Myth 24: Breast is best

milkfactory“In certain overachieving circles, breast-feeding is no longer a choice — it’s a no-exceptions requirement, the ultimate badge of responsible parenting. Yet the actual health benefits of breast-feeding are surprisingly thin, far thinner than most popular literature indicates. Is breast-feeding right for every family? Or is it this generation’s vacuum cleaner – an instrument of misery that mostly just keeps women down?” Excerpt from the new article “The Case Against Breast-Feeding” appearing in the April issue of The Atlantic written by Hanna Rosin.

Is breastfeeding the critical, life-enhancing gift you can give to your baby? Many moms, especially moms of now-school-age children, are looking at children around them and starting to wonder. Does breastfeeding actually enhance intelligence? Or are women who have time to breastfeed just of a socio-economic strata that enables them to spend more time enriching their children? Does breastfeeding actually prevent illness? Or are breastfeeding mothers simply the same mothers that are able to keep their children home instead of at germy daycare all day? And what about healthy, thriving, highly intelligent children who were formula fed babies?

Many many mothers chose to breast feed, are happy they did so and enjoyed every minute of it. They are to be commended and it is certain that their children have benefited from the privilege of having loving mothers who have shared nutrition from their bodies. Nobody disputes this. Breastfeeding is good. But is it always best? There are many mothers who suffer as the result of breastfeeding. Adamant proponents of breastfeeding will insist that with proper guidance and coaching breastfeeding can always be a nurturing process for both mother and baby, but there are many mothers who just don’t share that experience. Nobody is saying that breast milk isn’t the most natural first food intended for infants. But what about the exceptions…

We must always remember that a mother’s physical and emotional well-being are probably more important in the nurturing of an infant that the delivery of breast milk and the hard cold fact is that sometimes breastfeeding stands in the way of a woman being the best mother she can be. For example, some babies have food allergies that are transmitted through breast milk. And before you say, “then mom should just change her diet”, talk to one of the many moms who have done so and be assured it isn’t just that easy. In addition to being the exhausted mother of a newborn, one has to practically starve herself isolating and identifying the offending foods to exclude from her diet. Another example are mothers who, despite the careful instruction of a lactation consultant, find it unbearably physically painful to breastfeed. Some mothers experience prolonged post-partum depression for the duration of breastfeeding that makes it difficult to be a nurturing mother in about every way except for the delivery of milk. Some mothers are required to work to support the family and, like it or not, don’t hold jobs that provide the space or the time for them to pump. The list goes on.

The point is, are the actual benefits of breastfeeding so great that they trump all objections to breastfeeding? Hanna Rosin has done her research and concluded that the information (aka Marketing) about the benefits of breastfeeding that has been disseminated over the past 30 to 40 years has been overstated. In this era of skillfully engineered alternative breast milk (“formula”) breast milk is at best slightly healthier for babies, but is certainly not the only good or even best option for all mothers.

Before commenting here, I strongly recommend that you read the full article written by Hanna Rosin in the Atlantic “The Case Against Breastfeeding”. She links to all studies reference in the article so reading the source material is easy and always worth it.

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49 Responses

  1. This article was intriguing, but I have a comment about breastfeeding being painful, even after help from lactation consultants. Not all LCs are certified, or even well-trained. And there are some terms given to hospital nurses that make them sound like they are lactation consultants, when they may not be. I’ve heard of some so-called “lactation consultants” or “lactation specialists” as being merely women who have successfully breastfed their own infants, without necessarily any additional training, especially in identifying problems with latching, or other sometimes difficult-to-spot problems.

    My SIL endured 11 months of cracked and bleeding nipples, rejoicing when her daughter weaned, and chalked it up to being fair-skinned (??) or “just one of those things,” because the lactation person in the hospital told her that her latch was fine. It wasn’t, and she needlessly endured nearly a year of pain.

    There is a book called “Breastfeeding with Comfort and Joy,” by FNP Laura Keegan, that can help women with breastfeeding. You can learn more about the book and order it from her website at http://www.TheBreastfeedingBook.com. Using beautiful pictures and clear text, she shows proper positioning and technique for painfree and blissful breastfeeding.

  2. A little real life research study from my house. I breastfed my first son for 4 months (he also had some formula) and my second son for 8 months. Never in those 12 months of breastfeeding did I enjoy it or feel closer to either one of my kids.

    My oldest (breastfed less) makes straight As in school, has not been sick in over 2 years (since the ENT took out his tonsils), is tall for his age (even though my husband and I are short), is star of his soccer team, and is just a really good kid.

    My youngest (breastfed more) also makes straight As in school, has allergies, is sick often with stomach issues, and is small for his age. He is good at sports and is a good kid most of the time.

    The differences in the two…mostly genetic, I think. They are two different people.

  3. [...] Read more here:  Myth 24: Breast is best « Mommy Myth Buster [...]

  4. In response to the comment that breastfeeding can be “pain free and blissful” for anyone and everyone…..I had nurses and lactation consultants in the hospital after the birth of my first son all tell me I had a great latch. My son gained weight like a champ right away and his pediatrician said I must be getting everything right on the breastfeeding front. Meanwhile, it was extremely painful from about 1 week on, I developed a blocked duct at 3 weeks which then abscessed and then sent me to the surgeon not once but twice for drainage plus two courses of nasty antibiotics, all of which screwed my system up so much I landed in the hospital for 5 days. Needless to say, I stopped breastfeeding at that point (my son was 8 weeks old, and I’d already started him on some formula since one of my breasts was out of commission). And oh yes there were people who told me “but you can get your milk back you know!”. Thanks but no thanks. My son was almost 2 months old before I learned that being a mom can actually be enjoyable when I’m not in pain, having fevers all day, and generally feeling like crap.

    I’m expecting my second child in September. I plan to give breast feeding a go again (my boobs have had over 2 years to rest up, and I still believe that any amount is somewhat better than none at all), but will not try and push through any pain again the way I did last time, and think I’ll be a better mom from the beginning for it.

  5. Interesting Read! Very detailed blog.
    Thanks for sharing

  6. Maybe in the interests of fairness you should link to some of the many blog posts that refute both the article’s science and its feminism.

