completely out of line, but so was Jessica saying TFB “suck her left one.”

    What really makes my blood boil is Jessica’s assertion that formula is just as healthy as breastmilk. On an individual level, a given child may not suffer from having been fed formula as an infant, but study after study has clearly demonstrated the adverse affects of formula on a population level. Jessica’s right — comparing use of formula should not be compared to use cigarettes. Babies have to eat to live, after all, while cigarettes are unnecessary, expensive, and carcinogenic. A more apt comparison might be to white bread. My parents, like most in their generation, were raised on formula and white bread. They are perfectly healthy individuals, and seem no worse for their wear despite some less-than-ideal food they ate while young. However, just like formula, the ill affects of white bread consumption (in things like diabetes) will show up on a population, not individual, level. Yet I don’t see anyone trying to deny that white bread is less healthy than whole wheat bread.

    Jessica makes a good point when saying that many mothers encounter a culture that is hostile to breastfeeding where they work, yet she merely seems to accept this as a fact of life. While it may cause heart-wrenching decisions about infant feeding for mothers in the near term, why can’t we as feminists stand up to this form of anti-woman and anti-mother sentiment in the workplace as we have against so many other sexist things in the past so future working mothers can more easily breastfeed? In fact, TFB blogged about this problem recently, when she wrote about convincing the university she’s attending to allow her to pump milk for her baby in a private area so she doesn’t have to use to bathroom.

    I discovered Jessica and The Feminist Breeder around the same time last spring. I may have even discovered both (indirectly, at least) due to Miriam’s Radical Doula blog. Just a reminder that we should all be on the same side here. We all believe in that women’s fully informed choice and we all are trying, from the limits of our perspectives as white, middle-class, and privileged, to make sure that less privileged women can have all the information and choices we do. As too often happens when you bring progressives together, we begin fighting amongst ourselves. Doing this, we weaken both ourselves and the causes we are trying to promote. I’m certainly not the first to say it, but can I naively plead that we try to steer these often difficult conversations back in a more polite, construction direction?

  124. zuzu
    zuzu October 6, 2011 at 11:12 pm |

    Florence:
    I’d be really happy if anecdotes about dead babies don’t become the trump card for either side of this debate on this thread.

    How about recipes for dead babies? Because, lipids.

  125. igglanova
    igglanova October 7, 2011 at 12:40 am |

    Dead BAAAAYBEHHHHS, can’t take things off the shelves

  126. Natalia
    Natalia October 7, 2011 at 12:53 am |

    Breastmilk is healthy. Breastfeeding is awesome if you enjoy it. What’s not healthy or awesome is the idea that there is One! Right! Way! to be a mother, and all other mothers need not apply.

    I struggled to breastfeed at first. Lev had a bottle before my milk came in, and since he’s got a lot of attitude already, it was all, “No! Give me the bottle back! It’s easier to suck the milk out that way! I want the bottle! Screw you!” I sobbed for hours at the hospital with my breasts engorged to the size of two small planets, and Lev sobbed because the doctor finally said, “Just watch – he’s the type who won’t go hungry. He *will* take the breast!” In my heart, I knew immediately that the doctor was right, but I was also scared about my son losing too much weight and failing to thrive.

    We got over that, though. Oddly enough, it was my husband who got Lev to latch on properly, without a nipple shield. He just took his little head and stuck him on the boob. I guess Lev decided that daddy isn’t someone to talk back to.

    Nowadays I breastfeed at home and pump at work, and store expressed breastmilk for the nanny to feed Lev during the day. Wouldn’t you know it – plenty of people have said that it was “wrong” of me to go back to work (my financial situation and visa situation is of no consequence to them, of course! I mean, who gives a crap if I wind up deported or in the street, right? At least I’ll be nursing Lev properly in some railway station bathroom we’d all have to live in), that I’m “abusing him psychologically” because there are both bottles and boobs in his life, and oh, don’t get me started on the one lactation consultant I contacted over the internet – when I got my period and my milk supply halved for a few days. She said I “deserved” to lose my milk – since pumping “isn’t natural.” Um, fuck you right back, bitch – I guess…?

    Whatever. When you become a mother, half the world instantly switches to full-on asshole mode.

  127. EG
    EG October 7, 2011 at 1:05 am |

    Jessica makes a good point when saying that many mothers encounter a culture that is hostile to breastfeeding where they work, yet she merely seems to accept this as a fact of life. While it may cause heart-wrenching decisions about infant feeding for mothers in the near term, why can’t we as feminists stand up to this form of anti-woman and anti-mother sentiment in the workplace as we have against so many other sexist things in the past so future working mothers can more easily breastfeed?

    Fortunately, Jessica has advocated and discussed these very concerns over the course of her career. I have no idea where you’re getting the notion that she “merely accepts this as a fact of life.”

    What really makes my blood boil is Jessica’s assertion that formula is just as healthy as breastmilk.

    What Jessica says in the linked piece is that formula-feeding is as valid and healthy a choice as breastfeeding. And that’s the case. For a number of reasons that plenty of commenters here have already discussed, formula feeding can, in fact, be the healthier choice for any given mother and child under a variety of circumstances, from “mother needs to be on medication” to “mother has HIV” to “mother just really doesn’t like breastfeeding and the way it makes her feel.” Because you know what’s really healthiest for a baby? A healthy, happy mother who feels good about herself. Anything less, as one of the insufferable people Jessica quotes says, is unacceptable.

  128. chava
    chava October 7, 2011 at 9:55 am |

    Here’s (two of) the responses Feminist Breeder put up in response to the whole kerfluffle:

    http://thefeministbreeder.com/you-think-women-arent-vulnerable-to-marketing-check-your-privilege/

    http://thefeministbreeder.com/why-im-a-feminist-and-a-lactivist/

    I’m not crazy about some of the natural/fake dichotomies she sets up (among other things) but anyway, there it is.

  129. Melissa
    Melissa October 7, 2011 at 9:59 am |

    tinfoil hattie:
    @Jessica,when I first read about Layla’s premature arrival, and your attendant physical trauma, my heart went out to you. I knew what it all meant, and I wished I could have been there to help in some way!

    I admire you for even trying to pump. Kudos to you. I don’t know how you did it. I am so sorry you have been getting such horrible feedback, on top of your truly traumatic experience.The hell with them all, you know? The hell with anyone who judges, lectures, shames, second-guesses, or blames ANY mother who chooses how and when and where to care for her baby.Not your kid? Not your pediatric patient? Then STFU.

    What you said.

  130. Laura
    Laura October 7, 2011 at 10:27 am |

    I messed this up, EG. Even in the linked blog post, Jessica mentions her previous support change to make the workplace friendlier for breastfeeding mothers. Somehow, I managed to miss this the first time I read the post. My apologies.

    Jessica’s statement, “But I also believe that formula feeding your child is just as valid and healthy a choice as breastfeeding – it’s not something women should have to justify or be denied resources for or access to,” is what I really objected to in my previous comment. If she’d just left out the word “healthy,” I’d find nothing wrong with it. I think whatever parents choose to feed their children is their valid choice, and almost every mother out there is trying her very hardest to do what’s best for herself and her child.

    However, just because I acknowledge formula feeding is an equally valid choice and can in some cases (like with HIV-positive mothers) can actually be the healthier choice doesn’t mean that it follows that formula-feeding and breastfeeding should always be considered equal choices health-wise. Not acknowledging all the facts gives one choice, breastfeeding, less support than it deserves.

    Really, it all comes down to support. Women who choose to breastfeed often find little support from society when they breastfeed in public, breastfeed while working, or try to continue breastfeeding despite problems. Women who choose not to breastfeed for whatever reason often find little support from a culture that says, “Breast is best!” Too often, this insecurity mothers feel due society’s mixed messages about infant feeding leads to mothers attacking each other. We’re not going to solve these problems with support (or the lack thereof) by attacking each other, though.

  131. Heidi
    Heidi October 7, 2011 at 10:38 am |

    Laura: I messed this up, EG. Even in the linked blog post, Jessica mentions her previous support change to make the workplace friendlier for breastfeeding mothers. .

    in what ways? I re-read the linked post, didn’t see anything specific.

  132. zuzu
    zuzu October 7, 2011 at 11:41 am |

    Heidi: in what ways? I re-read the linked post, didn’t see anything specific.

    They’re called hyperlinks.

  133. Heidi
    Heidi October 7, 2011 at 12:46 pm |

    oh, the pretty little purple letters, you mean? well bless your heart…

    yeah, chased ‘em down a couple times now, double checked to make sure I was reading for comprehension and hadn’t missed something – still don’t see specifics.

  134. zuzu
    zuzu October 7, 2011 at 1:17 pm |

    There are none so blind as those who will not see.

  135. Jessica Valenti
    Jessica Valenti October 7, 2011 at 1:49 pm |

    Tinfoil hattie & Melissa – thank you both for the good thoughts. :)
    EG – yes yes yes, exactly. I think it’s really interesting how folks are grabbing onto this one sentence and running with it out contextualizing it within the whole post.

    A couple of things have baffled me over the course of this thing…almost none of the people who are so vociferously disagreeing with me (which, you know, that’s cool) have said, “hey, that’s fucked up that someone said you shouldn’t be a mother” or addressed the shaming aspect in depth AT ALL. I also am a bit shocked by the framing of my post as “mean” or an attack against one particular blogger – I link to a ton of people in my post and since when do feminists have to be all kissyface in the midst of a debate?

    Sorry, but if someone tweets at me that I’m “hurting women,” that I’m a corporate shill and – outrageously, from FeministBreeder – that I did wrong by my NICU bound daughter by not giving her donor milk, I’m going to tell them to suck it. Hard.

  136. Fat Steve
    Fat Steve October 7, 2011 at 2:02 pm |

    I feel loathe to even join in this thread, as I have no kids and would not be the one breast feeding if we did.

    However, I wanted to point out that my mother bottle fed me (probably cows milk- did they have formula in 1969?), yet boycotted Nestle products. So one can choose not to breastfeed and be against the mass marketing of formula.

