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.

Suzanne Barston is a blogger and author of BOTTLED UP. Fearless Formula Feeder is a blog – and community – dedicated to infant feeding choice, and committed to providing non-judgmental support for all new parents. It exists to protect women from misleading or misrepresented “facts”; essentialist ideals about what mothers should think, feel, or do; government and health authorities who form policy statements based on ambivalent research; and the insidious beast known as Internetus Trolliamus, Mommy Blog Varietal.

Suzanne Barston – who has written posts on Fearless Formula Feeder.

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15 thoughts on “Breastfeed at your own risk?

  1. I do have to say that that is not true for everyone. I treat breastfeeding as a wonderful time to connect with my child, It is Pleasurable and I Love it. Does that mean I did not have to do a little research or make it work no…But I knew in the end that the reward was worth it.

    Also it is so funny that they say “despite the physical and mental drawbacks”. What are they?? Also isn't your child worth a lil hard work?? I mean I know taking the easy way out is what our society is geared towards now a days but our kids are worth all the time and effort we can give them. Just very weird that some would say that statement…come on being a mom isn't easy.

    I am a stay at home mom so I can't comment on the work side of it but I would gladly pump my milk if I did have to work outside of the home.

    Also I plan on Breastfeeding until my child self weans…as do most of the people I know who breastfeed..which is very few and only at LLL.

  2. Su and Anonymous,

    I am glad you guys had (have) such positive nursing experiences! That is wonderful to hear, and I expect it is true for many women.

    This is just one study. As a formula feeder, I'm used to seeing studies which misrepresent me and don't take individual factors into account. I guess this might be a new experience for breastfeeders… so just try and take it with a grain of salt. This is one group of women in a particular geographical, socio-economic area. Not every single nursing mother in the world.

  3. Funny that you have this view in your mind that most nursing mothers are in the majority which in fact most parts of the country(US) we are the minority. Believe me I am used to being misrepresented as a nursing mother.

  4. Anonymous,

    Well, actually, 74% of new moms in the United States initiate breastfeeding (and that is from 2006, I bet the figures are even higher now), so technically, that IS a majority.

    However… I wasn't referring to how you feel in your community. I was talking about sociological or scientific studies, the MAJORITY of which are pro-breastfeeding.

  5. And what are the stats at 6 weeks? 3 months? 6 months? a year? I know some states are less then 10% at 6 months. I would say that was a minority!!

    Actually that is how you have made it out to be in a lot of your past posts.

  6. Anonymous,

    You are correct that the stats go down significantly at 6 months postpartum. However, while only a small number are EXCLUSIVELY breastfeeding, a much larger number are still nursing with some supplementation. If anything, I think this just suggests that exclusive breastfeeding in this society is difficult for many women, and I would imagine that most of these women want the best for their kids, and feel like crap when people berate them for feeding their kids “poison” or making them feel like partial breastfeeding isn't worthy of praise (which I believe it is).

    I also think I have been abundantly clear in several of my past posts and comments that I am here to support those who are in the MINORITY as a formula feeder in their community. That would rule out anyone who lives in a bottle-feeding-predominate area. I highly doubt that these women are visiting my blog as they would have no reason to feel fear or guilt about bottle-feeding is it is the norm where they live. As you'll see from the comments on all the past posts, the only people who actively visit this blog (other than lactivists and people like yourself who just come on to argue, which don't get me wrong, I encourage – I love debate)feel ostracized. Whether or not they are in an actual, numerical majority, I have no way of knowing. But from what they have expressed on here, they certainly feel like they are the odd woman out.

  7. Definitely a minority in my community of women.

    I think that study is really interesting and describes a lot of women I know. I think if people were to look at the study objectively, they would see that there is a lot of sociological truth to it.

  8. Please share some of these locations were bottle-feeding is not the norm among the general population. Because I have been all over the states and have yet to find one.

  9. Anonymous-


    Los Angeles
    New York City
    Utah (this state has the highest breastfeeding rates)

    And a whole slew of other communities that I'm sure I'm forgetting.

    If you want hard facts, check out the Kaiser State Health Facts Breastfeeding Rates chart:

    You will see that the rates do go down significantly if you select “exclusive breastfeeding at 3 months”. However, if you select “breastfed at 6 months” (without the exlusive caveat), there are quite a few states that still come in with a (slim but there) majority – Montana, NH, NJ, ID, OR, UT, VT, WA, CA, CO….

  10. Well, I don't know where I'd find the breastfeeding stats for my town but I live in Princeton – and I don't know ONE person besides me who didn't/doesn't breastfeed. This includes women at my job, in my neighborhood, in my mommy group, and in my social circle. Maybe they are not all breastfeeding exclusively but I'm the only one who has exclusively formula fed.

  11. In reply to some of the comments above:
    You know, i find formula feeding my child an incredible bonding experience and always have. I think its crap that breastfeeders get to claim that to themselves as I've never felt it was anything but that.

    I guess thats because i don't have anything to compare it to and have always made the most of my time feeding my child and i honestly think if you put effort into it, its going to be a bonding experience. But honestly, I can't see how putting your child on the boob while surfing the net and not paying any attention to them whatsoever is a better bonding situation. *shrug*

    And…. Without explaining my circumstances – which im just not willing to do in an open forum like this – as for the title 'breastfeed at your own risk' it was totally that for me. If i had made the decision to breastfeed i have no doubt how much stress/anxiety i would of been under. breastfeeding for me would of made me resent my child and I know this for a fact because i was starting to resent him for it before he was even born! Theres no way i would want to or have the energy/time to pump breastmilk at work either.

    To me i would rather have a happy healthy household thats using a system that works for us than putting myself, my partner AND my baby under stress for something that is only a 'little better' not fantastically mindblowingly better as its made out to be.

  12. These findings from Dr. Avishai may be “true” based on the interviews with these 25 women, and, even representational of the white middle class…OK. But this is where the problem lies. That they would find breastfeeding “a task to be researched, planned, implemented, and assessed, with reliance on expert knowledge, professional advice, and consumption.” I had NO IDEA the “politics” around breastfeeding or not before I had my kid, and I didn't do much studying on the matter beforehand and thought it was funny that my caregivers suggested I go to a class beforehand. To me, I just assumed I would do it. I'd put the baby to the breast and it would go from there. I mean, that's what happens, right? Yes. That is what is supposed to happen. I think all the hemming and hawing and studying and task-oriented-ness of it all is what destroys it and hampers women. Yes, you are supposed to do it on demand when a baby is born. That's it. Just do it.

  13. @Gr3tch3n-

    You are very lucky that breastfeeding came so naturally to you. However, this is not the case for many women, which is exactly the point of this blog. I know women who had doula-assisted births and did everything the way you described it, and still found themselves in terrible nursing situations. To blame it on our desire to do it “right” is a bit judgmental. I'm glad you found it a “natural” process, but the fact is that sometimes it just does not work that way, regardless of what attitude a woman has going it to it.

  14. Ok I know this is an old one but I am a formula feeder in the Provo area of Utah. Breastfeeding is expected here,even if you see a woman giving her child a bottle it's probly breast milk.I come here because I often feel like the only one in the world who is not breastfeeding.Yes I know that last statement sounds illogical but I haven't even seen a formula commercial on TV since I was like 12,they just don't bother and show them here I guess.
    Most of the women I know here it's not the health benefits or the studies it's just that it's what you do and I can't even name a hospital with a breastfeeding class and LCs are really hard to find out here but I also know that Utah has a much higher rate of stay at home mothers then most states so I guess that makes it easier.

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