Are formula feeders more likely to abuse their children?

Doing my nightly Twitter search for “formula feeding”, I come across this gem from a lactivist blogger:

Formula feeding moms are more likely to abuse their children.

She then links to this article, from the Telegraph (UK), that details a study showing that “mothers who do not breastfeed their children are almost four times more likely to neglect or abuse them.”

My blood was boiling so much at this point that I nearly couldn’t finish the article. However, I muddled through just so that I could make a somewhat intelligent analysis of it on the blog.

There’s a few important things to keep in mind with this study (not that I expect any of the extreme lactivist ilk will do so). First of all, let’s look at the numbers themselves:

“They studied 6,000 women and found that of the 1,421 women who did not breastfeed their children in the group, 7.2 per cent neglected or abused their child in some way. This compared with 4.8 per cent of the 2,584 women who breastfed for less than four months and 1.6 per cent of the 2,616 women who breastfed for more than four months.”

Okay. So, 7.2% of the bottle feeding women in this sample abused their kids.That means that 92.8% DID NOT ABUSE THEIR KIDS. 92.8%. Seriously, guys. We’re talking tiny numbers here. And this study is just making the other 92.8% of formula feeding women look like crap, in their own eyes and the eyes of society.

Second…

“Lane Strathearn, author of the research, which is due to be published in the journal Pediatrics in February, said…women formed a close bond with their children while breastfeeding.

‘I think for a long time we’ve thought anyone can feed the baby as long as it’s expressed breast milk,’ he said. ‘But this is saying well hold on, it’s not just the milk, it’s that relationship that’s important. Breastfeeding may simply promote that interpersonal bond between a mother and her baby – the physical touch, the holding, the eye-to-eye contact. It ensures that physical touch occurs in an attuned way, but I would imagine a similar result for any mother who has that same one-on-one contact while they’re feeding on a regular basis.’

!!!!!!!

Not only is he suggesting that expressed milk does not confer the same bennies (which is an important distinction – it is not breastmilk that is performing this anti-abuse magic; it’s the act of breastfeeding, which is simply not possible for working moms to do exclusively), he is also saying that the “physical touch, the holding, the eye-to-eye contact” is what is important. I don’t know about you, FFFs, but until my child got too independent and wanted to feed himself, I cherished those bottle feedings… I would stare into his eyes, play with his fingers… he’d stroke my hair… I have a feeling these were the acts that Mr. Strathearn was referring to.

So once again, when you look at the quotes from the researcher; when you look at the numbers in a real-world manner; when you take a step back… this study isn’t doing much but insulting people for no reason.

Just wanted to clarify in case any of you start worrying that you might suddenly turn into Mommy Dearest as a side effect of your bottle feeding. ;)

Breastfeed at your own risk?

I came across a reference to this recent article through a podcast with the author, Julie E. Artis. Check it out for a thought-provoking analysis of the sociological impact of breastfeeding. (It’s really well written too; not the normally dry and mind-numbing academic hyperbole I usually read when studying this issue.)

I wanted to repost this one section, as I wasn’t aware of Avishai’s research and thought my fellow FFFs might find this interesting:

Sociologist Orit Avishai demonstrates through interviews of white, middle class mothers that they treat breastfeeding not as a natural, pleasurable, connective act with their infant but instead as a disembodied project to be researched and managed. They take classes about breastfeeding, have home visits from lactation consultants post-partum, and view their bodies as feeding machines. When returning to work, they set up elaborate systems to pump breastmilk and store it. These middle-class women were accustomed to setting goals and achieving them—so when they decided to breastfeed for the one year the AAP recommends, they set out to do just that despite the physical and mental drawbacks. Although it’s easier for middle class mothers to meet the recommended breastfeeding standards than it is for less privileged mothers, they’re at the same time controlled by a culture that equates good mothering with breastfeeding.

Diamonds are a girl’s breast friend

Last night, I came across some web chatter regarding a new jewelery commercial that some women found offensive. I assumed the ad in question was that insufferable spot where the woman gets scared by a little thunder and jumps into her man’s arms, whereupon he assures her, “I’m here…I’ll always be here,” and hands her something sparkly.

Gag.

But no. Unfortunately, I seem to be the only person who finds this sexist and dated commercial so despicable. The controversy is actually over a Zales ad that has a bunch of people saying “I love you” in different scenarios. One of the vignettes shows a dad bottle-feeding a baby as he tells his wife he loves her. Apparently, this is anti-breastfeeding…”I was outraged within seconds when it showed a mom leaning over an empty crib while dad bottle fed a baby in the background,” said blogger BirthActivist. “I mean come on, wouldn’t it be better to give mom a diamond for breastfeeding?  Or even as a push present?  But this was just sad.  If you’re as outraged as I am, you can write them online or call them…”

