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The Case Against Breastfeeding: The Voices

I'll admit it. Sometimes I write things to get a rise out of people. Sometimes it is one sentence. Sometimes a whole post. But I have to bow in complete reverence to Hanna Rosin in terms of her ability to get people going. If she'd written her article as a personal story, one woman's experience, maybe a few people would have read it. But when you take one woman's experience, one woman's story, and project it on all women, you need to expect that those for whom your experience does not ring true will jump up in their own defense.

To me, feminism is about choice and opportunity. The ability to make my own choices and not be judged for them. The ability to go after any opportunity without being told that I can't do that because I'm a woman. To me, feminism is not about being a man. It is about being the person I want to be.

I've seen a lot of that in the reactions to Rosin's The Case Against Breastfeeding article. Different women have made different choices. Some choose to stay home and raise their kids and don't like Rosin devaluing that contribution (oh, and I got accused of devaluing it too, but I don't, I really don't and I apologize if I gave that impression). Others choose to go back to work and breastfeed and are able to find a way to be creative by either working and pumping, working from home, bringing their baby to work, or some other combination. Some choose not to breastfeed. All of those are valid choices. None of them is the right choice for all women all the time. None of them is more feminist than the other.

In any case, in addition to writing my own response to the article I've really enjoyed reading some of the critiques of Rosin's article. I've enjoyed it because there are many articulate women out there that have a very different view of feminism and breastfeeding than the one that Rosin projects. They are not all my brand of feminism, but they are someone's brand of feminism and that makes them great.

  • Birth Write: The Case Against Doing it All: Some great quotes in this article like "Yes, moms need to cut each other some slack but that doesn't amount to a case against breastfeeding" and "I think it's time for a new brand of feminism, a feminism that says that the most amazing work a woman can possibly do is to bear, nurse and raise her babies, a brand of feminism that says that if you want to work outside the home you can but you might have to make some tough choices, a brand of feminism that says a woman's time IS worth something and a mother's time is invaluable." She goes on to explain that feminism has done us a major disservice by saying we should be able to work and raise kids and have time for ourselves. I don't know that I agree with that. I think a lot of women do try to be that superwoman, but I don't think that is what the feminist ideal is.  Most babies are brought into the world into a partnership and that those partners need to work together to figure out how to create balance in their relationship and child rearing so that there isn't an unfair burden placed on one person. I do want to work, raise kids and have time for myself. But I'm not doing it alone.

  • Nature's Child: The Preemptive Attack on Breastfeeding: This blogger says where Rosin went wrong was confusing "feminism" with "just like men" and talks about how equal doesn't have to mean the same. She also talks about the judgment issue and raises the fact that where she is, she gets judged for breastfeeding, because it isn't the norm. She also makes the very valid point that "You're going to be wrong no matter what you do. Somewhere, someone will question your parental choices. And once they're old enough, your kids will join the fun".

  • Adventures in [Crunchy] Parenting: Response to "The Case Against Breastfeeding": Emily tackles numerous different angles of this article. On feminism, she proposes this solution to women that want to be liberated from their biological imperative: DON'T HAVE KIDS. She says that she doesn't judge people for not wanting to have kids, but once you do have children you need to dedicate yourself to them and that you should make choices that are in their best interests and not just because it suits your lifestyle better. Personally, I agree and disagree with what Emily proposes. My kids do come first. But I am also creative about finding ways to fit them into my lifestyle rather than giving it up!

  • Noble Savage: Our boobs, Our babies, Ourselves: I have to address this one next because she takes exception to Emily's suggestion. She says that she didn't breastfeed her children out of "some warped sense of sacrifice or duty, but because it's what my body does and because it makes sense. I'm able to do it so effortlessly and for that I am thankful". She sees some merit in Rosin's arguments (but not too much!) because, like the post from Birth Write above, she recognizes that there is too much pressure on mothers to be a perfect mother (often to the exclusion of themselves and their pre-baby lives).

