So You Think I’m an Idiot

I can change a tire and build a bookcase. I am a painter, a welder, and a better carpenter than my husband. I also took calculus in college just for fun.

A good friend of mine is a mother of three, a nursing student, and keeps a cleaner house that I ever will.

My mother has a PhD in pharmacokinetics, is a doctor of chiropractic, and teaches statistics at a university level.

What do we three have in common?

According to recent studies, people we have never met will assume we are all “less competent” because we breast-fed our children.

This article discusses a three-part study done at Montana State University that supports this claim. For some reason I can’t fathom, the majority of people who participated felt that women who breast-feed are generally less competent (whatever that means) and bad at math to boot. This both confuses and infuriates me. What the hell does breast-feeding even have to do with math skills? Breast-feeding is inarguably the healthiest option for infants (barring certain circumstances like STDs or specific drugs), and studies have shown that it can make kids smarter, yet many men and women in the United States believe that only dumb chicks do it. WTS!?! Do they think the babies are sucking our smarts out with the milk?

The comments after the original article get pretty heated, lots of women come out to defend their competence, and one person, who elected to remain anonymous, came back with, “If you think that anecdotal evidence is a reliable path to truth, then you are at least incompetent at critical thinking.” This is yet another instance where internet anonymity is probably a good thing, because I would very much like to hit that person with a brick. His comment (and I can’t help but assume “Guest” is a “he”) implies that we silly females are trying to dispute a study that shows breast-feeding women are incompetent, not a study that shows people think we are less competent.

This is a matter of public opinion and, for most of us, the only recourse we have to change public opinion is to share our stories. I know I don’t have a university research department in my back pocket that I can pull out to do a study that will prove we breast-feeders kick ass. Do you? Besides, when it comes to public opinion, statistics can only do so much. People are much more likely to be swayed by anecdotal evidence. We hear “75%” and it’s just a number, but “My friend Rebecca…” makes an impact.

So I am spreading the word. Tell us your stories. Tell other people your stories  I want to take this uninformed bit of Public Opinion down.

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[E]SaraB

Glass artisan by day, blogger by night (and sometimes vice versa). SaraB has three kids, three pets, one husband and a bizarre sense of humor. Her glass pendants can be found at www.etsy.com/shop/AngryOwlStudio if you're interested in checking it out.

19 thoughts on “So You Think I’m an Idiot”

  1. I find this very surprising. I’ll admit, as a young woman without children of my own I actually have the opposite assumption. Granted, I was raised by a La Leche League leader and come from a community that is very supportive of breastfeeding. I try to be understanding of women who choose to bottle feed, but I won’t deny that I harbor a bit of judgment against those who choose the bottle over boob.

    Maybe the moral of the story is we should cut all mommies some slack.

    1. I hadn’t heard the kind of judgement the article is talking about. However, I wish people could address this obviously silly criticism without putting down mothers who bottle-feed.

      My friend recently had a baby and tried to breastfeed, but the little guy–who is actually a really, really big baby–had too big an appetite, and she had to turn to bottle-feeding because he was just too damn hungry and she couldn’t produce breastmilk fast enough. She felt like a HORRIBLE mother because other moms around her had talked so long about how it is the Best Way and Only Way to Make Healthy Babies. Which is to say, she felt like a bad mother because she was feeding him as much as he needed, rather than starving him on pure and holy breastmilk.

      If I have a child, I may need to bottle feed because I have chronic depression and if I go off my meds for the pregnancy, I’m going to need to get back on them ASAP to be a healthy, happy mother to my child. And I’d rather not feed them drugs via breastmilk. JUDGE AWAY.

      I fully support women who choose to breastfeed. I also fully support women who choose to bottlefeed, for whatever reason. Babies from mothers who have made both choices have turned out really smart, and really healthy. It’d be great if we could be supportive of all of these women, who have a hard enough time fending off criticism from others as it is.

      1. I totally get your point, and I am in no way trying to put down mothers who bottle feed.

        But I also want to understand the reasons why mothers choose something different than what I would choose. As you’ve mentioned (as does SaraB in the article) there are circumstances where it’s not so much a choice but a decision that has to be made for the health of mother and child. But there are also mothers who chose to bottle feed because they see breastfeeding as icky, or because they were also raised in an environment that didn’t promote breastfeeding and consider bottles as an easier alternative.

        I guess my point is that I admit I have a biased gut reaction to the bottle, and it’s something I try to work against. I recognize that having a newborn is a tough enough job as it is and it doesn’t do anyone any good to continue to put down mothers for things that may or may not be beyond their control. Hence my closing remark, which is perhaps really just a reminder to myself, that we should just cut all moms some slack.

