Excuse me, but aren’t there some women attached to those breasts?

I finally got round to checking out this link that was left for me in one of my comments,  and discovered it was an on-line article with the somewhat provocative title of ‘Suck On This’, about breastfeeding and the evils of formula, by Pat Thomas.  No information was given about the author other than the name, but I think this is probably the Pat Thomas who wrote Every Woman’s Birthrights, an informative and potentially useful book that was rather spoiled for me by its abrasive tone – I was left with the feeling that it really should have been subtitled "How To Pick A Fight With Your Doctor".

This article was hard-hitting and pulled no punches.  This has its downside, when writing about such a sensitive subject – phrases like ‘baby junk food’ to describe formula, for example, can be alienating to women who’ve formula-fed, and there’s a real risk of that backfiring by putting women off the whole breastfeeding movement.  However, the ire did seem to be pretty clearly directed where it belonged (at formula companies rather than women) and, on the whole, it was a good and informative article.  Up until the last sentence.

"The goal is clear – 100% of mothers should be exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months of their babies’ lives."

I realise it’s in bad taste to spoil a good goal with inconvenient facts, but it seems to have temporarily slipped Ms Thomas’s mind that not all women can breastfeed and not all women should.  Of course, both of those groups are far smaller than is commonly believed; most of the women who thought they didn’t have enough milk actually just didn’t have enough information, and genuine medical contraindications to breastfeeding are rare.  (By the way, doctors who have a clue about breastfeeding are, unfortunately, also rare, and even midwives and health visitors can be unbelievably clueless.  If a health professional tells you either that you shouldn’t breastfeed or that you’re not making enough milk and need to supplement, do please do some gentle probing as to how much breastfeeding training they have, and get a second opinion if you’re in any doubt.)  But there are some women who genuinely can’t breastfeed, or can’t breastfeed exclusively, and there are a few medical conditions even today that make breastfeeding riskier than formula feeding.  If 100% of women did breastfeed exclusively, the vast majority of babies would benefit; and a few would end up damaged or dead.

And if you’re ignoring biological reality, it’s a simple enough matter to ignore something as insignificant as women’s wishes.  The problem with goals that involve a certain percentage of people doing something is that they limit the scope for people to choose for themselves; if the goal is for 100% of a particular group to do something, then it allows no room for choice at all.  Where, in Thomas’s goal, is there any space for the wishes of the woman who just plain hates the whole idea of breastfeeding, or who wants to be able to leave the baby with someone else for an occasional bottle but doesn’t want the hassle of pumping, or who wants to go back to work before the magic six-month mark and doesn’t want to or can’t pump?  Filed under "Unimportant: To Be Ignored".

Personally, the goal I’d prefer is "100% of women should get full and adequate information on advantages of breastfeeding, advantages of exclusive breastfeeding, and how to breastfeed, and 100% of women should have easy access to the support they need – from helpers in particular and from society in general – to breastfeed for as long as they want."  While this doesn’t exactly make for a snappy slogan, it still works a lot better for me.


1 Comment

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One response to “Excuse me, but aren’t there some women attached to those breasts?

  1. Clare Wilson

    I agree with her general thrust, but it wasn’t exactly very nuanced, was it? One sentence in particular made me smile (ruefully): “Studies show … that women on low incomes often believe that breastfeeding hurts.” It made me wonder if she has ever breastfed herself…
    I was intrigued by her claim that the baby milk companies’ literature supposed to promote breastfeeding, is actually designed to subliminally dissuade poorer women from doing it, because it shows pictures of “middle class” foods, such as crusty loaves of bread. I had never noticed this, but will look out for it in future.

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