    Because, I’m sorry, but this “myth” is far, far from “busted”.

  7. I find Ruth’s response “this myth is far, far from busted” compelling. The purpose of the post (and Hanna Rosin’s article) was to demonstrate empathy for those mothers for whom breastfeeding is not best. Ruth, are you saying that despite all objections that a family may have, breast IS best for them? Is foisting your values upon those families “feminism”?

  8. MMB — the article may have been primarily about empathy for mothers who choose not to breastfeed, but the “science” the author used to say that breastfeeding is not superior to formula is incorrect. Reading the article, it made it sound like breastfeeding your baby only kept him or her from one bout of diarrhea in the first year, when there are numerous articles which show much more benefit to breastfeeding than that — including a 50% reduction in SIDS. If women find breastfeeding uncomfortable or distasteful, and choose not to breastfeed, that’s one thing. But for them to read this article and say, “Oh, there’s no benefit to breastfeeding,” would be the wrong conclusion!

  9. Kathy, if one were to read both the Mommy Myth Buster post and the article by Hanna Rosen it would be clear to the reader that neither author is saying there is no benefit to breastfeeding. In fact, I think you would notice that both authors have said that breastfeeding is good. The question both authors are positing is “is it always BEST?” And it seems as if Ruth is declaring that it IS ALWAYS BEST. It is that attitude of righteousness that Mommy Myth Buster and Hanna Rosin have taken issue with.

  10. I don’t think Ruth was saying anything of the sort. She seemed to be merely pointing out that the science (the chosen studies) that the article was based on was flawed and selective. The truth is that there are numerous scientific studies which conclude that breastmilk is the best food for babies, and for many more reasons than that it reduces occurrence of diarrhea by one bout in the first year. Whether or not a woman chooses to breastfeed for other reasons is a different consideration entirely; but just considering the nutrition and other benefits of breastmilk for the baby, then breast is always best (except for the extremely rare times when a baby cannot tolerate breastmilk, or more likely something in the breastmilk from the mother’s diet). This does not mean that a mother’s choice not to breastfeed cannot include other factors — factors which are solely maternal, such as ease and comfort of breastfeeding, ability to breastfeed, etc. Breastfeeding may not always be best for the mother, but nutritionally speaking, it is for the child. Of course, this leads to another discussion about how women may feel about themselves and their babies if they feel like they are tied down and forced to nurse them, and certainly those feelings do not lend themselves to good mothering. In these instances, of course it may be better for the mother-child pair to bottle-feed, even if it is not better as far as nutritiona and strict physical health for the baby to use formula. As an analogy — we all know that fast food is not great for us, and that it really is best for us to eat whole foods, not processed foods, the fresher the better, etc.; but sometimes we stop at a fast-food restaurant because it’s terribly inconvenient or even impossible to make a home-cooked meal, or it would take too long and the kids are screaming because they’re hungry. While we all admit that fast food is not as good as “real” food, in these instances, it may be a better choice to get the kids something in their stomachs rather than make them wait for what is really good for them. Corn and broccoli are still better than french fries in theory and concept, but in this instance, because of extenuating circumstances, we’re going with the french fries.

    My concern is that women may read this article and think, “Oh, formula is just as good as breastmilk, so there’s no point in breastfeeding,” when that is most certainly not the case — were all the science to be considered, which this article does not do. This reaction may not be what the author of the article intended, but that could very easily be how many women take it, because of how the author claims to look at all the scientific evidence, when in reality she skipped a lot of it.

  11. Kathy – Did you really just compare formula to a trip to McDonalds? Really?

  12. I’m trying really hard to avoid giving a snarky response, so I’ll just say that if you’re having difficulty understanding my analogy, please go back and read it over and over until you do get what I am saying.

  13. Thank you so much for avoiding a snarky response. :-)

    I “do get” that you could have made a lot of analogies, and you chose to compare formula feeding to eating fast food, which is definitively unhealthy for you. Formula feeding was not in any way unhealthy for my son – on the contrary, he’s far healthier than many of my friends’ children who were breastfed for 6 months or more (who always seem to have a new allergy, ear infection, or stomach bug every other week).

    That is exactly the kind of self righteous attitude that is constantly foisted on those of us who have experienced not just “inconvenience” but intense pain and health problems as a result of breast feeding (see my post above if you want the gory details).

    As for the science, the studies for this article were no more “flawed and selective” than those for the acres of breast-is-best propaganda. It’s great that so many women seem to be so well read on this topic – but to be truly well read, you should welcome input from point of views that are completely contrary to what you consider as “truth” instead of behaving as though it’s a threat.

  14. I did read your above story and my heart went out to you for your bad experience. Nor do I blame you for switching to formula. But you said in your first comment that you were going to try b/f again because, “I still believe that any amount is somewhat better than none at all.” That’s what I believe too. I’m not being self-righteous to say that some breastmilk is better than none at all, any more than you were being self-righteous in saying it.

    My analogy was that sometimes we don’t choose what we recognize is best nutritionally for our children because of extenuating circumstances — in the case of the analogy, because we were too far from home to eat healthily; in the case of breastfeeding because cracked and bleeding nipples cause pain and make it difficult or impossible to nurse our babies. You recognized that some breastmilk is better than none at all; me too. Breastmilk is better than formula. No doubt about it. Does that always mean that breastfeeding is best for the mother-baby pair? No. Which was the point of the analogy. Extenuating circumstances, such as horrible pain while breastfeeding, may make breastfeeding torture for the mothers, and most likely unsatisfying for the babies too, which would make formula-feeding a better choice than painful breastfeeding. But better still to feed your baby breastmilk without pain.

    Why do some women have horrible experiences, while others never have any problems? I don’t think it’s genetics, and I don’t think it’s luck. You really need to get the book I mentioned before — Breastfeeding with Comfort and Joy — because it is packed with pictures and information in a slim volume that will help you nurse. [I've read numerous b/f books, and think that this little book has more and better information in it than the 1-2 inch thick compendiums. Even though b/f was not even uncomfortable for me (much less painful), I still learned a lot from reading the book, and it was more positive and less confusing than the thick volumes.]

