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Another Editorialist That Doesn't Get It

Looking for The Lactivist? She's retired. But you CAN still find Jen blogging. These days, she's runs A Flexible Life. Join her for life, recipes, projects and the occasional rant.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Stumbled across an editorial from the Scripps Howard News Service today that started off as commentary about the new Massachusetts legislation on the distribution of formula in hospitals and quickly denigrated into a stereotypical rant on breastfeeding in public before switching gears and turning breastfeeders into judgmental hypocrites that wish to use breastfeeding as a way to minimize their own guilt over bad parenting.

In other words, this writer was all over the place.

In a commentary article titled "
Formula for success? Breastfeeding zealots have gone into overdrive
," writer Betsy Hart starts off wrong and goes downhill from there.

Hart's errors start off on the factual side as she writes:


The legislature there has just banned -- yes, banned -- hospitals throughout the state from giving out free samples of infant formula, provided by formula companies, to new mothers.


The problem is that she's flat out wrong. The new law does not ban the distribution of free formula. It bans the AUTOMATIC distribution of free formula to ALL MOMS. Hospitals are still allowed to give formula to any mother that asks for it.

The commentary goes downhill from there as Ms. Hart patronizes pro-breastfeeding moms by repeatedly putting quotes around phrases the way that a sarcastic teenager uses air quotes while speaking scornfully of an ex-friend. Apparently Ms. Hart nursed all four of her children in public on rare occasion and feels she was completely discreet in doing so but now claims that plenty of other mothers are out there flashing their goods for the world to see just to make a point.

Not sure what world she lives in, but even during my year of breastfeeding when I kept an eagle eye out for nursing moms I only ever spotted two. (and it's not like there were no nursing moms in this city of more than a million people.)

From the article:


And some moms, for a host of reasons, choose to, or have to, bottle feed.

That should be their prerogative. But instead it is an absolute no-no according to some of the "experts." That's when the breastfeeding zealots, all the national organizations and advocates who lobby for and can actually accomplish an amazing thing like having a state legislature ban the free distribution of an expensive and nutritious baby product to needy mothers (as well as wealthy ones) step in. These folks are able to make even moms who only occasionally give baby a bottle feel like a complete loser. And that's what I object to.


Wow. Did anyone else just read the same thing I did? Hart basically accused all Lactivists of wanting to starve the babies of poor mothers. (oh, and wealthy ones too) We're also evil for encouraging moms to breastfeed instead of encouraging them to throw in the towel at the first problem so that they can give their child an inferior and expensive alternative to what comes freely and naturally.

Yeah, that makes sense.

Hart goes on to say:


Perhaps one factor is that breastfeeding has become a palliative for guilty moms who choose to go back to work and leave baby with the nanny. Maybe it has something to do with the reality that infant formula is expensive and probably profitable, and the fact that corporations make money on feeding baby (inexplicably) drives some people nuts.

But more and more I've come to think we so desperately want to believe, literally, there is some formula, preferably a comparatively easy one, for making our babies better, stronger, faster. Some pill, some expert advice, some technique, some guarantee, some answer to this business of childrearing. And so we've glommed onto breastfeeding as the national Rosetta stone of bringing up a perfectly, happy, healthy little one.


Makes sense to me.

The breast is best, but let's make sure we never say it.

*sigh*

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  1. Blogger K | 6:13 AM |  

    I certainly don’t like this writer’s tone and boy does she have her facts wrong, but I actually think she is slightly on to something with this remark:


    But more and more I've come to think we so desperately want to believe, literally, there is some formula, preferably a comparatively easy one, for making our babies better, stronger, faster. Some pill, some expert advice, some technique, some guarantee, some answer to this business of childrearing. And so we've glommed onto breastfeeding as the national Rosetta stone of bringing up a perfectly, happy, healthy little one.


    There is a small but growing segment of parents who exalt breastfeeding above all other parental acts as the end-all-be-all of providing one’s child with good health and love. (An example – those who would some how “discount” the efforts of a mom who exclusively pumps). This is not to say that said parents neglect other acts of good parenting assuming that breastfeeding will magically pull out whatever fat they have put in the fryer, but there seems to be an almost messianic devotion to breastfeeding on the part of a radical few out there. It seems to me, though, that if this was the author’s point, she blew right past it in an effort to paint all breastfeeding activists as extremists.

  2. Blogger Jennifer | 6:54 AM |  

    Excellent point.

    We've both seen time and time again on the debate boards the comments about people that breastfeed but then give their children happy meals on a weekly (daily) basis, or that pump while working 85 hour weeks and never seeing their children...

    ...I also heard my fair share of derision from some on the boards when I switched to exclusively pumping, mostly becaues some people claimed that the physical act of nursing was essential to bonding.

    Apparently bonding doesn't take place via cuddling and time but via a nipple... ;P

    But yes, there are some within the lactivist ranks that miss the forest for the trees.

    The question is, when you have people that are in a defensive position, how do you educate and encourage without offending? (I'd love to hear your view on this one K due to your circumstances...)

    For instance, I had a hard time speaking with people about my reasoning for wanting a natural birth because most moms immediately thought that I was implying that they were bad mothers for NOT having a natural birth. It didn't matter how much I said that this was my own choice, they took offense.

    The same thing happens with breastfeeding. I had a hard time talking with some friends about why I choose to pump because some of them took it as a "I'm better than you because when I couldn't nurse, I pumped" type thing since they had ended up formula feeding.

    Where's the happy medium? When do we stop walking on egg shells?

  3. Blogger K | 8:38 AM |  

    Tough questions. I agree with you wholeheartedly.

    Parenting -- indeed, mothering -- is so primal. It is so easy to interpret almost anything -- including helpful advice -- as criticism.

    Seems to me that your efforts are a great example of affective activism. You provide good solid information. You provide a wonderful example and role model. And you do so without being judgmental.

    It really is necessary to state over-and-over again, that almost all lactivists are very reasonable, well-intentioned folks. What bothers me most about the tone of that editorial is the implication that breastfedding advocates, in general, are extremists.

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