Bottles, Breasts, and Mothering "Choices"

A few months after my boys were born I stumbled across a message board for twin moms, I really started to enjoy the tips and the sense of community that I gained from reading and posting on the site.  One of the things I enjoyed most was the forum for breastfeeding mothers, which gave me a strong sense of belonging and encouragement, and at that time, I needed encouragement.  Breastfeeding was and is a struggle for me.  I don’t know how things would be different if I was trying to feed only one baby, but I know breastfeeding two babies is one of the hardest things I have done.  While the Mommy message board is a great source of support for breastfeeding, it’s also a place where many of the most contentious elements of motherhood and womanhood are laid bare.  Sometimes it’s the stereotypical Mommy Wars– women in the paid labor force and women not in the paid labor force– but one of the more contentious debates is the bottle vs. breast debate.

As Hugo points out one subset of the Mommy Wars, is the “boob wars”:

And I’ve become aware of what might, for lack of a better term, be called the “boob war” — a sub-conflict within the larger “Mommy War” that continues to rage, exasperating and frightening and dividing women. And into this fight comes a bombshell article in the new Atlantic Monthly: Hanna Rosin’s The Case Against Breastfeeding. More on the article later. (Cap taps, belatedly and with apologies, to Rod Dreher and to Scott.)

The term “Mommy Wars” generally refers to the public and private debates, common among the middle and upper-middle classes of the developed world, about what makes a “good” mother. For years, the chief front in these wars has been the battle over daycare and work outside the home, though other conflicts rage in areas like nutrition and natural childbirth….

I read the Rosin piece; someone posted it on the twin Mommy board.  I felt a great deal of sympathy for the mother who posted it.  She said it helped her to feel less guilt about not breastfeeding, and from that point a discussion ensued with many formula feeding mother’s talking about how they feel that breastfeeding mothers are looking upon them unfavorably.

I’ll be frank; I don’t like the article, but there is one part of the article that stands out as true to me1 :

In her critique of the awareness campaign, Joan Wolf, a women’s-studies professor at Texas A&M University, chalks up the overzealous ads to a new ethic of “total motherhood.” Mothers these days are expected to “optimize every dimension of children’s lives,” she writes. Choices are often presented as the mother’s selfish desires versus the baby’s needs.

I have a great deal of empathy with mothers today who are striving to mother under a mothering ideology that demands perfection.  What I also find fascinating is how both breastfeeding and formula feeding mothers really have the same underlying feelings; both groups feeling that their decision on infant feeding is not respected.  Anytime these kinds of issues come up the Mommy board mantra is “do what works for you” “don’t judge each other’s parenting.”  The down side is that this places limitations on honest communications between these mothers, and the upside is that mother’s, who are already operating under ideology that demands parenting perfection, feel validated.

Nevertheless, topics like this are hotly contested on Mommy boards, and one thing I find most fascinating is that many Mommies blame each other, not the dominant ideology.  Here’s how I respond to the debate over this article on the Mommy board:

Women’s “choices” are often very heavily scrutinized, I wouldn’t say it’s primarily from women but from the entire society, and the hidden radical feminist in me says it’s because women as a class are not truly free. Every behavior that we engage in is held to a different set of standards than our male counterparts, and as you say we damned if we do and damned if we don’t. The can be extended to the abortion debate, the SAHM (stay at home mom) vs. working mom debate, debates over women and domestic violence, debates over women and plastic surgery, debates over hormone replacement therapy, and the list could go on and on. And I guess what bothers me is that we consistently divide women into dichotomies–e.i. virgins/w*hores, good girls and bad girls, bi*ches and nice girls. Thus, all of our behaviors are viewed in this context. I use the term choices loosely because I think that society convinces us that we have more choices than we really do. So many of our behaviors (or “choices”) occur in a societal context where we are so heavily scrutinized that our freedom is limited. It’s limited by peer pressure, it’s limited by sexism; it’s limited by patriarchal ideology; it’s limited by bottom line capitalism; it’s limited by racism; it’s limited by poverty; and I’m sure I could come up with a host of other factors that tell us “choices” are not just personal decisions.