        1. Yeah, I guess my point is /why/ mothers who choose to breastfeed sometimes feel that mothers who choose to bottlefeed need to justify their decision–whether it’s a health reason, or because they don’t have a privileged financial situation that allows them to stay with the child full time, or a work environment that allows them to pump. Or because, dammit, they don’t want to breastfeed for personal reasons.
          It’s not your baby, it’s their baby. As long as they are feeding and caring for the child according to the baby’s needs, it shouldn’t be anybody’s business but their own.
          /endrant

          Man, I don’t even have kids and I’m already horrified by the Mommy Wars.

          1. I have very little experience with Mommy Wars. All the mommies I have known are pretty much “live and let live” with each other. I am somewhat biased in favor of breast-feeding, since I spent so much time doing it, but I don’t judge parents when I see them feeding a baby with a bottle. For one thing, I have no idea what’s in the bottle. For all I know it could be breast milk, or breast milk mixed with cereal to fatten up an underweight baby. And if it’s formula, who cares as long as the baby is getting fed?

            Nursing is an emotional issue for anyone who has ever had to deal with it. It takes place during a very emotional time in your life and you can’t help but form strong associations, either good or bad. As with anything, I try not to judge because I’m not living that other mother’s life, so I shouldn’t judge her decisions. My point with this post isn’t to find fault with mothers who bottle-feed. Rather, my point is that there is still some lingering bias about the “kind of woman” who chooses to breast-feed that is outdated and wrong.

          2. Man, I don’t even have kids and I’m already horrified by the Mommy Wars.

            Ditto on all counts.

            Also, I was thinking about this exchange while I was studying today, and the more I thought about it, I realized it was really a narrow-minded and pointless comment to begin with. I’m a part-time child care provider, and I deal with mothers who both choose breastfeeding and formula. And in each case, I totally respect each of their decisions and the reasons behind it.

            You’re right. It isn’t anybody’s business, and it’s certainly not my place to judge, even if its on a subconscious level.

            (Daily lesson learned)

  2. The people (most likely teenage college students) who participated in this study registered their opinions about the people that they knew to have breastfed, ie the women who talked about it to the extent that it became obnoxious (and I think we can all agree that the breastfeeding proselytizers are incredibly annoying). If you breastfed but didn’t talk about it as if it was magical or made you a better mother, this study isn’t about you.

    1. This study is particularly stupid because breastfeeding levels tend to rise with education levels.

      And yes: can we ask who participated in this “study”? I am pretty sure–anecdotally, of course–that teenage college students across the board are a little skeeved out by breastfeeding. (Younger women are less likely to initiate and continue breastfeeding.)

      Anecdote: I was at the zoo the other day with my (nursing) baby. We went to the farm section, where they have a milking machine set up. A group of teenagers was standing near it, and one kid grabbed his girlfriend’s boob and said “Let’s hook you up!” The whole group: “Ewww!”

      Granted, the “ew” may have been more about the machine than the milk, but I doubt it.

      1. I have to admit that the responses to studies like this always surprise me. We talk all the time about how people are creeped out by breastfeeding, and yet we’re shocked when a study pops out of the woodwork to confirm that…people are creeped out by breastfeeding.

  3. My mum was breastfeeding me for 9 months, my younger sister for 6 months. No, she never went to university but that does not make her stupid or less competent.
    She stayed at home and raised the two of us more or less by herself because dad was working beyond the usual business hours. When he suddenly got ill she had to make all the big family decisions by herself without having been in that position before. She went back to work as a nurse and had the good sense to quit when her boss treated her badly. She is a well-respected member of her church congregation and helps to organise social events there.
    And because I (with my almost two degrees) suck at basic life and household skills I call her every few days to ask for advice on how to cook something, get a stain out of my favourite shirt or to complain about fights I had with friends.
    We have our differences but how dare anybody ever suggest that she is ‘less competent’ because she chose to breastfeed.

  4. My guess is the people in the survey thought breast feeding=obsessed with natural=crunchy hippies=stupid. Of course, all three jumps are complete bullshit, but I think it’s the most likely explanation for why people would think that breastfeeding women are stupid.

  5. I was breast fed by a 2-bachelor degree holding (education and nursing) ordained minister whose domestic, professional, and intellectual competence I have found nearly unparalleled in the rest of the world. My mother is a sometimes harsh, deeply critical thinker who excels with history, science, art, and domestic engineering. She is a quilter, intense gardener, and calligrapher. She catered my best friend’s wedding when I was in college, and though we differ in our politics I admire the level of her commitment: she volunteered for telephone campaigns and registered voters during the last presidential election.

    Incompetent? Those perceptions can suck it.

  6. The correlation makes absolutely no sense. How is brain function affected by what two glands do?! They aren’t even part of the same system!

    (I wish I had the link but a study was done a few years ago that shows that postpartum, women had BETTER cognitive functions than they had prior to giving birth. Having a baby made them Smarter.)

    There are so many people I hate right now. “Guest” is one of them…

    And if it helps with the anecdotes, I know some idiots who did breastfeed but they were idiots before having children. One decision does not make one an idiot.

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