A public health threat, of the male persuasion

Frankly, I’m a little stumped on how to appropriately respond to what occured in the discussion threads of last week’s 2 posts.

I could write a lengthy post on why formula feeders need support. I could argue about the inherent flaws in most parenting-related studies. I could debate the merits of certain misguided forms of lactivism. I could plead for understanding, strive to convince you that my standing up for women who cannot or choose not to breastfeed does not make me anti-breastfeeding, and that I still think nursing your child is one of the coolest, most empowering things a mother can do, as long as it doesn’t harm her physically or emotionally. But we’ve been there, done that, and honestly, it’s all starting to seem a little futile.

So instead, let’s talk about something that is threatening the health of current and future generations, especially those born in the United States and the United Kingdom. Yes, formula feeding has been deemed a “public heath threat”, blamed for increases in childhood obesity, cancer, and lowered intelligence. But you know what? That’s old news. There’s something new to worry about.

 (Cue the foreboding music….)

I’m talking about OLDER FATHERS.

Yes, my friends, while protecting the collective health of the nation has been traditionally placed on the shoulders of the womenfolk (try Googling “fathers over 40” and you’ll be asked if you didn’t mean to search “mothers over 40” – no, Google, you misogynist bastard, I most certainly did not), we might be better off blaming Brad Pitt, Michael Douglas, and thousands of other (considerably less attractive and famous) men.

Want proof? Hard science? Here you go….

From the New York Times, 2/28/07 (Older fathers appear to raise risks of genetic disorders):

Some studies suggest that the risk of sporadic single-gene mutations may be four to five times higher for fathers who are 45 and older, compared with fathers in their 20s, said Dr. Joe Leigh Simpson, president-elect of the American College of Medical Genetics. Overall, having an older father is estimated to increase the risk of a birth defect by 1 percent, against a background 3 percent risk for a birth defect, he said…

A recent study on autism attracted attention because of its striking findings. Researchers analyzed a large Israeli military database to determine whether there was a correlation between paternal age and the incidence of autism and related disorders. It found that children of men who became a father at 40 or older were 5.75 times as likely to have an autism disorder as those whose fathers were younger than 30.

A study on schizophrenia found that the risk of illness was doubled among children of fathers in their late 40s when compared with children of fathers under 25, and increased almost threefold in children born to fathers 50 and older.

From Psychology Today, March 12, 2009 ( More bad news for the children of older fathers):

The child of a 40-year-old father has a 2 percent chance of having schizophrenia-double the risk of a child whose father is younger than 30…And the kicker: A 40-year-old man’s risk of having a child with schizophrenia is the same as a 40-year-old woman’s risk of having a child with Down syndrome.

More recent studies have linked fathers’ age to prostate and other cancers in their children. In September 2008, researchers linked older fathers to an increased risk of bipolar disorder in their children.

Add to that the new finding, that the kids of older fathers score lower on IQ and other cognitive tests. The study, in the current issue of PLOS Medicine, noted that the cognitive deficits were small, and that the children of older fathers might “catch up” to their peers as they get older. But nobody knows whether these early deficits might have implications for the children’s development across their lifespans, the authors said.

From the Telegraph, May 31, 2008 (Scientists reveal dangers of older fathers):

A mass study found that deaths of children fathered by over-45s occurred at almost twice the rate of those fathered by men aged between 25 and 30. 

A total of 100,000 children born between 1980 and 1996 were examined, of whom 830 have so far died before they reached 18, the majority when they were less than a year old.

The deaths of many of the children of the older fathers were related to congenital defects such as problems of the heart and spine, which increase the risk of infant mortality. But there were also higher rates of accidental death, which the researchers believe might be explained by the increased likelihood of suffering from autism, epilepsy or schizophrenia.

Most research into older parents has, until now, focused on the risks passed on by older mothers. But the new study, published in the European Journal of Epidemiology, was adjusted to take account of maternal age and socio-economic differences. 

Imagine, friends, the heartache that could be spared by encouraging men over 40 to choose elective sterilization. The lives of 830 children could have been saved. Autism rates would plummet. And the IQ and mental health of our nation’s youngsters could be improved, creating a super-population of intelligent, psychologically sound individuals!

Ah, but wait. According to that same article in the New York Times, “Skeptics say the studies find an association but do not prove a causal relationship between an older father’s genetic material and autism or schizophrenia, and note that other factors related to having an older father could be at play, including different parenthood styles. Another possibility is that the father’s own mental illness or autistic tendencies are responsible both for the late marriage and for the effect on the child.”

(Slams hand against head)

RIGHT! I forgot! Correlation, not causation. There could be so many other factors at play. And really, what are the point of these studies and news reports? To convince older dads not to reproduce? Or to have them be made aware of the (potential) risks, so that they weigh their options a bit more carefully, perhaps considering marriage and childbearing at an earlier age?