Unfortunately this is where this crabs in a barrel problem comes in because we all feel heavily scrutinized but rather than blaming the social system that creates this mess we blame each other, and no matter what our so called “choice,” the constraints on our full personhood are still there.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also say that constraints on mothering are radically different in diverse groups of women.  For example, the breastfeeding vs. formula feeding debate has much different meaning for middle and upper income white women living in the US than it does for poor women of color in developing countries.  The the structures of gender, race, class, sexuality, and nationhood operate simultaneously.

I’m not one who think women all have to tow the line and agree with each other, but what gets lost in translation is how social forces much greater than us shape our “choices” to formula feed, breastfeed, or combo feed our kids.

  1. I have several critiques of the Atlantic Monthly article that I would like to touch on in another post. []
This entry posted in Breastfeeding & Lactivism, Families structures, divorce, etc, Feminism, sexism, etc, Gender and the Body. Bookmark the permalink. 

34 Responses to Bottles, Breasts, and Mothering "Choices"

  1. 1
    beansomatic says:

    The response to Rosin’s article at U.S. Food Policy blog is really good.

    http://usfoodpolicy.blogspot.com/2009/03/oh-really-hanna-rosin-in-atlantic-makes.html

  2. 2
    chingona says:

    Nice post.

    I think this: What I also find fascinating is how both breastfeeding and formula feeding mothers really have the same underlying feelings; both groups feeling that their decision on infant feeding is not respected. is spot on.

    As is: we all feel heavily scrutinized but rather than blaming the social system that creates this mess we blame each other, and no matter what our so called “choice,” the constraints on our full personhood are still there.

    I wanted to link a discussion over at Bitch Ph.D. from last year, but I couldn’t find it and it doesn’t look like her archives preserve comments anyway, which is where the most interesting part of it was. Anyway, one of the co-bloggers wrote about internalized sexism and snap judgments she makes of other women, in spite of herself. One of several examples she gave was that when she sees a woman nursing an older baby (over a year) or a toddler, she assumes the woman has some sort of martyr complex. In the OP, she was very clearly taking herself to task for holding these prejudices, but you should have seen how many of us (myself included) rushed to assure her that no, we weren’t martyrs, and yes, we had a sense of self apart from our children; it was just that … and on and on. And then the blogger felt bad and kept apologizing along the lines “it’s not you, it’s me.”

    In retrospect, what’s striking was that not only did we feel the need to defend our parenting choices – on a feminist blog, no less – we also felt the need to defend our feminism in light of our parenting choices. Talk about internalized sexism.

    Thanks for the link to the Rosin article. I hadn’t seen it yet. I have a bunch of problems with it, but I’ll hold my fire until you post on it.

  3. 3
    La Lubu says:

    I read the Rosin article last week and didn’t like it—-and then realized that the reason I didn’t like it was because it wasn’t necessarily about breastfeeding at all, but the ways in which wealthy mothers try to out-perfect one another in parenting practices. The “why” I didn’t like it, was my core realization of the power women like Rosin have to shape public policy, not just social mores.

    Where I’m from, breastfeeding is pretty far from the norm. Part of that is for structural reasons—it’s hard to pump at jobs where there isn’t a private place to do it, or a boss that isn’t on board with it (cigarette breaks ok, breast pumping breaks not so much). I thought it was kind of bizarre that I had an easier time breastfeeding (pumping) on construction sites than most women I know in physically more-amenable jobs. I was cold, not behind a locked door (or even any door, at times), had to drag a 200′ extension cord out to an out-of-the way place (on one job I sat behind the door in the job trailer during break, holding my pump in place while holding down conversation with the guys on the other side of the door!), but it was easily doable.

    Now, some women might think, “why go through all that?”, but that wasn’t how I saw it. The “mommy wars” illustrate nothing so much as the different sites of fairly limited power women (in general) can exercise. To me, breastfeeding was a combination of factors—cost savings, more immunity for my preemie, and pride in DIY (the same pride I have in any other form of Do It Yourself).

    So then I see the Rosin article, and think, “shit! back to square one before we’ve even gotten off the ground!” Most women have huge obstacles in their way that prevent any real “choice” of breastfeeding. In my world, “do what works for you” is the admission that your choices aren’t really choices as much as inevitabilities, and that you shouldn’t stress over what is out of reach. Where I stand, I’d like to see more women have more choices within reach. Rosin is coming from a place where choices are mandates, and the only “choice” is Perfection (as defined by Others). Two radically different places! Reading this article made me think of backlash—the anger at women who are overstepping our bounds by asserting power (even something as simple as breastfeeding!).