While she certainly has a right to dislike the commercial, I am utterly confused at why she would be “outraged”, or how this imagery is at all anti-breastfeeding. First of all…we don’t know what’s in the bottle. It could easily be pumped milk. Maybe the mom pumps once a day so that the father can take one feeding, you know?  I take a completely different message from the ad. I think it just shows a lovely moment, where the dad is bonding with his new baby, and wants to tell his wife how much he loves her for bringing this precious gift into his life. According to many breastfeeding advocates, feeding your child is an act of bonding- so without the ability to bottle feed, fathers are robbed of this amazing opportunity. I was adamant about nursing before my son was born, but I was equally sure that I wanted to pump occasionally so that my husband could take part in the feedings. My dad once told me that his favorite part of fatherhood was those midnight feedings (I was a formula fed baby); that stuck with me. As strongly as I wanted to breastfeed, the image of a dad feeding a newborn was an evocative one for me; I don’t think this is a bad thing. Exclusive breastfeeding has many, many benefits, but I do think it leaves fathers out in the cold in this one respect. We have evolved into a culture (thankfully) where co-parenting is becoming more prevalent; some dads are even taking on the role of primary caregiver, which I see as a huge step for gender equality. But unless they can occasionally give the baby a bottle, they never get to enjoy this heralded “bonding”. And that sucks (no pun intended).

When my son wants comfort, he usually comes to me, but I think that’s more a matter of my being the primary caregiver; other than that, he is equally bonded to both my husband and myself. I love that. I love that he sees me as more than a food source; that the comfort I give him is something that I have developed as I’ve gotten to know him as an individual, something that I had to learn and work at. I love that his eyes light up when he sees his dad, that we’ve never had that issue of him wanting mommy more than daddy… I love that we are an all-powerful, seamless family unit, with interchangeable roles…

I certainly don’t think this is an argument against breastfeeding, but more of a nice little consolation present for those who are formula feeding or pumping. And feeling this way, I just can’t see why that image in the Zales commercial would offend anyone… if it were a mom standing there bottle-feeding, then I could obviously buy the argument that this is yet another subliminal message feeding a formula-centric society, but guys, how else is the man in this commercial supposed to feed the baby? And maybe that was integral to the point they were trying to get across in the 0.2 seconds that this image flashed on the screen – a lovely moment between father and child which provokes him to profess his love for the woman who made it all possible.

And hey. There ain’t nothin’ wrong with giving her some bling for her efforts. I think we can all agree on that.

Some comments on comments

Anyone who regularly reads this blog might know that I post every comment I receive (actually, that’s a lie – I ignored one once, simply because it was just a link to some website, which I considered spamming). I realize that sometimes these comments can hurt feelings, on both sides. Clearly, I want this blog to be a place of support; of warmth and humor; a virtual respite for formula feeders who are bombarded with guilt or fear on other parenting sites…

Some might be surprised to know that I also don’t like when the arguments from “my side” get nasty (not that I think anyone on this blog has done so, but I know that things can get heated, and I’m certainly partial to one side of this debate so maybe other people are seeing something I’m not). I admit that I react emotionally when someone gets particularly sanctimonious or unfair, but overall, I try and respond rationally. I welcome comments from people of opposing viewpoints, and I don’t want to discourage people from coming here to voice their opinions, even if I don’t agree with them.

I recently searched “formula feeding” on Twitter and found that someone calling herself The Lactivista “tortures herself” by reading this blog and is composing an “epic response” in her head. I can’t wait, Lactivista. Honestly. I hope that you will share your thoughts. I am sorry that this blog “tortures” you; that is not its intent. Unfortunately, when you’re discussing formula feeding support these days, that requires some backlash against the anti-formula feeding sentiments that we find online and in our society. To be clear, I understand that in many areas of the world, especially in the United States, formula feeding is “the norm”; however, the people who come here seeking support are NOT living in those areas, otherwise they wouldn’t need support in the first place.

It’s like this: let’s say you are from Italy, studying abroad at a college in Boston (I choose Boston because it’s my hometown, and, well, if you’re gonna choose a location for a college-related analogy, it should be Boston). You start seeking out other native Italians, because sometimes it’s nice to speak in your native tongue. If you lived in Italy, you wouldn’t have to think about it; people would think you were nuts if you posted a Craigslist ad reaching out to other native Italian speakers. But in Boston, maybe you feel a bit lonely, and want to relax around someone who understands where you are from. This doesn’t mean you don’t like and respect the Americans around you; you wouldn’t be studying abroad if you were ethnocentric. It’s just nice to let your guard down once in awhile.

Sticking with this (admittedly lame) analogy, what if you were meeting with your Italian club, and an American crashed the get together and started spewing off anti-Italian sentiments. You’d be pissed, wouldn’t you? It might even color your opinion of Americans, at least in some small, subconscious way. You’d still love your roommate and the friends you’d made here in the States, but maybe you’d start feeling a little defensive about your heritage. You’d hate that you felt that way, because you came to this country loving all things American, and it sucks that an experience like this makes you feel guarded.

