Yes, I know. I am about a week behind to really talk about the whole ‘if 90% of women breastfed to 6months we would save over 900 lives and millions of dollars’ thing. The tweet storm, the blog storm. It be over. And yet, here I am, taking it on anyway.
Truth is that I have tried to write this post about 5 times, only to send drafts to the trash. I hesitate to say anything, because
a) I have this weird love hate relationship with drama, online or otherwise. I see it, have opinions and want to say what I have to say. But I am also a big scardy cat and I shy away from conflict. You know, it is my dual personality acting up.
b) There is nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said. And better.
And yet, I am going to give it a go none the less. What can I say? I am a gluton for punishment. Here I go:
I have a number of issues with the recent study/news cover/mommy blogging reaction to this whole thing.
See, the thing is (in my opinion), a study like that and the spreading the word of that study, is only beneficial to the breastfeeding cause if:
1) a significant portion of the population is not breastfeeding because they believe formula is ‘better’, or at least, are not informed about the ‘risks.’ What I am saying, is from a Mom perspective, if that story would have solved the problem of why I don’t breastfeed, then it would be useful. But, it is my belief, that a very very small percentage of women who do not breastfeed have not heard a study like that before. And even if they haven’t, I don’t think it addresses the issues they experienced or the reasons they made the choice they did. What I am saying (not particularly articulately) is that 99% of Mom’s don’t not breastfeeding because of lack of knowledge about the benefits or breastfeeding. They don’t breastfed because it is hard, they lack support, they don’t have sufficient maternity leave, they don’t have access to a qualified lactation consultant, they had a traumatic birth, they had other health problems, they experienced postpartum depression, they have a personal reason not to, their baby had an untreated tongue tie, ect. ect. ect.
2) if you believe that not breastfeeding is, as it has been suggested online, a ‘public health risk.’ I don’t. Don’t get me wrong. I truly believe that breastfeeding is the best option. But I do not believe my formula fed baby is anything but healthy and thriving. I get that ‘studies have shown..’ but it seems to me that these studies point more to a correlation then a causation between formula feeding and health risks. (Go talk to the Fearless Formula Feeder if you want a good critique of most studies linking formula feeding to significant health risks. I am not getting into it here.)
3) if, by quantifying the impact of higher breastfeeding rates in terms of lives and money (things that get people to listen in our society), it would push the government to take action. This is the one I could maybe buy. This perspective, which was suggested by a commenter on Fearless Formula Feeders blog, was something I had not considered. I had been looking at it from the perspective of a Mom, who is hurt when someone tells her that she is ‘harming her baby with formula’ and not from a political perspective. A political perspective where there needs to be sufficient cause in order to convince a government that an issue is worth attention. The truth is that in both Canada and the US (but far more so in the US), we need our governments to address a number of women’s issues that are very important in their own right, but also happen to be connected with breastfeeding rates.
-longer maternity leaves that women can afford to take
-lowering the c-section rate, supporting women to have natural births and better care in maternity wards
-flexible work schedules
-access to healthy food to lower income parents and their kids (for everyone, really)
And then there are more specifically breastfeeding things like:
-pumping rights for women of all income levels
-better access to qualified and kind lactation consultants
-breastfeeding friendly hospitals (and by breastfeeding friendly, I do not mean formula feeding unfriendly)
We need these things. But if we are going to get them out of our government, the government needs to see that they can justify the money spent on such things…. hence the studies.
A light bulb went off in my head when this commenter suggested this and it did change my perspective somewhat.
The problem with all this is that it is a double edged sword. While maybe the government and its constituency need these studies to convince them of the benefit of policy change, the impact on Mothers is not positive. Why do I say that?
It is my belief that the focus on formula’s risks in the pro-breastfeeding camp is actually hurting breastfeeding rates. How? Think about it this way. Take brand spanking new Mom A and brand spanking new Mom B. Mom A has heard that 900 lives (aka her baby) are at risk from formula feeding. Mom B has heard that breastfeeding is better, but formula fed kids turn out fine. Who do you think is more stressed during those first 8-12 weeks when nearly all new Mom’s encounter some struggles with breastfeeding? That’s right- Mom A. The stakes for Mom A are super high. If she doesn’t succeed at this breastfeeding thing and does end up giving the kid formula then she will be hurting them, possibly worse. I am no breastfeeding expert, but I think a stressed Mom has less of a chance of getting through those struggles then a less stressed Mom. You may not agree, but that is my opinion.
I guess what I am saying is that I understand why the pro-breastfeeding camp wants to retweet and talk up and tell everyone about these studies. It is an important issue. I do think there are benefits to breastfeeding. Anyone who knows me can tell you I tend to prefer the ‘natural’ option. The problem is that the issue is highly emotionally charged and there is a whole bunch of us (Even with Canada’s higher breastfeeding rates, 46% have supplemented with formula by the time baby is 6 months) who just don’t like being told that our choice is a public health risk, or that our choice is causing harm to our child. We. Don’t. Especially because most of us have at least some emotional scars about having to do it in the first place. And, as I have said, I don’t think that message is helping the Mom’s who are struggling to make breastfeeding work either. And I think that those talking up these studies should be more sensitive to that. There has got to be a better argument we can use to get the government to change its policies.