“Ban the Breast Pump”

Judith Warner’s new  article in the NY Times could be read as following up on Jender post here.  Warner’s claims, though, are a bit stronger, I think.  It isn’t just that there needs to be some understanding when things don’t go optimally, but also that the optimal may be being misconceived (so to speak).

Is it at long last possible – on this side of the Atlantic [as opposed to France as she experienced it]– to suggest that we’ve maybe taken “breast is best” a bit too far? That a mother’s need for some semblance of physical dignity is perhaps a right worth respecting? That supplementing with formula – if it makes for greater happiness (and emotional availability) in the baby’s most important caretaker – isn’t necessarily an act of gross irresponsibility?

Maybe. Maybe we’re even at a point where it’s permissible to insist that the needs of a mother and the needs of her baby, rather than being opposed are, in fact, linked, and that the best way to meet both is to scale down the demands now put on mothers and beef up support for them.

Given she says that the breast pump makes one feel like a cow, it’s interestng that she uses “beef up.”

Let me recommend  that commentators take a little care not to just  repeat the discussion of Jender’s post linked to above.  Some care had to be taken to clarify the issues, and it might be best not to repeat all that here.

44 thoughts on ““Ban the Breast Pump”

  1. yes, i think her ‘cow’ rhetoric–as well as the title of the piece–does her larger argument a disservice. as many of the commenters to the piece itself have pointed out, it makes no sense to insist that one’s decision not to breastfeed is respected while meanwhile disrespecting those who are making the decision to pump (or otherwise breastfeed exclusively). one commenter writes “You’re smarter than this, Judith–we don’t need to replace one fundamentalism with another.” and that seems right.

    all the same, i will admit that i’m very pleased with this article, in that it–along with the last–seems to signal a wider trend towards questioning the mummy party line. *sigh*. this time, i’m going to do healthy things like SMILE at my baby. because i’ll be able to. because i’ll be brave enough to say ‘no’ to the perfect-mummy pressure.

  2. elp, perhaps it’s my bad that there’s a lot of the article that I didn’t take literally or see as really aimed at other women, though clearly some readers did. In any case, of course I don’t support denigrating the decision to use breast pumps and/or to choose exclusive breast feeding.

    I’m wondering about the rhetoric of this sort of thing, and whether there are implicit qualifications. I think it just never crossed my mind that, e.g., when she sees a mother pumping milk she does genuinely think that it is grotesque.

  3. Women need clear information about the health benefits of breastfeeding. Just the facts, whatever they are, and no spin. I would not let people like Warner and Rosin screen the data for me, considering that they feel a loss of “physical dignity” while using a breast pump or breastfeeding.

    It’s a little sad for them to be spreading these negative images. For people who have never used a pump, it’s important to know that many mothers have no trouble with it. As a mother of twins, I had to pump to increase my milk supply. It was all part of the comedy. Did I feel bad for supplementing? Of course not. Judith Warner is always doing battle against some imaginary pressure to be perfect that she projects onto the world. Methinks it is really inside her own head.

  4. anon, i can’t say i agree with you. i think the pressure is all too real. you’re quite right that some women have no trouble with pumping and the like. but the fact is some do–so much so that it interferes with the overall health of their child rearing. and while there are (apparently; tho again, proper clinical trials haven’t been conducted, and what evidence there is seems to show only modest benefits; ie, ones that could be outweighed by things like maternal stress) benefits to breastfeeding, women need to know that their friends, families, and communities are going to support them in whatever decision is right _for_them_ and their babies. and in the current climate, they don’t.

  5. Yes, some women have trouble. But there’s trouble and then there’s trouble. When someone talks about “loss of physical dignity,” we’re in the realm of malleable perceptions. But more generally, I think it’s important to maintain a grip on the health issues here. Babies are separate little persons, and there’s no automatic match-up between what is best for their caretakers and what is best for them. So the idea that we should support mothers “in whatever decision is right for them and their babies” is rather dangerous. There’s just no automatic mesh between “right for me” and “right for baby.” I think this sort of rhetoric, if used by fathers to defend their labor-saving parenting techniques, would be transparently self-serving. In other words, bullshit.