  4. 4
    Rachel S. says:

    chingona, That sounds exactly like the dynamic on the mommy boards. It’s interesting that they same dynamic occurs in feminist circles. I wish you could find the thread over there. I’d love to read it.

  5. 5
    Rachel S. says:

    I read the Rosin article last week and didn’t like it—-and then realized that the reason I didn’t like it was because it wasn’t necessarily about breastfeeding at all, but the ways in which wealthy mothers try to out-perfect one another in parenting practices. The “why” I didn’t like it, was my core realization of the power women like Rosin have to shape public policy, not just social mores.

    One of my critiques of the article is that breastfeeding takes center stage, but like you said that’s not the real issue. But I just get the feeling the author falls right into the trap of making the article about breastfeeding and not the ideology of “total motherhood.”

    Where I’m from, breastfeeding is pretty far from the norm. Part of that is for structural reasons—it’s hard to pump at jobs where there isn’t a private place to do it, or a boss that isn’t on board with it (cigarette breaks ok, breast pumping breaks not so much).

    You know what’s fascinating to me is that the formula feeding moms on my board don’t see it that way, and even when you use the statistic from the article that only 17% of babies are still formula fed at 6 months old, they still have this idea that formula feeding is not accepted.

    So then I see the Rosin article, and think, “shit! back to square one before we’ve even gotten off the ground!” Most women have huge obstacles in their way that prevent any real “choice” of breastfeeding. In my world, “do what works for you” is the admission that your choices aren’t really choices as much as inevitabilities, and that you shouldn’t stress over what is out of reach. Where I stand, I’d like to see more women have more choices within reach. Rosin is coming from a place where choices are mandates, and the only “choice” is Perfection (as defined by Others). Two radically different places! Reading this article made me think of backlash—the anger at women who are overstepping our bounds by asserting power (even something as simple as breastfeeding!).

    Well said.

  6. 6
    Mandolin says:

    I am not a mother.

    I do come from a subculture in which breastfeeding is highly encouraged, and I think that breastfeeding more than a year is a darn good idea. I *definitely* approve in abstract.

    But I have friends for whom the entire process is excruciatingly painful. They do it anyway, and — great for them. Seriously, I think they’re awesome.

    But I don’t know if I, personally, have the strength? inclination? to do something like that. I have enough chronic pains.

    Maybe this is just the fear of a non-mother, but one reason motherhood looks so daunting from here is that when I consider choices like breastfeeding, which are framed (at least where I read) in terms of infant’s health versus mothers’ ability to breastfeed (sometimes medical, sometimes job-oriented, but rarely on a continuum that includes willingness?)… I can’t say that I’m necessarily willing to choose infant’s health over something as direct as taking on a chronic, physical pain.

    I realize that not all mothers — not most? hardly any? — have pain while breastfeeding after the first few weeks. But I think the wince I have every time I read a discussion about breastfeeding, as I start to consider potential future inadequacy as a mother, is representative of how I — as a possible-future-mother — am already, to an extent, affected by the ideology of total motherhood, and fear coming up short.

    Anyway, I don’t want to detract from the conversation that y’all are having from inside the trenches. Just a couple thoughts from the wary outside them.

  7. 7
    Rachel S. says:

    Unfortunately, I won’t be able to help ease your fears Mandolin because I had pain for the first 3 months, but I had twins with bad latches, so I suspect that is atypical.

    The other thing to think about is that taking care of a newborn is hard–period. Formula feeding is tough too, and I think with breastfeeding if you get over the hump of the first month or two, it’s probably easier in the long run. Well minus the issue of having to go to work and pump, but that’s a structural issue. I want to talk about the structural issue in the next post.

  8. 8
    PG says:

    Rachel,

    What do you think about the idea that formula feeding makes child care a more equal enterprise? I have to say that the idea of not being the only one responsible for feeding the baby is really appealing. I don’t mind the idea of breast-feeding for the possibility of pain so much as the possibility of getting trapped in a role where I am the primary care-taker. I really empathized with that part of Rosin’s article: “… the sudden realization that your ideal of an equal marriage, with two parents happily taking turns working and raising children, now seems like a farce. … I recalled her with sisterly love a few months ago, at three in the morning, when I was propped up in bed for the second time that night with my new baby (note the my). My husband acknowledged the ripple in the nighttime peace with a grunt, and that’s about it. And why should he do more? There’s no use in both of us being a wreck in the morning. Nonetheless, it’s hard not to seethe.”