  • The Feminist Breeder Blog: My Response to "The Case Against Breastfeeding": Like me, this mom managed to breastfeed while working in a "meaningful way". She says that if Rosin doesn't want to, that is between her and her husband, but she shouldn't make it sound like the rest of us can't handle it. She also addresses the fact that you need to take the time to feed your baby one way or another and breastfeeding doesn't involve washing and sterilizing all the bottles, going to the store to buy formula, etc.

  • Equally Shared Parenting: Equally Shared Breast-Feeding and The Breastfeeding Trap: The husband-wife team of Marc and Amy from Equally Shared Parenting each wrote a post on their perspectives of breastfeeding in an equal relationship. Their posts are interesting because Amy raises the fact that equally shared parenting would be easier without breastfeeding (her perspective), but yet both her post and Marc's post talk about how they managed it anyways.

  • Motherlode (New York Times): Is Breastfeeding the New Vacuum Cleaner?: Most of Lisa's post is spent quoting from the article, but at the end she says that she spoke briefly with Rosin and said that she got the response she expected to her article. An email box filled with personal stories of women thanking her for writing it, and an Internet full of women calling her "a loser, saying I have a bad marriage, telling me I'm a bad mother and saying I'm wrong". Honestly, I think when you put your personal story out there and then project it on the rest of the female gender, that is to be expected. She didn't write it as a personal story, she wrote it as a feminist mantra.

  • MomsRising - "Case Against Breastfeeding" Overlooks Big Dirty Secret: This response touches on many of the lactivist themes that I touch on day in and day out on this blog. It raises all of the questions and concerns about the things in our society that make breastfeeding difficult and that result in a woman like Rosin feeling frustrated with her experience. Insufficient maternity leave policies, discrimination in public, etc.

  • Custom Made Milk: "The Case Against Breastfeeding" - Part 2 (time drain): Sara has been writing a series of posts on this article. In this post she addresses the "time drain" issue. Rosin claims that breastfeeding is a major drain on women's time and Sara points out that the time drain is not breastfeeding. She says "The time drain is that we've changed our expectations of women and mothers. The time drain is that we're expected to keep our multiple lives separate. Cuddling time with the husband = separate from cuddling with the kids. House work = separate from the time with the kids (even though cleaning ccan be marvelously educational and interactive), breastfeeding = separate from everything that we might call ife. Best done in a rocker in a dark room where we can't be seen or heard. "

  • Blacktating: The Case Against Breastfeeding: In her post, Elita says that the stance that breastfeeding doesn't fit with being a feminist is a tired and silly argument. She says she can accept that there are certain inherent differences between men and women and still be a feminist. This fits with what I said on twitter the other day in a conversation about this same article and some of the posts about it: "There are biological differences between men/women, but accepting those doesn't mean accepting inequality"

Whew! Those were compiled without even going to Google Blog search and only including those that addressed the feminist issues (not those that only touched on the science issues). I bet thereare lots more out there. As I said above, sometimes people write for a reaction. I'm sure that is what Rosin was doing. And boy did she get one.
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Reader Comments (31)

Thank you for including me in that list of wonderful responses. I'm happy to see I'm in good company. I certainly have a few more blogs to read now :)

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTheFeministBreeder

Geeze, this makes me glad to be in a temporary cut back from the internet right now. I don't think my blood pressure could handle being told that I'm a bad feminist for breastfeeding. What next, I can't be a feminist if I change diapers or do laundry or cook a meal? I'm going to save myself a headache and just not read her article to begin with.

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSummer

I never read the original article either, Summer, to save my head the ache...but am still rather involved in the whooplah. I still think the whole idea that 'its better to be able to farm out your infant feeding' is a class issue. Who ends up feeding your child ?- another woman who is paid too little and has less education. Being a parent is a time sucker.......and if you want to you can farm that out for most of the time to ?- another woman who is paid to little and has less education.

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNaomi

[...] March 19, 2009 by blue milk I’m still formulating my thoughts on this and I want to hold back until I’ve finished a book review I’m working on, which just happens to be for a breastfeeding guide, but I can’t let this article drift out there indefinitely without casting my own link to it. Hanna Rosin’s The Case Against Breastfeeding has definitely set the cat among the pigeons. [...]

