The Social Status of Breastfeeding

Fortunately for me, I’m a guy. And as a guy, I am ill-equipped to get pregnant. Good thing too, because a pregnant me would be the laziest creature on earth, second only to the giant tree sloths of yore. But, if I ever con a woman into having children with me, I’d hope that she’d breastfeed.

In Disease-Proof Your Child Dr. Fuhrman makes it clear that breast milk is the human fuel that babies need to grow and develop:
The antibodies derived from mother’s milk are necessary for maximizing immune system function, maximizing intelligence, and protecting against immune system disorders, allergies, and even cancer. The child’s immune system is still underdeveloped until age of two, the same age when the digestive tract seals the leaks (spaces between cells) designed to allow the mother’s antibodies access to the bloodstream. So picking the age of two as the length of recommended breast-feeding is not just a haphazard guess, it matches the age at which the child is no longer absorbing the mother’s immunoglobulins to supplement their own immune system. Nature designed it that way.
And it seems their might be something to the whole idea of “maximizing intelligence.” New research shows that people who were breastfed as children are more likely to move up the social ladder. Robert Preidt of HealthDay News reports:
Researchers at the University of Bristol analyzed data on more than 1,400 people from 16 rural and urban areas in England and Scotland who were born from 1937 to 1939. Among these people, the likelihood of being breast-fed was not dependent on household income, spending on food, birth order, number of siblings, or social class in childhood.

The study found that individuals who were breast-fed as babies were 41 percent more likely to advance up the social ladder than those who'd been bottle-fed. The longer a person was breast-fed, the more likely they were to be upwardly mobile.
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Comments (5) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Jackie Danicki - February 21, 2007 6:51 AM

Trust me, you're lucky you get to escape all of the propaganda and guilt-mongering from the hardcore, you're-a-bad-mother-if-you-don't-breastfeed squad. They are significant in number and nasty in nature.

Velcromom - February 21, 2007 1:00 PM

Glad to see a clear common sense approach to breastfeeding by both a possible future dad and Dr. Fuhrman!

It's too bad that encouragement to breastfeed is so often met with anger, resistance and accusations of "guilt mongering" like the previous poster expressed. In fifteen years of parenting I have never once seen actual in-your-face pressure about breastfeeding with intent to produce guilt, either to myself or others. In fact among lactivists there is a lot of talk about how to encourage and empower women to breastfeed. No one thinks it is possible or desireable to "guilt" anyone into breastfeeding, nobody tells women they are bad mothers if they don't breastfeed, it's just not a tactic that is accepted or used.

Out in public, people do feel free to comment on your parenting and I know that formula feeding moms hear rude comments now and then - but guess what, that's not lactivism. And surprise - you aren't the only ones hearing rude comments. It doesn't matter how you feed your baby, or how you carry it or how you dress it, someone out there is going to have something rude to say. It doesn't mean there's an anti-stroller or anti-pacifier or anti-crying propaganda movement out to make you feel like a bad mother. All it means is that one person is rude.

Unfortunately, when it comes to infant nutrition, simple fact-sharing all too often triggers anger and vitriol. The previous poster's response is a perfect example. The article did not do anything but share information, and whammo! That kind of reaction makes it difficult to say positive things about breastfeeding at all.

I wish women realized that guilt is what you feel when your actions conflict with your values. It is not given to you by someone else, it is generated within you as an opportunity to bring your actions in line with your values. You cannot logically blame another person for your guilt. It's easier, of course, but doesn't uphold the values that are trying to express themselves.

Anyhow, thanks for the informative post; I'll be looking further into Dr.Fuhrman's work.

Jackie Danicki - February 22, 2007 1:11 PM

I live in the UK, where there is HUGE pressure on women (from the government-run healthcare system on down the line) to breastfeed. Go to any hospital or birthing center and the walls are papered with ads for breastfeeding, even using the fact that breastfeeding is shown to help women lose weight quickly to lure women into doing it.

Also, in the UK, the National Childbirth Trust is a charity which is very big here - they provide Lamaze-type classes and other childbirth-related group activities, such as secondhand clothing and equipment sales. A close friend of mine ended up in the hospital with her newborn after her baby lost so much weight - because not enough milk was coming from my friend. Two other women in her pre-natal NCT class also ended up in the hospital with their underfed babies for the same reason. When they confronted the NCT leader who'd told them that "Most women who don't breastfeed aren't really trying - it's easy and anyone ocan do it," and asked why they were not told how difficult it could possibly be, she replied, "Because if we told you, you may not have tried in the first place." So ideology trumps the wellbeing of mother and baby.

Breastfeeding does have huge benefits. Incredibly distressing feeds where the mother is tense, in tears, and incredibly anxious over how she is "performing" as a "good mother" are very bad for both mother and baby. If you can't breastfeed - and many women cannot - you should not be made to feel like a bad mother who doesn't care. Unfortunately, that is the message of propaganda from the UK's government-run health service and from charities like the NCT.

nblg - March 17, 2007 10:36 AM

Very, very few women (lower than 1%) actually don't make milk. On many occasions, when a woman doesn't seem to have enough, it is because of incorrect advice she's received regarding how to feed.

The baby should feed any time he or she needs to, even if the last feeding was 10 minutes ago. "Pacifying" at the breast actually plays a big role in stimulating milk production. Likewise, feedings in the middle-of-the-night also stimulate milk production. Pumping doesn't stimulate production in the same way. Giving bottles or pacifiers in the early weeks can contribute to a suck that is less strong (and less stimulating of milk production). Also, the giving of formula in the early weeks can cause the baby to be less hungry, so he or she will suck less, and also stimulate a lower milk production.

Because of the number of women who had similar problems according to the previous post, it sounded like they didn't have adequate support and help. Perhaps the women were told: to space out the child's feedings, to try a bottle at night, not to let the baby sleep at the breast, to use a pacifier, to feed for a certain number of minutes only, to let the child cry a bit before feedings, to give formula, etc.

That said, there will be people for whom breastfeeding will never be the right thing to do. Again, these situations sound more like problems in the advice the mothers received from whatever sources, and not enough support.

Lori_m - May 12, 2007 2:16 PM

Velcromom, I really enjoyed your post. I have actually copied what you said about guilt, you put it just perfectly and I am definitely going to attempt to quote you in the future!

Do look into Dr Fuhrman's work, especially Disease Proof Your Child.

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