Even Breastfeeding Isn't Perfect

Jeanne Sager

Is Breast BestWhen someone titles their book Is Breast Best? Taking on the Breastfeeding Experts and the New High Stakes of Motherhood, you can almost hear the lactivists sharpening their claws. Taking on breastfeeding in any way shape or form is not for the faint of heart.

And so many people do a bad job at it. They use crappy science or self-involved language. They incite rather than educate.

I believe in the goodness of breastfeeding. And yet there is one thing about the whole breast vs. formula debate that I can't get past. The all or nothing argument that seems to have taken hold on the American psyche. It's one or the other. Never both. And never, ever, a meeting of the minds.

Call me a cynic. I don't believe anything is perfect. Not motherhood. Not life. Certainly not one food source.

That's why I'm hopeful as I sit down to read Joan B. Wolf's new book this weekend. Because in each interview I've read with the Texas A&M professor, she has avoided the standard language that plagues every discussion of breastfeeding I've read in the six years since becoming pregnant.

Nowhere has she said breastfeeding is bad or wrong. Nowhere has she said women should stop. And yet nowhere has Wolf uttered any version of "breastfeeding is the mark of a good mother." Instead, she's challenged the all or nothing approach to raising healthy children. Taking on the US Department of Health and Human Services and the Ad Council over the National Breastfeeding Awareness Campaign (NBAC), which warned women that not breast-feeding put babies at risk for a variety of health problems, Wolf accused the NBAC of exploiting a mother's natural fear of not doing the very best for her child. All or nothing, she points out, ignores too much in favor of a pat answer.

In life, there are no pat answers, no black and white. You can breastfeed until a child is 2, but if you're smoking pot every day while doing it, what kind of health impacts is it having on your child? Likewise, you can formula feed from day one and do every other thing right. What good is breastfeeding if it isn't paired with good practices? What evil is formula if it's the one "failure" of an otherwise impeccable childhood?

I am not saying here and now which is better for babies, but it must be said that both have their problems. Neither is perfect.

Before I crack the pages of Joan B. Wolf's book -- which I promise to come back and report to you -- I have to say I'm already encouraged. Because it's one thing to say breastfeeding is good for our babies. But to say it's perfect is even more dangerous to society than challenging a lactivist to a duel will be for Ms. Wolf.

Would you be willing to hear what Joan Wolf has to say? Or have you already made up your mind?


Image via Amazon

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