Oh Summer, whatever you do, don't visit the "feminism" board on Ivillage. The CL's and regular posters there hate anything that could be considered "mom-centric." Maternity leave? Breastfeeding? Childcare issues? The general response is "don't you dare expect any 'special concessions' just because you went and got yourself knocked up. If you can't handle it, you ought to have dragged your ass to the abortion clinic like any 'smart' feminist would do."

My blood pressure couldn't handle that place either, and I eventually lost my posting priviledges for opening my big mouth one too many times.

That was 18 months ago, before I found other Feminist Moms like myself on the interweb. For awhile there, I thought I was the only feminist in the world who liked her kids. I'm certainly happy to find that's not the case.

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTheFeministBreeder

One of the key (ok, out of many!) things that angered me about this article is that Rosin is framing it as a conflict between upper middle class women's personal choices. The real case against breastfeeding in this society is being made every single day for women who do not have a reasonable set of options to choose from about feeding and caring for their children---moms who don't even have six weeks of maternity leave, much less paid leave, moms who have no breaks to pump at work, etc. etc.

Rosin's essay essentially is an attempt to marginalize breastfeeding vs. formula into the same category of "choices" as other things that other moms in her demographic niche spend a fair amount of time worrying about: cloth vs. disposable diapers, cosleeping vs. cry-it-out, montessori vs. waldorf preschool---things that most moms of the 1 in 4 children living in poverty in the US probably don't have that much time to worry about. Characterizing the normal physiological process that baby humans start life with as choice makes me wonder when we're all going to be hooked up to dialysis machines at work to make us more efficient employees. (We've got the *choice* to pee but not everyone wants to exercise it!)

In any case, the Atlantic has a pretty poor record when it comes to women and family issues (e.g. Caitlyn Flanagan, "Dan Quayle Was Right"), and this is just a continuation of that editorial policy.

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCassie

Cassie, nothing makes me angrier than breastfeeding being called a "choice." Ughgh, I hate it. I think it's insulting and denegrating. This only leaves women to have to (in many cases, and many situations) defend their "choice" to use the breasts nature put on their body.

I just posted a reply to similar comment on another blog. In the sake of saving time, I'm pasting it here:

I hate the idea that being a feminist means supporting every other "choice" a woman makes. Lots of women make terrible "choices" that denegrate our society, and I do not think it is my job to support them unconditionally. That's being nothing more than a sheep. That's the same as following a religion regardless of whether it encourages 90 yr old men to marry 15 year olds, or allows priests to rape little boys with little consequence. Feminism is not my "religion" - feminism is a political message of equality. In my opinion, formula should be available by prescription only, and mothers should be given far more support to continue breastfeeding to a year. We have mammary glands for a reason. We are women; let's just learn to work with what we were given instead of trying to theoretically castrate our normal female functions. Let's embrace our power, instead of using technology to free ourselves from our gender and all its glory.

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTheFeministBreeder

@ Cassie @ TheFeministBreeder

I do believe that individuals should be able to make choices. However, I also have ideas or even proof (in some instances) about what is best for society. I think we need to do everything that we can to ensure that women are able to make the better choice if they want to. That said, we are all human and we all have limits. I won't judge or berate another woman for making a different choice (even if it is scientifically proven to be the worse choice), unless she is engaging in physical or mental abuse of herself or someone else (and I know...there can be a variety of different definitions of what constitutes abuse and that could be a whole different conversation!).

I think that as a lactivist there is an opportunity to advocate for breastfeeding and ensure that moms that do breastfeed are able to do so without facing barriers and discrimination, without in the same breath necessarily having to judge or belittle a woman for choosing not to breastfeed.

To draw a parallel, I am pro-choice with regards to abortion. It is a woman's body, it is her decision, and it is not up to me to judge. I doubt I could ever go through with an abortion, but I've never been in a position of having an unwanted pregnancy, so I really don't know. But, I think I can be pro-choice and still advocate for sex education to teach people about the dangers of engaging in unprotected sex, I can advocate for improvements to the justice system to make it easier to bring rapists to justice, and I can provide support to a mom that has chosen to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. I can advocate for a world where abortions are less common and less necessary, without advocating for taking away a woman's right to choose.