    A lot of the problem is that women tend to hold their babies in a bottle-feeding position when trying to breastfeed, and that just doesn’t work, but rather leads to painful nursing, cracked and bleeding nipples, etc. I was blessed to grow up around nursing mothers and babies, and I think I unconsciously and subconsciously picked up on how they held their babies when they nursed, so automatically held my babies that way. So many people look only at the baby’s latch and can’t see any problems, so think that there isn’t a problem (and I suppose that it’s just the mother’s bad luck that b/f is painful?); when the reality is that there was a problem in positioning, even though the baby’s latch was fine. Pain is the body’s signal that something is wrong. A woman can choose to ignore the pain and perhaps go on to worse and even excruciating pain; or she can take steps to solve the problem that is causing the pain. I understand that you tried your best to breastfeed — not that you want my “kudos” for so doing, but I fully honor you for your commitment to continuing to breastfeed even in the face of pain. I don’t think the worse of you for choosing formula under the circumstances. But I’m offering you what I think to be a solution — the best of both worlds.

    I don’t make any money off of the book I’ve mentioned; I talk about it because I think it is wonderful and insightful, and better yet, really works. There are numerous testimonials from women just like you who had horrendous breastfeeding experiences in the past and were helped by this nurse-practitioner, either in person or by means of her book. The two women I’ve loaned a copy of the book to both said that it helped them a lot. The cost of the book is less than two cans of formula; if it helps you be able to breastfeed, then you’ll recoup your investment very shortly, probably within a month or two.

  15. Well, I’m not “foisting” my ideas on anyone.

    I am a woman who struggled desperately to nurse her own son for the first eight weeks of his life, struggling with slow weight gain, colic, unsupportive health care professionals, PND and a myriad of other difficulties which meant that I ended up for a short while using some formula.

    I appreciate this may have had a health effect on my son. Often the effects of formula feeding on a child are not seen until later life. They’re not inevitable, either – it is all about risk and likelihoods. I do not feel guilty because I had no choice, as far as I am concerned. But I do feel sad because it was not what I wanted.

    I was very lucky to eventually find the right support and am now breastfeeding happily. I am privileged enough to live in a country that grants six months paid maternity leave, and was able to take a short part of the unpaid portion too, so I did not have the make the choice that many women do of endless pumping at work and being the “trailblazer” who has to ask an unsupportive employer for their rights to pumping, or having a daycare provider give their baby formula.

    So trust me, I realise that breastfeeding is not always possible, and it is certainly not always an easy choice for women to make.

    However, you stated that “breast is best” was a myth that was busted. I’m afraid herein lies the rub. Health wise, breast milk will always be “best” for babies. To say otherwise is to buy into the lies of the multinational money making machines that are the formula companies who put profit before babies lives. “Breast is best propaganda”? If you want to see real propaganda, go and read about Nestlé’s actions in the developing world where UNICEF estimates 1.5 million babies a year die as a result of … formula feeding.

    As to whether it is always best for the mother, that is a different matter. Where there is a chronic lack of support many mothers are made to believe they simply cannot breastfeed. Or that pain in the breastfeeding relationship is “normal”. Or that they haven’t enough milk. In fact in so-called “developed” countries such as America, women actually have to *pay* for certified board lactation support rather than the so-called lactation consultants who stalk the hospital wards handing out incorrect advice, telling women that they have a perfect latch when the woman is crying out in pain… not showing women Biological Nurturing or Breast Crawl and instead using old fashioned techniques such as nose to nipple for latching on…

    (Caviat – yes, some women actually cannot breastfeed or at least produce a full supply physiologically speaking. The percentage is small, but these women do exist. You can read many of their stories at MOBI motherhood.)

    But here again – purely talking about physical health, no the myth hasn’t been busted. In the normal course of pain-free breastfeeding, if that is possible, the benefits for the mother are great too. Lower risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancers, not to mention women who breastfeed are much less likely to get PND (I often wonder if my PND was linked to my initial ability to breastfeed – will never know) possibly as a result of prolactin & oxytocin released during breastfeeding. And of course there is the delay of periods which for some women are a misery.

    Thing is a lot of women don’t have a choice. They formula feed because they were not supported to enjoy pain free easy breastfeeding. And who in their right mind would blame them? But telling them “it’s okay, ‘cos “breast is best” is a myth” is selling them short. They deserve to know the truth; the truth is they were let down and failed by a system that puts profit before women’s health. Now if that’s not a feminist issue I don’t know what is.

    The fact is, Hannah Rosin’s article did not bust any myths. Contrary to the propaganda put out by the formula companies (who stand to lose billions and billions if hannah rosin is wrong… if she’s right, of course, the so-called “breast is best” brigade would lose, what? A couple of grand in book sales? Who do you trust?) not everyone is breastfeeding and rubbing your nose in it. The vast, vast vast majority of mothers are formula feeding. It is considered the cultural norm.

    So no, the myth is not busted. The reason I am so upset to see that on this site is because I think it is so important to bust the many myths of motherhood. Just that this isn’t one of them. And it’s dangerous to say it is.

    Please read my article on the matter for my full stance: http://is.gd/ooVf which critiques both the article, and some of the responses too. You can also see my stance on those who make formula feeding mothers feel bad here: http://is.gd/pvRo (I’m not a fan of them either, you might be surprised to learn).

    But please don’t call my feminism into question. I volunteer as a breastfeeding peer counsellor to help women who want to breastfeed but have been unable to. I work bloody hard to get the right information across and I spend most of my time busting myths myself. http://is.gd/jg6E for a humorous example.

    I also speak to women who weren’t able to breastfeed to come and learn that it isn’t the end of the world that they are sometimes led to believe and that it is possible to retain the same closeness with bottle feeding and other tenants of “attachment parenting”. Yes, sometimes I suggest relactation. Only one person has considered it as an option, as it can be a very hard path. Bloody hell I wouldn’t dream of judging! Until you’ve walked a mile… etc. I talk to women and show them there is more than one way to bond with a baby than just breastfeeding.

