The Case Against The Atlantic & Their Anti-Breastfeeding Campaign

Beautiful breastfeeding.

I have to say, I love the Atlantic Monthly.  It is one of the only magazines that I get.  It is hard to read much of it these days because of the kids and general business but I try.  I am however starting to wonder if their major funding is received from Similac or something because of two articles they have done about how basically lame, bad for marriages, and over-hyped breast-feeding is. 

First, in 2009 Hanna Rosin got a great big cover article titled "The Case Against Breast-Feeding" and just the other day we were treated to a father's version, "A Father's Case Against Breast-Feeding" by Chris Kornelis.  

(I will now try to tear apart this article without sounding mean.  Heaven help me.)

So the dad (Chris) begins by talking about how awesome, smart and wonderful his child is.  You know he is leading up to something- something he did wrong!  That is always how people start.  "Well, you slept on your stomach, played with matches, ate paint chips, etc, etc, etc, and turned out just fine!" say defensive parents, grandparents and humans everywhere.

Then he talks about how hard breast-feeding was for his wife and how hard both of them tried at this.  Pumps, night feedings, pain, latch issues, etc.  It's a sad and dirty story and it is told by many women everywhere. 

He talks about the hard decision to quit the breast-feeding and buy the formula.

And then- JOY.  The formula was a lifesaver in many ways. 

More sleep.
"When we switched to formula, everything changed. Only one of us got up. That meant that I could get up on my own and feed Thomas while his mom went for six hours of sleep."
Awesome daddy bonding.
"I got to bond with my son. I got to sing him songs and tell him stories. Those hours of father-child bonding were a good thing. I got to take him to my parents' house for the day—without worrying about having enough milk or keeping it cold—and give Betsy an afternoon to rest."
Better marriage.
"Betsy and I got to go away for a long weekend-to be together, to work on our marriage, something that was not just good for us, but good for the baby, too."

Then again, because of evil lactivists everywhere there was, (Dun, dun, dun) THE GUILT!
"We brought it home, shook up a batch, and noticed the comforting words placed prominently across the front of the box: "Experts agree breastfeeding is best." Thanks. We needed that. Betsy really needed it. She already thought she'd failed."

(I am just going to go ahead and ignore his comment about how he sure hopes marriage counselors don't make people feel guilty about divorcing just because they have kids.  I am one of those idiots who tries to stay married because (GASP!) there are children involved.  Among other reasons of course.)
Yes, breast-feeding can be relaxing and bonding too.

I planned on breastfeeding my first baby.  I have nursed all my babies.  I can openly admit that it wasn't all roses and oxytocin.  There was pain and crap and no sleep and all that jazz.  I managed to hang in there which was probably a little bit of luck, a little bit of genetics, lots of support and a little bit of knowledge too.  (Did I mention that successful breastfeeding has a TON to do with the birth experience?  It does.) 

I think most women who have "successfully" breast-fed realize that doing this can be hard.  In fact it can be incredibly hard.  I guess what I am trying to say is that I kind of "get it".  I get that nursing can be hard.  I get that parenting has challenges.  I get that there is a bucket load of guilt involved.  And I get that sometimes our bodies seem to fail us.  Sometimes we don't get to do what we really want to do or what is "best".

That sucks.  It really does.

Chris sounds like a wonderful dad.  He was getting up with mom for all these feedings.  Holy FREAK!  I didn't know they made men like that.  That is crazy.  He was right there along for the ride.  A good dad.  A good husband.  That is awesome.

But I have to break this down.  There are some issues I have with this article.  Big issues.

1)  One big problem with an article like this is that it really does serve to discourage breast-feeding.  I know that he and Hanna are always talking about how judgmental all those breast-feeders out there are.  They are mean.  They throw milk on you.  Evil lactivists.  Lactivists aside-  the state of breast-feeding in this country is one very sad joke.  I can't imagine people feel that guilty about formula when it is so absolutely widespread and so incredibly WELL FUNDED.

