Latch On NYC: Let’s latch off for a second and consider the repercussions

I’ve written about seven different posts about Mayor Bloomberg’s Latch On NYC initiative between yesterday morning and today, none of which said what I wanted to say.

Finally, At 2am, I fell into a fitful sleep, and had the craziest dream.

In the dream, I am a forty-two-year-old Manhattanite, in the waiting room of a fertility specialist who will hopefully assist me in becoming a mother, after a five-year struggle to conceive. As I wait in anticipation, a nurse comes into the room. She sits down and kindly – yet with an unmistakable, underlying, patronizing tone – asks me if I was sure about going down this path. She informs me that babies conceived through IVF have a higher risk of autism, a 40% higher likelihood of ADD,  and a 42%  higher risk of developing cancer later in life. She explains that nature really intended for women to have babies in their early twenties, and since I’d been too selfish busy to get around to it, it would probably be best for me to forget about it. Considering assisted reproduction is strongly correlated with preterm labor and multiple births, my “choice” is going to have public health repercussions. The choice was mine, but she wanted to make sure that I had really thought it through, and perhaps considered just getting a puppy instead.

“Oh!” she calls as she leaves the room. “I will see you next time – we’ll have this little chat each time you come in for your appointments.”

Then, my dream-world shifts. Now I am a single mother living in a poor neighborhood in New York City. I have to work, and my daughter has to stay with the only childcare provider I can afford – a woman whose idea of stimulation is setting my kid in front of Dora the Explorer. I hate it, but what can I do? I’m sitting in my living room when the doorbell rings. It’s Child Protective Services. They tell me that my child will be taken into custody because she watches far more television than the AAP likes, and plus, children of single mothers are far more likely to end up on drugs or with severe psychiatric disorders. They know it will be painful for me to give her up, but it really is for the best. She’ll be better off in a clean foster home with organic food and no screen time allowed. Maybe I should consider getting a puppy to fill the void.

Once again, the dream swirls around, and now I’m back to being me. I am sitting at a table with a friend and her kids, and she is feeding them hot dogs and cold cuts, with tall glasses of milk to wash it all down. I harshly inform her that plant-based diets have recently been proven to provide numerous health benefits, cutting down on both cancer risk and the chance of obesity. She looks uncomfortable and angry, but I press on – because I know she wants to be a good mom, and if she really loves them, she’d want to do what the studies say is best. After all, I feed my kids a vegetarian diet, and I don’t find it difficult. Look how beautiful and healthy my children are!

But she points out that her kids are beautiful and healthy, too. And while it may be true that plant-based diets are healthier, she doesn’t think it’s that cool that I allow my son to ride forward-facing, at nearly four years old. Don’t I know that recent studies have shown that extended rear facing cuts the risk of severe injury and even death due to car accidents?

And then my vegan son takes a bite of her son’s hot dog, and my friend throws a puppy at me, and I wake up in a cold sweat.

My feelings about the Latch On initiative, where women in maternity wards will be forced to beg for formula each time they want to feed their babies, and lectured on top of it, are quite clear. It’s explaining them that trips me up, because it’s so easy to stumble into tangents about flawed statistics and relative risk, and nanny states, and common sense, and all that nonsense that just gets tempers flaring and gets us nowhere. But you know, my feelings shouldn’t matter. Just like it shouldn’t matter if plant-based diets are better, or we should all get knocked up at 22 to protect the health of the nation, or we should take children out of loving homes simply because the conditions aren’t ideal. What matters is that we need to draw a line somewhere, between advocating for healthier choices, and becoming so overzealous that we set off internal alarms about human rights.

Don’t fool yourselves into thinking that this isn’t a feminist issue. It is, more so than ever. Back when our mothers were diapering our little butts, they were given hell because the studies showed that children with working mothers got the short end of the stick. When our grandmothers gave birth, they were knocked out for the whole experience because of a paternalistic view that our hysterical sensibilities couldn’t handle it. And we revolted.

Where’s the revolt here? Why is it being squashed down, ignored, accused of being in the pockets of the formula industry? Why is it being brushed off as a “mommy war”? Why is no one realizing that our anger has nothing to do with promoting breastfeeding – something the vast majority of us support – and everything to do with concrete, authentic fears about personal freedom?