    It sounds to me like you are getting your information about the health effects of breastfeeding from Rosin’s article. I see that as unwise, as she clearly has a personal stake in casting the facts in a certain way. She finds that breastfeeding limits her and impairs her dignity. There’s a straight medical issue here and I’d go to medical sources to get my facts. If you looked into them very closely, I don’t myself know exactly what you find. But I will certainly not let people be my source of information who find breastfeeding or pumping so personally taxing. That’s an obviously source of bias.

  6. anon, first off, i’ll thank you not to call my claims ‘bullshit’. please see ‘our policy’ at the right for more on what is and isn’t acceptable tone on this blog.

    further, i’m not getting my information from rosin’s article. i don’t get medical information from newspapers (nor do i get it from baby care books written by journalists and “parenting experts”). one source that comes to mind is a 2007 meta-analysis conducted by the agency for healthcare research and quality of the US department of health and human services.

    Click to access brfout.pdf

    “Results: We screened over 9,000 abstracts. Forty-three primary studies on infant health
    outcomes, 43 primary studies on maternal health outcomes, and 29 systematic reviews or meta-
    analyses that covered approximately 400 individual studies were included in this review. We
    found that a history of breastfeeding was associated with a reduction in the risk of acute otitis
    media, non-specific gastroenteritis, severe lower respiratory tract infections, atopic dermatitis,
    asthma (young children), obesity, type 1 and 2 diabetes, childhood leukemia, sudden infant death
    syndrome (SIDS), and necrotizing enterocolitis. There was no relationship between breastfeeding
    in term infants and cognitive performance. The relationship between breastfeeding and
    cardiovascular diseases was unclear. Similarly, it was also unclear concerning the relationship
    between breastfeeding and infant mortality in developed countries. For maternal outcomes, a
    history of lactation was associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, breast, and ovarian
    cancer. Early cessation of breastfeeding or not breastfeeding was associated with an increased
    risk of maternal postpartum depression. There was no relationship between a history of lactation
    and the risk of osteoporosis. The effect of breastfeeding in mothers on return-to-pre-pregnancy
    weight was negligible, and the effect of breastfeeding on postpartum weight loss was unclear.”

    sounds impressive, right? obviously the abstract doesn’t give us any figures, eg _how_much_ of a reduction in instances of non-specific gastro-enteritis? i’ve read elsewhere that the reduction, on average, is about 1 non-acute episode per infant in infancy. in other words, your baby will have diarrhoea one less time in his infancy. (i love my child, but i’d choose a chance at a meaningful career and one case of the runs any old day.) but the real kicker is this–and i suspect you’ll find the same qualification in *any* (reputable) study you read on the benefits of breastfeeding:

    “A history of breastfeeding is associated with a reduced risk of many diseases in
    infants and mothers from developed countries. Because almost all the data in this review were
    gathered from observational studies, one should not infer causality based on these findings. Also,
    there is a wide range of quality of the body of evidence across different health outcomes.”

    in other words, lots of the studies out there are simply poorly designed. and importantly: *none*show*causation*, only correlation. in other words, it’s not possible to say from the results of these studies that breastfeeding *caused* the improved health. and there’s all the evidence in the world that breastfeeding is more common amongst better-educated, and importantly *wealthier* women. and we already knew that education makes for better parents, and greater wealth makes for better health. so basically, there’s *very little* we can infer from these correlations, lest we practice bad science.

  7. Opps! I wrote this before I saw elp’s excellent comment just before mine. She makes a much stronger case, but I’ll leave this on in case anyone wants to check the references.


    Clearly there’s a very important research project that should be undertaken. Let’s quickly combine 2 things:
    1. Here’s an abstract of an article (2008, and by well known researchers) on the effects of breastfeeding on the child’s intelligence:

    The effect of breast-feeding on cognitive function has been examined in many studies, and the results show a consistent pattern with a small but significant positive effect in most studies. The effect gets smaller when controlling for relevant confounders and it has been argued that the remaining effect could be due to residual confounding. The aim of this short review is to summarise the main results from these studies and to discuss the possible causes of such an effect, possible confounders and the potential impact of residual confounding. Furthermore, data on the effects of breast-feeding on other aspects of brain development (i.e. visual acuity and head circumference) and the potential negative effects of environmental contaminants in human milk on cognitive function will be covered briefly. The most important meta-analysis and critical reviews will be discussed together with a few recent important papers.