But hold on, there, buster. What if you get remarried to a younger woman, who desperately wants children with you? Or what if you just don’t meet the right woman until you’re 42? Or what if you do start trying at 36, but find yourself in infertility hell, and it takes 5 years to actually conceive your very wanted child?

Obviously, if you’re asking me, I’d say go on with your bad self and impregnate your beloved. Yeah, you may have a slighly increased rate of some really scary diseases and conditions, but think of all the amazing children who are born to older parents every day. Play the odds, because despite the frightening-sounding statistics, chances are your kids will be just fine. I mean, yes, if you are 20, and have the advantage of being forewarned/forearmed, you might want to consider young fatherhood. But there’s risks involved in jumping into being a parent before you’re good and ready, too. Divorce, for one. Being a crappy parent because you aren’t equipped with the life experience or maturity necessary for the job.Those may not be health risks, but they will certainly affect the life and emotional well being of your kids.

Other than the lucky few who live in the ideal socioeconomic (maybe poor people shouldn’t have kids, considering they are more likely to end up involved in crime, have a far higher rate of obesity, and will likely be a drain on our economy if their parents are forced to enroll in WIC), environmental (should people in California not be allowed to procreate, considering the increased risk of bronchial problems due to our air quality?), and emotional state (what about people with past histories of depression or anxiety?) to avoid the  risks involved in child-rearing (is that even possible? You’d pretty much have to live in a bubble), we’re all going to have to weigh our relative risk every now and then. So you go into this parenthood thing armed with as much knowledge as you possibly can, and make decisions based on your own mental pro/con debates.

 As far as public health goes, when it comes to mandating or heavily influencing parental decisions, we tread a slippery slope. Some people feel that home schooling or bed-sharing is detrimental to children. Others think feeding your kids Pizza Hut once a year is pure evil. And then there are those parents who are truly abusive or just negligent, who don’t think about any of this stuff, at all. I’m sure their kids would give anything to have a caring dad, even if he was 65. Or a mom who formula fed, but who loved the hell out of them.

And if a 50 year old dad were to start a blog trying to explain the flaws or relative risks associated with the studies pertaining to his plight, I’d support that. First of all, it’s not really any of my beeswax; it’s between him and his partner and whatever science/god/alien species he believes in. Secondly, I’d be glad that someone is out there for the older dads who are struggling with their decision to have kids despite the “risks”. In fact, in my research on the topic, I came across several blogs and articles extolling the virtues of older fatherhood, telling people it was “the way to go”. Is this irresponsible web-journalism? I don’t think so. There probably ARE many wonderful benefits to waiting until your 40’s or 50’s to have kids. Hell, I wish women had that luxury, without going to huge medical lengths to make it possible. I’m glad the aforementioned studies are out there to alert these guys that there might be some downsides, but I trust they will make an educated decision, and deal with the consequences, if there are any.

Happy belated father’s day, everyone – older dads, younger dads, gay dads, straight dads, formula feeding dads and those with breastfeeding partners. We’re all doing our best to parent, and if you’re online seaching parenting blogs of any sort, chances are you care. Which in the end, at least in my extremely opinionated (and currently frustrated) mind, is really all that matters.

PS: For a far less convoluted response, I suggest checking out FFF Andrea’s great post on this weekend’s debate, over at her blog, the Quill.

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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41 thoughts on “A public health threat, of the male persuasion

  1. “As far as public health goes, when it comes to mandating or heavily influencing parental decisions, we tread a slippery slope. Some people feel that home schooling or bed-sharing is detrimental to children. Others think feeding your kids Pizza Hut once a year is pure evil.”

    Once a year, huh? Which “others” would this be–do you have a cite? Because I'm more “militant” about the quality of my kids' nutrition than anyone I know, and I don't think Pizza Hut once a year is any big deal (unless it's also accompanied by dozens of other “once a year” treats, rotated biweekly or whatever).

    As for “slippery slopes” more generally: I'm going to assume then that you're a strict, small-government ibertarian? Because that is the only political philosophy that really squares with avoidance of such slopes. For the rest of us (I'm more of the “big government” type, except as concerns *civil* liberties like the First Amendment), we have to recognise that there is no “pure” way to work for our public policy preferences without stepping on some toes and finding ourselves in conflict with others who have different preferences for public policy.

    Of course, some public policy goals are fairly uncontroversial (like mandating that energy companies not screw up the environment in the process of extracting resources, and pay for damages if they fail) except among a few extremists (*cough* Joe Barton *cough*). Other proposals for government policy are more “out there”, even if they have a few die-hard adherents (abolishing the Fed and going back on the gold standard, for instance).

    And then there are those which have a significant level of support on both the “pro” and “con” sides. In this category would fall the recent health care bill, and the proposed bills to combat climate change.