  137. Andie
    Andie October 7, 2011 at 2:49 pm |

    Full disclosure: Nursed first child for two weeks before giving up in frustration and panic at the fact she was losing weight. Nursed second child for roughly 7-8 months, supplementing with formula when she went to her dads as I sometimes couldn’t pump enough to last a whole weekend.

    I have seen women with bottle fed babies be told their babies would grow up to be stupid and/or developmentally stunted. I have also been shamed for nursing my baby in the same room as friends by my own husband (or should I say, former husband.. surprised?).

    It’s another damned if you do/damned if you don’t situation. If you don’t breast feed your baby, you are a horrible mother who deserves to have her children taken away and you are selfish and other such badness, but dear lord do NOT take that nipple out where someone might SEE IT because boobs = teh sex you know, you dirty dirty woman you.

  138. chava
    chava October 7, 2011 at 4:04 pm |

    With respect, I don’t think she said that you “did wrong” by not giving Layla donor milk, she said:

    “Meanwhile, nobody even mentions donor milk as a choice. Even if a woman cannot or doesn’t want to breastfeed, there are other options besides formula, but nobody is telling her about them. In fact, the World Health Organization lists formula as, not the second, not the third, but the FOURTH best option for infant feeding. How many people actually know that?”

    So, it is true that donor milk is an underfunded*, under-publicized option for premature infants (especially poor ones with minimal health insurance). Which…is what I get from the above. If she said you “did wrong,” fuck that noise, but that’s not what I’m getting from the above.

    *and CRAZILY expensive when not covered by insurance.

    Jessica Valenti:

    Sorry, but if someone tweets at me that I’m “hurting women,” that I’m a corporate shill and – outrageously, from FeministBreeder – that I did wrong by my NICU bound daughter by not giving her donor milk, I’m going to tell them to suck it. Hard.

  139. Jessica Valenti
    Jessica Valenti October 7, 2011 at 4:25 pm |

    Chava, I was actually referring to something she tweeted at me (one in a long line of patronizing and hurtful tweets): “premature babies need breastmilk worse than anybody, that’s why DONOR milk should be available to those who need it.” The all-caps make her judgement and shaming pretty clear, but outside of all that – my child and how i choose to feed her is nobody’s fucking business. If I want to write about her and my experience that’s MY right, not hers.

  140. groggette
    groggette October 7, 2011 at 4:59 pm |

    Laura: If she’d just left out the word “healthy,” I’d find nothing wrong with it. I think whatever parents choose to feed their children is their valid choice, and almost every mother out there is trying her very hardest to do what’s best for herself and her child.

    You kind of answered your own complaint there. I get the impression (and Jessica can certainly correct me if I’m wrong) that she’s arguing about the health of both the mother and the child and not just the child. If that is indeed the case then yes, formula can be just as healthy as breast milk.

  141. zuzu
    zuzu October 7, 2011 at 5:12 pm |

    For serious. Since when do feminists argue that the mother’s health is less important than that of the baby?

  142. sabrina
    sabrina October 7, 2011 at 7:47 pm |

    What I don’t understand is why so many people find the prochoice argument to stop with abortion. Women have bodily autonomy. Just like we should not be under any pressure to carry an unwanted/ medically impossible* pregnancy to term we also should not be required to breastfeed if we don’t want to. Choice carries over into this. This also means that it is perfectly acceptable NO MATTER WHAT CHOICE YOU MAKE. If you choose to breastfeed or choose to formula feed you should have all the information available to you that is necessary to make the best decision for you and your baby, and no one gets to question that. Why is this such a hard concept for some people? Is breast milk better for the baby? That depends on a lot of factors, and ultimately we need to remember that that is a choice that should only be made by the woman herself with helpful, nonjudgmental help from their doctor.

    *meaning a pregnancy that is either unviable/ dangerous to the mother’s health etc

  143. EG
    EG October 7, 2011 at 7:51 pm |

    since when do feminists have to be all kissyface in the midst of a debate?

    For real. I can’t count the number of times in the past few years that I’ve read things like “feminism is about honoring everybody’s experience” or “it’s not very feminist to make fun of somebody.” It’s an extension of the patriarchal notion that women should be nice all the time. Well, I’m not nice. I’ve never been nice. And I do not aspire to be nice, especially when I’m in a fight. Turning the other cheek is not my MO. This is not a ladies’ tea.

    Jessica, it’s so good to “see” you again! I have friends whose baby spent her first year in the NICU, and for people to be judgmental assholes on top of the intense pain and worry that you would already have been going through? They deserve every kind of smackdown you can lay on them.

    Christ, I can wax eloquent about the benefits of breastfeeding all day if I want to (I used to volunteer at a midwifery center when I was young), but when push comes to shove? If formula-feeding were the worst health-risk threatening my kid? I would feel damn lucky.

  144. Heidi
    Heidi October 7, 2011 at 10:05 pm |

    zuzu:
    There are none so blind as those who will not see.

    see what? I see that she supports someone doing something to make it easier to pump at work. or something. which is lovely, but a bit vague.

    @ jessica herself – NICU is a bitch. we went through it for nearly a week. if I didn’t have good friends at my side 24-7, I don’t know what I would have done.

  145. Ashley
    Ashley October 7, 2011 at 10:16 pm |

    Elena, and others, yes breastmilk does absolutely make a difference. I’ve said upthread that babies can thrive on formula, etc. but I have also seen situations where formula can kill babies, no joke, no exaggeration.

    Case 1: Foster child with serious health problems who had major failure to thrive issues caused partially by food allergies. She was extremely ill and getting worse until her guardian found donor milk (not financially supported by the state, unfortunately). That baby was unable to eat any food beyond breastmilk without getting seriously ill until almost her second birthday. She’s now largely eating a special solid diet and thriving. For the record, a good friend of mine provided much of this child’s milk, and some of my own went to her as well.

    Case 2: Premie doing extremely well in the NICU on gavage-fed breastmilk. Mother has an ample supply so no issues there. Misinformed doctor decides baby needs to be on 50% formula because premie formula has more calories than breastmilk (factually untrue) and does so without consulting the mother. Baby immediately begins deteriorating, develops serious constipation, heartrate and breathing troubles. Becomes stressed, etc. (which is very bad for a premie). Condition reverses once baby is back exclusively on breastmilk.

    Formula is an absolutely valid choice and I’m very glad that babies can thrive on it. But to suggest that breastmilk and formula are equivalent and that breastfeeding makes “no difference” is just wrong. Factually, objectively, and undeniably wrong.

  146. Florence
    Florence October 8, 2011 at 10:52 am |

    So far in this conversation: formula kills babies; formula is like white bread; formula is processed food; formula feeding leads to negative outcomes in formula-fed babies; the only good alternative to breastfeeding is donor milk; buying formula is supporting bad corporate culture; formula feeding is contrary to feminist activism; formula feeding is anti-woman.

    So, we’re bending over backwards to say that formula-feeding is a “valid choice” but that it’s also a bad choice. Which is exactly the rhetorical backflipping that Jessica, I, and others are objecting to. There’s also a lot of concern about babies and not so much about the women asked to sacrifice body, career, and mobility for the cause. Say what you mean.

    I’m about the last person to pull an ableism argument out of my pocket (I seriously hate this shit), but the degree to which the lactivist movement relies on fear of disability and fatphobia to make their point is bothersome. Also, classist. It’s super great if you never had any problems with breastfeeding, pumping, and storing milk at work. For those of us who work in industries where this is impossible or socially unacceptable, expecting women who rely on this income to be trailblazers is wrong. Sometimes you can’t shit where you eat.

    If formula-feeding were the worst health-risk threatening my kid? I would feel damn lucky.

    Word, dude. What’s lost in this whole thing is that the breast vs bottle debate is that this is such a minuscule part of parenting. Of all the issues that I’ve had as a parent of a very young child and a much older child, this one doesn’t even crack the top ten list of concerns, issues, and/or regrets. You can’t tell a difference between the kids that were breastfed and bottle-fed at any point in their development, but what you can tell is the difference between the kids who had messed up home lives, unstable living situations, a lack of educational and extracurricular opportunities, and a lack of good role models. Breast or bottle? For fuck’s sake.

  147. Breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, this sucks « blue milk

    [...] debate happening at the moment between a couple of the big name feminist mothers and it’s about breastfeeding, or rather the manner in which the breastfeeding ‘message’ is promot… to women. Is the breastfeeding ‘message’ heavy-handed? Yes. Is there a hurtful [...]

  148. Fearless Formula Feeder
    Fearless Formula Feeder October 8, 2011 at 5:58 pm |

    Florence, I have a huge internet crush on you. Just sayin’.

    I wish I could wrap this comment up in a big shiny package and tie it with an obnoxious red bow. It’s pure awesome.

  149. TheFeministBreeder
    TheFeministBreeder October 8, 2011 at 11:21 pm |

    Jessica Valenti:
    Chava, I was actually referring to something she tweeted at me (one in a long line of patronizing and hurtful tweets):“premature babies need breastmilk worse than anybody, that’s why DONOR milk should be available to those who need it.” The all-caps make her judgement and shaming pretty clear, but outside of all that – my child and how i choose to feed her is nobody’s fucking business. If I want to write about her and my experience that’s MY right, not hers.

    There you go again, Jessica, for projecting in plain site of everyone. I find it almost hilarious that you will post the exact words of my tweet for everyone to read, and then try to tell people that something was said there that wasn’t. You C&P’d it right there yourself: I said “DONOR milk should be made available to those who need it.” I am specifically placing the responsibility on the HOSPITAL (not the parent) to offer you the scientifically healthier alternative for the premature baby – the one every health organization says should be there. I didn’t say you had to use it – I said you should have had the OPTION. The choice. Remember that word choice? Yet somehow you keep convincing people that something is written there that isn’t. Every single argument I have ever made states “I support formula feeding moms. I was one. But this industry is doing unethical shit and women need to know that.”

    But you keep personalizing this as though you know that you can’t win UNLESS you make people think I’m trying to insult your baby. I never insulted YOU or YOUR BABY. I’m getting researched information to women. Where’s your research? Where are you peer-reviewed studies? Where’s your science? Let me know the next time you actually accompany a woman in labor and birth the way I do as a doula – and maybe then you’ll at least have a tiny frame of reference outside your own experience.

