Saturday, July 3, 2010

Review/Rebuttal: "Does Breastfeeding Cause Divorce?"

I really thought we'd seen it all with ridiculous claims about breastfeeding and the lactivists' evil plot to destroy any sexy notions regarding our ferocious sweater kittens. I was certain that the foolish rumors regarding what would happen to those of us who breastfed our children for a long time, with "long" meaning more than 3 months, could only go so far. Surely the Pediatrics journal article which stated that about 900 little lives would be saved if 90% of women breastfed exclusively for a baby's first 6 months (CBS News story here) would convince at least a few more people to give it a more earnest try and convince a few other people that, hmm, maybe there is something to this breastfeeding thing, so let's not pick on it too much anymore.

And then I read this blog post:

Does breastfeeding cause divorce?

Aside from just answering, "Um, no, problems in relationships cause divorce," I decided to take a look at this-here article and talk about exactly how wrong she is. Because she's barking up the wrong tree if she really thinks that breastfeeding, itself, is the cause of marital problems.

News flash to anyone who wants to have a child: It's hard. It is WORK. It is time consuming and nerve-wracking and if you can't deal with it, don't have a kid. AND if your partner can't deal with it and you have any expectations that they are going to be of any use in caring for your child, then you need to make sure that they either get themselves together or stop wasting everyone's time and get lost. Or, don't have a kid with him if he's going to be a loser about being a dad.

After presenting the charge of 90% of women breastfeeding for 6 months exclusively and quickly saying that she votes "nay," the author decides to go off on a ridiculous tangent regarding maternal/fetal health:

Sure, I’m all for solving the deficit and saving lives, but aren't there far more insidious foes out there than suboptimal breastfeeding rates? For example, smoking during pregnancy is said to cause more than 1,000 deaths annually. And yet, more than 12% of women report smoking during the last three months of pregnancy. I’ll go out on a limb of deductive reasoning here and say that 12% is not the same 12% that breastfeed exclusively."

Really? Because that has anything to do with the topic at hand? I'll bet you a freezer full of milk that there's a LOT more money spent on smoking prevention and smoking cessation than breastfeeding initiation and promotion. Try again.

She goes on to make additional outlandish statements:

"Where are the statistics on how many marriages have been saved by limiting breastfeeding? Or simply what postpartum independence has meant for women’s mental health, and their confidence and trust in their relevance outside the domestic sphere?"

Postpartum independence implies that you deliver a baby and then you're "free" because you're no longer pregnant. That's a common reason that women give for choosing not to breastfeed. "I want my body back," they say. Sorry, mom, but when you have a child, you don't get your body to yourself until they're old enough to NOT want to be held all the time and fed (regardless of how) and changed (where you frequently get peed/pooped on). Figure that, considering the physical demands of a small child, you'll be carrying around a non-walking or semi-walking child for over a year. You'll be changing 2 or 3 years worth of diapers. You'll get puked on. Your kid will eat spaghetti and meatballs and then give you a hug. And even all the strollers and bouncy seats and jumpers and playpens in the world can't prevent you from having a LOT of physical contact with your little one. You don't "get your body back" for a minimum of 5 years.

"When baby comes home from the hospital, there are those few first magical days of shared responsibility with your lab partner. And then, inevitably, someone’s got to take charge. With breastfeeding, there is no question who is in charge: the authority, the source, the expert, the ultimate backstop. And for many, so begins the road of resentment. A road on which it is very difficult to make a U-turn."

Regarding this paragraph, way to turn a distinct positive into a negative! Nice work, really. See, I would think that with breastmilk being the ultimate in mommy-fix-all-better, the healing medicine, the REAL pacifier, as well as food for growth and development...that it would be a GOOD thing to have this on hand (or on breast) whenever the child has a problem. And before anyone says that it's unhealthy to fix a child's problems with food, the nice thing about breastfeeding, which isn't just for food, is that when the season of nursing your child has ended in a peaceful fashion, the child finds healthy ways to solve problems, as in, when mom used to nurse a baby/toddler to make him feel better after falling down or getting hurt, she now gives hugs and comfort to that older child.