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Thank you for compiling this comprehensive list. There is so much out there. Rosin's article has opened up discussions with folks I didn't think had an opinion on feminism and breastfeeding.

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterpantrygirl

@ phdinparenting

I feel the same about abortion; I am Pro-Choice, but not Pro-Abortion. I don't like abortion, but I'll fight for a woman's right to have one.

I actually was in the position of having an unwanted pregnancy... that unwanted pregnancy is now called Jonas - my 2 1/2 year old son.

This seems like backwards "choice" though. The hardcore feminists now say that having children (like breastfeeding) is a choice. But IS having children really a choice? What if we all stopped doing it. Seriously. What if everyone made the choice to have no more children? Mankind would end. We'd be dinosaurs. It's that simple. So I don't necessarily think that procreation is so much a choice, but a natural function of our existence - just like breastfeeding.

NOT doing either one of those things... yes, sure, those are choices. But doing what we were born to do, hmm... not so much a choice. Not to me, anyway. And my issue with calling it a choice is that now I'm in a position to defend my "choice" to others who think kids are dumb and breastfeeding is gross.

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTheFeministBreeder

@ The FeministBreeder - Absolutely, on the whole more of us need to make the better choice and that is why I think it is important to educate people about these issues (and why articles like Rosin's that suggest that it is unimportant are dangerous). But on an individual level, I'll fight for a woman's right to choose and not judge her....as long as she doesn't start pushing her choice on others (misery loves company?).

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Agreed. Some of my best friends are formula feeders, and I myself formula fed my first born. I think what makes me cranky though is when formula feeders try to justify it and tell other women breastfeeding isn't important. Even while formula feeding my son, I was still a hardcore lactivist and never tried to qualify my inability to breastfeed by deciding that it didn't matter anyway. I really hate it when women like Rosin try to take others down with her. Women like her are the reason I didn't try harder to BF my oldest. I knew better the second time around though.

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTheFeministBreeder

Boobie power!

I had SO many challenges when I tried to breastfeed. I had to start my daughter on formula. I felt terrible. I had missed out on the natural birthing process I wanted and I was damned and determined to breastfeed. After engorgement, latch problems, and two cases of mastitis ... I stuck it out.

I felt it was just about all I had left to offer her.

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterApril

Thank you so much for including us in this great list of responses. I appreciate your comments about trying to achieve the feminist ideal as part of a partnership and I agree with you there. I think my issue with the feminist ideal is that it IS an ideal, and ideals are usually very difficult to put into practice. In this case, by saying that we want to be able (allowed) to do everything (a concept I agree with, by the way), we set the stage for a situation where we are expected to do everything. Just like the idea that framing breastfeeding as a choice sets us up for having to then defend that choice. My personal thoughts are that you can't do it all AT ONCE - we have to make choices. Maybe we need a year off work to breastfeed rather than expecting to do it all at the same time? I don't know what the practicality of implementing the ideal will look like for every woman.

But my main point is that with support, better programs and certainly a better maternity leave policy in the US, women would find it way easier to achieve the work/life balance that is necessary to be successful at breastfeeding.

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBirth Write

[...] at Equally Shared Parenting and Slate’s The XX Factor (Hanna Rosin also blogs for Slate).  PhD in Parenting links to several more articulate responses to the article, positive and negative, pointing out that [...]

I am just so excited to see some of this discussion. For many years I have felt "anti-feminist" because I love my role as mother, nurturer, home-keeper. I have felt out of place in many circles because I think feminism seems to want to deny our physical, biological uniqueness. I have said for many years that we messed things up for ourselves in the work place because we (not me, specifically, but the 'movement' if you will) demanded sameness, not equality. We can be quite equal without having to act like men. In fact, I think we did corporate America a disservice by trying to be *like* men, instead of bringing our own unique gifts to the table.
I have been terrified to express that opinion, and I still feel a little queasy about it. But I see that women are starting to try to embrace their strengths, whatever they are (and they are, of course, different in each of us).
Thank you for tackling another difficult issue!

March 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

I nominated you for the Lemonade Award on my blog! Please come by and check it out if you're interested!