I keep hoping that women’s rights organizations will rise up, speak up, and stop this insanity. But all I hear is silence.

It’s like a bad dream.


FFF Friday: “I don’t know how to feel.”

Welcome to Fearless Formula Feeder Fridays, a weekly guest post feature that strives to build a supportive community of parents united through our common experiences, open minds, and frustration with the breast-vs-bottle bullying and bullcrap.

Please note, these stories are for the most part unedited, and do not necessarily represent the FFF’s opinions. They also are not political statements – this is an arena for people to share their thoughts, and I hope we can all give them the space to do so.

There’s been some anger floating around the Facebook page lately, and my impulse is to urge people to simmer down and not let themselves be baited. And then, I get stories like Mandi’s in my inbox, which make me wonder if anger might be an appropriate emotion to embrace. I think we should feel angry that women like Mandi have to keep questioning themselves, because imagine how much women could accomplish if this kind of intelligence, spirit, and insight didn’t have to be muted – even momentarily – by self-doubt. Anger can be a useful emotion; at least more useful than guilt or fear. What matters is where you direct that anger. It’s pointless to waste it on extremists, or random haters on the internet who get their jollies from seeing their hateful thoughts typed out on a Facebook thread. It’s more healthy, and productive, to direct quiet, controlled anger towards those who can truly create change, and influence them by rising above the sloppy rage so prevalent in this debate.

The anger expressed in the post below is the kind I’m talking about – it hits you in the gut; fills you with drive rather than rendering you impotent. It’s the kind of anger which will provoke us to fight for better rights for ALL parents,  formula feeding, combo feeding, and breastfeeding. We need to make it clear to the powers that be that we are not fighting a petty mommy war – we are standing up for every parent’s right to feed their baby in the safest and healthiest way possible, whatever that ends up being.

(Oh – and just one caveat: this story does touch upon politics, and I know we are a very diverse group here – so I hope we can give the same respect to differences in opinion on political matters as we give to differences in opinion on parenting styles.) 