    Right now, you’re keeping well published, scientific information out of the hands of women who think that breastmilk is too much bother. Maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t. FWIW, I’ve held a full-time job, full-time pre-law course load, AND my successful writing career all while providing breastmilk to my child. I’m healthier for it, and they are too. If someone doesn’t want to breastfeed – totally fine by me! Just don’t make a career of lying to women about it.

  150. lauredhel
    lauredhel October 9, 2011 at 1:31 am |

    “If formula-feeding were the worst health-risk threatening my kid? I would feel damn lucky.”

    Tell that to the many thousands of parents whose kids were poisoned by melamine in infant formula, and the 1.3 million families each year who lose a child from being artificially fed. For fuck’s sake, if infant feeding doesn’t hit your top 10 issues in early parenting, it’s because of your privilege.

    If formula feeding is a reasonably safe choice for you, it’s because you can afford enough of it, it’s because you can afford high quality uncontaminated formula, it’s because you live in an environment with ample safe water and sanitisable feeding equipment, and it’s because you live in an environment with such an incredibly low incidence of infectious disease and high standard of medical care that at the _very worst_ your infant may be at only double the risk of infant mortality (from an extremely low baseline) from not being breastfed.

    “Lucky”? For serious?

  151. chava
    chava October 9, 2011 at 7:33 am |

    She mentioned Joan Wolf’s book “Is Breast Best? Taking on the Breastfeeding Experts and the New High Stakes of Motherhood.” as a potential resource/literature review. I haven’t read it myself.

    TheFeministBreeder:

    Where’s your research? Where are you peer-reviewed studies? Where’s your science?

    Right now, you’re keeping well published, scientific information out of the hands of women who think that breastmilk is too much bother. Maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t. FWIW, I’ve held a full-time job, full-time pre-law course load, AND my successful writing career all while providing breastmilk to my child. I’m healthier for it, and they are too. If someone doesn’t want to breastfeed – totally fine by me! Just don’t make a career of lying to women about it.

    How, exactly, is Jessica “making a career of lying to women” about this? How is she actively “keeping well published, scientific information out of the hands of women”? Yes, she has a bigger platform than most of us, but she’s used that platform in the past to advocate for breastfeeding rights. Her article was largely about the shaming she has felt around formula feeding, and mother-shaming in general.

    Re-linking the “baby friendly” hospital initiative was something of a separate issue–and honestly, from the way the f-word article depicts it, I’m not too thrilled with how that hospital is implementing it, either. How about taking away OBs steak dinners with drug and formula companies, and doing away with the free samples, before we start letting charge nurses decide if you have a true “need” for formula.

  152. groggette
    groggette October 9, 2011 at 8:52 am |

    TheFeministBreeder: FWIW, I’ve held a full-time job, full-time pre-law course load, AND my successful writing career all while providing breastmilk to my child. I’m healthier for it, and they are too. If someone doesn’t want to breastfeed – totally fine by me!

    If that last sentence were actually true I doubt it would have been preceded by the rest.

  153. Florence
    Florence October 9, 2011 at 9:16 am |

    lauredhel: If formula feeding is a reasonably safe choice for you, it’s because you can afford enough of it, it’s because you can afford high quality uncontaminated formula, it’s because you live in an environment with ample safe water and sanitisable feeding equipment, and it’s because you live in an environment with such an incredibly low incidence of infectious disease and high standard of medical care that at the _very worst_ your infant may be at only double the risk of infant mortality (from an extremely low baseline) from not being breastfed.

    In the meantime those of us with the ill fortune to live in the developed world should try and mimic The Handmaid’s Tale instead of addressing structural travesties like the lack of medical care, maternal care, and access to clean water for the whole planet.

    Is bodily autonomy something we’re in favor of fudging a little if the conditions are right? Are we actually arguing that biology is destiny?

  154. tinfoil hattie
    tinfoil hattie October 9, 2011 at 9:39 am |

    Feminist Breeder, not that Jessica needs me to fight her battles, but you are demonstrating a stunning lack of empathy. On one hand you breezily say that formula feeding is fine by you (as though you are some ultimate moral arbiter of baby-feeding), and in the same breath you talk about how you were so able to manage breastfeeding and pimping so easily. So therefore, everyone should have your experience?

    Jessica and her family suffered an unbelievably traumatic birth experience. Jessica came close to dying, and delivered a baby that was very premature. So while Jessica managed her own traumatic experience, she immediately had to turn her attention to a baby in peril. For months.

    So can the sanctimony, show some solidarity, and suport other mothers. Everyone is not you.

    Sorry for fighting your battle, Jessica, but this shit pisses me off.

  155. Florence
    Florence October 9, 2011 at 9:49 am |

    Fearless Formula Feeder:
    Florence, I have a huge internet crush on you. Just sayin’.

    I wish I could wrap this comment up in a big shiny package and tie it with an obnoxious red bow. It’s pure awesome.

    Thank you! And you blog has been a boon for me, since it’s one of the only resources online that makes meaning of both sides of the literature and is critical of the shame and scare tactics on all sides.

    As I see it, this is enough like the abortion debate that I think feminism and lactivism are strange bedfellows. Think what you will about bottle-feeding and breastfeeding personally, but recognize that we have to *trust women* to weigh the pros and cons of their situation and make meaningful choices with good information. Turn a skeptical eye to information sources that seek to scare you or goad you into a certain way of life, especially when it feels bad to you in your circumstances.

  156. Natalia
    Natalia October 9, 2011 at 10:43 am |

    and in the same breath you talk about how you were so able to manage breastfeeding and pimping so easily.

    Hilarious typo is hilarious.

    Anyhoo. I’m writing this as I’m feeding Lev. With the boob. It’s wonderful – I’m really glad that he and I get to do this. There are tremendous benefits. But what tinfoil hattie is saying? I’d listen to it, Feminist Breeder. Particularly wrt empathy.

  157. EG
    EG October 9, 2011 at 11:05 am |

    Right now, you’re keeping well published, scientific information out of the hands of women who think that breastmilk is too much bother.

    How, precisely, is Jessica doing this? By…writing and publishing an article about why formula-feeding is still the right choice for some mothers and how shaming them is an asshole thing to do? Or is Jessica involved in some secret cabal dedicated to suppressing breastmilk research by destroying copies of journal articles or something and you’re the only one who knows about it?

    FWIW, I’ve held a full-time job, full-time pre-law course load, AND my successful writing career all while providing breastmilk to my child. I’m healthier for it, and they are too.

    Well, how nice for you. How is that relevant to any other woman’s decision? You claim that because you’re a doula, you have a larger frame of reference than Jessica, and that she is merely focused on her own experience, but you seem like the one who can’t wrap her mind around the fact that other women are in different situations and have different priorities from yours.

    If formula feeding is a reasonably safe choice for you, it’s because you can afford enough of it, it’s because you can afford high quality uncontaminated formula, it’s because you live in an environment with ample safe water and sanitisable feeding equipment, and it’s because you live in an environment with such an incredibly low incidence of infectious disease and high standard of medical care that at the _very worst_ your infant may be at only double the risk of infant mortality (from an extremely low baseline) from not being breastfed.

    Um, yep. You may not have noticed it, but that’s the situation we’ve been discussing. That’s the situation Jessica was in when buttloads of random strangers thought it was their business to shame her. Are you actually suggesting that because I have the good fortune to be in a situation in which formula-feeding would not put my children at high risk, I should avoid it out of…what? Solidarity with women in far worse situations? How far should that go? Should I not turn on the air conditioner in August because of the many women who live in places without reliable electricity? Forego needed medical care because they can’t have it? How on earth would that help them?

    Misery isn’t virtue. The facts are as I have stated them: if formula-feeding is the worst health-risk threatening my future kids, I’m damn lucky.

  158. zuzu
    zuzu October 9, 2011 at 12:11 pm |

    TheFeministBreeder: Right now, you’re keeping well published, scientific information out of the hands of women who think that breastmilk is too much bother.

    Jessica’s the fucking Lancet now?

  159. chava
    chava October 9, 2011 at 12:33 pm |

    No, of course not. But I do think it is important to re-frame the debate to include perspectives that are not white, upper class, and living in the developed world. Sometimes the “mommy wars” leave out a huge slice of the world’s mothers.

    Jessica is part of the population where formula is a viable option. But since when does having a privileged OP mean that we can’t/shouldn’t bring those in different situations into the discussion?

    EG:
    Um, yep.You may not have noticed it, but that’s the situation we’ve been discussing.That’s the situation Jessica was in when buttloads of random strangers thought it was their business to shame her.Are you actually suggesting that because I have the good fortune to be in a situation in which formula-feeding would not put my children at high risk, I should avoid it out of…what?Solidarity with women in far worse situations?How far should that go?Should I not turn on the air conditioner in August because of the many women who live in places without reliable electricity?Forego needed medical care because they can’t have it?How on earth would that help them?

  160. zuzu
    zuzu October 9, 2011 at 12:42 pm |

    chava: Jessica is part of the population where formula is a viable option. But since when does having a privileged OP mean that we can’t/shouldn’t bring those in different situations into the discussion?

    The problem, as I see it, is that the anti-formula people are using the fact that there are people whose circumstances make using formula less than optimal as a club with which to beat women for whom formula is a perfectly good choice.

    I would also point out that your re-frame completely ignores women for whom breastfeeding is stressful, interferes with work or sleep or other obligations, etc.

    Also, what the hell is someone like Jessica supposed to do when her milk dries up from stress and illness and she does not have an adequate or consistent supply of donor milk available? Because as I’m reading it, she can still get a good dose of shaming from assholes.

  161. chava
    chava October 9, 2011 at 12:54 pm |

    Ummmm…how does it do that? I’ve said several times on this thread that if breastfeeding makes you unhappy, DON’T DO IT.
    But to frame the debate as if formula is a handy-dandy option for “everyone” erases a large chunk of the world’s population. This re-framing changes our perspective from “formula=good choice” to “forumula=good choice, BUT let’s check into the marketing tactics of the companies from whom we buy our formula. Let’s see what we can do about abuses of women and babies in the rest of the world.”
    Jessica’s post was primarily about an aspect of mother shaming in the developed world. I respect that, and it fucking sucks that she had to put up with it. I do think, however, that when we get into the larger “breast/bottle” debate, as we did here, a more global perspective is helpful.