    2. JAMA’s (J of the Amer. Med.Assoc) favorable review of Rebecca Kukla’s book arguing that these sorts of controversies and claims are filtered through a dichotomy of the fetish mothers, on the one hand, and the unruly mother on the other. E.g., there’s a strong cultural bias toward getting those mothers under control!

    Now IQ is going up – for reasons we do not understand, about 3 points a decade. The benefits of breatfeeding one’s child on his or her IQ is really difficult to ascertain. Given this background, we need a lot of very serious analysis of the way the final results and conclusion are and should be presented.

  8. If you’ll look back at my comment, I said that this idea that there’s one thing that’s right for me and baby, if used by fathers to justify not doing certain things, would be regarded as bullshit. The “if used by fathers” was important.

    My main point is that it’s a good idea to keep the two things separate–“what is good for me?” and “what is good for my baby?” They may very well be different.

    As to breastfeeding research. It would be odd if human breastmilk, which contains antibodies, had no more benefit than formula, which doesn’t. Should I really trust the formula geniuses, who have a huge financial incentive, to create a perfect substitute? Do we really know what the key ingredients of breastmilk are, so that we can create artificial matches for them? If I have to choose between trusting some mega-corporation and trusting evolution, I’m going to trust evolution.

    So I start off thinking there’s a presumption in favor of breastfeeding. It’s formula feeding that needs to be proven equally healthful. If there aren’t many epidemiological studies, then I’d stick with breastfeeding. I wouldn’t worry too much about the difference between correlation and causation, as that problem affects everything. Studies that show you shouldn’t drink or smoke during pregnancy just showed correlation, before the mechanisms were understood.

    Certainly, if I were facing this choice right now I’d look it into the health issues more closely. It would be good to know how quickly those antibodies are shared, and what is gained, as you breastfeed month after month. As far as I know pediatricians think it’s a very good idea to do a few months or weeks of breastfeeding, and I wouldn’t take that lightly. It’s when you talk about a year or two years that you get into the perfect mommy model which is surely optional. Some people love that, some don’t, and shouldn’t feel they have to.

  9. p.s. Extentendlp–if I made you feel attacked, I apologize. And now I really need to get some stuff done, so will bail out (but will read further comments).

  10. surely some mothers are selfish–as your ‘good for me’/’good for my baby’ point seems to imply. but i think it *is* pretty clearly the case that what’s *bad* for me is *bad* for my baby. not necessarily bad, simpliciter–in other words, not necessarily bad to trump all goods–but clearly if something has a detrimental effect on the health of the mother, that’s going to have a knock-on effect for the baby. the point of this whole dialog is to flag up the fact that *many*factors*need*to*be*considered*. lots of choices we make as mothers are good or bad for us or our babies, and we mustn’t put one consideration (eg breastfeeding) so massively ahead of all others that we lose sight of the big picture.

    as for evidence of formula milk efficacy, i think your evolution/mega-corporation dichotomy might be a bit overly simplistic. and anyway, remember that all of these breastfeeding studies are comparing the outcome of breastfed babies *against that of formula fed babies*. so, as far as medical studies go, we’ve just as much data on formula as on breast milk.

    re antibodies: i don’t have a citation for this right off hand, but so far as i know, the antibodies in breastmilk aren’t, in fact, *shared*. they have a beneficial effect in the baby’s gut, which is why you see a slight reduction in gastroenteritis in breastfed babies, but they aren’t somehow incorporated into baby’s immune system; they don’t get into the bloodstream, even. lots of well-meaning people will tell you otherwise because they’re making a unfounded leap from the presence of antibodies in breastmilk to some sort of boostering effect to baby’s immunological processes; this is simply folk science.

    look, nobody here is anti-breastfeeding. anon, you seem to think that we are. all we are anti is women being denied the right to make their own best (accurately informed) decisions. breastfeed is _excellent_–when (and only when) it works out that way for a given mother/child pair–but lots of choices you can make for your baby are excellent, and childrearing is and should be a constant weighing of priorities, needs, facts. and sometimes, for some women, the choice not to breastfeed is going to be the right one. that’s all anyone is claiming round here.

