Like every mom who writes about this topic, it feels like I have to share more personal information than you probably want to hear before delving into a topic that raises some hackles. So here goes: I breastfed my baby. Initiating it was tough and continuing sometimes hard, mostly for the usual reasons. Yes, I got to come pretty close to meeting the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendations of breastfeeding exclusively for 6 months and continuing to it past my child’s first birthday. No, I wasn’t working full-time at the time. Yes, I get that I was lucky and those two things are related.
Are we good?
OK, then, can someone please explain to me why this news—that the first lady is speaking out to promote breastfeeding and that the IRS started allowing breast pumps to be itemized as medical expenses you can write off your taxes—is suddenly a partisan flash point?
Maybe that’s not quite right. According to the New York Times article, it’s really a bipartisan flashpoint: some liberals are criticizing the first lady for addressing breastfeeding at all, and some conservatives say the Tea Party’s dismissals of the issue are off-base. It seems that beneath the newest controversy is the oldest story in the book—that familiar mommy war that supposedly pits nursing moms against formula-feeding moms, SAHMs vs. WAHMs. I say “supposedly” because pretty much all the real-live moms I know have nothing but empathy and support for their fellow mamas. But the media never tire of a girl fight, and this seems to be where they land, with titles like Michele vs. Michelle: The Battle over Breastfeeding.
If that’s the narrative, it seems to me moms and children can’t possibly win. On the other hand, if the debate were really about families, then we could get somewhere. We could start with a few facts. No, not the facts you’ve heard a million times about how breastfeeding is really good for babies and mothers. How about some other ones like that breast pumps cost hundreds of dollars, and adding them to the long list of tax-break eligible health expenses helps a whole lot of families, while hurting nobody? Or that the vast majority of hospitals haven’t yet achieved “baby friendly” status, meaning a lot of moms who want to breastfeed miss out on supports from nurses or lactation consultants that would help them get them started? (I bet you can think of more sensible examples like this, where the challenge comes down to, not other moms, but the supports available to families. What would you add?)
As I said, most real breastfeeding moms I know sympathize with moms whose work, bodies, or other factors make bottles the only option, and most moms who formula-feed have no issue with moms who lift up their shirts to feed a baby. Moms are generally nice people. That doesn’t mean they’re opposed to a good debate, though. The problem is the battle we need to be waging is over how to create a more mama- and baby-friendly world.
Written by: Christine Sinatra