    In debating public policy, it strikes me as most fruitful to stick with issues where there is reasonable likelihood for either success and failure. I would say the HHS campaign of 2006 (which pretty much everyone here opposed) proves success in getting such campaigns implemented is possible; and of course the fact that the backlash against the campaign got it shut down illustrates that the “anti-” side also has the ability to win.

    Additionally, there are many governments around the world who have adopted the WHO Codes on breastfeeding into law (so far, the U.S. has not done so, and this is a big goal of mine as well).

    So far, banning fathers over a certain age from procreating does not appear to have any purchase in the sphere of public policy. If you can show me that members of the House and/or Senate, or senior level members of the executive branch (or the federal judiciary) are taking such a proposal seriously, then we might have something to debate about (though wouldn't it be off topic for this blog?) Unless and until that happens, you are comparing the proverbial apples and oranges.

  2. @ Alan-
    I think you missed the point. I believe the post was about relative risk rather than public policy mandates.

    The relative risk associated with older fatherhood is likely the same as the relative risk of feeding a child formula, and that's assuming that the studies do amount to some degree of causation rather than simply correlation.

    While I am very pro-government, I would say that not every choice needs to be regulated (certainly not formula feeding… or conception by a man over 40). Are you arguing that unless a member of the government takes something seriously it has no merit for discussion or debate?

  3. A woman my mom works with had her first kid in her 40s. While I was pregnant (at 24), this lady kept telling my mom that “older parents are better parents.” Eventually, my mom just told her to shut up, haha.

    Thee is no one right age to become a patent. Just as there is no one right way to parent.

  4. And @Alan –

    Dude, you totally missed the point of this post.

    It's not so much a survey of recent research on older fathers as a passive-aggressive jab at your self-righteousness.

    You better hope that big, strong government you're pulling for never bans breastfeeding!

    Or pretentious douchery.

  5. Wow, Alan, do you not have a job? You spend an aweful amount of time arguing every little thing FFF says or anyone who doesnt fully agree with you. I think its time to spend your engery elsewhere. No offense. You are so frustratingly hard-headed.

  6. @Shasta, please: I hardly missed the passive-aggressive nature of the post. I simply chose to rise above it. 🙂

    @Brooke: “Are you arguing that unless a member of the government takes something seriously it has no merit for discussion or debate?”

    If the issue is public policy (and that has been what I've focused on all along, despite others' inaccurate claims that I'm accusing individuals of being bad mothers or whatever), then yes: it sure strikes me as pointless to argue over something that has no chance of being passed (or, conversely, no chance of being repealed).

    For instance, I happen to believe the ideal policy on wages would involve a maximum as well as a minimum wage. But I know a maximum wage has approximately 0.000% chance of becoming law, so I focus on arguing the more realistic goal, a higher minimum wage.

  7. @Anonymous: No, like tens of millions of other Americans I don't currently have a job. I do, however read and type very quickly; so the actual time I spend on this blog is de minimis. I'm touched by your concern though!

  8. Alan,

    You know, I think I underestimated you. You are truly grasping at straws here because you cannot wrap your head around the point FFF was trying to make. And I dont think you want to either. You seem so desparate to make and prove your views that you are missing several key agruements.

    However, maybe due to the fact that you read fast is the reason behind you missing the point??? Go back, read slowly and open your brain to the possibility that FFF, in slang terms, just may have “handed you your ass.”

  9. I know you'd like to think so, Meghan; and I'll grant that FFF made a strong play that actually gave me a moment's pause (tbh, I usually find that I can pretty instantly parry debate opponents' arguments without much effort, so it's nice to get a little challenge for a change). I feel however that the counterpoint I made–after giving it that moment or two of reflection–is not only adequate for the task but in fact utterly devastates her premise. In fact, I think FFF is smart enough to know she got schooled, though she's unlikely to admit it.

  10. @ Alan-
    Can you please maybe explain to those who didn't garner a near-perfect SAT score how exactly you schooled the FFF? Because I don't get it.

  11. ugh. Blogger just ate my original response.


    I'll disagree with you 100%. The only person you are schooling is yourself. And quite frankly, you havent really said anythng that formula feeders havent heard already so your originality in your debate/rebuttles about BFing is lacking. Judging by your usual lengthy responses I am beginning to think you just like to “hear” yourself talk. You seem very impressed with yourself and I bet you have been re-reading your responses over and over just to remind yourself of how awesome you are. I bet your ego is at an all time high. Of course you could just be overcompensating for the fact that you are unemployed and have nothing better to do with your time. Good luck with the job hunt.

  12. @Alan,

    Admittedly, I did start out researching the risk of fatherhood past 40 as a “dig” to you, but then I decided that was petty and mean. However, once I saw all the statistics so clearly laid out, I thought it would be a fitting allegory to prove a point, which you are either missing, or so entrenched in your own dogma that you refuse to consider it.