In terms of the sharing of responsibility and taking's usually mom anyway. Many formula-feeding mothers will attest to that. Mom pretty much always knows best. Mom pays more attention to certain details, and mom usually ends up taking on more of the work. With breastfeeding, after the initial period of establishment, it is a big responsibility that requires a small amount of work. Mom wins.

"I nursed each of my children for respectable terms – 3 months, 5 months and an almost embarrassing 10 months. I stayed at home. I worked. I used a pump (and there is nothing stylish about the Pump-In-Style). I nursed in the Nordstrom’s "Mother’s Lounge" and pumped in the dressing room at The Gap. I breastfed in the front seat of the car on I-95, though never while driving. I even breastfed on a bathroom floor in Dallas while wearing a bridesmaid’s dress. It was novel, it was never elegant, and it always struck me as more science fiction than biblical."

10 months of nursing is embarrassing? Lord almighty what would you have done if you didn't have formula? And what in the world were you doing on the bathroom floor nursing? If you nursed in a bathroom, pretty much ever, that's probably one of the reasons why you find nursing to be such a burden.

"I do not resent breastfeeding, my children, or my nearly perfect husband. I do resent the expectation that after carrying a baby for nine months, American women should surrender control for six more months."

See there it is again--do you really have that much less "control" without breastfeeding? Do you really "get your body back" and have so much independence? If your child is sick more often and you have to take off work more frequently because you formula-feed, and your job and career suffer, are you that much better off?

Oh, and if you really want to go out getting plastered and staying out until all hours of the night and dumping your kid off with other people all the time...maybe you did yourself a disservice by having a child and you certainly did your child a disservice by NOT GROWING UP. Sow your wild oats, THEN have children. It's not a good idea to raise a kid when you're still busy acting like one.

"Because it’s not just the physical and time commitments that breastfeeding requires (which at 6 to 18 hours a day is, no doubt, significant). Being a nursing mother overrides everything. It dictates what you do and don’t eat and drink, your sleep schedule and where you can go, when and for how long. It even holds sway over what you wear. For an entire six months."

I've had very few issues with what I have had to eat and drink. I've had to give up dairy for a little while with both of my boys, but I was able to phase it back in. I have been able to have a grownup drink here or there if I want to. The science on that is that your milk alcohol level is about the same as your blood alcohol level--if you can drive, you can definitely nurse. And that translates, in terms of percentage of alcohol in the milk, to the milk having as much alcohol as orange juice if the mother is completely drunk (not that ANY mother, regardless of how she feeds her infant, should be completely drunk if she is going to be caring for children).

"In a word, be careful what you wish for. Blue-ribbon breastfeeding goals could -- in the extreme -- lead to increased divorce, depression, and long-term damage to the delicate ecosystem of gender roles in our families, workplaces and society. At the very least, the effort sanctions the message to women that their children and domestic duties come first. For women and researchers for whom long-term breastfeeding is the answer, the question certainly needs to be asked: at what cost?"

The author concludes that breastfeeding can jeopardize the balance in a relationship and lead to unhappy marriages due to an unfair division of labor in the care of children. Furthermore, she says that for mothers to put their children first when they are little infants is a bad thing. Funny, I find it to be a pretty decent idea in some form or another, although both parents would do well to agree upon these sorts of issues before having children together.

Our therapist had told us that, first and foremost, we as a couple need to take care of each other. We stand together and meet our emotional needs with each other. We take emotional leave of our families of origin and become a new unit. Once children are involved, they need a LOT of care and attention. Parents have to devote more energy than they thought possible to the raising of their children, particularly when they are small. Yet, the marriage/partnership comes first in that both partners draw strength from each other and love from each other to give love to their children.