  11. btw LR, re “the problem of contaminated formula”: remember the big spinach recall a couple of years ago? we wouldn’t want to say that that instance of contamination shows that spinach is harmful, would we?

    and sorry i can’t help myself: anon, you mention studies of drinking in pregnancy. i just thought i’d point out that, in fact, there *aren’t* any studies that show negative outcomes associated with moderate drinking in pregnancy. in fact, there are several rather well-designed observational studies that show no statistically significant difference in outcome between mothers who abstained and mothers who drank moderately throughout pregnancy. drinking and pregnancy is yet another example–like breastfeeding–of the crowing of zealots far outstripping the scientific evidence.

  12. Alright, well maybe I won’t bail out. I don’t think I misunderstand this discussion. I did not interpret the original post as an attack on breastfeeding. I saw some danger of conflation…with “good for me and my baby” being a concept that can obscure real conflicts of interest.

    I don’t think “bad for me, so bad for baby” is a good rule of thumb. Again, consider it’s the dad who’s saying this. He thinks it’s bad for him to miss his football game, so he keeps the kids in the playpen or in front of the other TV all afternoon. He then justifies himself by saying if he’d done otherwise, then he would have been grumpy and abusive. This is a rationalization. I am wary of mothers using such rationalizations too.

    As to mothers and alcohol. It so happens that I worked with a research group on alcohol and pregnancy way back when this stuff was first being studied. My point (above) was that only correlation was proved at first, not causation. But the correlation was a clue, and it would have been foolish for pregnant women to ignore it. Yes, there’s a dose-response effect. Low levels of drinking won’t hurt the fetus, but the problem with that as a public health message is that people vary a lot in how they define low levels of drinking, and for some, a little drink leads to a lot. The people I worked with were actually very involved in the debate about how the public health message ought to be formulated.

  13. right, the problem with the dad example is that it’s not an example of something that’s *actually* bad for dad. whereas things like excessive sleep-loss, stress, physical pain, loss of career opportunity are clearly bad for mum.

    fewer than 5% of heavy-drinking pregnant women give birth to FAS babies. this is statistically significant, i’ll grant you, but only because 0% of non-drinking women have FAS babies, and surely that has something to do with the fact that FAS is only diagnosed when the woman is known to have taken alcohol excessively! in other words, the very fact that you didn’t drink rules out the diagnosis. so of course the numbers are going to be different. that’s not correlational evidence in my book. and anyway, if women were *told* what counts as a little (btw they are in britain. alcoholic drinks are clearly labelled as to their alcohol unit-content, and women are told explicitly what counts as ‘a little’), there wouldn’t be a problem of differences in interpretation.

    pregnant women are not dimwits or children. they can process information just like anyone else, and should be respected enough to be trusted to do so.

  14. But what Judith talks about is “loss of physical dignity” in the quote that’s in the post, not pain, loss of job, or that kind of thing. So that’s the kind of “bad for me” thing I thought we were talking about. But I agree–as serious costs for mother go up, they may trump benefits to baby. Mothers are people too!

    I helped the researchers I worked with write a book, which is full of evidence that alcohol causes FAS and FAE (a milder form). I didn’t think there was any controversy about that at all, at this point. There’s evidence in the book about mechanisms, even. It’s not all epidemiology.

    These folks worked with women in poor neighborhoods with alcohol problems. So the problems of connecting with diverse people, who use information well or badly, was a big issue. Sad to say, some pregnant women actually are dimwits or children (literally). No insult intended, just a fact.

  15. Wow.

    “Sad to say, some pregnant women actually are dimwits or children (literally). No insult intended, just a fact.”

    I just want to make sure you understand the form of the argument you’re making here, because i suspect if you do, you’ll want to give it a little rethink.

    1. some Xs are Ys

    2.Ys ought to be treated like Ys.

    3.If some Xs are Ys, I am justified in treating Xs like Ys.

