The Breastfeeding Wars, Part One Billion

This week has been nothing if not a breast milk-covered battleground in the oh-so-hyped “Mommy Wars.” Every few months, an article or twenty come along to announce to women that no matter how they choose to parent, they’re doing it wrong. Sometimes it’s about co-sleeping or babywearing or daycare, but the breastfeeding debacle has held its place firmly in the Mothering Thunderdome for years. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, and really damned if you try to defend your choice.

Mimijumi baby bottle with a eerily realistic tan nipple
The make some very boob-like bottles these days.

Earlier this week, Jezebel published its newest “Fuck You” feature, titled “Fuck You, Breastfeeding.” The article, for those not inclined to read it, contained several hundred words of vitriol such as “activist cunts” and the like. Isn’t it funny how in Tracie Egan Morrisey’s quest to defend her right to bottle-feed her child and denounce anyone who criticzes her choices, she does the exact same thing to the millions of women who choose to breastfeed? For a site that’s known for its choose-my-choiceyness, that article and plenty more sure are quick to judge women who take a different route than some of the writers. And yes, some breastfeeding activists can get really mean, really judgmental, and can be complete nightmares. Not every woman can or wants to breastfeed, which should really be on billboards or something.

A few days later, we were treated to a gem of an article by Susan Elkin, an education journalist who I had never heard of before. If only it had stayed that way. Elkin wrote a nice, long article tearing actress Megan Fox and other like-minded souls to bits for employing a night nurse to feed her child. Furthermore, any woman who doesn’t breastfeed doesn’t deserve to have children. Because feminism, y’all. But it’s OK because she starts off the article by laying down that classic line about how if we’re easily offended, we should just look away, most likely because she has a problem with others telling her that such views are offensive pieces of garbage. Then Elkin lets us know that “direct access to its mother’s breast milk is, in my book, every child’s human right” and that blocking such access is pretty much the worst thing ever. It’s common knowledge now that breastfeeding is wonderful for babies and has multiple benefits for both mother and child. It’s such common knowledge that most women who choose not to breastfeed know it and don’t need some angry lady on the Internet or in the hospital or at the grocery store concern-trolling them about it.

Full disclosure: I was not breastfed. My mother believed (and still does believe) that “boobs are for men” and decries it as being unnatural. I wish I was making this up for storytelling’s sake. And yet, here I am, with a genius IQ and twenty-three years of life behind me. I do have a pretty horrible immune system, but so do others I know who were breastfed. It’s anecdata, but it isn’t completely irrelevant. Breastfeeding has a zillion benefits and I plan on doing it myself someday, if I’m able, but bottle-feeding won’t kill the baby or turn it into a sneezy, wheezing germ bucket who never does their schoolwork.

For some women, breast is not best. For some women, like Tracie Egan Morrissey, breastfeeding is hell. Some women can’t breastfeed because of medications or health conditions, and others can’t because of economic concerns. Some women just don’t want to, and that’s okay too. We’ve reached a point where women can’t win. If we choose to breastfeed, we get called out for being lactivist monsters for even mentioning that breastfeeding is awesome. We get told that we’re sending feminism back five decades because we can’t possibly nurse and have lives. Women who bottle-feed are judged for not doing what is best for the baby in someone else’s eyes, even when the mother may be bottle-feeding because she’s taking a medication that she needs to survive. When we bottle-feed, we’re told we’re harming our babies, that we aren’t fit to be parents, and that we’re selfish.

This has got to stop. Breastfeeding versus bottle-feeding is not a black and white issue. Why? Because women are not a monolith, something we’ve been trying to convince the patriarchy of for years. Whether women are breastfeeding, bottle-feeding, or bottle-feeding pumped breastmilk (which both writers have issues with), it is their decision to do what works for them. One would think by now that we would have grasped the idea that if we don’t know someone’s situation, we can’t judge them for it. And so long as we keep fighting the infantalizingly named “Mommy Wars,” we’ll have to deal with it, because we live in a culture that views women as inferior and mothers and pregnant women as public property. Doesn’t it always come down to this?

By Elfity

Elfity, so named for her tendency to be a bit uppity and her elf-like appearance, is a graduate student and professional Scary Feminist of Rage. She has a propensity for social justice, cheese, and Doctor Who. Favorite activities include making strange noises, napping with puppies and/or kitties, and engaging in political and philosophical debates.

10 replies on “The Breastfeeding Wars, Part One Billion”

I agree with Elfity that this has got to stop. There shouldn’t even BE a debate, let alone cards, or comments or whatever. How a woman chooses to feed her child is her choice, end of story. Motherhood is enough of a challenge without other people throwing up obstacles of guilt to overcome. This comes down, plain and simple, to a matter of don’t judge until you’ve walked a mile in her shoes. It makes me sick to death reading about the “Mommy Wars” because in the end, all mothers have something very unique and binding in common. Instead of tearing each other down, we should be lifting each other up because no one knows what its like to be a mother except another mother…however the baby gets fed. The one piece of advice I give to all new moms looking for advice is this “Trust YOUR gut. Whatever you KNOW makes YOU and your baby healthy and happy is RIGHT, and if anyone tries to convince you otherwise, tell them to fuck off”.

Well done, Elfity. It’s definitely time for us to take the vitriol out of the debate and take a look at individuals involved. And, just FYI, I was a failure at breast feeding. One thing no one ever mentioned to me was the fact that it could be excruciatingly painful. With my first, I would cry and cry, even though I loved him and would snuggle him and kiss him as he ate. However, he was forevermore hungry. When we switched him to soy formula (he was allergic to regular), he was one happy, little camper. My second babe was allergic to MY milk. Or so it seemed. No one ever told me that could happen, either. She would draw her little knees up to her belly and cry and cry. Given her brother’s experience with regular formula, I tried her on soy. Her tummy calmed down and she was a happy, little girl.

Breastfeeding? It’s definitely NOT the answer for every happy family. And my kids grew up still loving their mom and they’re intelligent, compassionate, responsible members of society. OK, they have allergies, but so do I and I was breastfed. Go figure.

For what its worth, the last I heard, independent studies showed that breastfeeding only gives very SLIGHT good outcomes over using formula, in general. If any. Most things were inconclusive.

The ones that act like babies MUST BE BREASTFED ONLY AND FOREVAR are generally funded by interest groups.

In the end, I personally say WHO GIVES A SHIT? If breastfeeding is best for you, do it. If it’s not, don’t. End of story. It’s not my business, and it’s not my problem.

In fairness, bottle feeding profits formula companies – breastfeeding doesn’t. I don’t know of any breastfeeding advocacy groups that directly profit from breastfeeding in the same way that formula companies profit from formula feeding.

I think my Fuck off with your Fucking Opinion cards would come in very handy in this “debate”. Just hand them out to everybody who thinks they can have an opinion (but more importantly: share it) about what I do or don’t do to my body. Not just about breastfeeding, not just about abortions or birth control, not about what clothes I put on it.

I will market these cards and start a FowyFO business.

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