    RE: your last paragraph–
    There was nothing Jessica could have done other than what she did, and she did an admirable job of it, too. Pointing out that society, health insurance, and hospitals should do a better job providing the OPTION of donor milk for women in her situation is not “shaming” her. If anything, it’s shaming everyone else.

    zuzu: The problem, as I see it, is that the anti-formula people are using the fact that there are people whose circumstances make using formula less than optimal as a club with which to beat women for whom formula is a perfectly good choice.

    I would also point out that your re-frame completely ignores women for whom breastfeeding is stressful, interferes with work or sleep or other obligations, etc.

    Also, what the hell is someone like Jessica supposed to do when her milk dries up from stress and illness and she does not have an adequate or consistent supply of donor milk available?Because as I’m reading it, she can still get a good dose of shaming from assholes.

  162. EG
    EG October 9, 2011 at 1:43 pm |

    Jessica is part of the population where formula is a viable option. But since when does having a privileged OP mean that we can’t/shouldn’t bring those in different situations into the discussion?

    When the way they’re being brought in is to castigate women for making a true statement about their own circumstances. I didn’t say “Formula is just as good as breastfeeding for babies in third-world countries where the mothers don’t have access to good water”? I did not. I said “If formula is the worst health-risk my children have, I’ll be damn lucky.” The shaming that my statement was in response to is directed at women in my circumstances. So an outraged response of “You’re so privileged! Think about how dangerous it is to all these other people in circumstances nothing like yours!” doesn’t make any sense.

  163. shfree
    shfree October 9, 2011 at 1:48 pm |

    chava:
    Ummmm…how does it do that?I’ve said several times on this thread that if breastfeeding makes you unhappy, DON’T DO IT.But to frame the debate as if formula is a handy-dandy option for “everyone” erases a large chunk of the world’s population.This re-framing changes our perspective from “formula=good choice” to “forumula=good choice, BUT let’s check into the marketing tactics of the companies from whom we buy our formula.Let’s see what we can do about abuses of women and babies in the rest of the world.”Jessica’s post was primarily about an aspect of mother shaming in the developed world.I respect that, and it fucking sucks that she had to put up with it.I do think, however, that when we get into the larger “breast/bottle” debate, as we did here, a more global perspective is helpful.

    This bit right here. I still don’t buy Nestle products, because my mom took the boycott in the seventies SO SERIOUSLY that I pass by that Nestle label on stuff unconsciously. Obviously, given that formula is so bleeding expensive, and different babies have different requirements, not everyone can pick and choose. But if it is possible, it’s important to pay attention to what companies are up to, and how they market themselves. I know that when I went home from the hospital with my daughter I had a case of formula pretty much shoved into my arms even though I swore up and down I was breast feeding, and WAS breast feeding her when she was out of NICU and into intermediate care, all because of the pushiness of the formula company. The same thing when we went back during her mega high fever, and this was at a hospital that was to be supportive of breast feeding. (And that formula was the hoity toity pre-mixed, don’t need to add a thing to it kind, so new parents would be hooked on the easy shit, instead of the cheaper DIY stuff that would last longer, which the social worker would give me during each visit to make sure my daughter was growing, and I wasn’t keeping her locked in a cage or something.)

  164. TheFeministBreeder
    TheFeministBreeder October 9, 2011 at 3:28 pm |

    groggette: TheFeministBreeder

    It was preceded by the rest specifically because people on this thread said it couldn’t be done. I’m saying it CAN, so let women know that if they want to breastfeed AND work, they can do that. It’s NOT either/or. And more importantly, it shouldn’t have to be. We need to do a better job supporting women who want to work AND provide breastmilk, rather than just saying “it’s not possible.”

  165. TheFeministBreeder
    TheFeministBreeder October 9, 2011 at 3:38 pm |

    EG: How, precisely, is Jessica doing this?By…writing and publishing an article about why formula-feeding is still the right choice for some mothers and how shaming them is an asshole thing to do?Or is Jessica involved in some secret cabal dedicated to suppressing breastmilk research by destroying copies of journal articles or something and you’re the only one who knows about it?

    Wait – I’m the only one who knows about the mountains of completely undisputed research and science on the benefits of breastmilk to both WOMEN and their babies? I’m sure you’re not serious.

    If you want – start here: http://www.womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding/

    And YES – by insisting that the UNICEF Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative is somehow anti-feminist, Jessica IS misleading anyone who reads her article if they don’t already know so much better than that (which many millions of us do – just look at how this turned into a giant debate.) And if she’s not trying to influence anyone, what’s she doing writing to begin with?

    Jessica is the one who turned this into a formula-feeder vs breastfeeder debate. (I was a formula feeder, by the way.) I simply directed the entire conversation back to whether or not the UNICEF initiative is mother friendly, and it damn sure is.

    In case anyone is interested in what I actually said, vs the straw man argument Jessica created when she couldn’t back up her outrage with any facts, here it is:

    http://thefeministbreeder.com/you-think-women-arent-vulnerable-to-marketing-check-your-privilege/

    As soon as I pointed out scientific evidence to refute her claims, she accused me of ragging on her baby. That never happened. She had no basis for her misleading information other than some completely misguided, classist, racist notion of “choice”, and when I pointed it out to her, she called me names. Very classy.

  166. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. October 9, 2011 at 6:14 pm |

    Wait, how could an initiative that removes an option for women be “women-friendly”? Perhaps if the initiative made formula available upon request, it would be “woman-friendly”. Perhaps if the formula available was unbranded/labeled, it would be “woman-friendly.” But simply removing the option unless some third party determines in *their* judgment that it’s okay seems pretty damn unfriendly to me.

  167. zuzu
    zuzu October 9, 2011 at 6:42 pm |

    TheFeministBreeder: Wait – I’m the only one who knows about the mountains of completely undisputed research and science on the benefits of breastmilk to both WOMEN and their babies? I’m sure you’re not serious.

    That’s not what EG asked you. She asked you how Jessica was keeping these mountains of research out of women’s hands, which is what you accused her of doing.

    Surely you don’t claim that Jessica Valenti controls the internet.

    As soon as I pointed out scientific evidence to refute her claims, she accused me of ragging on her baby. That never happened. She had no basis for her misleading information other than some completely misguided, classist, racist notion of “choice”, and when I pointed it out to her, she called me names. Very classy.

    I can’t imagine why anyone would ever call you names.

    Here’s one I’m going to throw at you: inflexible. Here’s another: goalpost-shifter. I didn’t read your entire exchange with Jessica over multiple social-media platforms, but from what I can see here, you are more than happy to make accusations you can’t back up, then deflect and deny when you’re called on it.

    You’re also discounting her experience as a woman and as a mother to push your agenda. Not every woman wants to or can breastfeed. You’ve heard from several on this comment thread. Yet you continue to insist it can and should be done, regardless of their wishes.

    You know, frankly, you sound a lot like those women who had an abortion and then become anti-choice. They took advantage of their freedom to choose, but when they had regrets, suddenly, it was wrong for *anyone* to do what they did, and any reasons were dismissed as “convenience.”

    Nobody has to justify her decision to bottle-feed her kid to you, and it’s none of your fucking business whether she does. If you want to support nursing mothers, stop shaming women who disagree with you or who just made a different decision than you did (except since you *did* formula feed, they’re making the *same* decision you did, so what are you banging on about?). By all means, go after the formula companies and their advertising and marketing efforts and the hospitals who push formula because they get it for free and not because it’s in the best interest of the mother or her child. But you’re really coming off as a teat Nazi.

  168. lauredhel
    lauredhel October 9, 2011 at 7:02 pm |

    “…Handmaid’s Tale…”

    “…teat nazi…”

    Get a fucking grip.

  169. igglanova
    igglanova October 9, 2011 at 7:36 pm |

    I see we have devolved into petty mudslinging. It took a lot of comments for us to get this far, though, especially considering the subject is tits vs. formula. So, ray of hope?

  170. Amadi
    Amadi October 9, 2011 at 11:42 pm |

    The hospital discussed the f-word.co.uk article that spawned all this is not pursuing the goals of UNICEF’s Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative by requiring mothers who opt to formula feed by choice to bring their own formula to the hospital themselves. That is not a part of the BFHI parameters and not something UNICEF suggests. The BFHI has ten requirements, which you can read at the Wikipedia page if you want them in short, easy bullet points. The only criterion of the BFHI that addresses formula is the one that requires that infants only receive formula when it’s “medically indicated.”

    But per the guideline, medically indicated would absolutely include a situation like Jessica’s, in which the mother has no milk, would absolutely include a situation with a mother who is HIV+ or has another illness that can be passed via breastmilk, would absolutely include a situation in which a mother is on a breastfeeding-incompatible medication for her own health (including mental health, because the mind is a part of the body) and would also include situations where the mother chooses not to breastfeed, as it is always medically indicated that babies be fed.

    And therein is the problem I had with that f-word post, it never made it clear that this is the hospital going over and above — and most likely as a money saving initiative that’s being passed off or labeled as pro-breastfeeding because that sounds a fuckload better than “we’re cheaping out and won’t be feeding these hospital patients, their families have to” which wouldn’t be accepted for any other patient in a UK hospital except a neonate.

    And in Jessica’s initial response, her desire to tie her outrage over the UK hospital situation with her own formula feeding issues, she bought right into the idea that this hospital is doing this under the banner of breastfeeding advocacy, without, apparently, any effort to understand what the words “baby friendly” mean in this context, or how the hospital is misusing them. And that seems borne out of her reflexive mistrust of breastfeeding advocacy thanks to whatever may have been said to her about her need to formula feed.

    There needs to be a point, though, especially when you have a huge audience and are exceptionally influential, and influential to younger women, where your own personal issues take a backseat in your public writings and you do some basic freaking factchecking on the stuff you write before you slap it up, link it out and then refuse to back down from it, then get into ugly personal slanging matches over imagined insults over it.