    You seem to be taking this to a political place, so let me be clear: I'm an independent. I tend to vote on issues as they come, depending on the current social and political climate; I judge candidates on individual merits (although it sadly usually comes down to a lesser-of-2-evils thing); and I can't stand extremists on either side. I tend to veer towards the middle ground; I guess you could call me a moderate. True, I don't like the big government aspect of the left; but there's plenty on the right (and on the libertarian side as well) that I disagree with.

    Having said that, I'm not sure how this post could have degenerated into a discussion on public policy. Again, you seem to be missing the forest for the trees. I was not at all suggesting that the age in which we become parents should be the business of the government. (But as an aside, I'm afraid your argument is inherently flawed – there's no way that this could EVER become a matter of public policy, because we still live in a man's world, and I can't see a majority of our mostly older, male lawmakers passing a bill that discourages their peers from mating with younger, hotter women. But something that infringes upon a woman's rights – especially when it is supported by many in the feminist party – easy target.) My point was that it COULD just as easily be, if the criteria for such an action is that the health and welfare of our children are considered endangered due to a bunch of studies “suggesting” links or correlations, and if our society wasn't still struggling with latent sexism. I also wanted to reiterate that risk is relative, something we've discussed on here before. For further info on this concept, I'd highly recommend reading some of the great stuff on Stats.org.

    I appreciate that you ignored any passive aggressiveness that came through in this post. I tried to keep it in check, but I'm human. I respect that you didn't feed into it.

    I'm not sure what you were trying to school me on, though. I think we are like two ships passing in the night, or people speaking different languages, or maybe men really are from Mars. Who the hell knows. But we do not seem to be communicating effectively here, in any capacity.

  13. @Michelle K,

    Yes. You should apply for a permit. Or just get down to business so he is still under the age limit while you finish off your procreation. Maybe have twins and expedite the process. How dare you endanger the health of your future offspring like that? You could be stealing IQ points away from them as we speak.

  14. @Alan

    I only read through the weekend's discussions this evening, so please forgive the late reaction. I can only reiterate what others have said: You are hurting your cause.

    I do believe it is a noble goal to promote breastfeeding, and to educate women everywhere of the benefits of breastfeeding. But it is important to be careful of your tone when you deliver the message. When you strike an arrogant tone such as the one you have adopted in these past two posts, you are not winning people over to your side. (I realize you won't acknowledge that you give off an arrogant vibe, because you may not even realize you're doing it. You are.)

    This is a site that brings comfort to women who have elected to formula feed for various reasons, and many of whom are dealing with varying levels of guilt for having been unsuccessful at breastfeeding. FFF has posted time and time again that she is NOT against breastfeeding, and to suggest otherwise is being willfully belligerent. The issue is the guilt-inducing tactics used to promote breastfeeding, and the suggestion that, if you choose to use formula, you are actively harming your child. For those of us who wanted desperately to breastfeed but were unable to for physical or psychological reasons, these tactics only breed resentment, which is unproductive. Nobody here is arguing against positive, fact-based encouragement to breastfeed. But please respect that not everyone is lucky enough to be able to shrug and say, “It was easy” when asked about her breastfeeding experience.

    As for this post, you ignored FFF's central point. You may have earned a few more points on your SATs back in the day, but you didn't school her here.

  15. @Meghan: “You seem very impressed with yourself and I bet you have been re-reading your responses over and over just to remind yourself of how awesome you are. I bet your ego is at an all time high.”

    Oh, snap! You totally busted me there. Gotta give you credit: you are more perceptive than I would have guessed.

    “Good luck with the job hunt.”

    I'm actually not hunting, but thanks all the same.

  16. @FFF: “You seem to be taking this to a political place”

    I don't think it's me taking it there, it just IS a political issue. The changes in public policy in Norway were designed and implemented by politicians and the experts they consulted, as was the shape of the HHS pro-breastfeeding campaign (under a Republican administration) and the proposal to label formula bottles (which came from a liberal Democratic senator).

    “Again, you seem to be missing the forest for the trees. I was not at all suggesting that the age in which we become parents should be the business of the government.”

    C'mon, I thought we could each give each other credit for enough intelligence that these things didn't need to be spelled out. I completely got what point you were attempting to make, and even if everyone else didn't get that I got it, I would have thought you did.

    But okay, I'll spell it out just so everyone's clear that I did get it: you were attempting, by way of analogy, a reductio ad absurdem critique (it's almost, but not quite, a modus tollens). Essentially, if we can advocate engaging in a public health campaign to discourage people from formula feeding because of a number of demonstrated adverse consequences to infants' health and development, why not advocate a public health campaign to discourage late fatherhood because of demonstrated adverse consequences of that? But since it is (you imply) obviously absurd to advocate that older men not have children (and I'm not sure that it necessarily is so obvious, mind you), it must be absurd to advocate avoidance of formula feeding whenever possible. That is, if the analogy between the two holds.

