Friday, April 13, 2007

Breast is Not Best

Another fascinating article: "Watch Your Language!" by Diane Wiessinger. (A non-pdf link is available here.) She explains the implications of saying "breast is best" versus" formula feeding is worst."


  1. Wow, this woman is brilliantly insightful!

    "...any "balanced" approach that is presented in a heavily biased culture automatically supports the bias." This is of course so true in many other aspects of our society, and why mainstream media effectively support the status quo instead of being a potential instrument to mobilize forces for change.

    Her words about not trying to make women feel guilty (over bottlefeeding):

    "...we do not feel guilty about having been deprived of a pleasure. [...] What image of the satisfactions of breastfeeding do we convey when we use the word "guilt"?


  2. On a related note...

    This holiday weekend we were at my Aunt's house. My cousin's wife, her daughter in law, just had a baby 7 months ago. I wa disheartened when i had heard that after only 2 weeks she stopped nursing the baby who was actually in the hospital with all sorts of breathing yuck and immune deficiencies, ets. When I heard, my immediate thought was that breast milk is the one thing she SHOULD be having!!!

    Fast forward to easter weekend, firstly, Zoe found the baby's bottle and figured to stick it in her mouth like she saw the baby do. She immediately threw the bottle across the room and spat out the yuck and said in her baby girl way "ick".

    later on, Grace (almost 5 years old now) asked the mother if she nursed the baby. The mother said no and Grace asked her why. She told Grace that it didn't work for her, Grace asked why. The mother told my daughter that sometimes babies don't like breast milk and that it is not good for all babies!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! GAH!!!!!1

    We were leaving so I let it slide and honestly these are people that are truly ignorant and all things biological and antural are disgusting and you dont talk about them. Ilater told Grace that the mommy was wrong and that her boobie milk would have been the best thing for the baby and that all babies love their mama's milk.

    Grace, Goddess Love her, said to me, I know mom, I was just being polite, babies love boobies.

    ~Tasha, who can't log into blogger for some strange reason.

  3. I loved her question about why we have blood banking universally available for anyone who needs it, but not breastmilk banking. Wow--so true.

  4. I think the author makes a good point, and I'd love to run around with wild abandon telling people that formula is evil. But isn't there good reason we don't frame formula-feeding as a bad thing? Aren't we trying to prevent women from becoming offended and angry and shutting themselves off from what we're saying?

    We tiptoe around a lot because we don't want to drive people away (and this happens with all kinds of causes and in all kinds of environments; I've certainly experienced it in union organizing), and I often find it frustrating. But maybe there's some truth in the old saw, "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." Or maybe not.

  5. Indeed IS there a good reason why we don't frame formula feeding as a bad thing? If you read the article, you will find a clear and detailed assessment of the commonly given reasons, such as offending women. No, the reasons you mention are not GOOD ENOUGH for her and she explains why she thinks so.
    There has been a lot of breastfeeding activism, and obviously in the author's assessment (and in mine for what it's worth) is has not been effective enough.
    I don't know much about union organizing methods. So I don't quite see the parallel between healthy motherhood and collective bargaining (except that I happen to think they're both desirable, but to me, for very different reasons).

  6. I did actually read the article and I think my reading comprehension is fine. I still came away with the feeling that most people who are going to want to frame "breast as best" rather than "formula as worst" are going to do so because they're afraid of driving people away, making women feel guilty (yes, I read what she said about guilt), and generally souring people on the very position they're trying to promote. I'm not saying the author's position is wrong. I'm not saying her way wouldn't work better in the long run. I simply understand why it is that some people are hesistant to take the more straight-forward approach.

    My experience with union organizing (not collective bargaining, but rather organizing the membership and signing up new members) has been that many organizers are very reluctant to ever say that NOT joining the union is bad, or unfair, or unequal, or downright irresponsible (and it is these things, because non-members are getting a free ride and the members are paying for all the contract benefits the non-members reap). Organizers only try to glorify the benefits of joining without ever focusing on the true negatives of not joining, because once you've offended the non-member you've almost guaranteed that she'll never join. I wasn't trying to draw a parallel between healthy motherhood and collective bargaining -- I was drawing a parallel between causes that are trying to promote themselves.

    I'm sorry for taking up all this space with an opinion that's wrong and pointless.

  7. Wait, Jakesask, I think I came across a bit stronger than I meant to! I apologize for insulting your reading comprehension. It sure looks that way and I feel bad and embarrassed. I guess I was so fascinated by her valuation of trying to protect others from feeling "guilty" that I got somewhat carried away. Can I please take back the "if you read the article" part? That was wrong.

    Okay, humble pie 2: like I said I don't know much about union stuff. The only one I had occasion choose to join or not, I did so because of the negatives you list, because I did feel it would be wrong to get a free ride. Granted, that is not how the argument was presented to me. You are right, that might have alienated me, and it isn't surprising if it would alienate many others.

    I guess what I meant is that that is an ethical decision. And what I find very attractive about Wiessinger is she implies (in her guilt discussion) that breastfeeding does not need to be framed as such. We can and should convey that women want to breastfeed even for the sheer pleasure and self interest of it. That may not be the case for many other quite worthy and noble causes absolutely worth trying to promote. The way I see it, different language is warranted because of these differences, so that "formula is worse" is a viable strategy (too bad it doesn't also rhyme though).

    Of course she and I may be completely wrong. I know this whole idea can be easily proven completely wrong, so please don't think I think that opinions to the contrary are worthless!!!! Again, I didn't mean to jump all over you. Sorry.

  8. Well, according to the AAP, these are the best foods for a baby, in this order:

    1) Mother's breastmilk.

    2) Mother's expressed breastmilk.

    3) Breastmilk from another mother or from a milk bank.

    4) Formula.

    So technically, formula IS worst. But that's not the point here.

    That's an excellent article. It's on par with saying that we need to change the word "breastmilk" to just MILK, which is another brilliant idea. How normal would what we think of as milk seem if people started calling it "cow's milk?"

    I'm glad she brought up that humans are the only mammals who get to choose whether or not to breastfeed their infants. Before formula, if you couldn't breastfeed and didn't have a wet nurse available, your baby DIED. It irks me that women can be so flippant about something that used to literally be a matter of life or death. Too bad not all countries are as fortunate as we are to have formula at hand and clean water to mix it in, but these other countries are indeed copying us, and it's just as sad as ancient cultures erecting a McDonalds on every street corner so they can be more "American."

    The sooner people realize that breastfeeding is NORMAL and not just something "special" that some women attempt to do but usually give up on, more babies will be breastfed and less moms will find themselves in a shouting match with a Puritanical store manager about NIP.


  9. I have taken the approach of breast is normal and formula is a risk on my website for years now. I have gotten a few negative letters from women who couldn't breastfeed for whatever reason but after emailing them back they saw my intentions and completely agreed with me and wished that someone had been so honest with them in the past. I think we underestimate women when we lie to them to not induce guilt. I find that women want the truth and want to be able to make decisions for themselves based on facts. Women are much stronger than most think. Formula has well documented risks. It is not evil, it is a tool like so many other things, that when used properly can save a child's life. It is the thought that formula is equal to breastmilk that causes so many problems. It just isn't true.


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