    Kristen J.:
    Wait, how could an initiative that removes an option for women be “women-friendly”?Perhaps if the initiative made formula available upon request, it would be “woman-friendly”.Perhaps if the formula available was unbranded/labeled, it would be “woman-friendly.”But simply removing the option unless some third party determines in *their* judgment that it’s okay seems pretty damn unfriendly to me.

  171. Amadi
    Amadi October 9, 2011 at 11:49 pm |

    And yes, when you’re relying upon one book, written by a person who is neither a scientist or a doctor, to hang an opinion of “formula is as healthy as breastmilk” on, you’re willfully and intentionally engaging in the spread of misinformation. And that’s not something that should be tolerated from anyone for any reason.

  172. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. October 10, 2011 at 12:11 am |

    That makes no sense. Why have a requirement based on something being “medically indicated” if there’s no criteria other than the mom says she prefers bottle feeding? Why wouldn’t the requirement be “unless the mom says so”? By its terms the requirement is putting the decision in the hands of doctors/nurses rather than in the hands of birthing parents. That’s not woman friendly.

    Second, if you want to divorce feminist activism from the actual experiences of women, you’re going to have a long row to hoe.

    Third, as has been pointed out by many, many people on this thread often formula can be a more healthful choice than breastmilk. But carry on with absolutist thinking despite people’s experience to the contrary.

  173. Natalia
    Natalia October 10, 2011 at 2:38 am |

    It was preceded by the rest specifically because people on this thread said it couldn’t be done. I’m saying it CAN, so let women know that if they want to breastfeed AND work, they can do that. It’s NOT either/or. And more importantly, it shouldn’t have to be. We need to do a better job supporting women who want to work AND provide breastmilk, rather than just saying “it’s not possible.”

    I’m a mother who works full time and pumps milk for when she’s away. I don’t believe that anyone is saying “it’s not possible.” It can, however, be hard – and it may not be in the cards for everyone. I believe that breastmilk is healthier, but babies also need moms who are happy and confident and not exhausted, shamed and stressed out.

    And therein is the problem I had with that f-word post, it never made it clear that this is the hospital going over and above — and most likely as a money saving initiative that’s being passed off or labeled as pro-breastfeeding because that sounds a fuckload better than “we’re cheaping out and won’t be feeding these hospital patients, their families have to” which wouldn’t be accepted for any other patient in a UK hospital except a neonate.

    Considering unpopular austerity measures – it makes sense that they would disguise this as a “pro-breastfeeding” initiative.

  174. chava
    chava October 10, 2011 at 4:34 am |

    Niether of those are really relevant for a literature review. I would feel better if she were a statistics PhD rather than a political scientist, however. They usually have very scant training in upper level stat.

    Amadi:
    And yes, when you’re relying upon one book, written by a person who is neither a scientist or a doctor, to hang an opinion of “formula is as healthy as breastmilk” on, you’re willfully and intentionally engaging in the spread of misinformation. And that’s not something that should be tolerated from anyone for any reason.

  175. chava
    chava October 10, 2011 at 4:37 am |

    Yeah. Can we not fall prey to the right wing tactic of calling everyone we don’t like a “Nazi”?
    Stop equating your oppression with genocide. It ain’t cool.

    lauredhel:
    “…Handmaid’s Tale…”

    “…teat nazi…”

    Get a fucking grip.

  176. Safiya Outlines
    Safiya Outlines October 10, 2011 at 5:06 am |

    Considering how appalling maternity leave provision and pay is in the US, this kind of feels like two bald men fighting over a comb.

    In the UK, formula advertising is already banned for infant formula (0-6 months), as are free samples, money-off offers, inclusion in shopping points schemes.

    The UK hospital’s “interpretation” of BFI (and they’re not alone in using it as an excuse to not stock formula) which will have a negative impact on women who are from lower income backgrounds who are more likely to have health problems during pregnancy/childbirth and therefore, more likely to require a hospital stay.

    The fact that anyone can suggest on a feminist blog, as Amadi did, that doctors deciding over the actual mother what the mother should do with her own body, is in anyway progressive/good/aspirational astounds me. Does bodily autonomy no longer exist once you give birth?

    Yes, breastmilk is superior to formula. Formula companies should not be allowed to obsure this fact. There should be comprehensive support for those who wish to breastfeed.

    But formula is adequate, and for many different reasons ( including because if the mother doesn’t want to breastfeed, then she shouldn’t have to) it is a valid choice.

    So much about the lactivism movement seems less about listening to women and more about trumpeting their own superiority complexes. Shaming is shaming no matter what it’s wrapped up in.

    igglanova – I really had to try hard not to swear in this comment.

  177. Jennifer
    Jennifer October 10, 2011 at 8:50 am |

    Valenti has argued for the rights of breastfeeding women. But she’s also argued that breastfeeding is not healthier than formula feeding.

    If breastfeeding isn’t healthier, what’s the argument for providing any support for it? Why should employers have to accommodate it in any way? Why should women have a right to bare their breasts in public to do it, if they can’t otherwise? Why should hospitals employ lactation consultants or insurance companies reimburse for them (not that they all do)? Aren’t the supposed public health benefits behind any notion of support for breastfeeding?

    As I see it, we now make the argument that it’s better to breastfeed, but we don’t put meaningful public support behind it—instead, we put the burden on individual women to do it without the support that is often necessary to make it work. If Valenti is right that it isn’t healthier, it seems to me that this takes the pressure off individual women (where it doesn’t belong in any case), but it doesn’t put any societal pressure on encouraging breastfeeding, so that any woman who wants to do it is on her own.

    I think that’s where things were for awhile, when breastfeeding went underground and knowledge about it was kept informally, and in a lot of ways we haven’t come out of this. In my own breastfeeding journey, I was misinformed in the hospital and by our pediatricians and it was the more informal knowledge from a friend who is a La Leche League leader and the kellymom web site that helped me through several issues. This is the kind of information I’d like to see more available. Right now the only information shared is that “breast is best,” and there is pressure to do it, but need help doing it (as many do) and you’re on your own.

    It seems to me that we can recognize that it’s healthier on average (not in every individual case) and talk about educating health professionals and providing other institutional supports without judging women who may choose not to do it, for whatever reason. People are eager to judge mothers for anything they do or don’t do—but just because some people use the idea that breastfeeding is healthier to criticize others doesn’t make the idea wrong, even if the criticism is wrong because it’s unhelpful or whatever.

    The article that Valenti links to in the “supremacist” piece about a hospital in the UK refusing to provide any formula unless they judge it medically necessary is troubling—this seems very heavy handed. I think there is a tendency in some pro-breastfeeding quarters to view women as vessels, and this must be fought.

    However, it also troubles me that buried deep in critiques of breastfeeding as “best,” including Wolf’s book (which Valenti cites as evidence) and Hanna Rosin’s piece, is the acknowledgment that breastfeeding is actually better in some ways. Wolf notes that it conclusively prevents gastrointestinal infections. This is important, and I think it’s misleading to bury it as these authors do (or to not mention it at all, as Valenti doesn’t).

  178. EG
    EG October 10, 2011 at 9:56 am |

    TheFeministBreeder: It was preceded by the rest specifically because people on this thread said it couldn’t be done. I’m saying it CAN, so let women know that if they want to breastfeed AND work, they can do that.

    No. What we have said is that it often can’t be done by many women. Your statement that it was possible for you isn’t actually an argument against that. Instead, it’s a demonstration of the fact that you were lucky. Well, congratulations. I’m lucky in lots of ways, too. It doesn’t mean everybody else is.

    TheFeministBreeder: Wait – I’m the only one who knows about the mountains of completely undisputed research and science on the benefits of breastmilk to both WOMEN and their babies?

    Uh-huh. And Jessica is keeping that research out of the hands of women…how? By noting that she, herself, did not breastfeed, and was admonished for it by strangers, and that, in many situations, formula-feeding is the best way to go? That is a nefarious move on her part.

    Amadi:
    And yes, when you’re relying upon one book, written by a person who is neither a scientist or a doctor, to hang an opinion of “formula is as healthy as breastmilk” on, you’re willfully and intentionally engaging in the spread of misinformation.

    That’s a load of crap. If there’s a problem with the book’s research or fact-checking, by all means call it out. But the fact that it was written by “neither a scientist nor a doctor” doesn’t actually mean that anything in it is “misinformation.” Natalie Angier isn’t a scientist or a doctor, either. Does that make Woman: an Intimate Geography a book of misinformation? No. She is a science journalist. The only Joan Wolf I can find is a romance novelist, but I highly doubt it’s the same Joan Wolf, as nowhere in that Wikipedia entry is Is Breast Best? mentioned.

    And for what seems like the five hundredth time, Jessica did not say that formula was as healthy as breastmilk. She said that formula feeding was as healthy a choice as breastfeeding. On this very thread, she noted that she was referring to whole-family health. As we have noted over and over again, there are a number of situations in which formula-feeding would be healthier than breastfeeding. No mother is making a decision in a vacuum of “all other things being equal” or averages for general populations. She is making a choice in the context of her individual situation, and if formula-feeding is the healthier choice for her, it’s the healthier choice for her.

    Further, I am suspicious of a lot of the research, because as far as I can tell, it compares feeding your baby with breastmilk from a breast to feeding your baby with formula from a bottle. That’s more than one variable in play, and it says nothing about whether or not breastmilk from a bottle is meaningfully better than formula from a bottle.

    Jennifer:
    If breastfeeding isn’t healthier, what’s the argument for providing any support for it? Why should employers have to accommodate it in any way?Why should women have a right to bare their breasts in public to do it, if they can’t otherwise?Why should hospitals employ lactation consultants or insurance companies reimburse for them (not that they all do)?Aren’t the supposed public health benefits behind any notion of support for breastfeeding?

    This is like asking why health insurers should cover any costs associated with reproduction and why employers should accommodate pregnancy and childbirth. Because breastfeeding is part of women’s lives, if they want it to be, and women are as legitimate a model of humanity as are men. Why should we have to conform to a standard of health care or public nudity designed by men with men’s needs in mind?

    Not to mention, why shouldn’t we be able to bare our breasts in public for any old reason that we choose?