    4.Therefore (from 1 and 3) I am justified in treating Xs like Ys.

    so, this is the skeletal form of what you seem to be claiming. fill in “pregnant women” for Xs and “dimwits and children” for Ys, and the argument seems to get you from the obviously true claim that some pregnant women are dimwits and children (surely that’s right) to the conclusion that you are justified in treating pregnant women like dimwits and children. as you say, no insult intended, it’s just *fact*.

    see, i think this is SO telling; it speaks volumes about the sort of thinking about pregnant women and mothers (and for that matter, women _as_women_) that goes into these blanketed prohibitions and proclamations.

    and the really striking thing, to my mind, is that the argument form happens to be the very same one that people in the midwestern town where i was raised used to justify different treatment for ethnic minorities: instead of filling in Xs with “pregnant women”, fill it in with “blacks”.

  16. You’re attributing all sorts of thoughts to me that are unrelated to anything I said above. Just no connection whatever.

    We were talking about alcohol and pregnancy. I said that researchers I worked with were involved in determining public health policy. In particular, they were involved in determining what would be written on wine bottles in the US. They wrote a book showing that alcohol does cause serious birth defects.

    After we had some back and forth about alcohol and pregnancy, you wrote “pregnant women are not dimwits or children. they can process information just like anyone else, and should be respected enough to be trusted to do so.”

    That’s when I pointed out that these researchers worked with a particularly at-risk population. They were heavy-drinking pregnant women who were often alcoholics, underage, low income. Some were intellectually impaired.

    The logic of what I said is nothing like the way you represented it. Rather, you made a general claim, and I pointed out a class of counterexamples. The class of counterexamples is obviously very relevant to how a public health message about alcohol and pregnancy is stated. The message must “work” with at risk populations.

    As to all this other awful stuff you think that I think…no, I don’t think it. I am not making an inference from the problems in this at risk population to the attributes of all pregnant women and how I should treat them.

    Getting back to the topic that’s really at hand–mothers and breastfeeding. I’m not a relativist, so I’d rather see women go into making these decisions asking themselves “what is right?” “what is true?” I worry that Judith Warner et al encourage people to think “whatever is right for me is right, period.” I think that sort of automatic self-acceptance is ethically problematic. That’s the general orientation I bring to this discussion, not a hard and fast ideology about breastfeeding.

    Now I really will stop. It’s been interesting.

  17. I think there are actually really interesting and difficult issues about how to frame public health pronouncements. Let’s assume that anon is right that the chosen wine bottle message is the best way to help an especially vulnerable population (I’ve read some very convincing stuff calling this into question). But let’s also assume it’s either false or insufficiently supported by the evidence. There are, then, really tough issues about whether it would be a good idea to put these messages on the bottles.

    The public health message issue also ties in with breastfeeding. A midwife I know pointed out that the WHO needs claims that are appropriate worldwide. Much of the word lacks clean water and electricity. OF COURSE breastfeeding is clearly much better in such places…

    Anon, you’re absolutely right that “whatever’s right for me is right” is pretty unconvincing. But I don’t think that’s what any of us were suggesting.

  18. Three points I would like to make about breastfeeding:
    1. Every mother’s milk is tailored just for her baby. It can not be reproduced synthetically because no one can make the hormones and enzymes that Moms body creates- and would you want to consume them if they could? It is the safest and most healthful option. Even the best infant formula is still inferior to breast milk. Why would you spend money on something that is lower quality than the free item? Did any of you know that breast milk has healing properties? If women smear a little of the milk onto their chapped nipples, it will help to heal them. If your baby scratches herself on the face, a little breast milk is the best thing for healing.

    2. Women can rent breast pumps. The newer pumps allow you to ‘double pump’, and the whole process takes 10 minutes. It is unrealistic to expect your life to be exactly as it was before you became pregnant after your baby comes.

    3. While society does sexualize breasts- nothing wrong with that, really- they are actually meant for feeding babies. I don’t understand the dignity argument… what is undignified about breast feeding or pumping? Another perspective on it would be that these women feel a loss of sexual attractiveness because their breasts are no long primarily sexual objects.

    I just don’t understand why anyone would prefer to use formula when breast milk is available. The first year of a baby’s life sets a blueprint for their health for the rest of their life. Why even have a baby if you are not interested in that baby’s optimal health and welfare?

  19. Rachel, it might be good to read through the comments on the other post on breast feeding, which is linked to above. Indeed, the post itself also addresses the question you end with.

