Breastfeeding non-support by the Chicago Tribune

I recently read an article that, to put it mildly, has my blood boiling. In it, the author claims that the benefits of breastfeeding have been oversold. She describes her tortuous relationship with breastfeeding her twins and how terrible that first 48 hours was, before moving on to shoot some “gaping holes” in some of the more “outrageous” claims that breastfeeding advocates make. You can read the article in its entirety here:

Find the right lactation consultant.
Not all of these experts are going to mesh with you on a personal level. Sticking with one you don’t like is like sticking with a midwife, doula, obstetrician, pediatrician, or boyfriend that you just don’t like. Why on earth would you do that? However, rather than trying to destroy the tentative boost that breastfeeding has been receiving lately, maybe the author should have met with a different lactation consultant. Maybe you don’t want a lactation consultant at all. That’s fine, but remember that breastfeeding is not instinctual. It is learned. That is one of the most important reasons why we need to see other moms breastfeeding. A baby knows how to suck, but not how to breastfeed. We all learn how to do these things together.

The whole IQ claim.
Honestly, this is never one of the things that I use to try and support a mother in her efforts to breastfeed. It’s not one of the stronger benefits touted by breastfeeding advocates (in my opinion) for a number of reasons. There is no way to ethically research breastfeeding and IQ. In an ideal scientific world, a mother would breastfeed one baby while bottle feeding the other with formula and keep all other variables constant. Not only is that royally effed up, it’s wildly unrealistic. There has been a significant difference (a few points) demonstrated between IQ in breastfed and formula fed babies, but there are so many possible confounding factors that no real correlation could ever be made. Maybe smarter moms breastfeed and then have smarter babies. Maybe moms who breastfeed snuggle their babies more and that makes babies smarter. Maybe formula sucks the gray matter cells right out of a developing baby’s brain. Ok, probably not, but what I’m saying is that there are too many other factors that can come in to play to ever make that correlation between the two crystal clear. Additionally, the last thing any mother who is struggling with breastfeeding needs to hear is, “If you give up, your baby will be 3 points lower on an IQ scale.” Her dreams of MENSA would be ruined by a bottle of formula and she would hate the person who said that to her forever. It does no good.

“It’s not free.”
Bullshit. Please excuse my language, but we are talking about the immediacy of boob vs. formula, not the decision to stay at home or to continue working. I chose to stay at home, but A LOT of working moms continue to breastfeed when they return to work. We are constantly becoming more pumping-friendly as a culture and there are legal protections for moms who choose to return to work after they have a baby. My decision to stay at home and my decision to breastfeed are arguably related, but that’s not the point of this article and to make that leap without any warning is a poor decision on the part of the author. Breastmilk cost me about $400 (bottles, pump, and breastmilk storage containers) when I was exclsuively pumping. Formula would cost between $1500-$2000 per child per year (plus bottles). I estimate that my family’s savings on formula alone is $2700-$3700. That is A LOT of money. If I had been able to exclusively breastfeed from the get-go, it would have been free. Totally and completely free.

Breastfeeding and weight loss
I have not personally seen any studies on breastfeeding and weight loss, but I do have my own experience. I lost too much weight after I had the twins. It was HARD to eat enough calories to keep up with their demands. I do know that breastfeeding causes contractions, which bring your uterus back to its pre-pregnancy size faster (and incidentally help stop bleeding). I had to eat an extra 1000 calories per day to feed the babies when they were newborns. I do know that not all women have the same postpartum weight loss experience that I did, but the fact is that it takes calories to feed babies. Period.

However, those are not the most important claims to the benefits of breastfeeding in my opinion. The FREE one is pretty rad, but here are the things that made it so important to me.

Breastfeeding has been linked to fewer seizures, fewer infections (thrush, meningitis, respiratory infections, digestive infections, and ear infections), reduced risk of necrotizing enterocolitis in premature infants, and should you choose to bed share, more sleep for mom. I was petrified of necrotizing enterocolitis when the twins were born and I’m still petrified of flu, asthma, and RSV. The very best thing that I can do for my children’s developing immune system is to feed them breastmilk.

I have no experience except for my own, but I can assure you that pumping and bottle feeding is completely different from the hormonal shifts that happen when that squishy little baby latches on and breastfeeds. I’m not saying that I didn’t love my babies as much when I bottle fed them, or that I wouldn’t save them from a fire before we breastfed, just that there is a significant difference in the motherly feelings that I had for them when we got to breastfeed. I felt such an outpouring of love and emotion and connectedness that I never had when bottle feeding. I loved them, no doubt, but that bond is so much more immediate (for me) when breastfeeding. I know that not all mothers have this response to breastfeeding, but for me it was undeniable.

I don’t have to thaw milk, mix formula, wash bottles, carry around a bag full of gear, or any of that hoopla. I can whip out my boob wherever we are and give my children comfort, antibodies, nutrition, hydration, whatever it is that they need. That’s huge, especially when we are talking about twice the needs.

It’s free
See paragraph up there.

Bottle feeding is still the norm here in the US. I have not seen very many moms breastfeed their children in public, but bottles abound. The idea that breastfeeding claims are exaggerated seems underhanded and not factually based to me. We should be supporting moms in their effort to breastfeed and not decrying the “supposed benefits” to the masses. I have never had to face the guilt of failed breastfeeding and I’m sure that it would be a heartwrenching decision for many moms to make, but turning that guilt around and attacking the breastfeeding community does absolutely no good. I know that my intention is NEVER to make a mom feel guilty about her decision. My intention is to support mothers in their efforts to breastfeed for as long as they are trying. I’ve mentioned before that I do not think that telling a mom “formula is okay” helps her to continue breastfeeding. Not breastfeeding doesn’t make you a failure as a mom, but successful breastfeeding depends on so much more than a good latch and determination. Support is so key.

The article posted by the Chicago Tribune is not supportive and does nothing but undermine the tentative gains in breastfeeding awareness that we have all been witnessing recently. It does absolutely nothing to help the cause.

No Comments

  1. BD -  November 27, 2012 - 1:02 pm

    This is such a great response. My favorites:
    “…remember that breastfeeding is not instinctual. It is learned. That is one of the most important reasons why we need to see other moms breastfeeding. A baby knows how to suck, but not how to breastfeed.” I wish more mamas knew that.
    And, “Not breastfeeding doesn’t make you a failure as a mom, but successful breastfeeding depends on so much more than a good latch and determination. Support is so key.” I may quote you.

  2. Kelli -  November 27, 2012 - 5:15 pm

    That article is outrageous! Thank you for your thoughtful response – I hope a lot of people get to read your post!

  3. Becky Rhoades -  November 27, 2012 - 9:19 pm

    I failed at breast feeding my first son… And if it wasn’t for see all of my Instagram mommas so comfortable with breast feeding that eu posted pictures of it I probably would have failed again with my second son.

  4. Erin Nicholas -  November 28, 2012 - 12:35 pm

    Thank you for this post! That article is just completely ridiculous and absurd. It’s stuff like this that makes it that much harder to advocate for and normalize breastfeeding! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Jennifer -  January 20, 2013 - 8:53 pm

    Are the benefits of breastfeeding oversold? – Science-Based ……/are-th…Dec 17, 2009 –

    I support the author of the article in question- the reason why some moms don’t succeed or get frustrated is because it’s shoved down their throats that I’d they don’t breastfeed they’re inferior mothers.

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