Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Breastfeeding language

Hat-tip to A Dose of Joy, who sent me a link to this most interesting article. While I might not agree with each and every word, the concept certainly gives some material for thought: perhaps breastfeeding can be given a better chance when we refer to it as the norm, and to other forms of infant feeding as inferior. Of course breastfeeding as a whole is a wonderful miracle - but it is also normal.

The article is long but worth reading.

"Women may say they "breastfed" for three months, but they usually say they "nursed" for three years. Easy, long-term breastfeeding involves forgetting about the "breast" and the "feeding" (and the duration, and the interval, and the transmission of the right nutrients in the right amounts, and the difference between nutritive and non-nutritive suckling needs, all of which form the focus of artificial milk pamphlets) and focusing instead on the relationship. Let's all tell mothers that we hope they won't "breastfeed"--that the real joys and satisfactions of the experience begin when they stop "breastfeeding" and start mothering at the breast."

Certainly the purpose is not to make bottle-feeding mothers feel guilty, but shouldn't we be free to state the obvious fact: that formula is significantly inferior to mother's milk? When nursing hits the rough spots, if a mother thinks there's no substantial difference between breast milk and formula, will she be inclined to fight to make it work?

A disclaimer which seems to be necessary every time I write about breastfeeding: I realize there are mothers who badly wanted to nurse their babies, and for some reason or other, were not successful, through no fault of their own. My last intention is to make anyone feel guilty, inadequate as a mother, or any such thing.

I do understand why guilt is part of the equation, though, because every parenting choice we make is subject to lots of judgment, especially now that parental authority itself if questioned. Parents who are "too strict" are told they will traumatize their children, and parents who are "too indulgent" are told they will raise selfish, irresponsible brats. The world is overflowing with "experts" who are ready to tell you things will go terribly wrong if you don't do them just their way.

Still, I believe it should be possible to discuss breastfeeding without worrying someone's feelings will be hurt simply because it is mentioned formula is inferior. Do I feel guilty when I hear that organic, free-range, pesticide-free food is healthier than what common supermarkets hold, or that I'm supposed to exercise more often than I normally do? Do smokers feel guilty when they hear smoking is harmful? Perhaps, but it doesn't mean I'm hurt because the topic is discussed.

As long as no one is pointing fingers at me and saying, "hey, you! Yes, you, who refuse to buy local organic goat's milk because it's too expensive! You're making an irresponsible health choice and you and your family will be all terribly sick!" - my guilt levels will probably remain tolerable.

What I'm trying to say is that I believe we mothers should learn the art of dicussing all the alternatives without it all sliding into a war full of nasty personal comments and mud-slinging. Regardless of our personal circumstances and choices, we have such a wonderful opportunity to support each other, why not take advantage of it?


Anonymous said...


I am so glad I came across your blog. I have found many blogs that I like to frequent. I only wish I could meet more like minded women in my own community!

Breast feeding does seem to be a hot button issue. I am currently pregnant with my 6th child. I only nursed the last two, one only for 2 weeks and the other for 3 years. I had not known anyone that nursed their babies and my mother was not a fan. She was against it, as was my MIL.

For some reason I "knew" that I should give it a try, and I was determined to make it work. I understand the guilt that some may experience because I had that guilt when I stopped nursing my 4th child. I cried for days and felt as if I were in mourning. But I also understand why people are so passionate about it. I absolutely loved nursing my daughter and I am looking forward to doing it again. I often pondered on the possibility that I may have benefited as much as my little one.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful post!

Mrs W said...

I agree that, unless comments are aimed at me, or aimed in a derogatory way at bottle feeding moms in particular, that we should be able to just pass it up.

While "breast is best" I certainly think that it's been highly overrated as well.

Formula might be inferior, but it's all some of us have and it isn't the devil either, it's a healthy, legitimate way to feed a child.

I tried goat's milk and it worked well for one of mine but not the other.

So, I can have a nice discussion when not attacked, and I also say that I am thankful for formula.

Persuaded said...

Amen sister♥

K.T. said...

"Perhaps, but it doesn't mean I'm hurt because the topic is discussed."

This is perhaps the most articulate sentence I've read on infant feeding, at then end of a remarkable paragraph. I've found it so frustrating to even mention breast feeding, because of the inevitable what-about-me comments from mothers who couldn't or wouldn't breastfeed. What a wonderful analogy about the organic, local foods; I may use this myself (with proper references, of course.) You've given me some food for thought!

Anonymous said...

As one of those mothers who "failed" at nursing, I still love to read about success stories and read more information. I believe that breast is best, it simply hasn't worked yet for me. With baby girl #3 on the way, at this point I'm planning on some nursing the first week or two, but then switching to formula after that. Maybe we'll get a great feeding relationship established and I won't have to switch, which would be a God send! But at this point the fought of having 3 under 3 is a little daunting!