  20. to compare and contrast:

    comment 3: “…Judith Warner is always doing battle against some imaginary pressure to be perfect that she projects onto the world. Methinks it is really inside her own head.”

    comment 19: “Why even have a baby if you are not interested in that baby’s optimal health and welfare?”

    thanks, rachel. you’ve perfectly illustrated the problem! good to have a real-life example.

  21. Many of the women who responded to the Warner article made some great points about these divisive issues that create rifts between feminists. I think I agree that in this case, the real issue is the lack of support between women. The benefits of information sharing and conversation. Acknowledging choice- instead of doing what Warner has done and calling for the banning of a tool many women depend on.

    That said, I am an avid supporter of the benefits of breastfeeding for both Mom and Baby. I don’t think that they should ban formula, i just think that the information should be more accessible…and that the formula companies should not have so much influence in suppressing that information. Conflict of interest maybe?

    “Author: extendedlp

    comment 19: “Why even have a baby if you are not interested in that baby’s optimal health and welfare?”

    thanks, rachel. you’ve perfectly illustrated the problem! good to have a real-life example.

    and for every minute you breastfeed your baby, jesus gives you an extra cuddle in heaven.

    ‘why even have a baby?’ perfect. this says it all. GO ASK MY HUSBAND WHY HE EVEN HAS A BABY, SINCE HE’S NOT BREASTFEEDING.”

    Extendedlp- I asked a question, and I was genuinely curious about the perspective of this group. If you can’t answer it- that may actually prove MY point more than it does yours. I truly don’t understand, in today’s world where we have more choices about how and when to have a baby, why any well informed person would want to conceive and then voluntarily choose not to provide for the optimal health of that baby. Even if it just two points of an IQ, or the firm establishment of all the lovely gut bacteria, or an easier time maintaining a healthy weight. I know that is dicey territory, since not all babies are 100% on purpose, so i’m only asking about people who intentionally chose to have a kid in the first place.

    What if you had the same choice, but it didn’t involve your breasts?

    You raise a very interesting point about how many men- given the facts and information we DO have- would choose to breastfeed if they could. A good friend of mine’s husband saw the price of formula and told her he would double his ‘other’ responsibilities to the baby, if she would just give it a try.

  22. It may be worth noting that you’re putting things in rather a loaded way, Rachel. You’re assuming that in every case, taking all other factors into account, breastfeeding is clearly and obviously the best thing. That’s precisely what we’ve been calling into question in these discussions, with lots of examples. I’d freely grant that there’s good evidence of breastfeeding having benefits. But I wouldn’t grant that these benefits are so great as to outweigh everything else in every case. I won’t go through all the examples that we’ve discussed, but do have a look if you’re interested.

  23. Jender- You make a good point. I guess I really should have said ‘all else being equal’. I didn’t mean to imply that a woman who doesn’t breastfeed is a failure. I am in a position where I see many women (many of them welfare mothers) making excuses- trying to throw in the towel after 1 unsuccessful breastfeeding attempt. I’m sure that colors my language a bit.

    I am just trying to say that because breastfeeding IS so superior to formula, it should get careful consideration and a fair shake before the option is rejected. I (too) think many (not all) of these examples often demonstrate a lack of education and support, and not the idea that Breastfeeding itself didn’t work. I also object to the lack of respect for the function of the female body that is implied when people assume that the formula option really is an equally good one or ‘just fine’. I’m no Margaret Mead, but I do think that we should respect the capability of our bodies.

    I also get a little hot under the collar when I hear people using their partner as an excuse not to breast feed. There is plenty of work to go around!

  24. rachel, i’m not using my parner as an excuse not to breastfeed. i’m flagging up the unreasonable expectations placed on women who procreate that are not placed on men.

    your “why even have a baby” comment is *insulting*. because i see that i have lots of concerns to weigh in deciding what’s right for my baby, i’m not even fit to have a child!? what in the world would give you the nerve to say such things?!

    you haven’t even read the discussion you’re so viciously contributing to. if you had, you’d know that there is NOTHING anti-breastfeeding being said here, and that you are being a terrible high-horsed SNOB suggesting that anyone whose choices differ from your own should not have a child. it makes me *nauseous* to think that someone with your attitudes is working with at-risk mothers.