    Clever, certainly; but I believe I demonstrated why the analogy is not a valid one. (There are a number of other flaws to the analogy as well, but they are not crucial to the success of my rebuttal, so I didn't belabour the point.) There is also, as I pointed out, the fact that debating public health campaigns concerning formula feeding is on-topic here while the decline over time in quality of male sperm is not.

  17. “I'm afraid your argument is inherently flawed – there's no way that this could EVER become a matter of public policy…”

    But that WAS my argument! It could never become policy, so debating it is not going to change anything. Whereas on issues where public policy could go one way or the other, it is crucial for stakeholders to have it out, throw themselves, as it were, before the mercy of the court of public opinion.

    I am not as inflexible as you might think, though. Reflecting upon the stories I've heard here, and the information passed on about Norway etc., does make me think about ways of fine tuning public policy in these areas. The Norwegian formula feeding site, flaskeposten.org, says they don't want “to fight back to the time before mothers in Norway knew how important breastfeeding was. We just need to swing the pendulum back a tiny bit”. And perhaps they do need to come back a titch, since there are always going to be people who need formula, and those who do shouldn't have to feel like they are criminal degenerates. Feedback from a country like Sweden that is in the vanguard of lactivism could be very helpful in guiding future efforts in other countries like our own so that they go more smoothly.

    For instance, campaigns promoting the importance of breastfeeding should try to contain some content that sort of softens the blow for parents who are already formula feeding; as long as–and this is absolutely key–it's not done in a way that undercuts the message by being afraid to convey that there are, in fact, risks to choosing formula feeding when you could have breastfed (clearly, if you tried to breastfeed but couldn't, you didn't have a choice and thus you didn't voluntarily take on any extra risk).

    In any event, though, the pendulum in the U.S. has not swung anywhere near the point where we need to spend a lot of time putting on the brakes just yet.

    “I appreciate that you ignored any passive aggressiveness that came through in this post. I tried to keep it in check, but I'm human. I respect that you didn't feed into it.”

    So we've each found things to respect about the other. That seems like a good start!

    @Heather: “When you strike an arrogant tone such as the one you have adopted in these past two posts, you are not winning people over to your side. (I realize you won't acknowledge that you give off an arrogant vibe, because you may not even realize you're doing it. You are.)”

    No, I did fully realise it. It's not necessarily my finest hour when I kick into haughty mode; but to be fair, I think I took a lot of vicious shots with great equanimity before I gave in to my darker impulses.

  18. Suzanne, I don't have a baby yet and have no idea how I will feed him or her if/when I do. But I do know one thing: your blog ROCKS!!

  19. FFF, I'm really glad you provided links to some of your “greatest hits” in the post above. I just now got to the third link you posted, which contains the following bombshell:

    “[I've] found that if you search 'breastfeeding', you can find links to all sorts of interesting sites. I've been commenting on a lot of these, trying to offer another point of view. I've noticed that only people who agree with the blogger tend to comment on many blogs, which is why I am so happy when someone of an opposing opinion makes their way over here – what's the good of a debate if we never hear the other side?”

    Wow! Okay…if anyone can read that and still think it's an outrage for me to be posting here…well, I don't know what to say. (And I don't understand why FFF at times has not seemed to heed her own words in the attitude she has taken toward my presence here, though as I've acknowledged she does deserve credit for not outright censoring me.)

    To everyone else here that has been getting up in arms, read the above quote again and let it sink in. It sure looks like FFF is saying she does the exact same thing on other blogs that I did here, except in reverse of course (and I believe she has every right to, btw). And she seems to think it's stultifying when blogs develop groupthink and don't hear opposing views, which seemed to be the state of this one before I came along.

    So…isn't this really a double standard?

  20. @ Alan – I certainly have not suggested that you not post here, just tried to offer my perspective as well. I do enjoy a debate. But I also don't think any of us has the energy to sustain this discourse in this manner over the course of time, which is why those who tend to disagree make their point and move on. I'm not saying for you to do so, just that this back and forth over every point becomes a bit tedious, particularly when you make comments like, “Which leads me to an issue I haven't seen addressed on this blog (though I won't claim to have read all or even the majority of your posts).” I certainly think if you are going to engage in dialogue of the tone and measure of your recent comments, you should at the very least take the time to read the archives so that we aren't rehashing topics that have themselves been discussed ad nauseum.