Happy Friday, fearless ones…

Mandi’s Story
When I was 16 years old, I wore a size 10 pants.  I also wore a size 2x top because I wore a size 42 G bra.  I was ludicrously disproportionate.  So when I had the opportunity to have a breast reduction, I jumped on it, not even caring what the repercussions might be down the road because I was 17 and 17 year olds just don’t think like that.  I vaguely remember the surgeon mentioning that I might or might not be able to nurse my kids later on, but that it would be a “wait and see” situation.
Fast forward 15 or so years, and my husband and I are trying to start a family.  I’d been diagnosed with PCOS (though in hindsight I disagree with the diagnosis and think it’s based on my weight, not on the actual diagnostic criteria).  We defied the statistics.  I wasn’t supposed to be able to get pregnant without clomid, progesterone, IVF, some sort of fertility aid, etc…. but I became pregnant within the first 2 months we were trying.  I continued to defy statistics…. I was supposed to have gestational diabetes because I supposedly had PCOS, so it was treated like a foregone conclusion… no diabetes. As far as nursing was concerned, I approached it with the same attitude: the doctors say I won’t be able to, so I’m going to prepare everything to be able to anyway because if things keep going like they are, it shouldn’t be an issue. I researched nursing bras for larger mamas, got myself set up with a medical-grade double electric pump, and had daydreams about rocking my baby while we peacefully nursed and bonded.
I was wrong. You hear about inadequate supply all the time and the more vigilant lactivists will insist that there’s no such thing and that the mother just isn’t committed enough or doing the right things to boost her supply.  I made next to nothing.  I tried latching my newborn daughter in the hospital to no avail.  I used a hospital pump and got nothing.  And when I say nothing, I don’t mean a little colostrum like one would expect while waiting for the milk to come in.  I mean that after 40 minutes of pumping I would have 2-3 drops of breastmilk in the bottles.   Still, I thought that maybe once I got home my milk would come in and we could still nurse.  Nope, nothing.  I tried herbs. I tried tea.  I tried warm compresses, drinking a ton of water, pumping regularly, etc…. but never produced more than an ounce of milk in an entire day.  We bottle fed that to my daughter, got a can of formula and moved on with life.  It was only then that I started feeling the “sting” of being a bad mother, having not tried hard enough to nurse, etc…. I have several “crunchy” mom friends and while their attitudes weren’t so Judgy McJudgerson, they frequently posted articles to FB and such that demonize formula as chemical poison and insisted that all women could nurse, allowing reprieve only to those who didn’t have breasts due to mastectomy or some such thing.  I began to wonder if these people truly believed it would have been “healthier” for me to starve my daughter by insisting that breastfeeding WOULD work if I tried hard enough, despite empirical evidence that I didn’t just have a low supply, I had a no supply.
 Then about 18 months later I went off birth control again because we were thinking we’d like to conceive a second child in the next 6 months or so.  As Yoda would say, “There is no try, there is only do,” and I was knocked up again the very first time we tried- literally within days of having my IUD removed. Infertility and I were not acquainted.  This time around I changed the focus of my research, typing searches into Google such as “Chances of lactating with second child if unable to nurse first,” and began to believe that I was the only person in my situation who either really couldn’t breastfeed or didn’t just say I don’t care, formula feed and avoid the internet.
Still when it became time for my younger daughter to be born, I was hopeful that maybe this time something would change.  As soon as she was born I asked for a pump to be brought to my room.  I didn’t have very much faith in my boobs, so to be honest I didn’t even try to latch my new baby.  I tried pumping, every hour, for the time we were in the hospital.  Again, nothing. Same story at home, different characters.  I admit it, I gave up. I didn’t want to be a slave to the pump for 1oz of breastmilk a day.  With such a tiny amount, my daughter needed her Mama much more than she needed my breastmilk. 
Still, despite all the logical conclusions on Earth, a part of me still has guilt.  My tendency towards overeducated and passionate friends means that I have read countless horror story articles, articles denouncing me as less than a mother.  When our daughter had colic, I wondered if it would have been different if I could have nursed her. When she was diagnosed with a sacral dimple and possible occult spina bifida, I wondered if whatever was “wrong” with me that caused me not to lactate had made my poor baby imperfect.  And I can’t shake those feelings of guilt, not yet.  If I had it to do over, would I still have had the reduction surgery?  Yes. So I don’t know how to feel.  I have received the message loud and clear that I failed.  No matter how many times the judgment is followed up by “but you have to do what works for you,” etc…. it doesn’t change the underlying message of “what works for you is WRONG.”    And for what it’s worth, that message has never come from a man, a Republican or a Tea Partier; those people who are waging the legislative battle against women’s reproductive rights.  It has come pretty exclusively from the community of educated, prosperous women for whom childrearing has become a competitive sport.  The world where Apgar scores are mentioned in conversation as a way to compare how good you were at being pregnant, where women who take advantage of the advances of medical science that allow the vast majority of pregnant women not to die in childbirth the way we have for millennia are viewed as irresponsible and negligent, where pseudo-scientific studies tout how much smarter, thinner, faster, better, healthier the Bionic Breastfed Children will be than my own, poor, unloved formula fed daughters, where strollers (except for super expensive BOB strollers of course) are neglectful because you should be wearing your child in a sling….. where every message of “support” is clouded with judgment that some choice you’re making (or in my case, was made for me) is WRONG and the “supporter” is overtly telling you how much better of a mother she is because her children have only eaten organic tempeh with carob dip  and your kid has had McDonald’s nuggets.  My guilt comes from hearing, over and over, the message that Breast is not just Best, it ought to be ONLY. If I’d done what that community insists I should have been able to do, my kids would be dead.  But that does little to overcome the guilt of my own failure. Thanks for that.

WHO versus CDC growth charts: WHO cares?

Ah, infant growth charts. Aside from those on your junior year SAT math section, no graph can inspire more fear and concern. FC’s percentile chart looks like a death-defying roller coaster – from the 10th to the 75th to the 25th. Fearlette’s is always at a consistent 20th, but considering her height was in the 75th, her weight to length line is disturbingly close to the bottom of the page.

I hate those growth charts.
According to yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, so do many other parents. Columnist Melinda Beck reports that: 

Parents often worry that their children are too tall, too short, too fat or too thin. These days, however, more kids are measuring “off the charts”—either above or below the standard ranges for height and weight that pediatricians use.

