Mammaries, like the corners of my mind…

I don’t talk much about breastfeeding on this blog; I leave that to others who do it much better than I do, like PhD in Parenting and The Feminist Breeder…but this one post (pointed out to me on PhD) really struck me in terms of the whole “green” thing.  It’s not very often that I see questions about baby formula raised in a “green our food Michael Pollan out with the processed” milieu, and this article made me wonder why?

(Be warned if you click the link to the original article: this is a full-fledged and very passionate rant.  I know this can be a very emotional subject for many people, so only go there if you want to go there.  I just wanted to bring up one small corner of it:)

*****(begin quote******

The huge emotional reaction people get on hearing these simple, reasoned, facts, is quite alarming. Consider your own reactions to the following two statements; pretend I’m reading out a health protection broadcast:
“Raw chicken may contain salmonella. Cook this product thoroughly in order to prevent food poisoning.”
Now try this…
“Formula may contain salmonella. Prepare this product thoroughly in order to prevent food poisoning.”
Now, in the first one, I’m a hero of food protection! In the second one, I’m apparently saying “Formula is poison…and you are a terrible mother for feeding it to your child don’t you feel guilty?”
Try these two:
“Nutrition is best derived from natural food sources. Processed foods made commercially from factory farmed foods with a high level of chemical additives may not provide adequate nutrition.”
Common sense? Reasonable? Reasoned and balanced?
“Formula is a processed food made commercially from factory farmed food sources with a high level of chemical additives.”
Have you gone nutso back there? All reason flown out the window in an emotional screech of “ohmygohdyoucan’tsaythat..”
We have to apply reason to this whole infant feeding thing. Recognise that normative biology is just that – normal. That when we play around with it, we have to be careful, and assess the effects of the intervention, not the norm. We also have to strip off this uber-protective wrapping from discussions of formula – and talk about what it is: a commercial, for profit, highly processed industrial food compound. It’s so ironic that the very middle class women chattering on about The Great Breastfeeding Conspiracy, would not feed their kids a yoghurt with the list of ingredients on the average formula tub.
And the yoghurt probably would only contain those ingredients.
******(end quote******
(I totally get that not everyone can nurse, and that even for those who can there are huge obstacles in our societies to women trying to nurse their children even to the six months recommended by the AAP, let alone the 2 years recommended by the WHO…I don’t bring this up to criticize anyone, except perhaps the marketers of baby formula, so please do not see this as any kind of sweeping condemnation.  I just wanted to open the question.)

Posted on January 12, 2010, in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. My hubby likes to call me the breastfeeding Nazi. I’m quite passionate about women nursing whenever possible. I’ve come to realize that it comes down to making people feel comfortable with it. In just the last 8-10 years, the increase in women nursing has been huge. The more we talk about it, the more we do it in public, the more people see it as the norm. Breastmilk is far and away the best thing that you can give your baby. To suggest anything else is ludicrous.

  2. greenmomintheburbs

    Honestly, even the term “Nazi”–that it exists, that “Lactation Nazi” is a term we toss around freely, is sort of another indication of the huge imbalance in the way we think of breastfeeding. (I haven’t heard anyone calling Pollan a “whole food Nazi” or anything yet.) It’s just not fair.

    And yeah, I’m one too. 🙂

    But you’re right–considering where we’ve come from, the number of people actually TALKING about it, doing it, talking about doing it, asking the right questions, is pretty amazing.

    In our (conservative, buttoned down, appearances very important, propriety-above-all) church on Christmas morning, there was a woman in the front row nursing her toddler-sized boy without a blanket covering her. I wanted to stand up and cheer.

  3. There was a woman in the church where I grew up that would whip out the boob without discretion in the middle of meetings. Most people couldn’t see her, but my dad was the Bishop (I’m Mormon), so he would always see her from the pulpit. It made him a bit uncomfortable, but it cracked me up. I was never brave enough even to breastfeed with a blanket in the chapel – our churches have special “Mother’s Lounges” where you can nurse while hearing the speakers over a loudspeaker, and I always retreated there. Sometimes it was a welcome relief to nurse in the Mother’s Lounge, though, as Mormon meetings are typically very noisy.

