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Cause of Death, Not Breastfeeding? The Bias That Won't Die

Posted Apr 20 2010 7:09pm 1 Comment
I was already cranky this morning.  The high pollen count, the cast on my arm, the missing english muffin thanks to last night's small but fearsome toaster oven fire.  And even though my doctor friends insist I couldn't possibly feel it,  this headline in the New York Time's Science section raised my blood pressure
Despite Advice, Many Fail to Breast-Feed

Next came the same old "breast-is-best" schtick thanks to a recent CDC report called, you'll love this, The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.  Breast-feeding, rather NOT breast-feeding, is now officially linked to death.  Forget mere ear infections and bouts of gastro-intestinal distress.  We're talking The Great Beyond.  That Good Night.  The Big Dunkin Donuts in the Sky.   

This week's Vital Statistics column started with the usual American Academy of Pediatric's Antediluvian Recommendations (i.e. babies must be latched to breasts for a year or else risk disease and now undoubtedly death), persisted through the frequencies of breast-feeding and subsequent lamentation that more women don't give it a go.  Shame.  Because although the AAP says it's great, "less than 75% of women breast-feed at all."  Yes, as if 75% is a meek number. 

As if  children who drink formula are neglected, malnourished, in other words, fated to a life of crime, an early death, and suboptimal SAT scores. 

Honestly, I'm impressed that so many women try it.  Here's an idea.  Maybe women don't believe "the advice", don't perceive formula as "failure" or simply after 9 months of housing another person just want their bodies back to themselves. 

By the way, somehow whole generations of babies survived without breast milk, myself, case in point, born at 2 lbs., 6 ozs.  It hasn't killed me yet...

Of course the article didn't stop there.  Not without mention of the nearly beatified benefits of breast-feeding - by now so ingrained in the medical community and the public imagination they need no further explanation .... as if they're the sermon on the mount, a divine revelation from the infallible holy father. 

"The large number of benefits to mother and child" and then, the recent silly Pediatrics study claiming we'd save $13 billion and 911 deaths each year if 90% of mothers would just be good listeners and breast-feed exclusively for 6 months.  As if.

Can you imagine the public health folks?  If we could just convince them the benefits are real.  And that it's easy and free and green!  If we could just convince them they really, really like it.  Hey mommy, you like it!

The agony.  Need I remind myself I haven't lactated in over 3 years?  Yet I am still annoyed over the exaggerated data, the authoritative tone, the needless guilt.  Cranky enough to get me doing the one-handed pecking on the key board.  Thank goodness for the rational and courageous women at  The Fearless Formula Feeder , PhD in ParentingScience-based Medicine and Free Range Kids  who are not afraid to combat misinformation on this holy topic.  Job well done, ladies.  Thanks for putting the two latest breast-feeding "studies" into perspective.

I'm also thankful I don't have to personally brave the breast-feeding bias any more.  It's a relief to have children who drink out of cups and eat without bibs.

The fixation on the first year of nourishment is bizarre.  It's so intense compared to the second year of life.  It's as if the peril ceases at the first birthday.  Sure, we worry about childhood obesity, food allergies, trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, white bread and fruit without the organic label.  But it's not the same.  Sorry, Michael Pollan , it just isn't.  There's not as much guilt or anxiety involved.  Mercifully, we parents wise up over those early years. 

Thank goodness otherwise I might be even crankier and more distracted thereby setting untold numbers of meals afire.  Now there's a real hazard lurking around meal time.  Nothing like a few flames licking your kitchen cabinets to hone your risk perception.  Breast-feed, formula-feed, bottle-feed, whatever.  But please don't warm the taco shells in the toaster oven.
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The author's emotional pain over breastfeeding is so apparent (even after the passing of three years) I want to give her a hug.  She is braving "the Bias" personally, even though she says she's not.  If a headline can raise your blood pressure, you ARE feeling it personally.  May she find peace and healing in some way.

    From a happy extended breastfeeder...who was lucky enough to have an easy time of it.  

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