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What if breastfeeding isn't always best?

Amy Hatch began her career as a print journalist, and now works as a freelance writer and editor. She lives in Urbana, Ill. with her husband and two children.

Breastfeeding studies misleading, author says

It's time to stop fighting about how we feed our babies and time to start working together toward larger goals that will really help our families.

In a provocative essay recently published in the New York Times, an author and professor expresses a distinctly unpopular opinion — that breast may not always be best.

Joan B. Wolf is an associate professor of women's and gender studies at Texas A&M University and she has long suggested that studies about the benefits of breastfeeding have very little to do with science and everything to do with how modern parenting deifies motherhood. In the Times article, she writes,

Based on my analysis of hundreds of studies, I have found the benefits of breastfeeding in the developed world nonexistent, marginal or impossible to disentangle from other aspects of a child’s life. The more a given study accounts for parenting practices — promoting hygiene, avoiding crowded places when babies are young, reading to and otherwise engaging with older children, exercising, etc. — the less breastfeeding seems to matter at all.

Wolf, who also penned the book, Is Breast Best?, goes on to say that those who engage in and report on this research are doing an enormous disservice by diverting our attention from the real issues that would benefit families — good schools, flexible workplaces and affordable and accessible child care.

Mom vs. Mom

Instead, says Wolf, mothers are pitted against each other in a battle of the boob. Moms who can't or don't breastfeed are both morally and physically inferior to "good" moms who sacrifice their bodies, time and yes, their finances, to nursing.

I was unable to breastfeed my first child and experienced an incredible amount of shaming and badgering from total strangers. As a new mother it was baffling to me that anyone was interested in how I chose to feed my child. As an adult woman, it was insulting — and infuriating.

It's no one's business how you feed your kid

Not only was my body uncooperative, my workplace did not allow a decent spot for pumping so even if I had been able to produce breast milk, I'd have been forced to pump it sitting on a toilet in the women's restroom. Over and over again I explained these facts to friends and strangers until one day I realized that it was no one's business.

I actively chose not to nurse my second child, and it was then that I began to question the "science" around breastfeeding and became a vocal advocate for those of us who take an alternate path. Earlier this year when a new study showed the benefits of breastfeeding may be greatly exaggerated, it was cause for celebration. At last, a study offering an alternative viewpoint.

It's time to work together

Wolf sums it up so perfectly, writing,

Most mothers genuinely want to do what’s best for their families. But the stakes of motherhood have become so moralized many feel defensive about their choices, especially when other mothers choose differently. So they wage holy war on each other.

Breast may be best for you and your baby, but it wasn't best for me and mine. Why does that need to drive a wedge between women when there are so many other battles to fight? I don't care how you feed your baby, but I will fight for your right to do it in whatever way is best for you and your family.

It's time for us to put those differences aside and focus on influencing policy changes at the highest levels that will have a real and lasting effect on our children's lives.

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