breast is (not always) best

June 8, 2010 § 5 Comments

i havent really written about midwifery and birth issues in the past few months because the conversations that happen online around these issues dont really have much to do with me.

let me give an example.  i really dont like the saying ‘breast is best’.  i understand the impetus behind this statement to combat the anti-breastfeeding mood that is prevalent.  but, it is innacurate and alienating at best.

i breast fed aza and i used formula.  that is what was best for us.  for her.  even if i had been able to arrange my life so that i could do 100 percent breastfeeding that would not have been best for her.  and i have met plenty of parents where breast was not best.

it isnt best when breastfeeding causes you so much physical or psychological discomfort that you are pumping adrenaline and fear through your body and the milk to your child.  when breastfeeding is not a conduit to bonding but to re-traumatization.

what i dont understand is how do people who claim that they believe that the mother can make the best decisions for her child, then go and make unequivocal statements like: breast is best.

yes, i believe that parents should be accurately informed of what is in formula and the potential for harm.  but, can we please stop pretending that breastfeeding does not have the potential for harm as well?   i have seen parents and children harmed by breastfeeding, when it has caused damage to the relationships.  and i think that the only people who can know what is best for that mama/baby dyad is the mama and the baby.

and if you arent the mama or the baby, your opinion on how they create and sustain their relationship is just that, your opinion.

and formula companies can do evil things.  nestle for example. evil.  but so can well-meaning midwives who make absolute statements about what is best for a mother’s body or a baby’s body, no matter what.

i would have a mother who is lowering her stress levels (and stress hormones) by bottle feeding formula to her baby, than a woman struggling to fit into some ideal of what a ‘good mother does’ by breastfeeding and being too exhausted to enjoy her baby.  and yes, this does happen a lot. ive seen it. ive lived it.

it comes down to humility. to walking the talk.  if we believe that mothers ought to be able to decide when she gets and remains pregnant.  how she gives birth. then to be morally consistent, she ought to be the one to decide how she is going to nourish her child.  we have to trust women, trust mothers, trust parents.  the human race has survived because mothers have learned generation after generation to trust themselves, to be aware of their children, to do what they see as best at that moment.  and if we are going to continue to survive as a species, trusting mothers is paramount in the process.

yes, there are abusive mothers.  unfortunately.  but dismissing the experience of millions of mothers who choose to formula feed their babies is not going to stop mothers from being abusive.  actually statements like: breast is best, in which we dismiss the experiences of m/others in order to create a one-size-fits-all model for nourishing a baby is simply another way to control mothers through shame and helps to create the conditions for the perpetuation of an abusive society.

i breastfed aza.  i breast fed her in bars, on park benches, in the car, on planes, in restaurants, in bed, in front of television, at late night parties.  i loved nursing her.  one of my sweetest memories is the first day of her life, she took to the breast immediately, and looked up at me mid way through and smiled. with dimples! for the first couple of days her dimples were her and my secret. i only saw them when she was nursing.  i get teary just thinking about how sweet that was.

i believe a person ought to be able to breastfeed where she wants when she wants.  societal restrictions on nourishing/nursing a baby are disgusting and immoral.  and breastmilk is amazing.  it cures pink eye, bug bites, acne, eczema, immune deficiency, and more.  i even read that it could be used as replacement for contact lens cleanser.  srsly, breast milk is a wonder.

when aza was nursing, and she got a bit sick, the first thing i would do is start breastfeeding more.  not only did she get well quickly, but i barely got sick from low immune system when i was nursing.

but for all the benefits that breast milk  may bring, the breast is not always best.  sometimes it is.  we have an obligation to make sure that accurate information is available for parents, and to protect their autonomy in deciding what is best.

so you see, this is why i dont really participate in convos w other birth workers/advocates.  because i dont think that all of the scientific research in the world can determine what is best, optimal, natural, etc for a human being.  it can at times act as a guide, a suggestion, information.  but ultimately what is best for a person must be decided by themselves.

and i feel like i keep repeating myself over and over again.

i am focused on dismantling, stopping this abusive society, where scientific studies replace a person’s intuition.  where we think that the answers are ‘out there’ and we dont learn the discipline of being aware of ourselves and our world and dont discover that the questions and the answers are ‘right here/right now’.  in which we dismiss the individuality of persons and the uniqueness of people’s situations, for the standardized answers found in sound bites and slogans.

cause our survival as a species is not guaranteed.  we are poisoning the air, land, water that we need to survive.  we are committing a slow genocide of ourselves.

i remember my midwife screeching: formula is poison!  (the over privileged lady though could not tell me *what* in formula made it poison.  what the effects of the poison were.  etc. i had to do that research on my own.  her job, i guess were to make ill-informed statements to scare women into enacting her vision of idealized motherhood…ahem…)

well you know what?  sometimes poison is the best cure.

that is one of the most ancient laws of medicine in human society.  and if we deny that truth, then we really are one step closer to our own extinction.


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§ 5 Responses to breast is (not always) best

  • Ash says:

    Women should not be shamed for choosing to or choosing not to breastfeed under any circumstances. Reasons why or why not to are irrelevant, even if Mom doesn’t want to breastfeed because she thinks her boobs will stay perkier, that still isn’t a good reason to shame her! Her body, her choice.

    What I am interested in though (sorry for the derail!!), is what we do where breastfeeding isn’t possible. Especially in a post-collapse situation where artifical milk isnt readily supplied. I’m really interested in seeing if we can create communities where breastmilk is shared freely among mothers (from those who have much to those who need). Without the whole ugly rich lady/wet nurse dynamic of course. Also, the use of non-human animal milks (yay for goats!) when that can be done nonviolently and ethically.

    And goddamn, Nestle IS fucking evil!

  • Ash says:

    “and if we are going to continue to survive as a species, trusting mothers is paramount in the process.”

    I forgot to say, I loved this! Also, please delete my first comment if it’s too much of a derail. 🙂

  • Alva Goldbook says:

    I don’t think anyone should dictate to anyone what is best. And you make a damn good point about the possibility of causing trauma to the child if the mother is stressed. I have no idea if those hormones can readily be passed into breast milk or not, but it’s certainly something to consider and approach with caution. On the other hand, I’ve heard horror stories involving Nestle. 😦 I think everyone should consider what is the best option available for both mama and the baby, and then go from there.

  • Mamita Mala says:

    Agreed mama. I breastfed poroto because I could, because I was working for myself and not for someone else, because I was working from home. With la Mapu I had to go back to work two weeks after giving birth, I was helping to run a voter registration campaign and it just didn’t feel feasible. Shaming should never be acceptable. Both my hijas are pretty damn awesome

  • […] wrote this for gmm a couple of weeks ago and i am reposting it here.  with some slight edits for clarity and […]

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