    Wolf notes that it conclusively prevents gastrointestinal infections. This is important, and I think it’s misleading to bury it as these authors do

    Wolf mentions it upfront in an interview on the Fearless Formula Feeder website. That hardly seems like burying it. But she does not say that breastfeeding “conclusively prevents gastrointestinal infections.” She says that “breastfeeding provides babies some protection against gastrointestinal infections.” I’m not sure why it’s incumbent upon Jessica to note it as well. I suppose that if Jessica’s piece existed in a vacuum of information on breastfeeding, that would be the case. But given that women are told repeatedly that breastfeeding is the best way to go by a variety of sources, someone who reads Jessica’s piece and refuses to listen to or read anybody else’s thoughts on the subject (perhaps by clasping his/her hands over his/her ears and running away shrieking) has only her/himself to blame.

  179. groggette
    groggette October 10, 2011 at 10:35 am |

    Why do people here keep on forgetting that the health of the mother matters too? Seriously, if an infant doesn’t have a caretaker (in this case, the mother) that’s healthy and well enough to take care of them, does it really matter if they’re being fed breast milk or formula? Go on and keep on telling Jessica that it would have been “healthier” for her to breastfeed in her situation. I’m sure she really appreciates it.

  180. EG
    EG October 10, 2011 at 10:37 am |

    OK, found her. Apparently, Joan Wolf is a tenured associate professor of women’s studies at Texas A&M, having gotten her PhD in poli sci at the University of Chicago. She’s been published in, among other journals, The Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law, and has presented at, among other places, “The International Conference on Health, Wellness, and Society.”

    Yes, I’m sure that she’s completely incompetent at understanding scientific research and how it translates to medical recommendations. Her book is no doubt full of misinformation due to the handicap of not being a scientist or a doctor.

  181. groggette
    groggette October 10, 2011 at 10:41 am |

    Jennifer: However, it also troubles me that buried deep in critiques of breastfeeding as “best,” …… is the acknowledgment that breastfeeding is actually better in some ways.

    Yes, breastfeeding is actually better in some ways. And for some families, formula feeding is actually better in some ways. So let’s support breast feeding initiatives for the women that want it and are able, and lay off the fucking shame for women who don’t or can’t.

  182. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub October 10, 2011 at 10:55 am |

    groggette: Yes, breastfeeding is actually better in some ways. And for some families, formula feeding is actually better in some ways. So let’s support breast feeding initiatives for the women that want it and are able, and lay off the fucking shame for women who don’t or can’t.

    THIS.

  183. zuzu
    zuzu October 10, 2011 at 11:24 am |

    Jennifer: If breastfeeding isn’t healthier, what’s the argument for providing any support for it?

    Because, Jennifer, it’s something that many women want to do.

    Really, is that why everyone’s so spun up about this? Fear that if word gets out that formula is a perfectly good choice, the entire house of cards will fall down?

    chava:
    Yeah.Can we not fall prey to the right wing tactic of calling everyone we don’t like a “Nazi”?
    Stop equating your oppression with genocide. It ain’t cool.

    Calling someone a “___ Nazi” has nothing to do with equating one’s oppression to genocide, and everything to do with commenting on the rigid, dictatorial, insistent-on-following-orders style of the target. Unless you think that Jerry Seinfeld was comparing having to follow the Soup Nazi’s rules on ordering and keeping the line moving to the Holocaust.

  184. chava
    chava October 10, 2011 at 11:40 am |

    Uh-huh. I guess that makes all the rampant comparisons of Obama to a Nazi OK, then. Or, you know, the Occupy Wall Street protesters.

    I get what you WANT it to mean, nonetheless, it’s sloppy, overused rhetoric. Calling someone a “Nazi” has become a hollowed out, meaningless insult–to say nothing of an offensive one. (witness Godwin’s Law)

    Finally, do I really have to explain to you why Jerry Seinfeld could get away with it? First, a joke is fundamentally different from calling someone a Nazi to discredit their political views. Second, when a member of a group actually INVOLVED in said oppression cracks a joke about it, it’s different (as you’ve been arguing on the men/boys thread).

    zuzu:

    Calling someone a “___ Nazi” has nothing to do with equating one’s oppression to genocide, and everything to do with commenting on the rigid, dictatorial, insistent-on-following-orders style of the target.Unless you think that Jerry Seinfeld was comparing having to follow the Soup Nazi’s rules on ordering and keeping the line moving to the Holocaust.

  185. zuzu
    zuzu October 10, 2011 at 11:47 am |

    Obama’s being compared to Hitler, not your standard everyday Nazi. What makes it stupid when the right-wingers do it is that they either have no understanding of fascism or they cynically try to change the definition (see, e.g., Jonah Goldberg, “Liberal Fascism”).

    Also, I don’t think you understand Godwin’s Law.

    Sue me. I used a colloquialism that’s been in wide use for decades.

  186. EG
    EG October 10, 2011 at 11:56 am |

    I dunno, Zuzu, I’m with Chava on this one. I have a visceral wincing reaction whenever I see the term “Nazi” used in that way, and I didn’t like it when Seinfeld did it, either (on the other hand, I don’t like Seinfeld at all, so you should probably take that into account). I don’t find it possible to separate “Nazi” from “genocide” and “they want to kill me because they think I’m vermin.” “Genocide” is the first, and in many cases, only association that comes into my mind. I wish people wouldn’t toss it around casually as though it just meant “strict and rigid.” Like when undergrads say something like “My professor totally raped me on this paper,” when what they mean is “I got a lousy grade, most likely because my writing is lousy.” Dude, that’s not rape.

    That said, I don’t think it’s Crisis on Infinite Earths when people use it that way. I just don’t like it. Like, I guess, when white activists metaphorically compare something to slavery, and black activists roll their eyes all “yeah, right, sure.”

  187. chava
    chava October 10, 2011 at 12:13 pm |

    So, the fact that “moron,” “stupid,” and “idiot” have all been used for decades doesn’t mean it’s ok to use them here, for one.

    Two, Godwin’s Law does actually make my point. The longer an internet discussion goes on, the more likely someone will throw a Nazi!comparison into the works. The fact that it gets done with such bloody frequency empties the comparison or any teeth/real rhetorical weight.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reductio_ad_Hitlerum

    zuzu:
    Obama’s being compared to Hitler, not your standard everyday Nazi.What makes it stupid when the right-wingers do it is that they either have no understanding of fascism or they cynically try to change the definition (see, e.g., Jonah Goldberg, “Liberal Fascism”).

    Also, I don’t think you understand Godwin’s Law.

    Sue me.I used a colloquialism that’s been in wide use for decades.

    zuzu:
    Obama’s being compared to Hitler, not your standard everyday Nazi.What makes it stupid when the right-wingers do it is that they either have no understanding of fascism or they cynically try to change the definition (see, e.g., Jonah Goldberg, “Liberal Fascism”).

    Also, I don’t think you understand Godwin’s Law.

    Sue me.I used a colloquialism that’s been in wide use for decades.

  188. chava
    chava October 10, 2011 at 12:31 pm |

    I understand the fear, but guilting women about how they choose to feed their children is not the way we should get there. There are arguments for supporting breastfeeding other than health–bodily autonomy and children’s rights, for example. A woman has the right to nourish her child however she wants, whenever she want–without needing the magic trump card of “health.”

    Health only appears to be a critical argument due to the current moral equivalency between health and morality in public discourse.

    Regardless, I don’t think many people here would deny that breastmilk has some degree of tangible benefit, ALL OTHER FACTORS BEING EQUAL. Which, as has been pointed out ad infinitum, they often aren’t.

    Jennifer:
    If breastfeeding isn’t healthier, what’s the argument for providing any support for it? Why should employers have to accommodate it in any way?Why should women have a right to bare their breasts in public to do it, if they can’t otherwise?Why should hospitals employ lactation consultants or insurance companies reimburse for them (not that they all do)?Aren’t the supposed public health benefits behind any notion of support for breastfeeding?

    As I see it, we now make the argument that it’s better to breastfeed, but we don’t put meaningful public support behind it—instead, we put the burden on individual women to do it without the support that is often necessary to make it work.If Valenti is right that it isn’t healthier, it seems to me that this takes the pressure off individual women (where it doesn’t belong in any case), but it doesn’t put any societal pressure on encouraging breastfeeding, so that any woman who wants to do it is on her own.

  189. Florence
    Florence October 10, 2011 at 7:22 pm |

    lauredhel: Tell that to the many thousands of parents whose kids were poisoned by melamine in infant formula, and the 1.3 million families each year who lose a child from being artificially fed. For fuck’s sake, if infant feeding doesn’t hit your top 10 issues in early parenting, it’s because of your privilege.

    I’m only quoting this because I want to hit this numbers issue. It’s not that the numbers are unimportant, or to lessen the impact on surviving families in any situation, but bear with me. (Incidentally the 1.3 million number is very close to the number of children who die annually from diseases that would have been completely preventable if they had access to vaccinations. FWIW.)

    I googled car accident fatalities and came up with this number. According to the Federal Highway Administration, there were about 3.2 million injured and 41,821 people killed in car accidents in 2000. That injury statistic is a big number, and because it’s a big number it carries a lot of import. The reason we quote statistics like this is because we want people to wake up and do something. This is a rhetorical method that’s meant to make you perk up and pay attention, and it does. But also consider that the car accident injury number is more than twice the number quoted in the breast is best argument, and yet there is no public movement of persuasion to warn women not to get into cars. We don’t mandate that children must not ride in cars due to the obvious medical implications here. We don’t argue that cars are unnatural or contrary to people’s health. Instead we make sure that everyone who drives a car is trained and licensed, and we have a policy that standardizes road signs across the nation to help prevent accidents. We require that all car manufacturers adhere to a certain level of safety standards and have a process to correct it when it’s found that they have failed to meet these standards. We have special safety seats for kids, and places to go to help us figure out how to use them. Culturally, we assume and expect that car companies are always conducting research on their cars and that they are continuously elevating their safety standards because that, in part, is what sells cars. We aren’t surprised when car companies try to sell us cars, but we do expect that their advertising be *accurate* as well as persuasive. We know that we are free to buy a car if we want to and can afford it, but our society makes sure that there are other options for people who can’t or don’t want to buy a car.