    Regarding the yogurt/formula connection, though, I disagree with the author. Most women I know who used formula will happily give their kids yogurt with all sorts of weird ingredients.

    Lastly, I just wanted to add, and you’re totally welcome to rip my head off about this, but being a mother is hard enough without having the added guilt of not having breastfed your baby or other women judging you and calling you a bad mother for choosing to bottle feed. Especially in those first few months with your first baby when you have no idea what you’re doing. There are so many worse things people could be doing as parents.

  4. I’m not a mom, so I don’t know if I have the right to chime in on this, but my best friend wasn’t able to breast feed. She tried it for a while, but just wasn’t able to produce enough milk, and her son was losing weight, so she switched to formula. But there is so much pressure to breast feed in our society that (at first, at least) she constantly felt attacked. Perfect strangers felt justified commenting on her using formula. So I definitely think the information is out there—maybe a little too much.

  5. greenmomintheburbs

    No head-ripping here, I promise!

    In fact, what Erin and Brenda both mention is something sort of addressed in the original article/rant–women are told time after time while pregnant, “breast is best! If you don’t breastfeed, you’re not doing the best you can as a mother!”–but then after the baby is born, there’s effectively NO support for her, and she’s just sort of supposed to catch on and make it happen herself, which is horribly unfair. She gets the guilt and judgment, but not the support.

    It’s sort of like if someone went up to a family living in poverty in an urban food desert where the only accessible nutrition of any kind is McD’s, and yelled at them for being bad parents when they give their kids a dollar burger for dinner. Ridiculous and unfair. But now in some of those neighborhoods farmers markets and community gardens are being reclaimed to bring food to the desert and we’re at the beginning, I think, of some real progress in the “Eat food not too much mostly plants” movement. It’s slow, but it’s happening, and I feel really happy to be a green blogger in my own little corner of it.

    The breastfeeding thing–I don’t know, I don’t think we’re there yet, and it’s this guilt thing that stands in the way.

    Why do we accept the guilt? While I don’t want to tell anyone what they should feel about any given thing, why don’t we get ANGRY instead of guilty? “Food, Inc.” made me angry, and made me want to change the system–I wish the lack-of-breastfeeding-support thing would make more women angry with the world that tells them what they should feed their babies and then doesn’t support their desire to do what’s best for their infants, rather than angry with the people who are trying to raise awareness that the food we naturally produce is normative. Or guilty that they can’t fight a broken system all alone. (Or, to be fair, angry at the other mothers who aren’t able to buck the system and be lactivists at the same time as they are learning to be moms. Guilt and anger go both ways, unfortunately.)

    I was incredibly lucky, and I know it–I had two unmedicated births and support from spouse and midwives in making that happen, and thus could start nursing within minutes after birth, I have a close friend who’s a lactation consultant who got me going and helped me through, I have a husband who supported me the whole way through breastfeeding, I have a workplace that accepts irregular hours and nursing mothers, with private places to pump and access to refrigeration, not to mention a pack-and-play in my office…I shouldn’t be the exception. I should be typical.

    I think that’s my point here. Guilt? Oh God, no, not from me. Any mom who can make the nursing thing work for even a few weeks has bucked the system incredibly. And so many who can’t likely aren’t even aware of how their efforts were sabotaged, and feel like it’s their fault or their bodies’ faults. It’s the system that’s broken, not the moms. No guilt, please, no guilt.

  6. you have many fantastic points- i especially like the comparison.

    it’s the “pressure” that gets me. oh the pressure. until we move away from using terms like “good-bad” with regards to food choices and parenting (and breastfeeding) we will have guilt.

    even terms like lactation nazi makes me think of someone who will not be happy with my choices that are best for my family.

    and that’s it-ultimately. My wish is for mothers to be well informed-supported and to make the decision that works for their family and their lives. if that decision, regardless of information, support made available etc etc, is to formula feed… i don’t know their lives, their children, their schedule. THEY are the experts on their family.

    it is very important to have these discussions. and I hope very very much that breastfeeding will be a non-painful, pleasant experience for myself…. 🙂

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