United in Feeding: Can Mommies Bridge the Breastfeeding Divide?

In the educated mommy world, breastfeeding, along with feeding the kids organic food and providing them with phthalate free toys (wood not plastic, please) are the major fads.

I grew up being skeptical of any fads.  This doesn’t mean that I’ve never participated in fads, however.  Skeptical is the key word.  I went to UC Santa Cruz, where the antithesis of the majority of my hometown’s belief system was the norm, only to find out that everyone wore the same hippy outfits and thought the same things.  So I wore my jeans and t-shirts and tried to keep in mind that skepticism was probably healthy.  Nevertheless, you will catch me in some hippy inspired outfit here and there and thinking many UCSC inspired thoughts.

Breastfeeding in particular has caught my attention recently and given me a lot of food for thought.   I am skeptical about the fervent zeal that so many people have behind the practice even though I plan to do it.  My skepticism has inspired a dream of mommies united in feeding rather than divided by the boob.

Right now, if you aren’t breastfeeding, you are outcast in many circles.  Take the story Hanna Rosin tells in her Atlantic article “The Case Against Breastfeeding” for example.  Her moment of bonding with moms in the park was ruined when she let slip that she was contemplating stopping breastfeeding earlier (after a month) with her third child than with her first two children, who she breastfed religiously.  All of the mothers who had been chatty and happy suddenly found reasons to scatter and move away from the conversation shortly after the proclamation of her thought. After this, Rosin experimented with telling other groups of mothers the same story and got the same reaction.

Consider also the episode of The Parent Experiment, “Motherhood rocks if you beatbox”.  Both Lynette Carolla and Teresa Strasser, the talk show hosts, discuss how when they stopped breastfeeding for various reasons, the former because she had twins, and that’s already enough work, the latter because her milk dried up at month four, they had to suffer much more judgment from the mommy world.

Hearing these stories, it is difficult for me to feel that I have the right to judge mothers’ ability to mother or judge the mother at all by whether they breastfeed or not.  There are so many reasons.

There are differing views on the findings of medical literature as it relates to breastfeeding’s overall effect on children.  According to Rosin, popular culture and academic literature differ significantly in what they tell the reader about the facts of breastfeeding.  Much of what moms are reading to prepare themselves for raising children recommends breastfeeding because, amongst many amazing health benefits, it increases I.Q.  Rosin says that medical literature, on the other hand, “shows that breast-feeding is probably, maybe, a little better; but it is far from the stampede of evidence” that shows up in popular literature.

In her article, she details the strengths and weaknesses of the literature and gives some great insight into why moms are at each other’s throats about breastfeeding in the first place.  In her opinion, the small amount of evidence that shows the importance of breastfeeding might be outweighed by the intimacy and emotional benefits it brings to some moms, but not all.

On the other hand, at a recent course I attended, the physician made clear that while she supports all types of feeding, breastfeeding has been shown to have all of the benefits that Rosin claims are minimal.

Another reason that I feel I have very little right to judge is that each mother  who is not breastfeeding has her story about how she ended up in that position.  Many women do try, but end up not following through for many reasons.  It is important to hear the story rather than impose a blanket judgment on a group of people.  But that is a problem we all face.  It is so much easier to generalize and judge rather than take the time to stop and listen, really listen, to the story.

Breastfeeding is not easy, though it is “natural.”  In her blogpost “Breast is Best”, Mrs. Odie 2 describes how if she did not have the kind of support system that she does, she probably would have given up on breastfeeding herself.   And Melissa Bartrick describes how situational issues such as people’s education about labor and delivery and lifestyle choices, make breastfeeding an even greater challenge in her Huffington Post article, “Peaceful Revolution:  Motherhood and the $13 Billion Guilt.”

Finally, it seems to me that breastfeeding is such a personal decision.  It certainly makes people uncomfortable.  My husband, J, and I recently attended a course on what to do once the baby is born.  While the pediatrician was discussing breastfeeding, J asked a potentially controversial question about it.  I don’t remember the question (pregnancy brain), but I remember how the feeling in the room changed.  It went from warm to cold.  People stiffened up in discomfort.  The pediatrician who was leading the course was very careful to choose her language.  And rightfully so.  The choice is personal.

Given all of this, I find it interesting that hospitals and birth centers alike offer breastfeeding support groups, but not feeding support groups.  I realize that breastfeeding has its own challenges that need to be discussed…but still! From people I know who have attended these types of groups, they have made close ties and long lasting friendships.  Wouldn’t it be great if there was a place where it was encouraged to bond with baby through feeding, in whatever way you see fit, and have the opportunity to bond with other moms?

My skepticism on the breastfeeding fad is based in the fact that this fad perpetuates mommy guilt.  There’s enough mommy guilt as it is.  I say it’s time to create spaces where mommies can bridge some of the judgmental divides…and there are plenty!

As a note:  Issues with breastfeeding extend beyond judgment about who does and does not do it, but also who does it for longer than what is socially acceptable, as one reader pointed out.  It’s an important point that I may cover in a later post.

3 thoughts on “United in Feeding: Can Mommies Bridge the Breastfeeding Divide?

  1. I have to confess I get a bit judgmental over this issue. I also receive a bit of judgment for STILL breastfeeding my toddler. I agree that we should all support each other, regardless. On Sunday night I sat in a room with 3 other BFing mommies. Our babies are 11 months, 4 months, 5 months and 2 months. It was a wonderful feeling of community. Only mine was too distracted. I hope you find BFing easy and fulfilling. And guilt free!

  2. Sara, I am proud that you are working to be open minded here. I believe there are benefits to breast feeding, but I do not believe they are long lasting–in other words you can go either way and still have happy, healthy and great children. I do blieve our current culture is very strong on enforcing a particular point of view and extremely intolerant to alternatives, no matter how justified they may be. So good for you and Jonathan for asking and thinking about whether “fads” which may or may not be grounded in facts are for everyone. One of my highest values these days is that there should be room for people to have different values and different approaches and that implies limits on how much we should impose our views on those who see things differently. Enjoy your thinking about this. Keep writing. DAD

  3. Sara: I enjoyed your writing and your way thinking about it. When I came to the US in the 60ies, breastfeeding was hardly okay anymore. Women bound up their breasts and lived in agony for a few weeks for reasons I couldn’t understand. I remember being very puzzled, it was very different from what I had seen and learned in Holland at that time. How the tides have changed here!
    What strikes me is the fervor about this issue, then and now.
    Bottom line and common sense: do what suits you best, knowing there must be a good reason for every Mom to do what they do,

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