  25. I think I agree, Jender, though I am reluctant to leave entirely what is emerging because it is a general issue in many areas of women’s lives; namely, why not choose to do it perfectly?

    I think a number of people have been right to argue that the described perfection is not always possible. Another point that has been effectively raised is: what evidence really is there that this is perfect? This is especially important when scientific data is claimed on behalf of practice, since the science is often less clear cut than it seems in popular publications.

    Another that elp has just raised is: Who gets to judge the practice of others? And one you and elp have raised is: what are effective means for changing others’ practices. It is unbelievably difficult to change people’s behavior. Verbal messages may be counter-productive, etc, etc.

    I think there is another we haven’t approached here quite explicitly, though elp seems to be thinking in these terms. It concerns the effects of aiming for seeming perfection. Something we need to factor in here is the fact that human beings are in general rotten at following rules. That is not our thing; we aren’t cognitively built for it. Almost all the ‘cognitive’ activity that gets us from A to B is done instinctively and out of awareness, as Hume well saw. It is completely a very important message of today’s cognitive neuroscience. Consequently, we can educate people for 16 years in rigorous schools and find at the end of the day that they can’t fill out forms correctly. But our amazing brains can assimilate tons and tons of information and come out with ‘instinctive’ judgments that far outstrip anything rule following can deliver.

    So rule following, while apparently easy for some, might in fact be subverting what we best at and what we bring most effectively in our parenting and elsewhere.

  26. Thanks, JJ, for turning the discussion to these really interesting general lines of thought. Instead of suggesting a close to the comments, how about a turn toward these concerns instead?

  27. Thanks, Jender. I was about to say “of course none of this says we should ignore the councils of perfection or the seeming evidence.” I’d be really happy now to turn it over to someone else. Or maybe return to this at some other point. Or forget it or whatever.

  28. jj, i think another thing that’s really important to emphasize is that this cult of perfection is totally mum-centric. no one *ever* talks as if dads should do it perfectly or not at all. (for that matter, no one ever talks about ‘work-life balance’ or ‘having it all’ w respect to men! but that’s straying slightly from the point.) and yet, we wonder why women struggle after equality. we women are shooting ourselves in the foot with all of this competitive mothering.

  29. O dear. Do love that Freudian business still. It must in part be generally about the unruly mum and all the fluids she leaks, but it sounds from comments as though it is also a lot about self-control.

    Forget I said that. It is so elitist white middle class to think that people’s behavior can always be explained in terms of their desires!

  30. i’m reading em armstrong’s _conceiving risk, bearing responsibility_ right now. she points out that both waves of panic over maternal drinking (first at the end of the 19th c–btw very bound up with the eugenics movement–and then of course in the late-70s/early 80s) happened at pivotal times in feminist history: times when women were ‘breaking out of domesticity’. she seems to take the sudden emphasis on perfection in pregnancy as an attempt to reign women in thru greater moralising about the role of mothers: you can be liberated if you want, but if you want to have a family, you’ll still need to be a well-behaved woman!

  31. I have not checked this site in a while, but I am glad to see the underlying agenda has not been compromised. I am well aware that the previous topic is over, but I just wanted to say-ExtendedLP- that I was not targeting you directly or indirectly with any of my comments. I was discussing the topic and my personal experience with breastfeeding mothers and their families. I’m sorry you felt targeted by my statement, it was not my intention. I feel that the resultant name calling indicates I must have really upset you :) I guess these issues really do hit close to home sometimes.

  32. The smile after ‘upset you’ was not a smile at upsetting you! I see how that looks now. It is a smile at the fact that we all get passionate about feminist issues…. darn. :)

  33. rachel, it doesn’t matter which woman you were targeting: what you said is still offensive. the fact that it was vulnerable women, and not me, only makes it more shocking.

  34. I’ll use a phrase that only we snobby elitists would recognize as the correct quote from Hamlet.

    The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

    I’d be very surprised if anyone finds the idea that some people don’t want to be pregnant or are not prepared to have a child in their life to be ‘shocking’. It must be very pleasant on your planet. That must be why no one there expects life to change very much once the baby comes. Down here on earth it is mostly kind of sad and very economically taxing-for families and the government- when people go ahead and bring babies they don’t give a damn about into this world.