  21. @ Alan
    Debates are welcomed, but sometimes it seems like they are taken a bit far. Like when someones post on Fearless Friday is taken over and goes completely off the topic onto something else. Every debate has a place and the one on Friday seemed out of place. It was the time for someone to share their story and preferably, for people to kind of share in their experience. Although, there have been the people that criticize them for not breastfeeding despite their hardships.

    This debate though, doesn't seem out of place. However I think you are missing the big picture. It might be the time to let your mind take a step back and look at the ENTIRE picture, not just the little facts.

    She was simply sharing the facts, not suggesting any political action, you took it that way. It also goes to show that breastfeeding is the fix all or the magical elixir that will prevent all disabilities like you have said. This goes with vaccinating too, but please don't debate that issue, this post isn't about that. If you want to debate that, I'd be more than willing to post a blog on my site about vaccines as I'm currently not vaccinating, but for other issues.

    Anyways, my son is becoming very fussy, I must go.

  22. @Alan,

    But, see, that's the problem – I don't see that you “demonstrated why the analogy is not a valid one.” Rather, you went off into tangents picking on minor comments I made in the post (like the Pizza Hut comment; I was obviously being facetious, although I don't doubt there are people out there who think greasy pizza is inappropriate food for children – militant vegans, for instance, and that is absolutely their right – I personally don't think humans should eat meat, so I wouldn't begrudge them that belief. Not that I'd ever force my personal beliefs on anyone else), and focused on principles of government-mandated health initiatives, and said that because the problem of older fathers was not currently considered a public health issue, it was not a valid argument.

    However, as several people (myself included) have pointed out, and you yourself acknowledged, that wasn't the point. The point was, why SHOULDN'T it be? Why couldn't it be (if you take the gender issues out of the equation, and look at it purely from a public health risk perspective). I see just as much risk in fathering a child over the age of 40 as I do in formula feeding. If you can tell me why I shouldn't feel this way, I'm willing to listen.

    I'd also add that at one point, cigarette smoking was not considered a public health issue. In fact, some doctors recommended it. Did that make the risk any less valid?

    As for comparing my statement on other blogs to what you've done here, I have to disagree. In the infancy of this blog, I did go on to someone's blog and say that it was “irresponsible” of her to suggest that not breastfeeding caused PPD. I regret that now. (But for the record, I went on and commented as “Suzanne”, a mom who had suffered from PPD, not as the FFF, and I did not engage in any larger debate, I just stated how that made me feel personally). Other than that one slip up, I tend to be overly complimentary and respectful on other people's blogs. If I feel it's going to open a can of worms, I write about it here. I even said that once, on PhD in parenting – something to the effect of, “I don't need to clog up your blog with my opinions, I have my own soapbox for that”. If I feel my words are falling on deaf ears, I retreat, b/c what exactly am I trying to prove? What you have done here seems to be an exercise in futility, although I really do not mind, as it has boosted my stats through the roof, which is always fun to see.

  23. @Andrea, for my own part I have never been able to definitively decide where I stand on vaccination (which I do find frustrating, as I tend to like to take a clearly delineated position). My ex and I did not get the older two kids vaccinated until our oldest was about to start kindergarten, and rather than fight the system, we just gave in and got him vaccinated and his younger sister at the same time. With our current baby, my wife and I just got her the vaccines on schedule (except for refusing the HepB at the hospital when she was a newborn).

    I see that issue as different, and murkier, because the claim that is being made (and disputed by a vocal minority) is that an artificial, unnatural substance routinely injected into healthy children's bodies makes them healthier than if they just lived a naturally healthy lifestyle.

    Whereas with breastmilk and formula, it is the natural substance, the natural lifestyle, that “wins out” in scientific comparisons. Since I think it's common sense for us to assume that “pure and natural is best” in most cases (and nutritional science is showing this to be more and more true for adults as well), when it's confirmed by science I don't think there's at all the same kind of murkiness.

    (That does not btw mean that I think everyone can successfully breastfeed–I don't. I do think nearly everyone should try, though.)

  24. @Alan,

    Now, see, THAT comment (the one you wrote to Andrea), was exactly the kind of rational, positive argument that I hope to see in these discussion threads. I really don't think anyone here is disputing that breastmilk – in most cases – is the better option. Where we differ is that this needs to be weighed with other factors as well, and that while breastmilk is indeed superior, formula is sufficient. Kind of like how it would be great for all kids to get the kind of private education many in my area can afford, but since we can't, we will have to make other concessions to try and counteract that. Doesn't mean our son still can't become well educated; it just might not be in the most stress-free, easy way.

  25. @ Alan,
    Yes! Thank you for a clear logical comment that sticks to the subject.

    We all know breast milk is better and if a women is healthy and has no illegal drugs or other harmful medications in her system, it is the best option. I also agree, it should be given a shot UNLESS there is psychological trauma (ie, sexual abuse, rape, etc) and it would cause post traumatic stress syndrome or flash backs that would hinder bonding. Health reasons for not breastfeeding extend into psychological health as well. Both areas are important.