    This is a totally imperfect analogy, but what I’m trying to get at is that as individuals we look at the facts (1.3 million, 3.2 million) and decide whether or not we can assume the risk. Some of us can and some of us can’t for a variety of reasons that are dependent on geography, class status, access to materials, family makeup, the law, etc etc. There’s nothing inherently moral about breastfeeding vs. bottle-feeding except the mission that babies are fed and fed well. There are several ways to make that happen. We can argue all day about the need for antibodies, though I doubt most of us really understand their role in our bodies and how it relates to fetal and baby development. We can argue for weeks about the personal breastfeeding journey of a white, middle-class, American superwoman and it’ll be a fun, if frustrating exercise in lady rage on the internet.

    But it makes far more sense to make sure that the material and healthcare infrastructure is in place to prevent unnecessary deaths worldwide, by formula or the other thousands of things that kill women and children, like war and poverty and political corruption, because we believe in equal access to a variety of resources for all women, even ones who make decisions we wouldn’t or come from places we can’t imagine. Right?

  190. Jenny
    Jenny October 10, 2011 at 8:21 pm |

    I think this person has a point. Women can’t always breast feed their children. We know that breastfed milk is better than formulas. However, some women aren’t just able to breast feed their children. They might have work, or something to do. Everyone has something that needs to be done. If I become a mother, I would try hard to breastfeed my kids, but I know that I’m probably going to give formulas when I can’t. I don’t think women gives formulas to their children because they don’t love them or care for them, but because it is just not possible for women to breastfeed all the time. So I think that people should just mind their own business, and stop judging other people, and judge themselves first on how they are raising the kids.

  191. Florence
    Florence October 10, 2011 at 8:32 pm |

    Thank you. I was struggling with the google.

  192. lauredhel
    lauredhel October 10, 2011 at 10:54 pm |

    Florence: Actually, I think it would be absolutely bloody marvelous if our societies would wake up and put substantial effort into reducing structural/corporate/instutitional pressures forcing many of us into far more car (and air) travel than we would need if our societies were structured in more ideal ways. My family has worked very hard towards reducing car travel dramatically ourselves (for global health, for our finances, and reduction in car crash injury risk), but we’re only one small set of individuals working within a system that fights against us. It’s pretty obvious that the current massive excess in car travel is hazardous to health, not just in individual crashes but in global health. Essential and small amounts of recreational car travel? Terrific. I use it myself. Mandated car safety features, child restraints, etc? Great. Structural pressures causing most of us to spend far more of our lives sitting in boxes chewing petrol than is ideal? Not so good.

    SO … yes, I reckon your analogy holds rather well. Just perhaps not in the way you think.

    “But it makes far more sense to make sure that the material and healthcare infrastructure is in place to prevent unnecessary deaths worldwide, by formula or the other thousands of things that kill women and children, like war and poverty and political corruption, because we believe in equal access to a variety of resources for all women, even ones who make decisions we wouldn’t or come from places we can’t imagine. Right?”

    What makes you think that I don’t advocate for these things? It’s “and”, not “or”. You don’t have to choose.

    Squabbling about who’s worst affected by misogynist shaming, among privileged citizens of first-world countries, isn’t going to get us particularly far – it’s pretty bloody obvious to anyone who’s paying attention that women are shamed no matter what they do. But getting back to that individual level for a moment – an American-citizen white wealthy formula-feeder complaining that they’re oppressed by ” breastfeeder supremacists”? Is never going to play well with me. Not while other women are being refused service or removed from premises, being court-ordered to cease their chosen infant feeding method, being medically lied to on a massive scale to cease their feeding method, having their children removed, being called perverts and paedophiles, having Child Protective Services called on them, having police called on them, having daycare refused or charged at higher rates, and having weapons pointed at them in immigration offices, just for breastfeeding. White American formula feeders are well and truly ensconced in a corporate- and societally-supported majority group. Does that support have some holes? Yes – and on the level of single individuals in the moment, these holes can feel enormous. Taking a step back, examining privilege, and looking at what other women are experiencing, however, is pretty much the essence of feminism.

  193. Florence
    Florence October 11, 2011 at 9:47 am |

    Right, all of that is fair. But because this is a thread about formula feeders and the shaming they face, that’s what I’m concentrating on. There is a lot of feminist breastfeeding support online, and not so much for formula feeders. And considering that most moms eventually switch to formula, it’s better that we stop wagging our collective finger at these lazy baby killers and advocate for the structural changes that need to be made to nix the stigma of formula feeding. Regardless of the reasoning — be it that we’re nervous nellies easily swayed by corporate persuasion, or merely trying to live a decent life in the anti-mother, anti-woman world we live in — there is and always will be a demand for formula.

    So the car analogy. It’s nice that auto politics are on your radar and that your family is able to minimize environmental impact by reducing your driving time. But no matter what *your particular politics are* it’s good social policy to make sure that cars are as safe as possible and that people know how to use them. It’s extremely shitty policy to say, “I don’t ride in cars, and people who ride on buses are being discriminated against, so fuck car drivers.” No, you make sure that the product is safe and affordable for as many demographics as possible, and that the instructions on how to use the product are clear and standardized, and that the research on the product safety is honest, public, and peer-reviewed. So as with formula. That’s a woman friendly policy.

    One final thing, since it’s stuck in my craw. On the Feminist Breeder blog (which, well, it may be radical in the online mom communities, but the particulars might benefit from some time hanging out on feminist blogs too), the factoid that WIC is the largest distributor of formula is thrown around like it’s some kind of suspicious government pro-dairy conspiracy. Seeing that WIC is the largest group in the US that’s solely dedicated to feeding children, it makes sense that they *would* be the largest formula provider. It’s like having pro-lifers throw around the fact that Planned Parenthood is the largest abortion provider — if they’re the largest group in the US dedicated to contraception and family planning, well, no shit. Who else would it be?

  194. Heidi
    Heidi October 11, 2011 at 10:40 am |

    It’s extremely shitty policy to say, “I don’t ride in cars, and people who ride on buses are being discriminated against, so fuck car drivers.”

    sure, but car drivers are already socially/culturally supported. to a large extent (outside the mommy bubble) formula feeders are already socially/culturally supported. public transportation, like breastfeeding, seems to need a bit of a boost. and those boosters, in their nearly-evangelistic zeal, sometimes come off as being blindly partisan.

    No mom wants to see a baby die of starvation – no matter what they say on the internet. how much of the boob war rhetoric is intensified because of the “anonymity” of the web? would we be saying these things to each other’s faces, if we could?

  195. chava
    chava October 11, 2011 at 11:09 am |

    Yeah. Bike commuters and “carfree” people can get on my nerves, but I recognize that the overwhelming institutional support outside my class/race bubble is in support of cars, and public/bike transit is what needs institutional support. That doesn’t mean that highways will suddenly become unsafe.

    RE: formula, I absolutely do think we need more and better advocacy for information about the differences between formulas, what is best to use when, etc. But “structural changes”? Other than perhaps educating doctors better about both breast AND bottle feeding, and laying the fuck off the shaming ad campaigns* about breast is best? Not so much.

    The way to better support breastfeeding is not to shame mothers about giving formula. But formula doesn’t need much more *structural* support–it already has a government lobby powerful enough to change public health ads:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/30/AR2007083002198.html

    (I’m not a fan of either iteration of the above ad, but the point stands.)

    Heidi:
    It’s extremely shitty policy to say, “I don’t ride in cars, and people who ride on buses are being discriminated against, so fuck car drivers.”

    sure, but car drivers are already socially/culturally supported. to a large extent (outside the mommy bubble) formula feeders are already socially/culturally supported. public transportation, like breastfeeding, seems to need a bit of a boost. and those boosters, in their nearly-evangelistic zeal, sometimes come off as being blindly partisan.

    No mom wants to see a baby die of starvation – no matter what they say on the internet. how much of the boob war rhetoric is intensified because of the “anonymity” of the web? would we be saying these things to each other’s faces, if we could?

  196. Florence
    Florence October 11, 2011 at 11:45 am |

    Heidi: sure, but car drivers are already socially/culturally supported. to a large extent (outside the mommy bubble) formula feeders are already socially/culturally supported.

    But this isn’t Queen for a Day, where only the ladies with the saddest stories get the prize. If we recognize a weakness in the system, even a majority-supported system, that could save lives/support mothers, this is an issue worth our attention, discussion, time, and energy. Since we’re talking cars, it’s like a car driver saying, “Hey, there should be airbags in my car,” and an anti-car person saying, “Cars are standardized enough, and if you and your family get hurt, too bad, you should be walking anyway.” The problem is still a problem. REGARDLESS of anti-breastfeeding policies and stigma, formula feeders get a raw deal in X, Y, and Z ways. This is also a feminist issue.

    chava: RE: formula, I absolutely do think we need more and better advocacy for information about the differences between formulas, what is best to use when, etc. But “structural changes”? Other than perhaps educating doctors better about both breast AND bottle feeding, and laying the fuck off the shaming ad campaigns* about breast is best? Not so much.

    I beg to differ. “Structural” changes are bigger than that. Structural, in that women in underdeveloped countries need access to safe water in order to use formula safely. Or in that in countries with multiple languages spoken, mothers need instructions given to them in a language they clearly understand. This is something that can be handled privately by manufacturers or required by the state. Either way, it’s a structural change.

    Stateside, something like 75% of mothers attempt to breastfeed. This isn’t a small number. This is a majority. Why don’t they stick with it? Structural weaknesses that make it extremely difficult for most women to breastfeed exclusively for as long as is recommended. So. Maternity leave. If you can’t afford to sit around for six weeks with your shirt off learning how to breastfeed, teaching your newborn how to breastfeed, and establishing a decent milk supply, you’re SOL. If you’re determined to do it you can probably make it happen, but fact is that companies are only required to give women 6-8 weeks paid leave (dependent on method of birth), 12 total leave, which is entirely not conducive to breastfeeding initiatives. For formula feeders, it’s more than a lack of education by the doctors. Literally no one can tell you what is different between one brand of formula and the next, no one teaches you how to sterilize your equipment, there are next to no lactation consultants willing to teach moms how to bottle feed (and like breastfeeding, it is a hair more complicated than sticking the nipple in the baby’s mouth). This is a gap in the healthcare infrastructure that exists and is a problem, *even if* formula is the most common feeding method by the time baby is a year old.

    chava: But formula doesn’t need much more *structural* support–it already has a government lobby powerful enough to change public health ads:

    That probably wasn’t the best article to use to support your thesis here. In one breath you say that women shouldn’t be shamed for opting to breastfeed. In the next, you link an article where formula companies were irritated that an American HHS breastfeeding initiative “featured striking photos of insulin syringes and asthma inhalers topped with rubber nipples.”

