My case against Hanna Rosin's case against breastfeeding

Warning: long diary ahead.

Hanna Rosin makes “The Case Against Breastfeeding” in the April issue of the Atlantic Monthly. The provocative title is misleading, because as Rosin explained in an interview on NBC’s Today show on March 16, she isn’t against breastfeeding. In fact, she kind of likes breastfeeding. Her problem is with the people who promote breastfeeding. Here’s the lead-in to her piece:

In certain overachieving circles, breast-feeding is no longer a choice-it’s a no-exceptions requirement, the ultimate badge of responsible parenting. Yet the actual health benefits of breast-feeding are surprisingly thin, far thinner than most popular literature indicates. Is breast-feeding right for every family? Or is it this generation’s vacuum cleaner-an instrument of misery that mostly just keeps women down?

Rosin packs a lot into the article, but I would summarize her main points as:

1. American women face intense social pressure to breastfeed exclusively.

2. Advocates exaggerate the benefits of breastfeeding, which the scientific research does not support.

3. Advocates downplay the negatives about breastfeeding and fail to acknowledge that formula-feeding can be the right choice for some mothers. On a related note, Rosin depicts breastfeeding as extremely inconvenient for mothers who work outside the home.

4. Advocates have medicalized the conversation about breastfeeding, and American women are wrongly led to believe they are harming their babies if they give formula instead.

I address those points and more after the jump. Rosin’s conflicted feelings about breastfeeding are valid, but unfortunately, she draws too many broad conclusions based on her personal experiences.

For those who don’t care to read the rest of this post, be assured that as a feminist and pro-choice woman, I respect the right of women to decide what and how to feed their own babies. I am also aware that some women are unable to breastfeed for physical or medical reasons, and many more women are unable to breastfeed because they lacked the information and support they needed in the critical early weeks.

My intention is not to judge any mother for her choices or add to the pain of any mother who did not have the breastfeeding experience she sought.

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