My short post on breast-feeding from a few days ago (inspired by this article by Hanna Rosin) has inspired a lot of dissenting email. Since comments are still disabled – I hope to have them back soon, though – I want to post a selection of the criticism. Just to reiterate and clarify: I don’t want to minimize the slight but statistically significant benefits of breast-feeding. My simple point is that if breast-feeding is a burden to the mother, then those health benefits should be weighed against other variables, such as the psychological well-being of the mother. After all, the well-being of the mother is far more important a variable for the child than the health benefits that come from ingesting breast milk instead of formula. Finally, as a carrier of the Y-chromosome, I don’t really think it’s my place to comment on whether or not breast-feeding can be a burden. It strikes me as one of the inevitable asymmetries of childcare, as I know the baby won’t want to suckle my nipple at 3:30 in the morning. Anyways, on to the dissents:
One reader writes:
Maybe some studies are inconclusive, but we all know some of these studies are funded by the formula industry. More importantly, baby formula was invented during the Victorian era and has been continuously adding ingredients over the past century to try to keep pace with breast milk. They recently added omega-3 fatty acids; was it just as good as breast milk before they added it, or only now? What will they find to be lacking next? Million of years of mammalian evolution has created a perfect food source for newborns, that also happens to improve emotional well-being as well, and is probably good for the mother to boot. Only in America could people complain this much about the time and effort of the most important thing adults can do — helping the next generation survive and thrive. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breast milk exclusively for 6 months, and mixed with other food for a full year. The World Health Organization (which, admittedly, has to address hunger in the developing world) recommends breast-feeding for two years. Two. Years.
You say: “However, as Rosin notes, these relatively minor correlations are often considered in a vacuum, and not weighed against the burden of breast-feeding.”
What “burden of breast-feeding”? As has been pointed out in many and various circles in response to Rosin’s article, it takes time to feed a baby no matter what method one chooses. Breast feeding is no more time intensive than any other method. And for many mothers I know, it is quite to the contrary – far more convenient.
One last critique:
My wife is a breast cancer survivor. Her type of breast cancer is known as the Triple-Negative. That means that it is not treatable by any known hormone therapies. It is an aggressive type but luckily she had regular mammograms and it was caught earlier than is typical for this form of breast cancer.
Our children were born in 1968 and 1974 and the doctors at that time promoted the use of formulas over breast-feeding so they were not breast-fed. There are studies that now indicate that breast-feeding reduces the incidence of Triple-Negative breast cancer.
Thanks, as always, for taking the time to disagree.