The CDC is excited because breast-feeding is on the rise.
"Breastfeeding initiation increased from 74.6% in 2008 to 76.9% in 2009 births. This improvement in initiation represents the largest annual increase over the previous decade. Breastfeeding at 6 months increased from 44.3% to 47.2%; breastfeeding at 12 months increased from 23.8% to 25.5%. "
 Pretty good I guess, but less than 50% are still nursing at six months and about one quarter of women don't even begin breastfeeding.  There is still lots of work to be done by those who wish to see more breast-feeding.  

Formula isn't just some innocent bystander in this little game of numbers.  Formula was actively and aggressively pushed for many years as a superior alternative to natural infant feeding.  It was successful in replacing it.  An entire generation missed out on this.  To switch a cultural norm, especially one that was well funded and backed by experts takes work.  Lots of work and lots of time and we are just beginning. 

He complains about the "warning" label on cans of formula.  My guess is that they HAVE to put it there because, much like cigarette companies, the formula companies spent many years actively marketing something that, as it turns out, was inferior. 

Maybe we should take warning labels of cigarettes too?  We wouldn't want smokers to feel guilty, would we? 

Fact is, people will read this and they will give up.  They will see his point of view and not bother to fight through some of the winnable trials of nursing.  And why would they- all this guy and his wife got from quitting nursing were positives.

2)  The next problem is that he seems to be under the false impression that life is supposed to be easy.  Trips to the park.  Babies that sleep all night.  Date nights.  Vacation.  Kissing. 

I have bad news for ya Chris. 

I know.  I took it hard too when I found out. 

Yes, babies sometimes CRY.  Sometimes they don't want to SLEEP.  (Believe it or not, this happens NO MATTER HOW YOU FEED THE FRIGGIN KID!)  Sometimes life is stressful and it stresses the marriage and the people in it. 

I don't want to sound mean, but seriously, I sometimes wonder about all these people out there who expected their children to be 100% convenient all the time.  THEY AREN'T.  Want more bad news?  You aren't convenient all the time EITHER. 

The sad thing about giving up or walking away or simply throwing a big boy tantrum every time life is hard is that when we walk away from the HARD STUFF we miss some of the BEST STUFF.

I am so very glad that I breastfed my babies.  It wasn't always easy and sometimes it was downright painful.  Sometimes I didn't sleep much.  Sometimes parenting was stressful on my marriage.  But I can't even express to you how very rewarding something is when you DO IT- and how much MORE rewarding it is when it was HARD.

Maybe we should stop thinking about the hard stuff in life as a problem, and recognize it as an opportunity to have a bigger blessing.

3)  It's getting late but I have to briefly mention how irritating I found Chris's talk about how easy it was to bond with the baby once the bottle feeding began.  Dads of the world- you can bond with your baby when mom is a nursing mom.  There are TONS of things that only a dad can do just right and that are a gift to you and them and their mother.  Please don't believe that bonding will be better if you feed the baby with a bottle.  This is not necessary. 

4)  And problem number four- the guilt blame game.  Chris seems sure that the guilt he felt was because of the labels or the doctors or the lactivists. 

It wasn't. 

And Chris- I have something to tell you.  If you sincerely know that breast-feeding wasn't going to work for your family and it was a physical necessity, then I hope you don't feel guilty.  I repeat- YOU and YOUR WIFE should NOT feel guilty when you did what was best for your baby and your family.  Only you know what that is.  But I have to say something else- nobody can MAKE you feel guilty.  You are in charge of you and you are in charge of your emotions.  I know.  It requires big boy pants.  Go put 'em on.

Is there a lot of judgment out there in the parenting (not just lactivist) community?  Ummm.....YEAH.

Get used to it.  If you don't develop a thick skin you are going to spend lots of time weeping into your soup.   If you feel right about how you are raising your kid then stop wasting your emotional capitol worrying about what other people think.  Who cares?  You shouldn't.  I sure as heck don't. 