  9. 9
    La Lubu says:

    Thank you for your perspective as a non-mother, Mandolin…..sometimes, I forget what that felt like! (haven’t forgotten the stinkeye and assumptions I’d get from folks because I’d reached a Certain Age and hadn’t had kids….)

    This part called out to me: as I start to consider potential future inadequacy as a mother. See, I think we’ll serve ourselves better by getting rid of the damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t prescriptions on Motherhood! Ur Doin’ It Rong!!! I’m all for the school of good-enough parenting.

    That’s what was so maddening to me about the article. It wasn’t so much breastfeeding Rosin was sick of, as it was the umpteen thousand hoops she had/has to jump through in order to be a Good Mother. And instead of her reaction to that being to question the existence of those hoops, or say “fuck it! I’m not doing that to myself/jump through your own hoops!”, her reaction is to pick one particular hoop (that is a temporary one, anyway), and react to that. And it’s frustrating to me, because breastfeeding isn’t universally accepted in the U.S.—outside of Rosin’s self-described “overachieving” circle and hippified (I mean that in a good way) folks, breastfeeding is still “weird” or “gross”.

    And the cynical side of me wonders about her description of parenting practices in her group—it’s like certain parenting practices are chosen more for being class markers than for any other reason. It’s like, “oh shit! if everyone is breastfeeding now, then we have to do it one better, otherwise, people will think we’re just like them!!! So, breastfeeding for a relatively short period of time, or pumping and putting breastmilk in the bottle gets the stinkeye treatment, and only the full-on “Dr. Sears” style counts.

    To me, one of the more liberating not-just-in-theory-but-in-practice aspects of feminism is rejecting cultural scripts (particularly the impossible ones). Why not reject the Perfect Mother, instead of the various manifestations alternately assigned to Her?

  10. 10
    La Lubu says:

    PG, I’m a single mother, so I probably can’t speak to the idea of formula as equal-enterprise, but….again, that’s in theory. In practice, partners can shunt off the formula mixing and preparing the same way they can shunt off the laundry, dishes, or any other household duty. Conversely, they can use the pumped breastmilk in the bottle (since there tends to be a lot of pumped milk in the fridge!). I solved the sleeping problem by using one of those sidecar type sleepers instead of a crib–right next to my bed. That way, I could breastfeed without really waking up. (That wouldn’t work for everyone, but it did work for me. Not offered as a prescription; just more along the lines of “do what works for you.”)

  11. 11
    chingona says:

    Mandolin,

    I think you’re right to point out that “willingness” is hardly ever part of the discussion, especially in comparison to medical or job issues. My sister-in-law weaned both her daughters around four or five months, and I respected her for saying, “I just didn’t want to do it anymore.” It’s because we’re in this whole ideology of total motherhood that talking about our own desires/preferences isn’t very acceptable.

    As La Lubu said, one of the problems with the Rosin article is that it seems like her real problem is with “total motherhood,” but instead of going after that (and boy, does it need going after), she picks one thing. She can decide not to jump through the breastfeeding hoop, and if that’s the hoop she personally find most onerous, then maybe that’s a good decision for her, but I’d bet money she’s still jumping through other hoops that I never even bothered with, even though I did breastfeed.

    Parenting involves all kinds of trade-offs and balancing acts, and that’s true no matter how you feed your kid.

    As for pain, I’m one of the women who didn’t have pain after the first few weeks and never had supply or latch issues. If I had major pain or ended up faced with exclusive pumping, I’m not sure how long I would have continued. People do all kinds of things that are painful because they think the benefits are worth it – someone can persevere in breastfeeding despite pain without being taken in by the cult of the Perfect Mother – but obviously that’s a pretty particular, individual kind of decision – how much pain is too much for you vs. whatever you see as the benefits.