    But … at the end of the day… I’m sorry but it is not a busted myth. It’s just a shame, there are so, so many myths about breastfeeding out there that are stopping women from breastfeeding (e.g. you can’t drink and breastfeed… er, you can!), that you choose to focus on this one.

  16. So, basically, if someone is not having the joyful experience you’re having, they’re not doing it right.

  17. Ruth,

    You did not read either article if you think they make any declaration that breastfeeding is not the optimal choice if possible. The point is, as you say, breast is not always best for every family. It is for some, but not for others. And there are nearly equally good options available to those who choose not to breastfeed. It is not a life or death choice. In fact, it is only a marginally different choice. I think you agree.

    1.5 million babies die of formula feeding in Uganda because they do not have clean drinking water to mix with the formula (not because the formula is bad). …and this is not Uganda.

    As to your question “Who do you trust?” I trust the judgment of every good mother to make the best decision for her family despite brow beating and judgment by angry adamant breast pushers and/or contrived science by formula companies.

    I really think you are fixating on the least important part of this entire post, the title. It seems to me that you actually agree with most of what is said in the body of the article. So where’s the beef? “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

  18. “We must always remember that a mother’s physical and emotional well-being are probably more important in the nurturing of an infant that the delivery of breast milk and the hard cold fact is that sometimes breastfeeding stands in the way of a woman being the best mother she can be.”

    That is the most selfish bunch of nonsense I have ever heard, and it seems to be gaining popularity. If my physical and emotional well-being trumped everything, I wouldn’t bother having kids in the first place.

    Newsflash: kids are inconvenient. They take time and sacrifice to do what’s best. That includes breastfeeding, spending time with them, cooking them proper food, teaching them, etc. If you can’t be bothered to provide even their basic needs, don’t have kids.

    You are right about one thing: Breast isn’t best. Breast is ONLY. Formula is not only inferior, it is unhealthy and potentially life-threatening. It was only ever meant as a last-resort feeding method for babies who would die from lack of breast milk. The only reason it exists as a “choice” now is because of the extreme marketing and financial power the formula companies have invested in seeing to it that more mothers buy their crap.

    All this blustering and debating about oppression by breastfeeding advocates is nothing more than an admission of guilt for choosing a less-than method of feeding your children. If you are confident about your parenting choices, then you have no need to defend them.

  19. My personal experience is that I breastfed both of my sons for around a year. It was easy for me. I made a lot of milk, they latched on well right away, they were even on a fairly regular feeding schedule from a very early stage. It was a breeze. BUT I absolutely hated it. I found the sensation of breastfeeding irritating (not painful, just distasteful) to the point that at times it enraged me. I also suffered from postpartum depression and the hormones associated with breastfeeding prolonged that experience for me.

    Breastfeeding made me feel angry and resentful as a new mother and definitely diminished my ability to joyfully care for my infants for quite a long time. I still breastfed them, however, believing that was the best choice I could make for their nutrition. I also had the luxury of being a stay-at-home mom, so I had the time to do it. But as soon as I weaned them I was a different person. I felt like a whole person again and regained my former fortitude of spirit that made me a much more engaged and positive caregiver.

    If I had another child I would probably breastfeed again, but at the same time I am 100% cognizant of the fact, and supported by my very prominent and well respected OB Gyn, that formula is an excellent option available to me and if circumstances should change (e.g., I had to go back to working 10 hrs a day, etc.) I would use formula as most of the mothers of my mom’s generation did. I was never breastfed, I was given formula from birth.

    A side note: My best friend was nursed on homemade formula made of evaporated milk and Karo syrup (not uncommon in the 70′s). If that was the “formula” in question today I don’t think there would be anything to debate. But it isn’t.

  20. I object to more than just the title of the article.

    On the scientific side, she picked and chose a few factors where the benefit of breastfeeding is slight and ignored many others where it is significant (50% decrease in chance of SIDS, 50% decrease in mom’s chance of getting breast cancer, etc.).

    On the feminist argument side, I took each of her individual arguments and explained how they don’t apply in my post responding to the article:

    http://www.phdinparenting.com/2009/03/17/the-case-against-breastfeeding-is-it-anti-feminist/

    I realize my situation isn’t necessarily the same as every other woman’s situation, but Hanna Rosin should recognize that just because she feels breastfeeding is standing in her way, doesn’t mean that it is keeping all women down. It didn’t keep me down. It doesn’t keep me down. In fact, it empowers me.

  21. I composed a long reply and then deleted it.

    Because – UGANDA? WTF?

    “Yeah, but them 1.5 million babies wot die are in Uganda innit so we don’t need to bother about them – our middle class white babies will be okay ‘cos they got healthcare and mums wot can afford to take time off our jobs to look after them if they get ill ‘cos of formula!”

    Oh, my, goodness.

    Uganda? UGANDA?

    Do you have any conception at all about the global politics of formula promotion and poverty?

    I think my initial reply was fair and reasoned. And I have to say to my mind Emily’s (sorry Emily) came across as way over the top.

    But when I hear “uganda” used as shorthand for the babies that die every year in some of the most horrific ways, deaths that could have been prevented by breastfeeding (and, no, please get your biology right. It’s not just the lack of clean water. Many of these babies would have died even if clean water was available. There are no maternal antibodies in formula. None at all) I just think, you know what Emily? Flame away, girl, these people aren’t going to listen to reason or sense so you might as well just go for it.

    Uganda!

    I think that wins the award for most offensive thing I’ve heard in a long time.

  22. I owe an apology to Ruth. I misread and mistyped a reply to Ruth’s “1.5 million” comment. (I think something was on tv about Uganda at the time I was reading Ruth’s reply and I misread.) Ruth said “UNICEF estimates 1.5 million babies a year die as a result of … formula feeding.” She did not say anything about “Uganda”. I’m sorry Ruth for upsetting you. Your are right, I responded 100% incorrectly.