Considering that many of us started out pro-breastfeeding, we come to this debate knowing what the other side thinks about formula feeding, even those who have the best of intentions. I recently came across a report from an August 2009 Good Morning America (“Breastfeeding vs Bottle Feeding Debate Gets Ugly“) that talks about the inner beliefs of formula feeders and breastfeeders:

“Among breast-feeding mothers, 75 percent support formula feeding, but that seems to be their surface reaction only..The survey also showed that 66 percent of the breast-feeders felt sorry for formula-fed babies, and 33 percent said they thought their bottle-feeding counterparts are ‘selfish and lazy.’

Nearly all of the formula-feeding mothers, 92 percent, support breast-feeding.”

I think this is why the comments from the formula feeding side can get a little snarky. We support breastfeeding. Most of us wanted to breastfeed in the first place. And when it comes down to it, we don’t care how you feed your baby, as long as you give us the same respect.

But I digress. I allow all the comments, good and bad, because of something GMA highlighted in its report – I want to get past that “surface reaction” they mentioned. Let’s just lay our cards on the table. I believe that’s the only way we can start the necessary work of TRUE infant feeding freedom; TRUE breastfeeding advocacy, which to me, means protecting our choices as women, all our choices, whether it be to breastfeed, formula feed, or some combination of both.

So keep ‘em coming, guys. Let’s get this debate on track. It doesn’t need to be ugly, but if some people want to get their anger out (on either side), I’d rather they do it on here than in a manner which could hurt some new mom, just trying to make her way through the minefield that is new parenthood.

A love letter to my breastfeeding friends

Dear Fellow Mommy Friends,

I’m so glad I’ve met such amazing women in my first year as a mother. But considering nearly all of you are breastfeeding mommas, and I normally blog about formula feeding, I figured it was about time to give credit where credit is due.

In the beginning, it was rough… you would all hang out at Breastfeeding Support Group, grabbing coffee afterwards, forging bonds over latching issues. The only person I could bond with was the supermarket check-out lady who rang up my $30 can of formula (“Dang, that’s expensive…they don’t make a generic for that?” she’d ask nearly every time, as I’d shake my head morosely.)

Later, we’d all meet at the park. Our newborns would wail; you’d pull out your boobs, I’d pull out my bottle. I’d feel ashamed, wondering if you were judging me for not trying hard enough. And sometimes I suspected you thought I’d be uncomfortable with you nursing, which just made the situation more awkward. This couldn’t have been further from the truth, by the way. I thought it was amazing, what you were doing. My own nursing experience was so god-awful, that it was reassuring – heck, life-affirming – to see your little ones getting good, natural nourishment from your bodies.

But luckily, we worked through any insecurities we felt. Some of you stopped using the nursing covers; others still preferred to remain draped in public. Either way was cool with me. I admired those of you with the cajones to feed your child as nature intended, despite the conspicuous stares from some immature guys (like my husband, who just can’t stop seeing breasts as sexual objects… I apologize for him. His idol is Larry David; what can you do?). I also related to those of you with your designer Hooter-Hiders; I probably would have been using one too, if I had still been nursing. I’m shy like that. On my end, I stopped feeling like a bad mom every time I pulled out my container of powdered food; I welcomed the chance to educate anyone who questioned my choice. None of you ever did. Because you rock. Whatever opinions of my feeding choices you had, you kept them to yourself, and I love you for it.

One of you couldn’t understand why I wasn’t planning on nursing my second child, should I ever have one. “Why wouldn’t you at least try?” you asked me, on more than one occasion. But you weren’t being judgmental. You were genuinely curious. Once I explained my reasons to you, you accepted it, and moved on. I think you wanted reassurance that I wasn’t belittling your hard work; I hope I imparted the message that I think nursing is great, just not for my family. I hope that you know I envy the success you have had in breastfeeding, that I think it is a wonderful gift you’ve given your son.

Another one of you is a shining example of what breastfeeding advocacy can and should be. You persevered through numerous nursing challenges, because breastfeeding meant something to you. You are a true earth mother, and I’ve never seen anything more natural looking than you feeding your child. It’s amazing. In those moments, you look like a modern-day Joan of Arc, strong and ready to take on the status quo; just as your son benefits from your milk, you seem to get something out of him as well – a quiet strength; a sense of wholeness. Magical. Even more magical? How you managed to nurse your 25 pound toddler in your Ergo carrier on our hike the other day. Wow. That was impressive.

And then there are those of you who’ve been brave enough to admit to me that nursing hasn’t been all that wonderful. I appreciate your honesty; it helped me understand the breastfeeding issue on a larger level, made me question why we feel “forced” into doing this. I also respect that you stuck with it, and celebrated with you when it got easier.

As our kiddos approach the one year mark, I see many of you starting the weaning process, and I want to congratulate you on a job well done. You have nourished your children, and they are thriving. And you’ve never made me feel inferior for using a different system of nourishment, which has allowed my child to thrive as well. I think we are proof that both formula feeders and breastfeeders can raise healthy, happy children, and come from happy, healthy, non-judgmental moms.

So, thanks, guys. I raise my sippy cup to you. Wanna know what’s in it?  It’s the milk of human kindness. Doesn’t matter if its from the breast or the formula can. You all have it in spades, and I love you for it.

- The Fearless Formula Feeder

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