  12. 12
    chingona says:

    PG, I’m basically with La Lubu on how breastfeeding affects sharing responsibility. I am married, and I don’t think my husband ever fed our son with a bottle while I was home or at night. But he did a lot of other stuff, including all the diaper changes, which was a lot because when he was very little, he would poop every time he ate, which is pretty common. Parenting is a lot more than feeding. If you don’t want your relationship to slide into traditional gender roles after you have kids, you need to be conscientious about the choices you make and the division of labor you develop, but I think that’s true no matter how you feed them.

    If I had to pick just one thing that shifts the gender roles, it would be how few men take parental leave. I was never a particularly nurturing or maternal type of person, and I never spent much time around babies before I had mine. But I had to figure it out when I was by myself for nine hours a day with the kid. I remember quite distinctly when I started to figure out the difference between the hungry cry and the tired cry and the pain cry, and making some comment to my husband about it and he didn’t know what I was talking about. Then I went back to work when my son was two months old, and my husband, who was in grad school at the time, was home with him all day three days a week. Within a week, he understood exactly what I had meant.

    (And I know not everyone can or wants to sleep with their kid in their bed, but it worked great for me. After the first month or two, I hardly woke up at all when I nursed him. I wasn’t sitting there resenting my husband for sleeping because I was sleeping, too.)

  13. Pingback: oh, it’s going to be like that. « Sara Speaking

  14. 14
    Deborah Lipp says:

    I think that part of the problem with just saying that either breast or bottle is “whatever works for you” is that all of the problems of formula are so normalized in American culture that it is as if they are invisible–water to fish–whereas the problems of breastfeeding are writ large–why go through all that?

    What I found as a mother pointing out the advantages of the breast was that I was deemed strident, whereas I was only trying to level the playing field of information (granted, I am often deemed strident, so maybe that’s my personality).

    There are definitely many good reasons to choose formula, but not all reasons are good. Ignorance, misinformation, sexism and body hatred are not good reasons. And to avoid speaking about those in order to be nice, or to be shouted down as a breastfeeding nut if I do speak them, is not a good thing.

    And I’ve been on the other end of the Infinitely Good Mommy thing, when I chose to switch from cloth to disposable diapers. I just was at a point where mothering was so hard that being personally in charge of landfill reduction was too much to add to it.

    I can acknowledge that for the Good Hippie Mom, breastfeeding is easier, because I’ve done the thing that engenders Good Hippie Hostility–pull out that plastic diaper.

    I think the point about mothers being eternally and always perfect is helpful in understanding why these arguments get so insane.

  15. 15
    MomTFH says:

    One of the main problems I have with a lot of the discussion about breastfeeding is that it is a health care decision. It is not a lifestyle decision or a social decision. Of course, as in any other health decision, there are many cultural and social aspects involved. But, whether one is a stay at home mom or works is not in the Healthy People 2010 goals. Increasing breastfeeding rates is, for a good reason.

    There are absolute, irrefutable health benefits to breastfeeding for the mother and infant(s) (congrats on the twins!) that are not on the same level as “talking about the advantages of breastfeeding makes me, a formula feeding mom, feel guilty”. (See Mommy Wars Bingo). Breastfeeding is and should be the way that one is supposed to feed infants, barring any health issues that are contraindications. Just like a vaginal delivery is the healthiest way to deliver a baby, barring any health reasons that are contraindications. Of course there are complications and exceptions, but that is true for every health decision, from aspirin to knee replacement surgery.

    It is of course relevant to discuss the greater social aspects of breastfeeding, but it seems like the conversation is always dominated by this topic, and whenever it is brought up as a health discussion, people want to negate that aspect of the discussion by saying the social aspects are more important.

  16. Pingback: A premature reply-turned-post, breastfeeding style « Mom’s Tinfoil Hat

  17. 16
    Angie Goodloe says:

    You bring up some excellent points in this article. I admit I am a ‘natural mom’ I have basically been breastfeeding or pregnant for the last 3 years (2 babies 2 and under) I also co-sleep. I try not to judge others however. Moms are doing the best they can – I know what it feels like to get ‘the look’ and the snide comments about my choices. If it’s not breastfeeding it would be something else (for example my daughters diet – she has food sensitivities, we eat organic) I really wish some would be more of a model and less of a critic- as women we should all embrace each others authenticity.

  18. 17
    Rachel S. says:

    MomTFH, Before I respond, I just wanted to ask what you meant by the social aspects. Would you say health aspects are not social? I’m a little confused.