    Vaccinations are murky, I agree. I still can't decide what to do and for the time being am just holding off on them. We got one set, but he reacted badly. But again, I'm not on here to talk about them. If you want to talk more, let me know, we can take it else where!

  26. LOL, FFF…I'm glad to see you admit what I kind of figured, which was that my presence here is actually good for your blog traffic. But are you saying your blog readers' ears are “deaf”? I know you aren't being literal, but I mean–do you think they are so closed-minded they won't give my points a fair hearing? I would hope you'd give them more credit, especially since I've already gotten emails from readers saying they thought I made good points but were afraid to say so on the blog itself for fear of “painting a target” on their backs. (Anyone else who wants to give me moral support, I assure you I won't “out” you: alankingsleythomas@gmail.com).

    It's interesting that you mention your belief that humans shouldn't eat meat, then say you wouldn't “force” it on people. But you would *advocate* vegetarianism, wouldn't you? Including describing the negative consequences of meat production and consumption? Similarly, isn't it okay if I advocate (and push for public health authorities to advocate) breastfeeding, and point out the negative consequences of formula feeding (in cases where breastfeeding is a viable option)?

    “I see just as much risk in fathering a child over the age of 40 as I do in formula feeding. If you can tell me why I shouldn't feel this way, I'm willing to listen.”

    Good, because I'm going to give you another reason (one which doesn't depend on how likely it is to make headway in the current public policy climate–you make a very good point about the way cigarette smoking was once, bizarrely enough, approved of by many doctors). I only left this off originally because it is not that easy to explain (and I may do a poor enough job explaining that my point is hard to follow–apologies in advance if so).

    For many–perhaps most, but certainly not all–parents, the choice of whether to formula feed or breastfeed their baby is a choice, independent of, and occurring after, the choice of whether to have a child at all. As a couple composed of a 26 year old mom and a 40 year old dad (though I did technically get in “under the wire” as I was 39–and she 25–when our daughter was conceived), our only choice would be to either make a baby or not make one. I can't choose to be 35, or 30, or 25 (though if I could, I assure you I would!).

    Perhaps it's better explained from the baby's POV. Portland, a unique human being with a combination of my (perhaps damaged) DNA and my wife's, did not have multiple possibilities impacting her health and development going forward. That is, she did not have multiple possibilities concerning her father's age: the die was cast on that. (She did still have multiple possibilities regarding nutrition, of course, and she is being breastfed.)

    One more way occurs to me to frame this that might be the clearest of all. I would NEVER suggest that someone who had had a double mastectomy should not conceive a child. Nor would I say that any of you who sincerely tried to breastfeed but had difficulties which necessitated formula feeding should feel guilty, should not have another child, etc. It is ONLY when the option is still available to breastfeed, but someone simply chooses to formula feed without even trying to breastfeed, or when people wean to formula after a couple months even though breastfeeding is going fine, that I have a problem.

  27. @Alan,

    Fascinating that you've received such emails. I sincerely doubt that they are from any regular readers of this blog, or people who come here seeking support for formula feeding (which is, as I've said many times in this argument, the purpose of this blog; not, as you seem to believe, to discourage anyone from breastfeeding), because your POV basically insults their intelligence, love for their children, and ability to make informed decisions. I have to assume these emails are from lurkers who already hate what I am about, which we have many; in fact, my hits normally go up exponentially when I post something construed as anti-lactivist, or when someone in complaining about my right to exist as a blogger on some Facebook sight or what have you. I honestly could care less what those individuals think, as they have 1001 blogs they can turn to for support, and wow – now they have you! More power to them.

    I'm sorry, but your argument doesn't sway me. You had a CHOICE. You could have adopted. You sired a child with no regard for the fact that your damaged sperm could create many serious problems for that child. You made an informed choice, weighed the pros and cons, and decided to go ahead with it.

    Just like a woman who makes an educated choice to formula feed is weighing her pros and cons. I think it is EXACTLY the same thing. As you said, “My only choice was to make a baby, or not make one”. Well, what about someone who REALLY does not want to nurse? I know quite a few woman who feel that way. Their only choice is to either have a kid and feed it formula, or not have a kid. And all of the women I know who feel that way are highly educated, beautiful, sensitive, wonderful women who would make amazing moms. I think it would be a real shame if they decided not to procreate simply b/c they didn't want to breastfeed. I still think their kids will be better off with those genetics, going forward, even if Similac is what nourishes them for the first year.

  28. Sorry, there's more:

    1. No, Alan, I would NEVER preach the benefits of a vegetarian diet, as much as I personally believe in it. In fact, I resent vegetarians who do so, b/c it makes us all look bad. The farthest I go is to invite meat-eating friends over for delicious veggie meals, just so they can see you don't NEED to eat meat all the time. But that is it. I'm not going to change anyone's opinion by proselytizing. I eat what I eat, I raise my child according to my beliefs, and c'est ca.