    What I meant to say was: 1.5 million babies die of formula feeding according to UNICEF because they do not have clean drinking water… and I add, among other factors like unclean low grade formula manufacturing sources in some regions. It should be noted, however, that UNICEF also supplies formula to mothers and use it quite regularly. If you are going to bring up UNICEF then you also have to address the very prominent challenge that UNICEF is facing with breastfeeding mothers, which is that many babies are contracting HIV/AIDS through breastfeeding. But let’s not go down that road, because it is not germane to this discussion. The primary reason UNICEF strongly promotes breastfeeding is because its work is mostly done in very poor countries where money, food and medical care are scarce. I do not need to explain to anyone why breastfeeding would be a life-saving option in those circumstances. It does not however mean that it is a life-threatening option in wealthier nations.

  23. Thanks for the apology. I had a very strong reaction and I’m sure you can see why, but realising you didn’t mean to say what you did, I’m sorry for wording it so strongly.

  24. Please. No apologies from you are necessary. I probably would have reacted exactly the same. :-)

  25. My son was over 10 pounds. My breasts are A cups. I have a history of hormonal imbalances. BFing was painful and only drops would come out, leaving my son screaming and unable to sleep, and me in tears. But I still felt guilty. The self-righteous lactation consultant told me I didn’t want it enough. Emily above would lambast me for being horribly selfish, but I switched to formula within a week and he and I were much happier. Now, years later, my son has only ever had minor colds. He’s extremely smart, tall and strong for his age.

    So Emily, STUFF IT. I don’t give a crap what women like you think. I made my decisions and my son and I are happy. What, is there a prize for how big a martyr you can be? Motherhood just isn’t motherhood if you aren’t suffering? What?

    You sound historically ignorant as well. Formula, nowadays, has come a long way from condensed milk in a can or bread soaked with cow’s milk. So don’t even tell me that it’s akin to feeding kids empty junk. I dare you to enter any kindergarten and pick out the breastfed kids just by sight.

    As a feminist, it never fails to amaze me that so often is is WOMEN who hold other women down with these ridiculous yardsticks used to determine who is the “real” woman or mother. It’s real funny how, though I don’t BF and never will (not after that experience!), I have always been supportive if my friends really wanted to BF. But do you think BF extremists like you could afford us the same courtesy? No, huh?

  26. Jennifer –

    You obviously cared enough about what I thought to comment here and defend your choices.

    Also, you don’t know how much I know. I made a comment about the theme of the original article; it was not intended to be a dissertation on the history of infant formula and the companies’ unethical marketing practices. But clearly you don’t know much history yourself if you think that infant formula today is necessarily that much better than condensed milk in a can.

    It has nothing to do with who is the better mother. It has everything to do with the fact that formula is potentially dangerous, and has caused deaths to more than a few babies. If you want to take that chance, then I suppose you have that right. But I am under no obligation to support that choice.

  27. Oh Emily, you are so ignorant. Formula is dangerous? Please tell me you don’t still believe this? And you seriously think that breastfeeding is more important than a happy mom? Yeah, even though my hormones were making me scream at my children and cry all day long, they were breastfed! It was so much better for them to cower in the corner because mom was off her rocker than to be “poisoned” with formula. I would argue that a happy mom and a happy home life is the single most important ingredient in a child’s life. Everything else after that is gravy. When will you people let it go?! You all only prove one thing and one thing only. A woman’s worst enemy is…other women!

  28. With my apologies to fathers, I want to correct something I said in my previous comment. I meant to say that I would argue that a happy PARENT (or parents, in whatever form that takes) and a happy home life are, together, the most important ingredient in a child’s life. As any child of a miserable parent will attest to, no amount of breastfeeding will make up for that. Speaking of fathers, what about them, or all the parents who have adopted? Are they poisoning their children because they cannot breastfeed? How dare you myopic elitists extol your unenlightened vitriol to the rest of the world. Shame on all of you for being so cruel.

  29. Whoa. Moms sure get angry fast.
    I just wanted to make a quick comment about “the case against breast feeding”. It annoyed me that she mentioned the fact that there were articles that saw no difference as some sort of evidence, even though there are a lot of articles that do show a difference. It’s tricky, since it is difficult to find women who would be willing to breast-feed or not for inclusion into a study, and retrospective studies that look at women who breast-feed I think can never really control for the sort of things that breast-feeding women tend to do ON AVERAGE (not every formula mom is a single teenaged smoker with no prenatal care, but they do tend to be over-represented).
    Although I got sick of the BONDING LOVEY SUPERCHILD stuff that seems to be in every breast feeding book, and I think it’s really irritating that now the fashion is to gasp in shock if a mom says she isn’t breastfeeding (or isn’t birthing “naturally”, or isn’t giving up lunch meat etc)– I just feel like it’s sort of a nasty backlash. Can’t we all just get along?
    I think that BREAST MILK is the best food for babies, although it isn’t necessarily a huge, don’t you love your child difference. My decision hinges on the breast milk being a good thing, it being free and (hopefully) always available, and also the fact that I’ve been carting around these ginormous hooters for the last 8 months and I want to use the dang things after all the trouble they’ve been.

  30. I chose to bottlefeed my kid because I chose to put my emotional wellbeing over breastfeeding. I had a pretty nasty case of depression starting in my 2nd trimester. I was put on a fairly low dose of Zoloft which helped me at least keep from destroying my marriage (which I was doing with a vengeance). I had a choice: go off of Zoloft when my kid was born so I could breast feed, or up the dosage to help stave off any post-partum depression fun.

    Emily, don’t be so quick to judge what other people do or why. My kid is 4 years old, quite healthy and happy, and so am I. (Still married, too!)

  31. Sandy, Zoloft (sertraline) is the antidepressant of choice during breastfeeding, and is completely compatible with nursing. Unfortunately, whichever healthcare professional told you you must not breastfeed while taking Zoloft was ignorant. I’m sorry they did that to you.

  32. HAHAHA! If you are going to make a case for “Formula KILLS children”, please cite your extensive, scientific evidence. Because that claim is utterly LUDICROUS. If that were true, don’t you think there would be reported deaths all around the country attributed to formula? There would be deaths every day, due soley to formula! Chapters on formula deaths would be right alongside SIDS chapters in books: “Formula has been shown to cause death in whatever% children. Know the risks!”

    Sounds like you’ve been thoroughly brainwashed.

    Kills children..haha, I’m still laughing.