There are lots of things I do as a parent that aren't on the approved list that I don't feel bad about.  Why?  Because I realize that I need to do them or my sanity will come into question.  Only I know my crazy place limit. 

There are also lots of things I do as a parent that I feel deeply guilty for.  Why?  Because I know that I can and should do better.  But I feel that guilt.  Nobody makes me.  I am in charge of me.  Nobody can take that away from me.

And Chris, nobody can take that away from you either. 


Motorsport_Mama said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Yvie said…
I loved this post! You expressed everything I thought in regards to this article perfectly!


"But I can't even express to you how very rewarding something is when you DO IT- and how much MORE rewarding it is when it was HARD."

"If you sincerely know that breast-feeding wasn't going to work for your family and it was a physical necessity, then I hope you don't feel guilty."

Oh and the bit about bonding. My fiance read the article before I did and it bothered him too, particularly the parts you referenced here about sleep and bonding.
momto5 said…
right on! yes, yes! my issue was the more bonding time. yes, new babies nurse ALOT but some how my dear husband always found time to bond with our children. he would rock them after they nursed, or give them bathes, or change their diapers, or just hold them and gaze at them. he didn't need a bottle of formula to be an awesome dad. he just is one. and it sort of chaps my butt that guys want to take that one thing from moms. "I can't bond properly if i don't feed the child". maybe it is all the fuss made over bonding and breastfeeding. no one is getting all mushy about changing a poopy diaper or giving a bath, they focus on the breastFEEDING. so i think maybe guys feel like hey i can't bind well if i am not also feeding the child. BUT since most men won't try and lactate they see the bottle as what they NEED to do. and since their wicked wife is hogging feeding the baby with her dang boobs they push for her to stop. and it is all masked with sweetness... "oh honey i am so sorry you have to get up everynight 6 times to nurse little tommy. IF ONLY you would use a bottle i too could get up at night and feed him", or "we can't go on dates and have an awesome marriage if you have tommy stuck on your breast, i mean how can we go away for a long weekend when he is 2 months old if you are still nursing?? don't you love ME??" i am sorry but my husband and i have been married 21 years, we have 6 children and we have a great marriage and we have not gone away i for a long weekend or even any regularly scheduled dates for over 18 years... but then marriage doesn't work if the only way you can think to make it work is to leave your life behind. our marriage works because we work on it EVERY SINGLE DAY, not just on some special weekend retreats. our kids see that marriage has it ups and downs and the mom and dad can be mad at each other but that we make up and they see us hug and kiss (eeeew gross!) and laugh together and share in each others lives EVERY DAY!
so this whole you have a better bonding experience and a better marriage if you don't nurse is a complete bunch of crap. he probably wasn't too supportive and support in those early days and weeks is so vital. you want to bond with your child and have a good marriage? how about make sure your wife is comfy, has a glass of water or tea, has a good meal to eat three times a day, has NOTHING to do but breastfeed that baby and when it poops you change the diapers and when the wee one needs a bath YOU GIVE IT and when your wife is weepy call a LLL leader and get her to a meeting or contact an IBCLC and get her the help she needs, and if she wants cuddle with her at night. support her and love her and love your baby and quit thinking of just yourself.
Megan Hutchings said…
" did what was best for your baby and your family. Only you know what that is. But I have to say something else- nobody can MAKE you feel guilty. You are in charge of you and you are in charge of your emotions. I know. It requires big boy pants. Go put 'em on."

THANK YOU! You hit the nail right on the head (as I find you often do!).
Jess Smith said…
I love the comment on the fact that he was a good dad. I read the 6 hour sleep his wife got to have, assuming Chris isn't exaggerating. I'm lucky if I get to have 15 minutes in the bathroom myself, or a 30 minute nap when I'm desperate and ready to break. 6 hours?? He got up with mom during midnight feedings??? Holy crap.

Honestly, breastfeeding came easy for us. I count us lucky and appreciate every second of it. It makes night feedings so easy. Roll over, latch, sleep. I don't have to make a bottle in the middle of the night, warm it, and struggle to stay awake and not drop the baby.

