Our guest blogger Jennifer Kogan hit a nerve last week with her post “It’s ok if you don’t breast-feed.” The D.C. clinical social worker’s suggestion that we let up on mothers who have trouble breast-feeding drew dozens of passionate responses.
Some readers thanked Kogan for giving voice to a serious problem for many new mothers. Others attacked her premise, arguing that she was giving women an excuse to de-value their babies.
I asked Kogan to follow-up on some of the issues raised by readers. Here’s our Q&A, in which, incidentally, she does not at all back down:
Q. Were you surprised by the reaction to your post?
A. I was surprised that people seemed to think I was suggesting that one method of feeding was better than the other. I was really just trying to point out that we should support every woman’s choice.
Q. How do you respond to reactions like this one you received: “If you do not want to breast-feed your baby, don’t deceive yourself that the choice is a trivial one. There are perhaps a few good reasons not to give a baby the best possible start in life, but only a few.”
A. I think the mental health and welfare of a baby’s mother is a very good reason to stop breast-feeding. There may be other perfectly valid reasons to discontinue as well.
Q. Why do you think the subject of breast-feeding inspires such passion? Why isn’t is considered private and personal?
A. There is something about how we feed our babies that strikes a collective nerve. Bottle feeding and schedules were de rigueur until the 1970s and then the culture changed. The “breast is best” campaign has really taken hold, which is all well and good as long as we don’t hold everyone accountable to that standard.
Q. On the other hand, with evidence that babies benefit from breast-feeding, isn’t there validity to the argument that breast-feeding should be treated as be a public health issue that we all promote and encourage?
For instance, one reader wrote in response: “I support every woman’s choice, but let’s be clear, breast-feeding is the best nutrients for our babies and human kind has made it thus far without formula. I think if we made breast-feeding a priority we would see continued success instead of supporting an industry that is just into making a dollar.”
A. I don’t think we want to put what a woman does with her body into the public domain. It should be a private issue.
Q. There were also many readers who thanked you. This is certainly a common problem. Why do non-breast-feeding mothers feel so isolated? A. There is something so visceral about not being able to nurse your own baby. Women really don’t need anyone else weighing in on a decision that is usually very hard to arrive at. Unfortunately, there is a lot of judgment out there.
Q. You have been a therapist for 17 years. Have you noticed a difference in the feelings expressed about the subject over the course of your professional life?
A. I have noticed a heightened anxiety about parenting in general over the years. My recommendation to new and older parents alike is that we try to be kind to ourselves so that we can be present for our children as they grow.
Q. Anything else you want to address?
A. I would add that before the 1970s women were oppressed by having to put their babies on schedules and use bottles. Then breast-feeding became popular and it was supposed to all be so much easier. Now we have women killing themselves to increase their milk supply and pumping at work when they are feeling stressed. In some cases, it seems like it has become yet another way for women to be oppressed.
What do you think? Have we gone too far as a culture in encouraging breast-feeding? Have we gone far enough?