Yet another rule

That mothers must adhere to, for fear of risking their children’s health. As recently as, oh, probably last week, the wisdom was that breastfeeding must be on demand rather than on a schedule– or else the milk will never be properly established. And babies must be allowed to feed on one breast until it’s emptied– otherwise they will miss out on the most nourishing milk. Now it seems the opposite is true— babies need schedules and no more than 10 minutes per breast. When I went to breastfeeding classes a couple years ago, we were taught about how people used to believe just that, and taught that this was the reason for so many breastfeeding failures in the recent, unenlightened past. Looks like the pendulum’s getting set to swing again… Just as it did with age of first solid food (Must be 4 months! Must be 6 months! Grave danger if rule not followed!). And with drinking (Must give pregnant women intravenous alcohol! Must not even have a bite of rum-flavoured ice cream!). And with fish for pregnant women (Must eat lots! Must avoid at all costs!). And peanuts (see fish rules). And co-sleeping (Terrible– potential physical and psychological disaster! Mandatory for psychological and physical health!). And pregnancy weight gain (Must be strictly minimised! Must be embraced!).

Maybe, just maybe a bit of epistemic humility is called for– an acknowledgement of uncertainty and variation, and a respect for women making their own decisions in light of ALL available information, rather than just whatever is favoured by the dogma of the time. And perhaps genuine, open discussion of all this. (My NHS midwife wasn’t even permitted to discuss the possibility that anything other than demand feeding might be worth consideration, though she found ways to implicate that.) Thanks, Mr Jender, for the link.

15 thoughts on “Yet another rule

  1. All medical research is based on statistical premises, and in the age of popular science an increasing number of conclusions that reach the popular media are based on a very narrow set of data. I agree completely, many of these aspects are person specific and–most importantly–the propagating guilt model that the child is patterend by the decisions of the mother is ridiculous. We are all statistical and uncertain beings and we try to rely on medical research to reduce the apparent randomness but we do not have the tools to actually do so. It’s the same with assuming a person is to blame if they have cancer. My non-smoking grandfather died of lung cancer because he lived to more than 80 years old and cancer will eventually develop somewhere. Carpe diem.

  2. try telling a breastfeeding baby/toddler that they can only have ten minutes on the boob and they have to wait 4 hours before they can have another ten minutes… I know my 18 month old wouldn’t be happy…she wouldn’t be happy at all and EVERYONE would know about it…

  3. My fiance and I are pregnant and we are going crazy figuring out what is and isn’t okay. Nice to know this is just a prep period for the actual baby.

  4. Limiting their breastfeeding does get them ready for the real world of waiting waiting waiting. Which makes me think I want to hide my future kids from the real world as much as possible…

    It’s all relative right? He asks himself as he waits for work to be over.

  5. When it comes to your own kids, the only rule is to ‘go with your gut’ and politely tell the professionals to get knotted!

    The ‘scientific’ facts they tell you when you’re expecting just seem to be another stick provided to prospective parents so that they may beat themselves to death in preparation for the multitude of sticks provided once they [the kids] get up and start running around …

  6. wow. i really like your convictions in this matter. i didn’t know all of that. interesting blog, just thought you might like to know :)

    ~Lady Elizabeth

  7. Thanks!!! (To all of you except the one with the question about limestone– not that I mind a question about limestone, but I am puzzled by its presence in this thread!)

  8. I advocate for demand breastfeeding both as a mother who breastfed three children for a total of five and a half years and as a feminist. Demand feeding certainly does not mean that there are no gaps between feeds nor that one does not know the approximate duration of a feed nor that there are no choices in placing baby at one or two breasts at the time required. While breastfeeding cannot be practised as a ritual as is bottle feeding it does include behaviour that is repeated as well as behaviour that can be changed according to temperament, circumstance, age of child, etc . Give me breastfeeding anyday!

  9. I keep hearing that it’s mostly instinctive anyway. The ups and downs of medical hocus pocus don’t frighten me as much as they used to after having spoken with all of my female relatives and gotten pretty much the same answer: “oh, it’s different for everyone, just go with your gut.”

  10. It’s as bad as the rules on whether, and when, you apply heat or cold to a sprain. Every few years, it reverses.

  11. I think people would do well to remember Dr. Spock, who told young parents that “You know more than you think you do” (I’m paraphrasing). My mother and grandmother always appreciated that advice.

  12. Hi Jender-Bro. The similarities increase if you imagine being told that your ankle will be ruined FOREVER if you don’t get it exactly right. (And the ankle cries a lot. And we won’t even mention what it does in its nappy.)

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