Ultimately, I think everyone should at least try to nurse for the first few weeks. Give it a really good effort before you decide to switch. I'm not going to be following my own advice this next time, since I'm planning on "giving up" and not giving it my all this time.

Ya know, I could likely turn my thoughts into a whole post of my own, so I think I will!

God Bless!

Anonymous said...

I agree with all of this.

It seems to me that we CAN acknowledge the benefits and even the superiority of nursingbreastfeeding, and work to make nursing/breastfeeding a more viable option for mothers WITHOUT telling mothers that they MUST breastfeed and that they are terrible mothers if they choose not to.

If I ever have kids, I will probably not choose to breastfeed, although I recognize the benefits of breastfeeding, and realize that it is probably the ideal. But, as Anna explained so beautifully in her post, the ideal is great if we can manage it, but we shouldn't feel imprisoned by it.

I am a big believer in balancing the needs of mother, father, and children in whatever situation they are in. In some cases, breastfeeding works out, and in others, it doesn't. You can have a perfectly healthy child without breastfeeding. One may choose to forego the benefits of breastfeeding in exchange for other benefits (freeing up Mom, for example). But no one is well-served by pretending that breastfeeding doesn't provide superior health benefits. It should, however, be the woman's decision on an individual basis to balance her needs, her family's needs and the baby's needs.

-- Pendragon

Anonymous said...

P.S. Did a feminist kidnap you and take over your blog today?


-- Pendragon

A Dose of Joy said...

Hi Anna,

Glad this was a thought-provoking read, I hope it will be for your readers as well :) To me, it was straight-forward, matter-of-fact, and while it presented a definite "side" to the breastfeeding issue, it did so passionately and tactfully.

Prayers to you and your family today,

Jenn@Spejory said...

Nutrition aside, breastfeeding for me was about the relationship I was building between me and my child. One cannot spoil a child by loving too much. But even if a mother cannot breastfeed, there are so many opportunities to build that bond in other ways, she should never feel guilty if she was unable to breastfeed.

Thanks for sharing this. Women need more love and support from other women, not condemnation.

Anonymous said...

A note that there's a language/dialect issue here, even in English. In British English, we talk about feeding a baby, either breastfeeding or bottle feeding. Nursing largely refers to the care of the sick. If a woman told me she nursed her child for three years, my reaction would be "I'm so sorry. I hope she's much better now." (Though a "nursing mother" is a breastfeeding mother.) But coming from this linguistic background, I see nursing as the euphemism, breastfeeding as the positive term.

Anonymous said...

You know, I once read the way to tell if a family really couldn't afford for mom to stay home and had to use daycare: If the woman goes on about how "wonderful" it is for her child to be raised in a a daycare center, they could afford for her to be home. If she says she knows it would be better for her to be home but she has no choice, she probably doesn't have a choice.
If a woman feels guilty becasue someone points out that breastfeeding is best, she probably could have nursed (maybe with a little more help). If, like me after I put my first on the bottle, they acknowledge that breast if best, but are glad that formula is there for those of us who can't (but still wish I could), she probably has a valid excuse to quit.
We have gotten where we are so afraid of offending that we are afraid to speak the truth.
We are so concerned with "mommy's choices" we are allowing selfishness to be the definition of womanhood.
We all need to grow a tougher skin so we can share the truth without fear.
(By the way, I sucesfully nursed my next seven children)

Anonymous said...

The article was lovely. I bottle fed my baby and it did not make me feel guilty in the least.

CappuccinoLife said...

Great post.

I think if mothers felt that it was OK to *grieve* the loss of breastfeeding, it wouldn't be such a hot topic. Of course I would never let my child starve if for some reason I couldn't breastfeed, but I would be perfectly comfortable feeling sad that I couldn't give them the best, and the food God created to be the best for him. In a particular situation where I could not nurse, being a good mother would mean doing what is required to make sure my children are well-fed, even if it is with the second-best option.

But I would still advocate strongly for breastfeeding as the best option, and be thrilled every time I heard a success story and saw another young mother pick up the flag and encouraging others to nurse their babies as well. :)

Sylvia said...


Your final paragraph said it all..

"What I'm trying to say is that I believe we mothers should learn the art of dicussing all the alternatives without it all sliding into a war full of nasty personal comments and mud-slinging. Regardless of our personal circumstances and choices, we have such a wonderful opportunity to support each other, why not take advantage of it?"

I truly believe all mothers of all races, countries, ethnicities , back grounds and religions want the same things for their children. For them to be healthy, happy, educated, have opportunities they never had and be productive citizens of society and stand on their own two feet. If people are religious, they would like their children to be children of God.