    2. I want to make one thing clear: this blog is about CHOICE. Everyone on here has a right to their opinion, and the only people who have ever been “attacked” are those who attack first. I have never seen anyone indiscriminately “beat up” on someone for making an opinion statement that did not start out as an insult. I've seen the “group” (if you can call it that, which I find a bit insulting) lash out a handful of times, almost always when someone attacks me personally (like calling me a Formula Feeding F***wad) or is incredibly insensitive to a FFF Friday guest blogger. That is because we are protective of this space – we want it to be non-judgemental, and safe for people to express their true feelings on things without getting blasted, like people so often do on other parenting blogs.

    Anyone who feels like they cannot share their opinion here, but reads this blog for the RIGHT reasons (not b/c they want fuel for their personal lactivist fire), please email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com. I actually got one such email this morning which was lovely and totally got me thinking – which should be the goal for all of this, shouldn't it? I would love to hear from you, and if you are truly afraid that you might get a “target on your back”, email me directly and we can talk in private, okay? 🙂

  29. @FFF: “Anyone who feels like they cannot share their opinion here, but reads this blog for the RIGHT reasons (not b/c they want fuel for their personal lactivist fire)”

    Good grief, FFF, do you not see what a tautology you've set up here? I mean, who is going to be afraid to express their opinion for what you deem the “RIGHT reasons” (i.e., the opinions of people who agree with you)?

    Hard to believe you are really the same blogger who–again–wrote:

    “I've been commenting on a lot of [breastfeeding blogs], trying to offer another point of view. I've noticed that only people who agree with the blogger tend to comment on many blogs, which is why I am so happy when someone of an opposing opinion makes their way over here – what's the good of a debate if we never hear the other side?”

  30. @Alan,

    It's so lovely that you keep quoting my words. I think we all read them the first time.

    Again, I disagree with you. I go onto those other blogs for the RIGHT reasons. Not to preach my agenda, and not to beat a dead horse (and this one, buddy, has been dead for so long it's beginning to reek). I occasionally go on to offer another point of view, compliment the other blogger on a well-written and thoughtful post, and try and stay as calm and respectful as possible. Anyone who does that here is welcome. I would never in a million years dream of doing what you have done here, especially on a subject that I could never have personal experience with. Anyone with half a brain could make the distinction I'm illustrating here, and in my experience, the folks who comment here, both lactivist and not, tend to be pretty brainy.

    I'm frustrated, because I feel like every time I respond to you, I am just stroking your ego. But I also think some of your arguments shouldn't be floating around in cyberspace without response. You also seem like the type who needs to have the last word. Which irks me.

    But I'm gonna take the high road here, and just stop. I suggest everyone else here do the same. Alan, you are absolutely welcome to state your opinions here, but do not expect me to engage in this futility anymore, or I won't have any hair left, and that would just suck.

  31. @ Alan- I have been thinking about these posts for the last couple of days (obviously), and perhaps a better analogy is co-sleeping. Since you believe that the AAP's recommendation to breastfeed for a year is to be heeded, because it's the AAP, I would imagine that you like-wise heed the recommendation to put your child back to sleep, in a crib every time?! That became a public health issue, complete with ad campaigns, directed at reducing the SIDS rate. Perhaps we should only listen to the AAP and public health campaigns that we agree with? Or perhaps it's another example of weighing relative risk?

  32. @Brooke: “Perhaps we should only listen to the AAP and public health campaigns that we agree with?”

    Gotta hand it to ya: this is probably the toughest, strongest debate point anyone here has made yet. Good one!

    So here's the deal. I really did give a lot of weight to that AAP recommendation. So although my ex-wife and I had coslept with our older two kids, I was determined that with Brittany and our new baby, we would use a co-sleeper (essentially, a bassinette with one side lower than the other three) next to the bed instead of true cosleeping. But that just didn't work for Brittany (I will let her describe, if she wants, why specifically she couldn't deal with doing it that way). And before you ask: if she couldn't handle breastfeeding, I would not point a gun at her or tie her up and force her to, or divorce her if she didn't.

    I do think though that this is related to the point we discussed earlier about vaccination. It's one thing if public health officials tell parents that it is healthier to do something with or to their kids that is a recent invention (that describes both putting children in separate cribs, as well as vaccinating them). It's quite another if they find that it is healthier to do things the way we evolved to do them over the millennia (sorry, no creationism in this household). The latter is always going to be my default assumption, and I think it requires a more stringent standard of proof.

    So I think I partially fought my way out of that corner, but still: good one! I definitely took a hit to my battleship there. 😉

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