The wide variations are due in part to rising obesity rates, an increase in premature infants who survive, and a population that is growing more diverse. Yet the official growth charts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still reflect the size distribution of U.S. children in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. The CDC says it doesn’t plan to adjust its charts because it doesn’t want the ever-more-obese population to become the new norm.

Beck goes on to explain how many are lobbying for the American Academy of Pediatrics to adopt WHO growth charts, as our current ones don’t reflect the growth patterns of breastfed babies. The movement has been going on for awhile, and I think it’s important to understand how the two types of growth charts differ.

The WHO growth charts are meant to act as a normative standard, as they were based on children who fulfilled specific criteria – “proper” nutrition (breastfeeding exclusively with complementary solids starting between 4-6 months), born at a healthy gestational age and weight, living with sufficient socioeconomic conditions, decent healthcare and breastfeeding support, etc. The charts are based on records of children fulfilling this criteria in Brazil, Ghana, India, Norway, Oman, and California between the years of 1997-2003.

The CDC growth charts are simply a snapshot of one general population (the midwestern United States) over 30 years. No babies were excluded based on any criteria. You can think about it like this: the WHO charts are based on an ideal; the CDC charts are based on a time-and-location-specific reality.

I am not a fan of the CDC charts. Just as they do not accurately address the growth trends of breastfed babies,  one could easily say that the current growth charts also fail to reflect the social, ethnic, environmental, and hell, I’ll say it – evolutionary – factors which are contributing to larger babies.

The problem is, neither do the WHO charts – in fact, I fear they will only make things worse.

There seem to be two separate concerns being expressed within this particular debate: one, that breastfeeding moms are being mistakenly informed that their babies aren’t growing sufficiently on breastmilk alone; two, that our nation’s babies are a lot bigger than they used to be, and the growth charts don’t reflect this. These two problems have incompatible solutions. Adopting a chart which skews lighter, as the WHO charts do, might help the breastfed kids seem more “normal”, but it would also make the majority of babies in this country seem disproportionately bigger. If it were an indisputable fact that larger babies were inherently unhealthy, one could argue that categorizing more babies as outside the “ideal” would be a good thing. As far as I know that isn’t the case. There is some correlation between faster weight gain in infancy and later obesity, but this is still a rather tenuous correlation considering the quality of the studies which suggest it. By adopting the WHO charts, I fear we will suddenly see an “epidemic” of “obese babies”; next thing you know we will be putting 4-month-olds on diets.  I know it sounds CoCo Puff Crazy, but check out what the authors of this report from the CDC comparing the two types of growth charts said about the subject:

Clinicians should recognize that the WHO charts are intended to reflect optimal growth of infants and children. Although many children in the United States have not experienced the optimal environmental, behavioral, or health conditions specified in the WHO study, the charts are intended for use with all children aged <24 months. Therefore, their growth might not always follow the patterns shown in the WHO curves. For example, formula-fed infants tend to gain weight more rapidly after approximately age 3 months and therefore cross upward in percentiles, perhaps becoming classified as overweight. Although no evidence-based guidelines for treating overweight in infancy exist, early recognition of a tendency toward obesity might appropriately trigger interventions to slow the rate of weight gain.

I’m not convinced breastfed babies would be immune to the Obese Baby label, either. The WHO growth standards on not based on American children; there are genetic, ethnic, and situational factors that play into growth, weight, and length of babies. We tend to be a rather, er, well-fed bunch; maternal diet can affect the amount of fat and other nutritional content of breastmilk, and the lifestyle of the mother can dictate how much milk a baby receives. An exclusively breastfeeding mom who works full time will likely have a baby who is bottle-fed breastmilk as much or more than s/he feeds at the breast;  studies have shown that it may be more the mechanism of feeding than the type of milk which influences weight gain.

Nor would universal adoption of the WHO charts necessarily negate a physician’s desire for intervention when weight gain plummets downwards. One of the women interviewed for the WSJ piece was a woman whose “5-month-old son, Elias, has slipped from the 50th to the 25th percentile.” Her answer to the guilt inflicted on her by her pediatrician was to consider “taking a leave from her job as an associate professor of human development at California State University, Long Beach, so she’ll be available to nurse on demand.”