  19. 18
    PG says:

    MomTFH,

    But surely there are many things that are marginally more healthy than others, but that we do not choose to do because the marginal benefit is so small. Living in Houston, for example, it would be healthier to wear an anti-pollution mask while downtown in summer, but the health benefits for most people (i.e. those without respiratory problems) would be small compared to the monetary and social costs (of the mask, its upkeep, of not being recognizable to one’s acquaintances, etc.). On the other hand, if one goes to Beijing or another city where pollution is far more severe than in Houston, the benefits of the mask may outweigh the costs. That’s why it’s important to get as clear a measure as possible of what the health benefits really are.

  20. 19
    Rachel S. says:

    PG, I wanted to respond to your point about egalitarianism in the next post. ‘Cause I think it’s a very important issue.

  21. 20
    DaisyDeadhead says:

    I am cross-posting my comment from Rachel’s blog, where I first read her post:

    That is great reading… I am so glad someone has finally written this.

    25 years ago, breastfeeding wasn’t the big deal it is now, but it WAS gearing up, especially in lefty/hippie circles. I brandished my copy of Mary McCarthy’s THE GROUP, dug in my heels, and refused. I do not exist for a child, sorry. My boobs belong to me. I don’t apologize for it. Yes, I know my kid probably lacked DHA, etc. (which has been added to baby formula since then, BTW), but I simply was unwilling to do it, and honestly felt no guilt at all. She’s lucky I went all the way as it is! (And my daughter also refused to breastfeed. I am obviously a very bad example!)

    I think the current and constantly-increasing pressure on mothers to be pristine in all things is just more sexism and oppression; a way to use guilt and babies to control women further.

    I told people, if they believed breastfeeding was superior, have at it, be my guest. The women in my family used to breastfeed each others’ kids–I have no problem with that. And sometimes, if they were particularly obnoxious, I would hand them my kid, and say it, “Go ahead! I don’t mind!” :D

    (Needless to say, nobody took me up on the offer.)

  22. 21
    DaisyDeadhead says:

    I guess I oughtta add, FTR, I support every woman’s choices, and even covered a breast feeding protest on my blog a few weeks ago. Mandolin enumerated some of the reasons I never breast-fed and I related to much of what she described.

    La Lubu, you are always so right on. Love your comments.

    it’s hard to pump at jobs where there isn’t a private place to do it, or a boss that isn’t on board with it (cigarette breaks ok, breast pumping breaks not so much)

    I recently had to cover for an employee who had to run off to do an “emergency pumping” … and you should have heard the fuss! If she’d said “Gotta go pee!” nobody woulda said shit.

    La Lubu:

    And the cynical side of me wonders about her description of parenting practices in her group—it’s like certain parenting practices are chosen more for being class markers than for any other reason. It’s like, “oh shit! if everyone is breastfeeding now, then we have to do it one better, otherwise, people will think we’re just like them!!! So, breastfeeding for a relatively short period of time, or pumping and putting breastmilk in the bottle gets the stinkeye treatment, and only the full-on “Dr. Sears” style counts.

    YES!

    “Total motherhood” is more enslavement of women, and I have always recognized it as such. And as usual, I credit Catholicism (if the Church didn’t invent it, they certainly applied for the patent).

    And that Mommy Wars Bingo card was fierce! In some circles, there is the same brawling over sending your kid to public school vs private school vs homeschooling. And the sanctimony of the “total motherhood” faction is all over that, too: “How can you trust your children with people who may not share your values?” is not that different from worrying about every little nutrient they consume (or not), and in fact, I can draw a straight line from one to the other.

  23. 22
    Silenced is Foo says:

    When my wife was pregnant, I read Tracy Hogg’s “The Baby Whisperer”, and it was very good about helping both of us relax about our anxiety about breast-vs-bottle. I appreciate the hard work the La Leche League does for securing breastfeeding rights in public spaces – something that helped us a great deal, of course, since my child absolutely refuses to be covered by a blanket so my wife’s naked breast isn’t really concealable. However, the “breast is best” ideology creates a wicked head-trip for women who are already in a very emotionally vulnerable state. Our parenting-class nurse laid a nasty guilt-trip on anybody planning to bottle-feed, and used a lot of La Leche League materials to push that viewpoint.

