Thursday, April 8, 2010

Divided we fail babies.

It's been a busy week in breastfeeding news.  On Monday, the journal Pediatrics published a study about breastfeeding, showing that over 900 American babies die each year and 13 billion dollars are spent due to low breastfeeding rates.  Almost immediately, the internet seemed to explode with reactions.  Gina from the Feminist Breeder took the information and wrote what I believe is one of the best analyses of breastfeeding in Western society that I have ever read.  Articles popped up left and right discussing how to deal with the "guilt" that accompanies sharing information about breastfeeding.  Matador Life published a well-written and comprehensive article detailing the ongoing Facebook vs. breastfeeding saga (featuring yours truly...).  I read and I read, and then I read some more.

And now something is gnawing at me.

We have all of this information, all of these analyses, all of this movement.  But I wonder how we will really move forward, how we will really succeed at changing things, when we have a sensitive, fragile, and bitter divide threatening to let us all continue to spin our wheels without ever actually going anywhere.

Here is the issue:  Some mothers breastfeed.  Some mothers do not.  You knew that, I know.  But hear me out.

The CDC reports that 75% of mothers leave the hospital having initiated breastfeeding.  Six months later, that number drops down to 13.6% who are still exclusively breastfeeding.

Although I have a lot of thoughts about what happens to those 61.4% of women, it's not something I want to discuss right here and right now.  It's been discussed - a lot in fact (okay fine.  Quick summary: society bullies them out of continuing.) - and my concern this time lies elsewhere.

My concern is how we all learn to work together.  How we heal the wounds of the mothers who desperately wanted to succeed at breastfeeding but did not.  How we swallow our pride, set our noble principles down for a moment, and respond with empathy to the human experiences of one another.  How we admit that perhaps we all need to do better together.

Here's what's so tricky about all of it.  Although society as a collective whole is to blame for not providing mothers with the support, information, and education they need to succeed in breastfeeding, change happens in individual increments.  Essentially, we are asking mothers to look society in the eye, punch it in the gut, and overcome all of the social barriers that stand in their way - with no more tools to succeed than they originally started with.  It's a chicken and egg dilemma of epic proportions - with human lives and billions of dollars at stake.  Society will not change until individuals change, yet demanding individual change within an unsupportive society is hardly simple.  Hardly fair.

But it is where we are.

The study published in Pediatrics based its numbers on how things would be if we brought that 13.6% up to 90% of mothers still exclusively breastfeeding at six months.

76.4% of mothers is massive change.

We're not going to get there by fighting.

We're not going to get there by blaming one another.

We're not going to get there by standing on soapboxes, getting defensive, or indulging old wounds.

As with any battle, patriarchy has always benefited from the in-fighting of the oppressed.  When mothers fight mothers, it is babies who lose.

I'm not suggesting we hedge.  I'm not suggesting we tiptoe.  I'm suggesting we suck it up, get over ourselves, and work together.

There are nine hundred and eleven babies who are counting on us to succeed.


Hi, I'm Natalie. said...

I wrote my second rant about breastfeeding today, a day after people from my pre-natal group were commenting that breastfeeding is weird once babies become mobile. (ACK.)

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Honestly? This is getting to be ridiculous. Publicity seeking... Vilification of bad formula-feeding moms... & Marginalizing women's intellectual contributions... This breastfeeding bullshit is getting old April. Can we find something else to rant about? Seriously. Or let me guess? You are going to delete this comment too. Whatever. You lost my readership already.

April said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
April said...

Anonymous #1: I agree. People who are don't breastfeed are not bad people. If something I've written has led you to get a different impression, I suggest you go back and read again. I know and love a lot of wonderful mothers who do not breastfeed. That doesn't change the fact that breastfeeding IS what is best for babies. And I'm going to continue to have the courage to say it.

Anonymous #2:
Publicity seeking - I suppose every blogger is "publicity seeking" to one extent or another. Without doing so, our blogs would never be successful. It's also an important element of standing up for a cause - nobody will care if nobody knows about it. Guilty as charged, without apology.

Vilification of "bad formula feeding moms" - I don't know what I've ever said to give you that impression. I've said multiple times that I don't blame or judge mothers who don't breastfeed. The low breastfeeding rate in the US is a social problem, NOT an individual problem.

Marginalizing women's intellectual contributions - I disagree, and in fact am attempting to stand up for women's contributions to society.

As far as your suggestion that I'm going to "delete this comment too" - I tend to delete comments that attack me personally, especially when they're from an Anonymous poster. If you'd like to disagree or debate, feel free. But please, do it with respect, do it with an open mind, and have enough courage to stand up next to your comments. You don't have to read my blog, and I'm sorry to see you go. I'm even more sorry that you have really misunderstood what I'm fighting for.

Beth said...

Great post, and I agree that we need to start figuring out how to keep this movement rolling and on a more individual level.

I think that we need to encourage our friends and family members to breastfeed by breastfeeding in front of them, giving them good, accurate information, and supporting them as much as possible when they do decide to do it. I know I have had the privilege of helping several moms figure out some breastfeeding challenges.

We also have to stay abreast of any legislation that is in the works or on the table at all levels of government and make others aware so that we can all support it.

Those are just a couple of ideas. I've also given some thought to becoming a lactation consultant so that I can put my beliefs into practice on a very individual level.

I've really been enjoying your blog, and have linked to it on my own.

Anonymous said...

I completely support and understand the cause that you are fighting for, but in my personal experience, every one breast feeds. It may only be for the first six months, but I can't think of more than two or three women who went straight to formula after giving birth; and mostly those were the young mothers who did not want to have to commit/deal with such a responsibility. I guess it is strange for me to read that there are such discrepancies outside of california (?), or at least, my area of experience.

Sausage Mama said...

I'm not sure how Anons 1 & 2 got so off track.... anyway....

Great blog. Best I've read in a while on the topic.

Madeline said...


Found your blog through BlogHer's newsletter and could not agree more. Your post made me a little teary eyed, in fact. I don't know why, but I get so emotional about this issue. I see friends decide to nurse and then give up after about a month, or not try at all. I just find it heartbreaking for them and for the baby.

I consider the fact that I breastfed for 18 months and that my daughter never had formula to be among my life's greatest accomplishments (especially after 8 weeks of pain and going back to work part time at 4 months).

It is exactly because of the societal problem that you outline that comments like yours (and like mine above) are interpreted as pointing fingers at non-breastfeeding moms. How on earth can we fix that?