The recent study by Dr. Cynthia Colen has a lot of us in the breastfeeding world up in arms. This study declares that benefits of breastfeeding may be “overstated” and our very own Jordana Horn has indicated that this could be an end to Mommy Wars since everyone is just doing their best and we are all good moms and other such positive messages of unity and happiness which I wholeheartedly support!
However, the issues are the following:
1. Academics. This study is not the end all be all of studies. The journal it is published in is not, in my opinion, the foremost journal to look for for this kind of research. The study was based on statistical associations which are not always correlations (they are not the same thing!). It is not a faultless study. It is not “right” simply because it was published. In academia, things are published all of the time which are later edited, revisited, re-analyzed, dissected, contested, and reviewed. That a study exists doesn’t make it a talking point for us moms everywhere. This is an academic paper designed for a statistics and social sciences audience, not for us to use to bolster any particular opinion or lifestyle choice we make based on our lives, work schedules, and decisions. And I would say that even if the study supported breastfeeding. These kinds of papers are not meant for public consumption to draw conclusions about our particular situations.
2. Evolution/God/Nature. Evolution/God/Nature did not devise a way to feed babies and ensure the survival of the mammalian species by giving them asthma or any other such detrimental health issues simply by doing the thing that keeps them alive. That’s not how science or God work. I promise. Breastfeeding does not cause asthma and this study doesn’t say it does. The danger, however, is in people with little to no science background seeing these headlines and feeling like breastfeeding is the same as bottle feeding because “Breastfeeding cause asthma!” becomes the takeaway message.
3. One of these things is not like the other. Breastfeeding is NOT the same as bottle feeding. Just like C-sections are not the same as vaginal births. Just like medicated births are not the same as non-medicated births. And just like vegan cheese is most certainly not the same as non-vegan cheese! Things can’t be the same as what they are not. That’s basic logic and it would behoove us to think about how we can reframe our experiences to come not from a place of defensiveness and desire to equate things not equatable, but from the perspective of the following: “There are many ways to do things. We don’t know for sure what makes for ultimate happiness and goodness for us or our children, so we all do the best we can with the education, resources and support available to us.”
As a breastfeeding mother who struggled through nursing two children for a total of over six years and was told I wasn’t made to breastfeed by numerous naysayers trying to “spare my sanity,” and as a Certified Lactation Educator Counselor, and as a supporter and beneficiary of the free services and education and resources and support of La Leche League International, I can tell you the following: it behooves our government, our communities, our spouses, and ourselves to get women the proper information during pregnancy (at the least!) about how the breast makes milk, what the benefits are, and how to have the support in place to help you do that. Period!
If you don’t want to breastfeed, that’s fine, you can still be a great mom. If you are one of the very very small percentage of women who can not make sufficient breast milk (many women who are told they don’t make enough milk simply have not been told how to build and maintain a milk supply in the early months, I’m sad to report), of course you are still a fantastic mother. I am not a breastfeeding dictator.
Every major medical organization in the world agrees that humans ought to be fed with breast milk. It benefits baby, mother, community, and our economy. My heart breaks for women who have been turned off to breastfeeding, who didn’t get the support, or who didn’t even know to ask for support.
But let’s not set up a straw man of Mommy Wars in the name of defending a study of associations based on numbers and graphs which supports particular situations or our personal opinions. That doesn’t help the legitimate case of supporting breastfeeding which is globally the best way for us to feed babies.
Do what you want based on your life and embrace your choices. But let’s not knock down the global breastfeeding community in the process!