    Oh, and having seen my wife and child try to use the pump-and-bottle, I am utterly flabbergasted that any woman can make that crap *work*. Seriously, that was quite possibly the most miserable chore I’ve ever seen.

  24. 23
    Rosa says:

    I see why people in a certain social circumstance feel really pressured by the “breast is best” ideology – but it feels like backlash that *every time* I mention nursing online someone brings up how awful the propaganda for the boob is. Because for most American women, there is a LOT of pressure to use formula. Bosses, families, sometimes doctors, often random strangers (I even ran into that a few times).

    To start with, there’s all the propaganda about how if you don’t do nursing *exactly* right, it won’t work. Which is usually not true.

    But more than that, when I was a nursing mom, wandering aimlessly around our mixed-income neighborhood, I ran into a *lot* of young mothers who were pressured not to breastfeed, or sent home alone from the hospital with a bunch of free formula and no helpful nursing informaiton. My stepsister (who lives in a rural area and was on public health care when some of her kids were young) was told straight-up lies by her doctor, like that breastfeeding caused jaundice. My son is low weight and I got a lot of pressure from his dad to switch to formula because it was more measurable.

    I’ve read moms talking about how every single -ism (except classism, which just in our generation has been used in a weapon on the pro-breastmilk side) pushes against nursing – the fear that someone will see your belly fat, the fear that you will look slutty and make everyone think that women of your race really are slutty, the fear that someone who might have assumed you were a young man will suddenly realize you have tits.

    I’ve had young (teen I think) moms come up to me in the park and ask if my baby was really eating and wouldn’t feeding him that way make him a pervert when he grows up.

    I wish the pro-breastfeeding campaigns were better (god I hate the “it helps you lose weight!” one). And it makes me sad that rich women have so much anger at each other for the way they parent. But La Leche League are *not* the force that’s out there oppressing moms.

  25. 24
    Silenced is Foo says:

    Seriously? Whereabouts do you live, Rosa? I suppose I’m spoiled by living in a very left-wing community, and my wife and I having the means to let her take a year off to play stay-at-home-mommy (and thus, never have to worry about pumping or bosses or anything). So obviously our experiences don’t mirror those of a lower-income family in a puritanical community.

    Either way, for many women breast-feeding is a terrible struggle. Watching the baby lose weight while failing to suckle, being woken up every hour so the baby can try again – it’s really, really hard. The guilt-trip that comes from switching to the bottle at that point can be pretty rough for a woman who’s already at wit’s end.

    Obviously, different communities have different attitudes.

  26. 25
    chingona says:

    I want to thank La Lubu and Rosa for their comments here. In every discussion I’ve ever seen of the class issues around breastfeeding (which are very real), the focus seems to be that “we” should really let “them” off the hook, but I’ve never seen it suggested that maybe some poor and working class women would prefer to breastfeed and would appreciate some solidarity in getting employers and other institutions to be more accommodating so they might actually have a choice in the matter. Awareness of the class issues shouldn’t lead to a situation where breastfeeding is something that’s just for middle- and upper-class women or where middle- and upper-class women just assume they know what women in different circumstances than their own actually want.

  27. 26
    Rosa says:

    Silenced, I live in a very progressive neighborhood in South Minneapolis (Powderhorn) that is racially & class mixed. Those smug lefty moms exist around here, they just don’t talk to me because I’m fat & I don’t dress cool. And my son sometimes wears purple Barney Nascar shoes, which is like a Smug Mom repelling amulet.

    And trust me, I understand about the struggles of nursing. I have an underweight preemie, so we did the every-two-hours feedings and I pumped for extra bottle feedings. Plus when you nurse in public as much as I did, you hear every horror story in the book (mmm, thrush and bloody nipples!). This is way too long already, but I wanted to note- the switch to the bottle doesn’t have to be permanent. That’s one of the cultural lies that comes from both sides, that the chocie is either-or. Women who are exhausted or hurting can take a break from nursing and, often, go back to it if they want.

    Communities differ a lot, but the community where people are mean to you for not nursing is a *lot* smaller than the one that doesn’t value breastfeeding at all.

    And thank you right back, chingona. I’m not the voice of “working-class moms” – I’ve made at least double minimum wage for the last decade and my partner is a computer programmer – but we play in the same sandbox sometimes.