If a mother breastfeeds her children knowing that her husband resents the child for breastfeeding or, more likely, resents the mother for doing so, then of course the mother will view breastfeeding as the problem and dislike doing it. When really, it is the father who is the problem, if he has issues with a baby receiving breastmilk. Frequently, fathers who have issues with mothers breastfeeding have major control issues, and there is probably a problem in the relationship that has nothing to do with the child. Whereas, if the father of children is supportive of his wife, if he appreciates the efforts that she makes in providing his children with breastmilk, which is the biological imperative, she feels loved and supported. If she then sees her child in his father's arms asleep, and he tells her "go ahead, sit down and relax, or go out for a bit" without making her feel like he is "babysitting" for his own kid, it reinforces their relationship.

So, to put the marriage first does not mean to do so at the expense of the children, nor does it mean that the affection shared with the children can be any sort of substitute. But since children are now in the picture, building the relationship while keeping the children in context is healthy and is really the best way to do it. Sure, it's a major investment during those early years, but if BOTH parents don't treasure that time, they'll miss it, because it's gone in a flash.

It is both dangerous and foolish to think that breastfeeding really causes marital problems. In reality, life with a newborn is stressful for both partners, and many of the issues that are commonly associated with breastfeeding will come up regardless of infant feeding method. Many MANY people who have children, regardless of their age when they become parents, are really not prepared and have little to no knowledge of what to do next. Breastfeeding makes a convenient scapegoat.


Alina said...

This poor woman... I feel bad for her. The article is written from the narcissistic perspective she mentions, where these are her own feelings of guilt, fear and resentment, which she projects 'out there' in case other people feel the same way. She obviously is embarassed to have breastfed, had her marriage threatened by her nursing relationships, and perceives her babies as a burden, not a joy. I firmly believe there are VERY FEW, if any, women who find themselves in this article. How sad.

Kate said...

I don't think it's outrageous to think that for some women, the extra burden of, say, finding time and space to pump during the day after going back to work is the final straw in making new-parenthood intolerable. I believe that having happy, healthy parents is more important for most kids than the details of what they eat or wear - formula or commercial baby food or disposal diapers are preferable under some circumstances to having (even more) stressed out and exhausted parent(s).e

Logical Mommy said...

I'll go with that, that finding a place to pump when things are already darned hard is a real challenge...but I don't think that the author is ONLY talking about places to pump, and she is saying that trying to improve situations such as a lack of pumping spaces is a waste of time because emphasizing breastfeeding is so oppressive.

With more breastfeeding support from employers, who understand that healthier babies mean less sick time, more women COULD be spared that extra hardship, should they choose to return to work.

dina said...

I can't believe she is not rereading this article in a more rationale moment and thinking, "wow, I can't believe I wrote that." And I can't believe someone actually published it as anything besides a misguided op-ed.

Breastfeeding doesn't cause divorce. Marrying the wrond person, and not communicating with your spouse causes divorce. Not working on marriage and not compromising and working as a team, that causes divorce.

Not understanding that having a baby is about soooo much more than this thing to "love you" will cause divorce. Not being on the same page about parenting will cause divorce. Breastfeeding will not cause any more divorce than formula feeding.

And this is from a mother who formula fed her baby. Mothering is an absolute and total commitment. And you are right. You don't get your body back if you are a good mother. Because your lips are there for kissing booboos, your arms are there for hugging, your legs are there for climbing, your fingers are there for counting, your voice is for reading stories, and a hundred other parts of you are generally there for exploration. And you love every minute of it.

The only thing this article showed me, is that this woman should not have become a mother, and I am a little sad for her child.

Logicalmommy, u are right on, in your assessment of this article. -----

Steve Schwarz said...

Three cheers for the Logical Mommy! I read the article first and was shocked an appalled that this woman really felt the way she did.

My adult whole life (how ever long that is when you're only 21) the only thing I have ever heard from journals and medical experts is that breast feeding is one of the most important things a recent mother can do to ensure the health of her child.

Now, I disagreed with the author from the title, but was interested in what arguments and/or statistics she would produce to back up her claim. I have to agree with Alina that the author is coming from a very narcissistic perspective and would do a better service by suggesting woman who are like minded to really consider whether or not children are for them rather than write that two faced article about how breast feeding is dangerous to martial stability, yet set aside a few sentences to praise her own experience with it.

Excellent rebuttal Logical Mommy!

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