My issue is what you've mentioned here. Breastfeeding was eradicated for an entire generation. Women are still judged, chased, condemned for breastfeeding. "Ew. This is a restaurant. People are eating." "This is a mall, there are children around." Comments like this shame women all the time into formula! Formula is inferior, without a doubt. It can and should be used when there are no other options, but it isn't, and women are routinely pushed to give up breastfeeding because the baby isn't sleeping through the night at 6 weeks, or it hurts, or its a learning curve, or worse, breastfeeding is "icky." There is a war against breastfeeding in the name of the dollar. Facts are facts. Should women feel guilty for formula feeding? Absolutely not. But they must make that decision from an informed place. The same with any intervention in birth. Does pitocin have the potential to harm mom and babe? Absolutely. Is it necessary occasionally? Hell yes. Is it over-prescribed and are women pressured into it? Hell yes. Formula is an intervention. It carries risks, can be life-saving, but should never be promoted, pushed, or chosen without understanding alternatives and risks involved.
Mishka Brownley said…
I agree with everything you said in this post wholeheartedly! I had an extremely hard time with breastfeeding my first child.

I tried daily till he was four months old, but the desire to give up was so overwhelming and always present. My son never nursed and I did eventually put him on formula after eight months of pumping and extreme supply issues.

I am a huge breastfeeding advocate, but I have experienced first hand how impossible breastfeeding can feel. I chose formula knowing that it was second best, but I feel no guilt when I hear it called that. It is what it is.

My second child nursed so easily, well into toddlerhood and it was heavenly! I would never trade the perceived convenience (which is a falsehood!) of formula/bottle feeding over breastfeeding - you cannot compare the two.

I wish that women would get to a point where they felt enough confidence in themselves and their ability to mother, to say "I chose formula because breastfeeding was hard, I didn't know what I was doing and I was tired of trying." There should be no shame in it. Sometimes it really is that hard and depressing!

I also agree that conquering life's hurdles, adds to your growth and character as a human being.

Thanks for another great post!
Anonymous said…
Thank you for an informative post. I didn't know about the articles. As if NOT breastfeeding needed any encouragement!

I love your line about babies being inconvenient. I think it's time I used that line on my current batch of childbirth students. So often, I get questions like, "but if you give them formula, they sleep through the night."

Makes me want to scream.

That "missing generation" (it's more like three missing generations, really) is the biggest obstacle to women breastfeeding. I truly believe the success rate would skyrocket if everybody was doing it. If it was normal. If everyone saw women breastfeeding wherever the baby needed it.

Women fail because we make it so darn WEIRD. It's hard because we MAKE it hard. And the easy way is in everyone's face all the time. Everywhere you look, you see bottles and formula.

In all honesty, how many women CANNOT breastfeed? How many babies CANNOT drink breastmilk? How many other mammal species are there that FAIL at breastfeeding?

You can't name a single one, because if it failed, that species went extinct.

So I don't buy the "hard" excuse. People need to grow up.
Yvie said…
I wanted to come back and agree with you about birth affecting breastfeeding success and respond to marlenedotterer. My cat had kittens almost five years ago and misplaced two of her kittens on the other side of the room, she was only caring for one of them. I thought the rest were dead but I decided to put them back with their Mama and her warmth and care appeared to bring them back, two of them were under the bed and I didn't find them until later. The kittens that had been separated from her the longest took almost a week to figure out how to nurse.
I love this post and I love the responses from the other women! Thank you for this and I will definitely be sharing this with friends!
Marisa said…
I absolutely agree with you that Chris needs to grow a thicker skin. Perhaps he hasn't realized yet that the entire parenting world is going to judge you at some point for ANYTHING you do?? My son was exclusively breast fed until his first birthday, when he weaned himself. I can't tell you how many evil eyes I got while nursing him at a restaurant (wearing a nursing cover, mind you), at the park, at the mall, pretty much anywhere outside the comfort of our own home. I was lucky in that no one ever actually said anything to me, though. My husband was all set to flip out on anyone who made me feel guilty for breastfeeding.