    • Jennifer, I responded to your post here, with the evidence that formula kills children. It’s not like formula contains cyanide or some other death-inducing agent (oh, except in the case of the formula made in China — you remember that, don’t you? — when several babies died and hundreds of thousands got sick). Rather, that babies fed with formula get sick and/or die at higher rates than babies who are breastfed.

      • Wow. Can’t believe you made a whole blog post to try to guilt me about my personal choices. Well, let’s begin, shall we?
        I’m not touching the studies you linked about developing countries. Why? Because I am not qualified to speak about the experiences of women in developing countries. Formula feeding there may indeed pose serious risks. But I was talking about here, the country I live in. As for the China formula problem, I see that as less a formula issue than a horrible product/recall issue. I would put it with the lead toys and such. Very unfortunate, but I am not willing to make the connection to FORMULA KILLS. That would be like me drawing a conclusion that TOYS KILL CHILDREN after a recall was announced after some children died. Tragic, of course. But NOT a valid conclusion for me to make.
        As for the study about how we formula feeders cost everyone so much money, well. I didn’t see mention of whether the parents were smokers (which also raises the occurence of ear infections). I didn’t see any mention of method: do they prop the bottle or allow the baby to sleep with one? These will also cause ear infections, and has been linked with caries.
        I know my son did not get a SINGLE ear infection. In fact, he has only been to the doctor for illness a few times in his entire life (he’s almost 5). I’m not trying to cite my personal experience as gospel, but I can’t believe that my son is some sort of unique snowflake. Plus, depite the shaming in that article and by you around formula, more doctor visits still does not = FORMULA KILLS. That’s where you lost me, honestly. It is an absurd conclusion. Formula may well be inferior, and you can throw all kinds of studies at me, and then I can throw you this, but the bottom line is I refuse to be guilted as drain to society, mocked, and patronized for making my personal choice. We are fine. You are fine. Why did you have this burning desire to call me out as some sort of idiot (and by the way, not reading my post in context really gives it that extra flavor of Crazy, doesn’t it? Why, I just look like a militant anti-breast nutjob who laughed at you.) I laughed at the conclusion FORMULA KILLS. I still laugh. Scare tactics are not good science. None of those studies you quoted was even evidence of FORMULA KILLS, merely that breast milk is healthy for infants and probably your best bet. And I don’t see anyone here disputing that breast is the better. But to paint it as black and white and to shame women who tried but couldn’t (and this was me. What was I to do? Hire a wetnurse?) or even those who choose to forego the hassle and emotional/physical havoc it may wreak is just low. But I guess to you I’m just a woman who cackles as she feeds her son poison.
        What I hate is shaming. And people who indulge in it to make themselves feel superior. Well, mission NOT accomplished. I am not shamed. I AM pissed off, though. I thought I left all this bullsh*t behind me with diapers.

  33. Dear Emily: My son was breast fed for only six weeks, at which point I returned to work. He was fed formula until his first birthday, at which point I began to give him whole milk. He is now a strapping young 14 year old man, starting driver’s training, getting straight As in one of the toughest school district’s in the state, and he’s a star hockey player. He plays drum and guitar. He loves his mom. He’s a bit emo. He is the joy of my life and I do everything I can to make sure that he has a great childhood and every opportunity to succeed in the future as an adult.

    I do not for one minute buy into the load of crap you’re spewing about the selfishness of my actions in weaning when I did. He needed a roof over his head far more than he needed my breast milk. I’ll tell you what, though–lots of women do allow themselves to be made to feel like utter failures by vile women such as you.

    No one here is advocating against breast-feeding. But slamming women who choose not to or cannot for any reason, and telling them they’re just selfish and harming their children–risking their lives!–is anti-feminist, anti-child, and anti-woman.

    You ought to be ashamed of yourself for your highly judgmental behavior, especially if, as I highly suspect, you spew that kind of nonsense elsewhere.

  34. [...] now-infamous article that “breast may not always be best,” one blog titled “Mommy Myth-Busters” picked up on it, and said that the “breast is best myth has been [...]

  35. Jennifer, I responded to your post here, with the evidence that formula kills children. It’s not like formula contains cyanide or some other death-inducing agent. Rather, that babies fed with formula get sick and/or die at higher rates than babies who are breastfed.

  36. Wow, Emily… wow.

    It is women like you that made me feel like such a destitute and utter failure when I couldn’t breastfeed my children. Utter and destitute failure when I took my child BACK to the hospital to their **specialized** clinic to help with breastfeeding and bore my breast to the three women sitting there poking and prodding me and “helping” me get my damned nipple in the mouth of my child the “right” way. Utter and destitute failure when I first HAD my daughter and she had to go to the NICU for 8 days and haughty, self-righteous, condescending women like you came into my room to chastise me for not being down there shoving my breast in her mouth before they “forced a bottle” on her. Nevermind that I had to endure them taking her away from me right after birth – I didn’t even get to hold her – and to see a tube in her FOREHEAD and up her nose and on her heels, nevermind that I had to endure seeing OTHER WOMEN who were MOTHERS of NICU children looking to each other through tear-filled, frightened eyes for some type of comfort and assurance of normalcy through the times when their helpless infants were strapped down to machines and incubators. When I finally took my daughter home, I had to endure her SCREAMING while I tried to feed her until she vomited on my breast the very milk I was trying to feed her.

    You tell me that I didn’t suffer and that somehow because I still failed at breastfeeding that I’m not a decent mother. You tell me that somehow with my trying to feed my child until I was depressed beyond belief and didn’t even want to be around her, that feeling rejected by my own baby was being a true mother – suffering for that infernal breast in the mouth. You tell me how feeling so low when I couldn’t feed her that I had thoughts of suicide and had to call my doctor numerous times to help me understand it was only post-partem, isn’t suffering enough and is less important than my continuing to try to shove a boob in her mouth.

    My child is 8 now. She is smart, she is healthy, she is slender, she FUNCTIONS like a NORMAL child, all thanks to formula that helped her grow.