A drop from the 50th to the 25th percentile at 5 months might not be seen as a cause for concern if pediatricians were trained in the growth patterns of WHO chart-compliant babies. But I think this quote underscores the problem with any type of growth chart: every situation is different. We don’t know enough about this woman’s story to know whether her doctor was an anti-breastfeeding alarmist, or merely a follower of the Hippocratic oath. (Please note: I am not making any sort of judgment on this mother’s situation, but I also think we need to look at these types of anecdotes critically, as they tend to get used as fodder for the ongoing infant feeding debate. I’m looking at the quote alone within context of the article, and trying to point out that there may be additional layers to the story, and that the solution may not be as simplistic as adopting new growth criteria.) Why would the mom feel the need to quit her job and “nurse more” as the solution? To me, this suggests that the mom feels her time away from the breast is the problem – it could be that the baby has a problem taking a bottle, or the mom has a problem expressing enough milk.I’d also question, since the drop in weight occurred around 5 months, whether adding solids might be a solution. There has been discussion in the medical community about relaxing the “six months exclusive breastfeeding” rule to “four months exclusive” at which point solids can be added to the diet, based on individual readiness and need. Perhaps this baby is one who is both ready and needy for a bit more sustenance. This has nothing to do with the adequacy of his mother’s milk or her employment status. Nor does it have anything to do with formula supplementation or which growth charts are being used. 
I understand the argument that the current charts are outdated in pretty much every way possible, and need to change. But I think a more helpful solution would to be to stop being slave to the percentiles, and instead use them – perhaps the CDC ones for formula fed babies, and the WHO one for breastfed babies – as merely a guide. If a baby is healthy, growing, and meeting developmental milestones, then who cares if she is in the 10th or the 80th? Especially if our only choices are to compare that a baby living in 2012 in Tuscon, Arizona to either some statistical hybrid of Gambian and Norwegian babies, or one from Wisconsin in the 1970s. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that the current system judges all babies (and parents) by unfair standards, and not allow this to be more kindling for the breast versus bottle pyre.

FFF Friday: I placed my mental health above what my son ate…”

Welcome to Fearless Formula Feeder Fridays, a weekly guest post feature that strives to build a supportive community of parents united through our common experiences, open minds, and frustration with the breast-vs-bottle bullying and bullcrap.

Please note, these stories are for the most part unedited, and do not necessarily represent the FFF’s opinions. They also are not political statements – this is an arena for people to share their thoughts, and I hope we can all give them the space to do so.

I honestly don’t know what more I can say to introduce this piece, because the title says it all. 

Thank you, FFF Abigail, for illustrating how individual circumstances are far more important in what determines a woman’s feeding choices than formula bags, societal barriers, pacifier use, sub-par maternity leaves, or any other “booby trap”. Sometimes, a family’s decision is less about confronting barriers to breastfeeding, and more about confronting – and overcoming – personal barriers to health and happiness. 

I feel stupid saying my usual “happy Friday” today, since everyone in the US knows it is anything but. So instead, let me close with this:

Stay safe and happy, fearless ones,

Abigail’s Story
My mom died during my birth from poorly managed pre-eclampsia that was detected at a routine prenatal appointment.  I was born via c-section, after she was clinically brain dead, at 32 weeks.  In 1980, my chances of survival at 3 lbs., 3 oz. weren’t so good.  Fortunately, I inherited the family’s stubborn gene, and I persevered!  Obviously, I wasn’t breastfed; Similac was the drink of choice.  Despite being premature and being deprived of oxygen for some time while my mother was comatose (long story here), I thrived.  I had a normal childhood, was rarely sick, excelled in school, and got my PhD when I was 25.  Not too shabby given the fact that I was raised sans breast milk!
When I got pregnant with my son, I was elated!  But, pregnancy was a terribly nerve-wracking time for me.  I worried about pre-eclampsia and pregnancy complications as well as miscarrying, birth defects, etc., all while dealing with my husband’s crazy, special-ops military schedule.  I’ve always dealt with anxiety and mild depression, and I could make a profession out of worrying,  but my OB felt that it was better for the baby for me to go off my medication while pregnant, and so I did.  In hindsight, that might not have been the best decision, but I wanted my pregnancy to be “clean.”  I did a lot of reading and researching during my pregnancy…birthing options, feeding options, etc.  Reading about breast feeding nearly sent me into a panic attack…thinking about having supply issues and mastitis and cracked nipples and having a baby attached to me all the time and having issues forming a nursing relationship.  The more I read on the subject, the more anxious I got about the whole notion.  And, after a lot of discussion, my husband and I decided it was probably best if I formula fed…he could share some of the feedings and take some of the burden off of me…it would give him some quality time with our son since his career takes him out of the country very frequently…AND, most importantly, I could go back on my anxiety medication after giving birth without worrying about how it might affect by son via breast milk.  To us, formula feeding made sense.  And, since I wasn’t breastfed and turned out just fine, I never thought of formula feeding as something detrimental.
Fast forward to my son’s birth…an uncomplicated induction…an uncomplicated vaginal delivery…a beautiful baby boy…and my worst fear…less than 18 hours later, we learned that something wasn’t right.  My son had a rare craniofacial birth defect that would require surgical correction.  Craniosynostosis, a skull anomaly that occurs in one out of every 2000 births, occurs when one or more of the sutures (fibrous material that hold the bones of the skull open while the skull grows), fuse prematurely.  In our son’s case, two sutures had fused in utero.  Left uncorrected, he would have an abnormal head shape, the brain couldn’t grow properly, and he would likely suffer intellectual and developmental delays.  We met with a craniofacual surgeon when my son was 8 days old and surgery was scheduled for three months later.  The surgical correction involves an ear-to-ear scalp incision, breaking of the sutures, stabilizing the breaks with plates and screws that will dissolve over time, and, in my son’s case, re-shaping the forehead and the eye sockets.  The news was DEVASTATING.  I went back on medication immediately, and the 12 weeks we waited for H’s surgery were AGONIZING.  Though we knew the surgery was necessary, it’s horrible to contemplate something so major happening to your tiny son, and I am SO GRATEFUL I was using formula!!!  Had I not been on medication, I wouldn’t have been able to be a good mother during those weeks of waiting…and had I breast fed while on medication, my anxiety would have been unmanageable.  It might not make sense to those not in my shoes, and that is OK.  I’ve been told I shouldn’t have had a child if I wasn’t willing to breastfeed…that I was selfish…that I was harming my son…but I beg to differ.  Because I formula fed and because I placed my mental health above what my son ate, I was able to be the BEST mother possible to my son.  The mark of a good mother is not found in how she feeds her child…it’s in how she loves and cares for her child.  I’m his number one advocate…and now…a year post-op, to look at my brave little hero, you’d never know what he’d endured.  He’s a happy, healthy, thriving 16 month-old.  Breast may be “best,” but it wasn’t best for us!
Share your story for an upcoming FFF Friday. Email me at

The more things change, the more they… change.

I had an interesting conversation the other day with someone who read the galleys of my book.  This woman breastfed two children successfully in the late 80’s and 90’s when this feeding method was certainly not the norm; breastfeeding rates didn’t start really going up until the past decade, when campaigns like the log-rolling, mechanical bull-riding DHHS one began to to kick things into high gear.

Anyway, she had a good experience breastfeeding; she told me she never really experienced much pressure in either direction, and while she was aware that breastfeeding had become far more of an issue in society, she had no clue that formula feeding had become so vilified.  Her exact words were “I had no idea how bad it had gotten.”

I know it sounds ridiculous, but this comment provoked a tremendous revelation for me. Imagine a cartoon image of the FFF (imaginary-draw me with a better figure and less wrinkles, will you?) being hit with a lightening bolt, next to the caption “Doh!

Of course this person didn’t know how bad it had gotten. She hadn’t given birth in the last 5 years, when the pressure to breastfeed has gotten so ridiculously out of control. And neither have the vast majority of big-time breastfeeding advocates or policy makers, let alone the folks reading the various newspaper editorials and commenting on the heated threads of media-reported breastfeeding studies.

See where I’m going with that “Doh”?