I would also like to add that my husband was insulted by Chris's insinuation that he could only bond with his child through bottle feeding him. Umm, no. Yes, feeding your child is one aspect of bonding, but certainly not the only one. Those first couple of months after we brought my son home from the hospital, he was up multiple times every night to nurse. However, he didn't necessarily want to go back to sleep after he had been fed. At that point, my husband would get up with him and snuggle on the couch so I could get some sleep. He has told me many times that those "couch nights" are some of his best memories from that exhausting newborn period. And as momto5 quite rightly pointed out, there are many ways my husband bonded with our son that had nothing to do with feeding him. Couch time, baths, playtime, reading books, etc.

I do feel sorry for Chris's wife that she was unable to successfully breastfeed, especially since it seems as though she exhausted every possible avenue. That sucks, and I don't blame them in the least for switching to formula if that was what they needed to do to keep their baby healthy. But to assign blame to breastfeeding and "those evil lactivists" is just ridiculous and offensive.
Marianne said…
As a midwife and before that, as a L & D nurse, I always ask first time mothers if they knew another woman who has successfully breasted for at least a month or so. If they do, I tell them to plan on chatting with that lady a LOT, because the first 2 weeks of breast feeding is hellish for many women. What you need is support, sometimes meals and a break, but mostly to hear someone who has done it say that what is happening is normal and that it can work. Without that support many women begin the slippery slope of supplementation. Formula feeding often supports isolation and separation IMHO- breast feeding is a more connected way of life.
Jen said…
Sometimes I wonder if fathers' issues with breastfeeding have less to do with a desire to bond and more to do with subconscious jealousy?
Butterflyden said…
Honestly, my husband and I were disappointed when I couldn't breast feed. I suffer from a disease that has destroyed my stomach and intestines and I have to have a feeding tube and central line. Frankly, we were shocked when I got pregnant and then the docs said my body wouldn't sustain it, the baby would die, I would die, or both of us. We made the obvious choice to fight and trust God. Five months on bedrest and a lot of medical care I carried to term. I knew I would have to have a c-section because of my medical problems, but we had hoped I could breast feed. I was hurt when I couldn't even produce milk. I thought something was wrong with me, I was failing my son, failing as a woman. I cried as they explained to me that my body was. So malnourished and drained from pregnancy and we would have to bottle feed. I strongly encourage breast feeding, but coming from a mom who can't my biggest issue is some women told me I was failing my son and not doing what was best because he was on a bottle. In all honesty, I get Chris' point of view, but I really enjoyed being the one who fed my son even his bottle. Sure, I was sleep deprived and we had our fair share of arguments, but like you said life isn't easy. People talk about date nights, but my son is 21 mo old and I still can't leave him with his grandparents for two hours without talking about him or wishing he was there. Kids change things in a marriage but it is so worth it!
It is interesting that he doesn't mention if they sought out outside support or breastfeeding help! Even with an amazingly supportive husband, I still needed professional help from a lactation consultant and support and encouragement from a local breastfeeding group. It isn't easy and support and encouragement outside the home is vital!!
Anonymous said…
I've come across your blog post while reading up on breastfeeding, following some recent controversy. I was struck by your comment that "Maybe we should take warning labels of cigarettes too? We wouldn't want smokers to feel guilty, would we?"

It's funny, because you do go ahead here and assume that feeding formula is indeed on par with sucking back smoke from smouldering wads of leaves and toxic chemicals.

Interestingly enough this same conclusion isn't supported by so much of the published literature on the topic. But you'll keep willfully ignoring evidence and research - because it's all a big conspiracy, right? And obviously people who make different choices than you are whiners who need to put on their "big boy pants".

Does it seem reasonable to you that someone might talk about feeling guilty or ashamed about their personal choices, when this is the way you talk about them? It's a delicious irony,