The problem with calling breastfeeding “natural”

Nice discussion of what sounds like a great paper by  bioethicists Jessica Martucci and Anne Barnhill.

In a new paper recently published in Pediatrics, bioethicists Jessica Martucci and Anne Barnhill argue that the emphasis on the “natural” aspects of breast-feeding can easily backfire. By endorsing breast-feeding as natural, they say, breast-feeding advocates are reinforcing the idea that natural is A) something that actually exists and B) healthier. By setting up this dichotomy, these pro–breast-feeding campaigns might serve as unintentional fodder for concerns against “unnatural” interventions like vaccinations.



Bad news for women in UAE – legally enforced breastfeeding

The United Arab Emirates isn’t best known for its efforts to uphold women’s rights. So it’s no real surprise that they have just passed another oppressive law – women are now legally required to breastfeed for two years. They can be sued by their husbands for failing to do so. You can read more here.

UPDATE: It turns out that reports of the situation by many news sources are inaccurate. The law has not been passed. The legislation was drafted, but reaction to it has meant that it has not gone through. Thanks to Ned Block for clarifying the situation.

If breastfeeding is so important, why not research it properly?

Typically when a woman experiences difficulty with breastfeeding she’s told to keep working at it because she’s probably just doing it wrong. After all, it’s what her body is meant to do. But our bodies are meant to do a lot of things—like produce insulin, eat peanuts, or get pregnant—that they sometimes can’t…In a piece for Time that questions whether the medical community is failing breastfeeding mothers, writer Lisa Selin Davis points out that “lactation is probably the only bodily function for which modern medicine has almost no training, protocol or knowledge.”

More here. And yes, the article probably is too dismissive of lactation consultants. But it is certainly true that *in addition to* lactation consultants, some science would be helpful. And very definitely right that “but it’s natural” is totally insufficient as a response to problems. (Thanks, L!)

Breastfeeding In the Classroom

American University professor Adrienne Pine speaks out about breastfeeding her daughter in class here. American University response here.

So here’s the story, internet: I fed my sick baby during feminist anthropology class without disrupting the lecture so as to not have to cancel the first day of class. I doubt anyone saw my nipple, because I’m pretty good at covering it. But if they did, they now know that I too, a university professor, like them, have nipples. Or at least that I have one.

Breastfeeding and fussiness

Breastfed babies are 30 per cent less likely to develop behavioural problems, according to the latest evidence that breast really is best.

To assess the effects of breastfeeding on behaviour, Maria Quigley at the University of Oxford and her colleagues collected data from more than 10,000 mothers in the UK.

When their infants were around 9 months old, each mother was asked whether she breastfed her baby and for how long. When the children reached the age of 5, their behaviour was assessed using a questionnaire completed by the mother.

This so-called Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) is used to identify behavioural problems including anxiety, clinginess, restlessness, lying and stealing in youngsters. The team also noted the mothers’ socioeconomic status, education, smoking and relationship status, as these are all thought to influence offspring behaviour.

After accounting for these factors, the group found that babies exclusively breastfed for at least four months were 30 per cent less likely to exhibit a range of social and behavioural problems or score abnormally high on the SDQ.

As others have noted, this at best assesses what mothers who breastfeed *think* about their children’s behaviour, and that’s important. Also, it neglects the possibility that something else– like having a lifestyle conducive to breastfeeding– could be the common cause of breastfeeding and less fussy children (assuming they actually are less fussy, rather than just being perceived that way).

Interestingly, even the experimenters seem to think it’s likely not to actually be the breastmilk itself but the attachment that results from all the time feeding. If that’s right, then (a) one should emphasise that there are other ways to form said attachment (involving fathers, bottles or both); and (b) the US model– little if any maternity leave, but lots of pressure to pump– isn’t going to bring the benefit.

(Thanks, S and L!)

Link here.

Bias against breastfeeding mothers

Drawing from the objectification literature, three experiments tested the hypothesis that breastfeeding mothers are the victims of bias. In Study 1, participants rated a woman who had breastfed as incompetent. Study 2 replicated these effects and determined that the bias was specific to conditions that sexualized the breast. In Study 3, participants interacted with a confederate in which attention was drawn to her as a mother, as a mother who breastfeeds, as a woman with sexualized breasts, or in a neutral condition. Results showed the breastfeeding confederate was rated significantly less competent in general, in math and work specifically, and was less likely to be hired compared to all other conditions, except for the sexualized breast condition. Importantly, the breastfeeding mother emphasis and the sexualized breast emphasis resulted in equally negative evaluations. Results suggest that although breastfeeding may be economical and healthy, the social cost is potentially great.

For more, go here.

(Thanks, L!)

Making breastfeeding more possible

It’s a goal we should all support, whether or not we as individual women choose to do it. It increases the range of viable options available to mothers.

The surgeon general is issuing a call Thursday to eliminate obstacles to breast-feeding – and working moms may see the first steps: The new health care law requires that many employers start offering “reasonable” break times to pump milk and a private place to do it. No, the company bathroom no longer counts.

Of course, what’s *really* needed is much longer maternity leave than Americans get. But this is better than nothing. And also better than the more traditional governmental strategy of haranguing and blaming mothers who don’t breastfeed. (Thanks, Jender-Parents!)

Exclusive breastfeeding till six months now bad, not good

Oh, wait? Did we say it was good? What’s that? Mandatory? Did we make you feel horribly guilty and tell you that you were ruining your child’s life if you didn’t exclusively breastfeed for six months? Oops. Sorry about that. Turns out to be kind of the opposite. New mothers: you MUST give babies solids at four months.

Come on, folks, how about a bit of epistemic humility in discussing these issues? Nah, that would involve complexity and we all know mothers’ brains can’t cope with that. Must keep messages simple and dogmatic.