Friday, August 3, 2007

A Word On Breastfeeding Nazis and Feminism

I am really tired of all of the Breastfeeding Nazis and their propaganda. Really.

Yes, I know "breast is best". I've only heard that about 75,000 times or so. I internalized those words, and made a real go of it, when the opportunity presented itself. Breastfeeding ain't for everyone, as I soon found out.

I wish the Breastfeeding Nazis would get the memo, too.

I am also aware that mothers who wish to breastfeed often face hurdles as far as being ridiculed for doing it in public, and a lack of accommodations made for breastfeeding by employers and society at large (remember, I've been in this boat before). Yes, that's wrong. And bad. And should end.

But honestly, if you are a self-identifying feminist, do you REALLY think you are helping the plight of women anywhere by pinning them between the devil and the deep blue sea? Because honestly, that's what the militant pro-breast feeders are doing.

Here is the comment-- form a totally non-breastfeeding related post on feministe, by the way-- that started it all.

Breastfeeding not any better than formula? *GUFFAW* That was satire, right?

It’s a good thing I steadfastly refuse to call myself anything but a feminist in the context of, “believes in equal rights for women and men, requiring society to give women greater rights than we currently have in order to level the playing field of rights,” because stuff like this really makes me wonder about the movement sometimes. I mean, when we have to pretend a can full of powder cooked up in a lab is as good for a mammalian baby as the stuff it ought to be obtaining naturally from its mother just so some random woman somewhere won’t have to feel guilty because she didn’t even try, what exactly is this movement trying to accomplish again?

I’m sorry, I know this is off-topic (mostly) and I know a lot is expected of mothers that shouldn’t be and it’s pretty sick. But I see feminists denying that they want women to be like men ALL THE TIME and yet… An argument like this seems to infer that only when women, like men, don’t have to breastfeed children will we be truly equal to men. My response is, since when should women have to be like men in order to be equal, and why are you having a kid anyway if you’re just going to let chemicals and machines raise it for you?

Yes, starting breastfeeding is harder than starting a bottle. Assuming proper training and no physical defects in mom or baby, however, in the final tally breastfeeding is EASIER than bottlefeeding: cheaper, no prep needed, no washing bottles, and hardly any spitup. You don’t even have to hardly wake up to feed your baby at night if you’ve got them sleeping next to you. I’ve done both methods of feeding and it was such a contrast when I BFed my second child that it was just breathtaking. I will never touch formula again if I have another child.

I feel sorry for women who have to struggle more with BFing logistics because it’s work or be in abject poverty. But again, pretending that formula grows on the Boob Tree and is just as good as human milk does no one any favors. We should be expending that energy instead to ensure that nursing mothers can feed their children with as little inconvenience as possible. It’s THAT kind of thing that will ultimately make women equal.

Now, all due respect to RE, or
Radical Earthling- she has a good blog, and says lots of interesting stuff. She does use qualifiers, like she knows mothers have a lot expectations placed on them, and she feels sorry for those who struggle with logistics... but then she goes off and proceeds to tear women who choose formula a new orifice, because obviously, they are just deluding themselves about the appropriateness of bottle feeding.

Sheesh. I mean, this day in age, I can't imagine there are many women out there who choose formula because they think it is the ideal food. They often choose formula because of those nasty "logistics" RE talks about. My story is a fairly common one. I got all of the haranguing about "breast is best", and resolved to breastfeed. I never had problems with insufficient milk. On the contrary, I had an overabundance, which caused me to leak constantly, so that I was perpetually soaked, stinky, and uncomfortable. I pressed forward, but unable to afford an expensive breastpump, I found myself unable to keep up with all of my daily responsibilities AND feed. I was a grad student with an assistantship, so "maternity leave" was out of the question. My son actually slept through the night fairly regularly after the first three weeks, which I thought was a blessing, but I soon realized it was a curse when those night feedings shifted to day feedings that I could not accommodate with my meager pumpings from my cheap breastpump. After about two months of sopping, stinky, candle burning-at-both-ends misery, I went to the bottle. It really saved my sanity.

It's really the same thing as the mom who buys her kids frozen dinners because she doesn't have time to cook. Sure, in HappyLand, everyone would have time to do everything, and no one would have to eat less than perfect food. But this is Reality World, and it isn't so pretty. Feminists who really care about the plight of other women should not denigrate them for having to make hard choices that involve compromise.

I get what RE is saying about helping women better accommodating feeding, but I live in Reality World, so I really have to ask what those accommodations might be? If a woman has a job at a company with no on-site daycare (which is most of us), what can you really do? There is pumping, but even assuming you can afford the decent pump, feeding breastmilk out of a bottle usually means you have to go completely over to the bottle at some point because of "nipple confusion". That's a WHOLE lot of pumping. Pumping isn't something you can do in a 3-hour marathon in the evening while you work on the computer or read-- it has to be done in shorter, regular sessions to approximate feeding in order to ensure the milk supply. How, exactly, does that work for women on the job, again? What about women who have jobs that just don't accommodate pumping at all(think outdoor jobs, etc.)? And longer maternity leave is great, but since I don't see that as a centerpiece of ANYONE'S political agenda, that'll be a long time in coming, and meanwhile, there are hungry babies to feed...

No, the BEST way to help women in the short term is to support their choices--whatever they might be. Long-term reform is great, but it is no substitute for dealing compassionately with the problem on the ground right now. Know a woman who is struggling with breastfeeding v. bottle? Offer her encouragement and advice. And offer sympathy for whatever route she decides to follow.

Oh, one more thing. No woman should ever feel compelled to breastfeed. It's a very personal decision. I think logistics are probably the #1 reason women decide against it, but if a woman decides she just doesn't want to breastfeed, that's fine too. Bottle feeding, while not ideal, has empirically been proven safe through decades of use. A woman who decides not to breastfeed is not abusing or neglecting her child in any way. I can honestly say that even absent the logistical problems, I probably wouldn't have made it to the recommended one year mark with breastfeeding because the sticky, leaky, stinky stuff was driving me pretty batty. That doesn't make me an abuser. Or a bad mom. It makes me a person, a person with a right to bodily integrity.

Shame on the breastfeeding Nazis for forgetting that.


Christina said...

I had the exact opposite problem--not enough. I actually had to take a pill that induced a chemical depression in order to kick-start my milk. On top of the post-partum I already had, mind you.

I did make it to the 1 yr mark mostly through sheer persistence and necessity. We couldn't afford formula.

I enjoyed it, and my son had better health for it, and I'm glad I did it. But no way would I expect anyone else to do it! For God's sake, I was basically topless for a year with a kid hanging off my boob. The "every hour and a half" feedings are timed from start to start again not from finish to start again.

lauram said...

You have a lovely blog. I'm glad you posted a link from feministe.

I agree w/the "let's all let each other off the hook" thing on breastfeeding. If you can and want to, definitely do. If you can't or don't want to, there are far more dangerous things you can do to a child than deciding to put the child on formula.

I was bottle-fed as were most of my peers - having come-of-bottle in the mid-60s when formula was actually deemed better than breast milk. It doesn't seem to have done much harm.

I breastfed my daughter for 6 months and it was excruciating. She had reflux and would spit up the meager amounts I was able to feed her via the breast or pump. It was awful. And as the other commenter mentions - sometimes it seemed like she was on the nipple for most of the day.

I know it goes much easier for some moms/babies. But do what is best for you. As the old saying goes "Ain't mamma happy, ain't nobody happy." Amen.