  28. 27
    Emily Jones says:

    I commented over on Hugo Schwyzer’s blog response, and feel that part of that comment would be appropriate here:

    Poor people don’t formula feed because they are poor and have to work a lot. They formula feed because they are not presented with other options. Because they lack community support. Because the government, hospital, and doctor’s office are throwing them formula samples and vouchers, and telling them, “Use this!” without any education or information.

    You don’t need a paid lactation consultant; there are hundreds of books for free use in libraries. There are hospital nurses that are willing to help if asked. There are LLL group leaders all over the US who offer help and support for free. Hospitals, clinics, and WIC offices provide free pumping and storing materials.

    Lack of breastfeeding is not a function of the working poor; it is a function of a society and a government that is not willing to educate and support breastfeeding and women’s rights. If rich people are breastfeeding, it is because they have the education and resources to seek out their own support. But support does exist for poor people; they just don’t know that it exists, or where it is. And it seems the govt. is satisfied to keep it that way.

  29. 28
    Kate L. says:

    Emily, while I agree with much of your comment, this is at least somewhat not true.
    “Poor people don’t formula feed because they are poor and have to work a lot. ”

    If you work in certain occupations, there is not enough time to nurse. I recently started a position where I am in a call center. I am tied to my phone for 8 hours per day. I have exactly 2 15 minute breaks and 1 30 minute lunch. If I were nursing, I’m sure they could supply me with a conference room, probably in different places every day depending on what was booked when, but 15 minutes is not enough time to get up, go pump, wash pump parts, put everything away, pee and get some water and/or a snack (all of which I’d need if I were nursing.) Not to mention, pumping only once during the day (lunch where ther might be enough time to scarf something down and then do all the other stuff) would not be feasible for continuing to nurse. My supply would drop immediately. I think *if * I were in that position I might be able to work something out – offering to stay an extra 30 minutes a day for extended breaks and lunch, but it would totally be manager’s discretion as to whether or not it was allowed. And if I had a factory type job I think the barriers would be even greater.

    As it is, I had to give up nursing when I went back to work when my daughter was 4 months old. I was adjuncting at the time, and had a long commute. In the evenings when I taught a 3 hour class, but had a one hour drive there and back, I had to pump in public bathrooms. Even with a very flexible job, because I was a temp/not full time employee I didnt have the benefit of an office to pump in. My supply dipped so much and my daughter got so frustrated with the boob after the ease of bottles all day that it just didnt work. I lasted one month after I went back to work and that was one hellish month. I had every intention of nursing for at least a year, but the structure of my employment made it damn near impossible to really do.

    There are definitely educational problems, but access problems are HUGE. Working moms. particularly in non white collar positions have plenty of structural barriers that have nothing whatsoever to do with THEIR knowledge and choices.

  30. 29
    Nick Kiddle says:

    Yeah, I’m very skeptical of any sentence that starts “Poor people formula feed because…” – there are a whole cluster of factors involved, and just picking out one is always going to oversimplify.

    Another factor is something I heard from a midwife that ran (possibly still runs but toddlers aren’t so welcome) a breastfeeding support group. She was supporting a young woman who had social services in her face, and one of the problems they were raising was that she didn’t know how to make up a bottle of formula, so clearly she wasn’t prepared for motherhood, blah blah. Midwife asked them quite witheringly whether they had asked the woman how she planned to feed her baby – she was very well-informed about breastfeeding because that was her preferred choice.

    I have the impression, without anything better than anecdote to back it up, that social services are more likely to be in the faces of poorer parents and more likely to approach any issues in an adversarial kind of way, so that may play into it as well.

  31. 30
    Emily Jones says:

    Kate L. – you’re absolutely right. I worded that poorly. I know that a lot of blue-collar occupations, such as factory work, do not allow for pumping. I was just disagreeing with the sentiment that the MAIN reason lower class women don’t pump is because of lack of access to pumping. Most of the welfare moms I have known never even try to breast feed in the first place, or quit before maternity leave is up.

    Nick – you’re right, there are entirely too many factors to address in a 100 word comment. I just focused on that one aspect, as it seemed pertinent to this discussion.

  32. Pingback: Responses to the Case Against Breastfeeding « Momzelle Nursing News

  33. Pingback: A little more about ‘The Case Against Breastfeeding’! | Mama is...