    Well, no wonder it got changed. Using hyperbole like that to scare moms into breastfeeding is a bad use of government. It should have been changed.

  197. chava
    chava October 11, 2011 at 12:17 pm |

    Florence:

    I beg to differ. “Structural” changes are bigger than that. Structural, in that women in underdeveloped countries need access to safe water in order to use formula safely. Or in that in countries with multiple languages spoken, mothers need instructions given to them in a language they clearly understand.This is something that can be handled privately by manufacturers or required by the state. Either way, it’s a structural change.

    I agree with the point about safe water sources and clear instructions. Women should be fully supported in both feeding choices, and they currently are not. Fair ’nuff.

    Structural weaknesses that make it extremely difficult for most women to breastfeed exclusively for as long as is recommended. So. Maternity leave. If you can’t afford to sit around for six weeks with your shirt off learning how to breastfeed, teaching your newborn how to breastfeed, and establishing a decent milk supply, you’re SOL. If you’re determined to do it you can probably make it happen, but fact is that companies are only required to give women 6-8 weeks paid leave (dependent on method of birth), 12 total leave, which is entirely not conducive to breastfeeding initiatives. For formula feeders, it’s more than a lack of education by the doctors. Literally no one can tell you what is different between one brand of formula and the next, no one teaches you how to sterilize your equipment, there are next to no lactation consultants willing to teach moms how to bottle feed (and like breastfeeding, it is a hair more complicated than sticking the nipple in the baby’s mouth). This is a gap in the healthcare infrastructure that exists and is a problem, *even if* formula is the most common feeding method by the time baby is a year old.

    I mean, yes? But it seems to me that the answer to this is providing a longer maternity leave and educating medical personnel/running public health campaigns about proper formula technique. Peer-reviewed studies on the differences between formula brands would help, as well.

    What I am seeing here is this: In the U.S., breastfeeding is encouraged but in name only, and is not a viable choice for many women, in large part because of that lack of support (for some, all the support in the world wouldn’t matter). Formula feeding is officially discouraged, yet supported through advertising & societal structure (vs: short or no maternity leave). No one will arrest you, kick you off a plane or out of a cafe, or take your children away for formula feeding. Yet, proper information on HOW to formula feed is sorely lacking.

    So neither choice is fully supported; however, as your statistics show, formula feeding is at least a viable option for many women, lack of information notwithstanding. Breastfeeding is not. Ideally, both should be real options.

    ANYWAY! I stand corrected about the structural change issue–you’re quite right, formula needs it too. Basically, we need to make women’s health a priority, but God knows if that’ll ever happen.

    That probably wasn’t the best article to use to support your thesis here. In one breath you say that women shouldn’t be shamed for opting to breastfeed. In the next, you link an article where formula companies were irritated that an American HHS breastfeeding initiative “featured striking photos of insulin syringes and asthma inhalers topped with rubber nipples.”

    Well, yeah. Which is why I made a point of saying the ad itself sucked. But the point was still clear–formula companies have a strong enough lobby to effect that magnitude of change, hence, structural power.

  198. chava
    chava October 11, 2011 at 12:18 pm |

    BAH! Stupid blockquotes are stupid. Last paragraph of that post is mine.

  199. Florence
    Florence October 11, 2011 at 12:38 pm |

    chava: I mean, yes? But it seems to me that the answer to this is providing a longer maternity leave and educating medical personnel/running public health campaigns about proper formula technique. Peer-reviewed studies on the differences between formula brands would help, as well.

    What I am seeing here is this: In the U.S., breastfeeding is encouraged but in name only, and is not a viable choice for many women, in large part because of that lack of support (for some, all the support in the world wouldn’t matter). Formula feeding is officially discouraged, yet supported through advertising & societal structure (vs: short or no maternity leave). No one will arrest you, kick you off a plane or out of a cafe, or take your children away for formula feeding. Yet, proper information on HOW to formula feed is sorely lacking.

    So neither choice is fully supported; however, as your statistics show, formula feeding is at least a viable option for many women, lack of information notwithstanding. Breastfeeding is not. Ideally, both should be real options.

    Yay! Yes, this is exactly what I’m talking about.

    As an aside, I get so frustrated during these mommy flame wars. We love to put moms on pedestals and make sport of kicking them down, and it’s telling that many of us feminists are unable to see the forest for the trees when it comes to children, parents, and parenting, and do the same. I’m unswayed by a lot of particular arguments in this debate, but I do believe the tenet that what’s good for moms is good for babies. Unfortunately, because of the structural inadequacies for moms worldwide, the flipside is not true. What’s good for babies is often unavailable to moms. This is a big fucking deal.

  200. Norma
    Norma October 12, 2011 at 10:30 am |

    TheFeministBreeder:
    Right now, you’re keeping well published, scientific information out of the hands of women who think that breastmilk is too much bother. Maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t.

    Women (other than you) are too lazy to breastfeed or get accurate information about feeding their children. Got it!

    TheFeministBreeder:
    FWIW, I’ve held a full-time job, full-time pre-law course load, AND my successful writing career all while providing breastmilk to my child. I’m healthier for it, and they are too.

    A parent juggling multiple responsibilities and keeping a child healthy? Yes, this is certainly only something a breastfeeding biological mother has ever done.

  201. Off White
    Off White October 12, 2011 at 1:30 pm |

    Am I the only person who’d hoped this was a Bikini Kill topic?

    Not only am I male, but my kids are now 20 and 30 respectively, so the subject at hand lies mostly in the rosy glowing past, though I suppose playing lactation consultant with the sheep and goats out here on the farm does keep me a little in the loop. Yes, breast feeding is generally a healthy way to do things, but its the love, compassion, and understanding that really help your children grow and become great human beings.

  202. Safiya Outlines
    Safiya Outlines October 13, 2011 at 6:12 am |

    Florence: I do believe the tenet that what’s good for moms is good for babies. Unfortunately, because of the structural inadequacies for moms worldwide, the flipside is not true. What’s good for babies is often unavailable to moms. This is a big fucking deal.

    Yessssss! Yes. This is a conversation I’d like to have.

    Lauredhel – You’re not the first one on here to talk swwepingly about “privileged first world mothers”, but I cannot let that comment slide. There are huge, huge differences in both maternal and neonatal outcomes in the West along both class and race divides. Maternity and neonatal care is often underfunded. Just because women in financially poorer countries have it worse does not mean these inequalities should be minimised or ignored.

  203. chava
    chava October 13, 2011 at 6:27 am |

    Yeah, the NE city I live in has one of the worst maternal/fetal outcomes in the world, largely among poor African-Americans. The nurses at our NICU are *excited* by a 28 weeker, because she’ll probably live.

    We incidentially also have one of the worst rates of b-feeding, but I think that’s correlation rather than causation; e.g., part of a larger pattern of poverty and inequality. There’s also a cultural stigma against it, at least in my neighborhood. I think Blacktating talks about this issue in her blog.

    Safiya Outlines: Yessssss! Yes. This is a conversation I’d like to have.

    Lauredhel – You’re not the first one on here to talk swwepingly about “privileged first world mothers”, but I cannot let that comment slide. There are huge, huge differences in both maternal and neonatal outcomes in the West along both class and race divides. Maternity and neonatal care is often underfunded. Just because women in financially poorer countries have it worse does not mean these inequalities should be minimised or ignored.

  204. lauredhel
    lauredhel October 13, 2011 at 9:00 am |

    Safiya Outlines and chava – I’m very much aware of inequalities within first-world countries. Hence my use of the modifier “privileged”, and my notes of wealth and race within the very comment you’re talking about.

  205. chava
    chava October 13, 2011 at 12:01 pm |

    Hey, wasn’t critiquing. Was just adding my own perspectives on inequalities w/in the U.S.

    lauredhel:
    Safiya Outlines and chava – I’m very much aware of inequalities within first-world countries. Hence my use of the modifier “privileged”, and my notes of wealth and race within the very comment you’re talking about.

  206. Sparrow
    Sparrow October 17, 2011 at 6:40 pm |

    Just so you guys all know, Amadi is a supporter of a known rapist and has been really shitty to said rapist’s victim who came out about his experience. You should just ignore everything she says.

  207. Off White
    Off White October 18, 2011 at 12:32 pm |

    Sparrow, I’m not all up on the background of what you’re talking about, but I must say that the current top-of-the-page thread here just came to mind: http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2011/10/17/call-out-culture-and-blogging-as-performance/

  208. A word about breastfeeding nazis « blue milk

    [...] reform and collective responsibility off the hook. But when we think the breastfeeding campaign has gone too far bear this in mind.. Show me the women who are losing their jobs for formula [...]

  209. Sarahjune
    Sarahjune October 28, 2011 at 6:34 pm |

    I caught flack on both sides of this issue. Although when breastfeeding my first I had been asked to cover up or move, it did not bother me as much as being made to feel like being a bad mom when I switched to formula feeding at three mos. When someone would ask me to move I would chalk that up to their own insecurities and shrug it off. But when I was sneered at and told that I was being lazy and selfish for formula feeding, it really hit hard and made me feel inadequate. The guilt I already felt for switching to formula was magnified by my doctor and every other breastfeeding mother that I came into contact with. It felt almost as if giving my baby formula was in the same league as giving her cocaine. One almost forgets that about 75% of my generation was formula fed and we all aren’t unhealthy diabetics with low IQs. I think breastfeeding is great but I fear that there is an air of elitism attached with breastfeeding advocacy; in essence the boob has become the new Prius.

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