    I detest women like you because they flourish and it only seems to make women like me, who are TRYING THEIR BEST feel like nothing but gnats in a windstorm. Women like you bring out the venom in me for the pain you had me suffer through and many other women, trying to make me and others into mothers with our breasts, rather than stepping back and actually HELPING turn us into mothers by kindness and understanding. Take your high and mighty, ‘I know better than thou’ attitude and shove it. I don’t **care** how educated you are about boobs and the proper way to shove them in your kids mouth. You didn’t live my life, and you should thank god for that. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to stand up on your soapbox and preach the way you do. SHAME ON YOU. If I could make the cap locks any bigger, I’d do it in a heartbeat. SHAME.

  37. I couldn’t breastfeed because I have a mood disorder that means I need to remain on medication to not become psychotic, and because let down basically caused me to become suicidal and unable to bond with my newborn.

    Even while using formula, which I switched to after a week of breastfeeding, it took a year to care she was around. I couldn’t breastfeed because the lack of sleep, combined with other factors, was making me psychotic, and made me a danger to my children.

    But, I suppose I was being selfish, moving to formula, making things easy for myself. I beat myself up for years because I didn’t breastfeed either child. But then I realized that how I was parenting in the long term has a LOT more impact than a few months or years breastfeeding. My oldest is the smartest in her class, the most independent, the one who is rarely, if ever sick (although that may have more to do with us paring down our hours to keep her out of daycare). Her sister is on track to do the same.

    We feel guilty, we are made to feel guilty, over something that, when combined with other factors in our children’s lives, may not have the impact that is believed. Is it “just” breastmilk that adds a percentage point to IQ? Or is it the family environment? Would a mother breastfeeding her child because she feels she must, but who otherwise is not connected to that child, be doing the right thing?

    My decision, our need as a family to use formula to protect ourselves, is that the right thing? Or the wrong thing? And is it anyone’s place to tell me one way or the other?

    I love watching friends breastfeed, I love hearing their stories. But I would never make them feel less of a woman, or a mother, because of where the milk comes from.

    (and this is a general question, but we’re worried about chemicals in the formula, and I get that. But shouldn’t we be equally curious if our breastmilk holds the same contaminents? I’ve read some documentation, I just wonder if we’re able to test our own milk as we might water or yes, the dreaded formula. The water is another story entirely)

  38. When I was born, I weighed a little less than 6 pounds. The doctors did not give me to my mother, and they didn’t allow to her to breast feed me, because at that time and place babies under 6 pounds were given formula for the first 5 days to grow stronger. They gave my mother a pump after a few days, but by then, her breast had become terrible infected and had to be treated with antibiotics (and the milk prod. stopped – demanded the doctor). She was very upset that she could never breast feed me and that she couldn’t be close to me in the first 5 days, and I feel sad and somewhat deprived too (and I could have added some points to my IQ:).
    I don’t think we should put guilt on each other, but I’m very happy that I had the chance to be with my baby from the beginning on and that I was allowed to breast feed and that it worked out good, but also that there are good alternatives available if it doesn’t. To me, breast feeding was the more convenient thing too, no bottles to clean, water to warm, formula to buy…
    It seems if you feed a baby in public, you can get criticized either way – for breast feeding in public, or for bottle feeding and not breast feeding. That is sad…
    And I’m happy that everybody has A students! I think the type of feeding might factor into that with about 1%:)

  39. My favorite argument fit to debunk is those who make those outrageous claims devoid of any proper perspective. Such as, if you breastfeed your baby, s/he will be 1000% less likely to die of cancer before the age of 2, when in actuality, the chances of dying of cancer before the age of two are probably similar the chances of being hit by lightening.

    I hate that.

  40. Jennifer,

    I wasn’t trying to give you guilt about formula-feeding, but it did irritate me that the subject of babies dying was humorous to you. You may have gotten p*ssed off because you assumed I was guilt-tripping you about formula-feeding (although I wasn’t), but which is worse, a guilt-trip or laughing about dying babies? You switched to formula when breastfeeding didn’t work out for you — that’s fine, your choice. Your son didn’t have any ill effects from formula — great! I’m glad for him and you. But babies around the world are dying because their moms are being sold on the idea that formula is superior to breastmilk — being sold the same lies that our mothers and grandmothers were sold by doctors and formula companies in generations past. Formula companies are marketing to these women, and babies are dying. It’s a problem I’m aware of, that not everybody knows about. Sure, it’s not happening in America, but that’s little comfort to the grieving mothers (1,300,000 per year is the current estimate) who thought they were doing the best for their babies by giving them the “scientific” formula. I’m more than a little p*ssed off about babies dying while formula companies market to women who can barely afford to feed themselves, knowing that these women will dilute the powder with too much water, or that they will have to use dirty water, and they end up hurting and even killing the innocent. Yeah, I am p*ssed off about that.

  41. The fact that breastfeeding isn’t right for everyone does not mean it isn’t “best” in terms of health benefits. I don’t do everything the “best” way–but nor do I get defensive about the evidence that it is better or best.

    What bothers me is not that some moms choose not to breastfeed–my best friend made this choice–but rather that doctors give breastfeeding women terrible information. For example, only in the rarest of circumstances would a breastfeeding mom need to change her diet. So rare in comparison with how often it is discussed or recommended.

    And for moms feeling the pressure from their circle of “friends,’ I would just point out that some of those “sanctimommies” are probably deceiving you and maybe even themselves, just looking at the statistics.

    Do what is right for your family. Do it based on your best understanding of the most current information and your families’ needs. And then don’t pay attention to any self-righteous people who bother you about it.

    There are plenty of people out there to criticize you whether you breastfeed or bottle feed in a public place.

  42. Whoa, plenty of scary, judgmental moms around, as well as some level-headed, reasoned ones… Yikes!

    I only take exception to the title. While I have my own issues with Ms. Rosin’s style of journalism, what I really dislike here is the “Myth: Breast is best” title. Personally, I feel it’s misleading and would lead women to the wrong conclusions, esp. if they’re too tired/stressed/distracted to do further research and understand what MMB is trying to say here.

  43. Badpixie has hit the nail on the head! Thank you! In fact the entire purpose of this Mommy Myth Buster website is to encourage moms to do just that READ THE WHOLE STORY, everywhere, all the time. That’s why I painstakingly include direct links to primary sources referenced in my articles, so you don’t have to take my word for it, you can read further and come to your own conclusions.

