Call off the mommy wars! Breastfeeding controversy serves nobody

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.Advertisement
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

About Christine Sinatra 53 Articles
Christine Sinatra is the communications director for Texans Care for Children and mom to a kindergartener. Her past experience includes working as a reporter for the Austin American-Statesman and the Oakland Tribune company, being a Peace Corps volunteer for high school girls in Africa, and studying at UT’s LBJ School of Public Affairs.

7 Comments on Call off the mommy wars! Breastfeeding controversy serves nobody

  1. It is too bad that more people cannot use common sense and be pragmatic about it. The divisive rhetoric is way too much fun for some people. Thanks for the great post! Keep up the awesome work you do for all of us!!

  2. Agreed. I work and breastfed my son for 2.5 years, but everyone has the right to make the choice they feel is best for their family. I love that this passed and have no idea why anyone would focus on this as an area of supposed contention.

  3. Agreed that this is a non-issue! Definitely, let’s shift the focus, as you point out, to making the world more mama and kid-friendly!

  4. What a great post! I don’t know why people think we need to always have one team against another.

    Congrats on making it 6 months! I treasured each month I was able to breastfeed my son.

  5. I had a breast reduction as a teenager and knew for years that my supply would be little to none. I did actually do some breastfeeding with both of my sons, but I had such a small supply that I had to formula feed. With my first son, I was devastated, but now I have accepted it. It’s funny…in Austin, I feel embarrassed bottle-feeding in public, whereas in some places people are embarrassed to BF. I worry that people will think I’m not doing the right thing for my baby and think I’m stupid or selfish. Believe me, I would BF if I could! People should definitely not be too quick to judge.

  6. Only just noticed this post now in the sidebar.

    Any time I did anything lactivist-y was to defend my rights as a breastfeeder, never to disparage formula-users. I’ve never ever ever said that mamas who don’t breastfeed suck, not anything close, yet I’ve been attacked as being “mean” for saying that breastfeeding is good, as if every time anyone says that it’s meant as a slap to formula users.

    I also got slammed big time for admitting that I used formula twice with my daughter when I was too sick to produce enough milk for her. Some idiot told me I’d “ruined her gut bacteria for life.” Aside from how scientifically wrong that is, who the heck was she to lay that on me? Was I supposed to let my infant starve?

    People are way too sensitive on all sides of this. Feed your kid the best you can. Formula should be available on insurance as a prescription for those who have a documented need for it (ie unable to produce, being on a medication that precludes it, etc.). Pumps should be an allowable medical expense as well. Society should facilitate the feeding of children in the best way possible by each individual parent!

    PS We’re looking into adopting for our second child. I may not be able to breastfeed them despite really wanting to and having done so for my IVF baby. I just know I’m going to have to put on big shields to defend against the inevitable slams one way or another. That sucks.

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