I have had two kids in the past four years, and honestly, I saw a marked difference in the amount of breastfeeding pressure I experienced from one baby to the next. In 2008, it was tough to end up in the formula feeding category; still, most of the vitriol I encountered was the online variety, save for a few  overbearing physicians and mommy-and-me instructors. By the time I delivered Fearlette in the end of 2010, even my childless, motorcycle-driving, gun-wielding neighbor threw me a look when he saw my bottle. And since I have my eyes on what’s happening in the breast/bottle scene, I can say without a doubt that things are just getting worse.  I don’t know if these changes were spurred by Hannah Rosin taking a stand, or Joan Wolf questioning the science, or the Call to Action announced by the US government – but one thing is clear: infant feeding has become part of the national dialogue, and gone far beyond a trivial mommy war.

Mary wore the hairshirt, sans the “F”. Source:

If you were a breastfeeding advocate who’d had children before this new front blew in, you might think my pleas for a ceasefire are nonsensical. Kind of like when my mom complains she’s cold on a temperate, 78 degree day. But then again, my mom happens to be super-skinny (like 85 pounds soaking wet), and those without any padding can have issues with temperature regulation. Likewise, women giving birth today have been stripped of the padding when it comes to breastfeeding pressure; no longer are we cushioned by “encouragement” to breastfeed, but rather thrown out onto a cold street with a hairshirt labeled with a big, scarlet “F” should we fail to meet expectations; if we end up being “suboptimal” in our feeding methods.

If you’d been a new parent in a different, not-so-long-ago time, you might think things aren’t so bad. You might brush off feelings like guilt, saying that “no one can make you feel guilty”. That’s easy to say when no one has told a 3-day postpartum You that your inability to breastfeed, or your choice not to, is damning your child to a life of poor health and low intellect. (It’s also easy to say when you’re someone who has never been through this kind of hell, or when you have a penis rather than a vagina and are therefore of the non-lactating persuasion.)

If you’d been a new parent back in, say, the 1970’s or early 80’s, when breastfeeding rates were at an all-time low, it might be easy to laugh at the stories we tell on this blog. Because nobody’s really telling formula feeders they are bad parents. It’s being a breastfeeding mom that’s hard. (Which don’t get me wrong, it can be. I think you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t, in this regard. But that doesn’t mean formula feeders have it any easier- it’s just that our challenges come in different flavors. My platform is that we can’t protect one group of parents by shaming or neglecting the other – we all need to be supported in feeding our babies in the way that works best for our given situation.)

If you’d been a new parent even ten years ago, when breastfeeding began to be more popular, but three months was considered medically sufficient, and six months was considered ideal, you might not fully comprehend what this breast/bottle debate is all about. You might think hey, it wasn’t so hard to breastfeed, not realizing that by today’s standards, the fact that you stopped after 4 months and had been giving relief bottles every now and then would be considered abject failure by many respected experts.

If you haven’t given birth or adopted an infant since before Obama was in office, and don’t plan to again, you might not care that much about infant feeding “wars”. And that’s okay; I get that many things begin to take on graver meaning, like ensuring a good education (we’re facing that now and I swear I’m *this* close to closing down FFF and starting the Fearless Public School Parent in a Really Awful, Underfunded District blog, but then I remember Sandra Tsing Loh beat me to it), drugs, teen sex, and so forth.

But for the breastfeeding advocates, physicians, psychologists, and media pundits out there, whose voices matter in this discourse: please, for the love of god, take a minute to consider that things may have changed dramatically since you were buying Size 1 diapers. This has nothing to do with the benefits of breastfeeding, nor am I belittling your efforts to make the world friendlier for nursing moms (which I appreciate and thank you for), but it is important that you realize this fact. You need to understand what it is to be a mom in 2012, when the internet has all but usurped the “real” world; when Facebook pages are not just about reconnecting with high school flames but are used to discuss parenting styles and form “groups” which simply exist to hate on other peoples’ choices; when a scathing blog post has the power to change the face of advocacy in a disturbingly negative way; when the media has covered stories which state that women who “fail to comply” with breastfeeding recommendations are costing our country innocent lives and billions of dollars.

I know everyone says the more things change, the more they stay the same. In this case that does not hold true. Things are not the same. The sooner society at large realizes this, the sooner this discussion will begin to evolve.

Or at least I hope it will. If it doesn’t, the silver lining is that I think I’d look pretty cool in a hairshirt.

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