    Evocative headlines are all around us. They are on tv, in the newspaper, in magazines, in blogs, and in casual conversation. What Mommy Myth Buster is trying to remind everyone is that headlines are merely marketing tools and almost never contain the complexity of an issue. People must always do the research to understand. Being tired, stressed and distracted makes people even more vulnerable to misleading sway (ask David Koresh and Jimmy Jones – without tired, stressed, distracted people they may have amounted to no more than crazy men shouting opinions from urban street corners).

    Tired moms have my utmost sympathy and support. I’ve been a tired mom myself for over 5 years now. Being tired, stressed and distracted often makes me cranky, short-tempered, and too tired to think. But I try not to let it induce me to take shortcuts when it comes to getting all the information before making important decisions. I try even harder not to let it induce me to engage in angry advocacy against well meaning moms whose parenting choices are simply different than my own.

  44. I’m a little late to this debate, but since it’s such a controversial issue, I imagine people will be reading it for awhile longer.

    I breastfed my baby and weaned her gradually between 6 and 7 months. It was very, very difficult at first. I am tender-skinned and have small nipples, so I used breast shields the entire time. After about 6 weeks, I could finally see what people raved about, with the bonding and such. I was genuinely sad when we finished weaning.

    But here’s the thing: my child has had at least 10 ear infections this first year, despite being breastfed and kept at home. The doctor believes she is one of a small percentage of infants who don’t form antibodies to the Prevnar vaccine. They can give her a different vaccine when she is 18 months, but until then, we just sort of grit our teeth and buy stock in antibiotics companies.

    My neighbor adopted her little boy at 5 months. He had been formula fed from at least 1 week, and she continued that. To my knowledge he has never been sick and he’s now 9 months old.

    My three sisters and I were all formula fed from the very beginning in the 70s and 80s. We are all fairly intelligent and not overly prone to sickness. One of my sisters was a National Merit Finalist and all of us have college degrees and scored well on Advanced Placement tests. I mean, we’re not Ivy League or anything, but we’re not raving idiots, or even slow!

    I think this issue, like so many others, depends largely on context. If you don’t breastfeed your child, but do give him or her quality formula, clean water, and lots of cuddling, will they be any the worse? Or ENOUGH the worse that you should give it more weight than any other factor?

    I will probably try to breastfeed my next baby, but I’m concerned about being able to keep up with my older child while feeding the younger one. If it comes down to the choice of being the best feeder, or being a good parent, I think I will choose parenting.

    Shouldn’t we spend a lot more time worrying about people who can’t or don’t feed their children at all? Or any of the other stuff out there?

  45. I really appreciate this forum and everyone’s comments. I had my son 6 months ago and experienced severe issues with breastfeeding; the latch was good, but my milk never fully came in. I pumped every 90 minutes during the day, and every 3-4 hours at night but after 6 weeks (and being completely frustrated and EXHAUSTED!!) I gave up and switched to formula. I had ample help from lactation specialists (RNs) and I took an entire class on breastfeeding before my son was born. It still made no difference; I was only getting 4 oz a day….and trust me…I tried EVERYTHING!

    As a graduate nursing student myself, I have become very interested in the differences between breastmilk, formula and how each impacts babies, children and adults in the short term as well as the long term. I have done lots and lots (over 40 hours to date) of research on the benefits of breastmilk over formula and the current research (within the past 3 years) is suggesting that breastmilk is not nearly as protective for obesity as previously thought. Also, for the claims that breastmilk will increase your child’s intelligence….it’s just not true. Intelligence is such a difficult thing to measure and current research is saying that there is no difference between breastmilk and formula fed babies in these areas.

    Breastmilk is obviously better than formula for passing along antibodies to newborns until they are able to begin making their own, and it has a wider variety of fats than formla could ever match, but we need to be careful when ‘pushing’ “breast is best” on every mother and child.

    When we have our next child I will most certianly try to breastfeed, but after all of the research I have done I know that my child is going to grow up to be a healthy, smart and wonderful little boy. And that my relationship with his is what’s most important.

    To any of you who have questions about the ‘science of things’ (like I do!) I recommend going to your local university and doing your own research so you know first hand why you believe what you belive. Don’t rely on other people’s research…it can be outdated or just plain wrong.

  46. I love most of this website – except for this particular “Myth”. I can’t believe that any reasonably intelligent human being would believe that feeding an infant something that was manufactured in a lab would be as good as something that nature made for that baby.

    We hear all the time about formula recalls for having too much/ not enough of some vital nutrient in it, toxins, or bugs! Just google “formula recall”.

    Also, we have to remember the plastic. The bottles that I used were made from glass; but the bottles my SIL used were super cheap from the dollar store – I am sure they were chock full of BPA. She just could not afford to use glass bottle or high quality plastic.

    I know that women have the right to choose but to advocate for formula use, and to try and poke holes in the countless studies that health organizations all over the world have conducted- is just disgusting.

    What exactly do these researchers have to gain by falsifying the facts and trying to get more women breastfeeding? Are they simply all perverts waiting to catch a glimpse at your nipples while you nurse? Or do they secretly get paid a dollar from every nursing bra company, for every woman they convince to nurse?

    I would like to see a new “Myth” added to this list.
    “Allowing your infant to rely on you for life sustaining nutrients ( Breastfeeding) will not oppress you. You will still be able to vote,wear pants-or whatever else you choose- get paid a fare wage for the job you do, work in the military, go to the college of your choice…….pretty much be the person you want to be.

  47. I am a mother of 7 and they were all breastfed and I am now still breastfeeding my youngest. If u ask me, I’m not a fan of breastfeeding! It gives me back pain, long hours of sleepless night, i’m tied down and so many other little annoyance. Believe me, I have no problem with any mother choosing to formula fed their children, because breastfeeding is a lot of work and it is not for everyone. However, I believe that no man/woman no doctors or scientists can produce what god has given. If you don’t and can’t breastfeed for any reason, it is a choice u make and it does not make u a bad mother.

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