Wednesday, March 18, 2009
The Case Against Breastfeeding
I just read Hanna Rosin's article called The Case Against Breastfeeding published in The Atlantic and I'm feeling really sad. This is the reality of many mother's experiences and it should not be taken lightly. Ms. Rosin expresses her discontentment with being a mother and her perceived requirement that she breastfeed her baby. She goes on to talk about how science really isn't all that conclusive about the benefits of breastfeeding, which makes it seem like a waste of her time.
So we're talking about a relationship with an infant here, a little person who is completely dependent upon the parent (unless he is in daycare, of course) and this parent resents being with the child and feels that someone (larger society) is making her breastfeed him. How does that child feel when she is tapping her foot waiting for him to finish nursing so that she can get on to something more important?
Having children is an inconvenience. And mothering is a completely undervalued because we don't understand how important it is. We don't know how to meet someone else's needs. We aren't even quite sure how to meet our own needs because we have never had that modeled for us. Becoming a parent requires a tremendous amount of resources and cannot be the task of one person. However, there are some jobs and some good reasons that women are designed to be the primary caretakers. If we feel overwhelmed, it is a sign that something needs to change. Who suffers when we feel this way? Everyone does. But is breastfeeding the problem?
America seems full of finger pointing and, in general, we like to blame someone else for our problems. People sued McDonald's when their coffee was too hot and won. It wasn't their fault that the coffee was hot, after all, and they burned themselves. If the problem exists outside of ourselves, then it really isn't about us. We don't need to make a change. But if we can recognize that there is probably a small part that is our responsibility, that means that we can make it different.
Ms. Rosen feels that breastfeeding is the problem. That makes it all about the fault of someone external to herself who is 'making her' breastfeed. This has taken her out of the present moment and what this is all truly about. Her baby needs her to be emotionally present more than anything in the world. Whether she is sitting with a bottle or she is breastfeeding, the baby needs his mom to be madly in love with him or her. Is that possible when mom is feeling resentful about the fact that she has to do this? Probably not.
Perhaps the real problem that Ms. Rosen is expressing is more about the lack of community support for mothers with young children and that there seems to be little value placed on taking that time to just be with baby. The women with careers outside the home seem to have more perceived value. Maybe that's a big part of the reason so many moms return to work. It should never be pitted 'us against them' regarding feeding choices. But perhaps we need to have a conversation about what mothering looks like right now and how we can meet the needs of mothers in our society, rather than pointing fingers.
Breastfeeding rates have climbed steadily over the past 10 years, which is a wonderful thing. Mothers need the support from everyone in order to do what it takes to nurse our children even for a year. I believe the current statistics are that only about 2% of babies are nursed for one full year, which is the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics. We have a long way to go for moms to recognize how much value they have. Breastmilk is designed specifically for feeding human infants. It changes from day to day, hour to hour, depending upon the needs of the baby. Perhaps this needs to be part of the discussion, too. No formula can do that.
Empowered women breastfeed. Empowered women change the world.
I have spent a large amount of time over the past 10+ years breastfeeding. I quit my job and only took on jobs that I could do while putting my baby first, mostly working from home or with limited hours when my husband could be with my son. Even now, I work from home so that I can be here for my children when they need me to be here. Sometimes projects are delayed and deadlines are missed, but that's OK. There is nothing more important than my children and our relationship. Nothing.
Is it less convenient? Yes. Are there days that I just want to sit all day and eat chocolates and watch something mindless on TV? Yes! But I know there is a time when I will miss this terribly. I do what I can to meet my own needs while still respecting the needs of my children. Maybe that's what we need to focus on more. Find a community of support. Find others who share your values. Find reasons to want to snuggle in close with your baby as much as you can and others who share that viewpoint. There is nothing more important for all of us than feeling loved unconditionally and it starts with our babies.
P.S. The picture is me breastfeeding my youngest a couple of years ago.