Our choices may not always be the same. We make them based on culture, religion, values, family background, country and so on. But there are many things we have in common than we all like to think. I have found things in common with the most rabidly feminist woman and a stay at home, home schooling mom. Let's look at the good in each of us and let us share our knowledge instead of judging each other so much. We can each share our knowledge and support each other. No one is inferior or superior in God's eyes. We are all equals and sinners.

And you Anna, are one person who follows this. I love this site because you always put your point of view politely and kindly and you listen. You and I could be at odds, but I feel welcomed and not judged from you. And Tracy at unless the Lord blog. Both your choices are not mine, but you don't judge me. You make me feel welcome and that makes dialogue between seemingly disparate groups possible.

Thank you Anna.

God bless you,

messy bessy said...

Thank you so much for this post. This issue strikes me as so key to establishing a good nursing relationship -- it's not primarily about feeding, although that happens.

Nursing is the ordinary way for babies to reconnect with their moms, and to de-stress, to "feel right," as Dr. Sears says. Babies like hugs and kisses and holding too, but nursing is the way, par excellence, to do all these things.

If we think of breastfeeding as primarily feeding, then we inevitably begin refusing, even though the baby seems to want more, since it seems so unlikely that he could be hungry again. So it can be really helpful to know that the composition of your milk changes depending on how your baby sucks. That is, it can be more watery, less caloric, etc. just because your body is in tune with his needs.

Also, of course, breastmilk is so easily digested that, depending on how many calories his little body needs, he might very well be hungry half an hour after finishing nursing. (And note that it is very unlikely that a totally breastfed baby will be obese -- in fact, breastfeeding lowers the likelihood of that.)

Anyhow, the point is, babies want nursing so much more than just for hunger. And although it can make you feel overwhelmed sometimes, remember that God designed this process, and we can trust His providence. The baby doesn't stay little very long at all, and the marathon days of nursing twenty times from sun-up to sundown become just a memory.

And to restate Mrs. Anna's caveat -- no judging is going on here. Those who have not been able to nurse must experience a great deal of heartache, and I would never condemn them. But for those who may be just starting out, please accept my encouragement.

From a mom who has nursed six so far.

Anonymous said...

I was too lazy to bottle feed. Just sayin'. :)

Rachel said...

I am nursing my 3 month old, and 2 days ago I borrowed an electric breast pump from the state so I can pump milk and donate it to the Mother's Milk Bank of California. They provide milk for premature infants, other infants who can't thrive on formula and infants whose mothers who can't make milk.

I believe that babies need breast milk, and if they can't have their own mother's milk, they can at least have mine.

Interesting note, Dr. Jack Newman also has articles about how doctors aren't worried about making adults feel guilty for having a poor diet, and would instantly scold a mother for feeding her infant plain cow's milk. And there have been no studies comparing plain old cow's milk and formula. Back in the 40's evaporated milk was supposed to be better and more sanitary than breast milk.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you 100%, Anna. I really don't understand why people take so personally what another person posts on their blog. And why they feel they must respond and defend their position, and scold the blogger for having a firm opinion. This applies to breastfeeding or any other topic! I think perhaps readers confuse blogs with magazine subscriptions. When you are paying for a subscription, it makes sense to let the magazine owner know when she is moving in a direction that is out of line with her readership. Often, magazines are interested in the opinions of readers and will change direction to meet the desires of the majority of the readers, in order not to lose the revenue generated by subscriptions. And, if a reader doesn't like the tone or direction of a publication,they are free to cancel their subscription and get a refund!

But a blog....that is quite different. Blogs are free--no subscription price. Blogs are the musings and thoughts of a writer who is generous enough to share them with us. The blog owner has no accountability to anyone except herself. I find it extremely inappropriate when readers comment about how wrong the blogger is to make her feel guilty about whatever the issue is. No blogger should be forced to include disclaimers with every post, but more and more, I am seeing that this is becoming the only way they can defend themselves! I think, when a reader finds some disagreement or discomfort when reading a blog, they should quietly consider whether this person's blog is a place they should visit at all? Why not find a blog that is closer to your own views, where you can be happy? It is much less stress for everyone involved!

Just my two cents! Keep up the good work, Anna

Chase said...

I know you posted this nearly a year ago but I stumbled across it today and just wanted to say thank you. I am currently breastfeeding my third child. He is five months old and does get formula on occasion when my mother-in-law is watching him.

I got a lot of pressure from my mother-in-law and husband to "be done with it" at around six months with my two older kids. The oldest stopped around ten months when I became pregnant with her sister. The younger one never latched well and when I was forced to return to work early - she just became a formula baby.

I hope to nurse/breastfeed my son until HE decided he is done. I will be visiting your blog again, often! THANK YOU>