  35. Come on, guys, remember the policy here is ‘be nice’. I think it’s sometimes easy to say things on the internet that don’t come out exactly the way the person intended – especially when discussing something one cares passionately about. I don’t think anyone meant to cause offence, or make anyone feel targeted. And I think there are valid points being made on both sides. It’s true that for some women, they are made to feel like failures if they can’t breastfeed, even if they have a good reason not to (there’s not enough milk, their nipples are bleeding, they’re half-crazy with lack of sleep and wondering why formula in the night would be such a bad idea). And I understand how frustrating it must be for someone to be involved with parents who don’t seem to give a damn about the baby they’ve brought into the world, and don’t seem willing to work at things which would be beneficial for the sake of the child. (I have friends who are social workers, and they also report such things.) Let’s continue the discussion in a friendly manner.

  36. I heard this once before & wondered if it was true. Does anyone know if breast pumps causes the breasts to go south faster??? Even when the person using it is in a young age???

  37. wow. haven’t looked at this one in a while.

    LL: i very highly doubt that that’s true. but i have to admit that i also doubt that research has been done on that question (i think we would hear about it if it had), so i couldn’t give you any more than ‘i very highly doubt it’.

    rachel: now your claim is that women ought not have moral leeway to make their own decision about breastfeeding because people who don’t give a damn about their children are a burden to taxpayers?? you’re missing the point entirely. take a critical thinking class and then reread the discussion. this blog is for people who want to take a reasoned, philosophical approach to feminist issues; not for dueling evangelists.

  38. This comment-thread is, it seems to me, chock full of well-intentioned people really pissing each other off (and perhaps violating our “be nice” policy). I think that means it’s past time to end it. So I’d like to suggest that we do that.

  39. OK, but I was just about to jump in and query what has been assumed or at least allowed: these women in poverty who don’t (seem to) give a damn about their kids.

    I think there are a number of reasons why we should worry about letting this pass on a feminist blog. It isn’t that I want to argue that they really do love their kids. My worry is about bringing in descriptions that fit so well reasonably comfortable lives and assuming their applicability or lack thereof is equally clear in other, very different circumstances.

    For one thing, I’m very concerned about how our comfortable lives leave us largely unaware of how small some of our cognitive resources really are and how they can be exhausted. E.g., self-control appears to be like something with a physical quantity; it isn’t all that often completely overwhelmed in comfortable, regulated lives (though TV adverts obviously have severly taxed some people’s). But other lives are very different.

  40. but jj, i think it’s also important to point out that even bringing up these supposed ‘don’t give a damn’ mothers in this context is illegitimate; question-begging. precisely what’s at issue is whether mothers who choose not to breastfeed are necessarily making blameworthy choices. to turn the discussion to how disgusted we are with bad mums implies that we’ve already established that bottle feeding constitutes bad mothering. and we haven’t. no matter how much mud we sling or how many tables we thump.

    we simply _haven’t_ had a satisfactory argument in favour of the idea that mothers who choose not to breastfeed should be chucked into the bad-mother bin post haste. and that’s exactly the idea that we’re trying to explore: that other good-mothering considerations might make it such that our moral judgments about breastfeeding cannot be simple or black-and-white.

    so, condemning bad mothers is totally beside the point. (and as you rightly point out, jj, probably misguided for a whole different set of reasons.)

  41. Never said we should be restricting peoples ability to make a choice. Just wanted to discuss the issues that would make a woman choose not to do it, despite the evidence that tells her it is better for her baby. You still have not been able to address any of the things I mentioned in a reasonable way- only attacks at my character. Which is rediculous because this is an online blog and has very little to do with who we are as people at home. I could be a 75 year old man for all you know. Infact you could be a 75 year old man for all I know! Maybe you dont even have children and you just go around ‘lambasting’ people on blogs to make yourself feel powerful.

    Cut the character bashing and respond intelligently to the subjects, or just don’t say anything at all.

    Also- do you know any evangelicals? I do. Most of them- not big on breast feeding or feminist blogging.

  42. I’d like to repeat my plea: let’s drop this. There are lots of interesting issues, but things keep boiling over.

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