March 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEmily Jones

[...] can also find a chronicle of the blog responses to the Atlantic piece on PhD In [...]

How about linking to someone who liked the article and thought Hanna Rosin had interesting points to make? "Down with the Mommy Wars" is feminist, because it's about allowing women to make choices. It just doesn't toe your line.


March 21, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterredpenmama

@redpenmama : I did link to Amy's post on Equally Shared Parenting and to my own post about http://www.phdinparenting.com/2008/08/30/choice/" rel="nofollow">choice.

March 21, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I finally responded to Rosin's article and used my perspective as a Canadian to decide the direction I took. For some reason her article threw me for a loop. I couldn't find a direction to go with it because there seemed to be so many. I can see why Sara at Custom Made Milk decided to write a series of responses. There is just so mauch to say. My post highlights the differences between our countries as far as maternity leave and breastfeeding laws go. I wonder if Rosin would have felt the same need to write her article if she were Canadian?

March 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMelodie

Great roundup of sites. I was trying to avoid writing about this, bec. I just did a couple posts about breastfeeding (including cross-nursing) last week, but looking through your list and the various strengths of each argument, I was inspired to try my hand at satire. I'd love to be included in your list of links, if you think it's appropriate.

March 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJane

Hi. You've linked to me before and I'm not sure that I ever said thank you. Thanks!

I weighed in on the article, too. It's another feminist perspective but I'm not sure I tagged it as such.

It was very, very disappointing to not see anything about the article on the big feminist blogs, except for Pandagon. Amanda Marcotte actually used the term "hysteria" in the article, which made me feel great because, hey, all we do is REACT to things crazily at the behest our our uteri. Oh, and Mother Jones's Debra Dickerson wrote a supportive piece for her friend Rosin.


I hope the conversation will continue.


March 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJill

I also wrote a response to the article, from a feminist perspective. I couldn't not write.

http://www.sendchocolatenow.com/2009/03/dont-tell-me-motherhood-sucks.html" rel="nofollow">Don't Tell Me Motherhood Sucks


March 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterT@SendChocolate

I am glad that as I brought my first daughter into the world 4.5 years ago I was undaunted and unchallenged in my decision to breastfeed. The time since has spent breastfeeding each of my three daughters, through pregnancies up to today, with my 3rd poised to celebrate her first birthday. I often wonder how many people have been offended my doing any of what I've done. I am fiercely proud of the pumping, the nursing and the contributing professionally. I am bereft at the thought of almost being done, but cherish knowing that I did what was best for my family as well as for me.

I hope that some of the hateful things out there about breastfeeding and the "futility" of trying to work as a breastfeeding mom will not prevent women from giving it a go.

March 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

[...] If you’d like to read responses from others, check out Blacktating, Momlogic, California NOW, unnecesarean, The Feminist Breeder, blue milk, PhD In Parenting, and this roundup. [...]

Great round-up. Thank you. Off to read your post now.

(Found you through Hoyden About Town)

March 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCristy

[...] Rosin strikes again. When she wrote her “Case Against Breastfeeding“, I responded. Many other people responded too. And now she’s come back for more. Yesterday, on Slate, she posted an article called [...]

[...] what I never understand when I hear statements like this is, “The breastfeeding lobby? Lactivists like me who have no financial interest in breastfeeders?” I don’t get it. I’m just [...]

I wrote a post (http://8poundpreemie.blogspot.com/2011/01/big-business-of-breastfeeding.html) not entirely in response to Rosin's article, but referencing it in the context of my own difficulties with breastfeeding.

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered Commenter1st-Time Mommy

Breastfeeding does not grant anyone power in this society, although it is now in the process of being an OBLIGATION, judging by some comments here...
Breasfteeding does not makes anybody powerful, just miserable, tired - and guilty in case of failure.
One may only be powerful when totally free... (from work, from disease, from obligation, from pain)...
Believe me, no man envy us that "chance" to breastfeed nor giving birth in excruciating pain. We love our kids but the whole process of giving life is NO FUN. It does not give any power. Just love to give and a lot of work.

As the benefits of breastfeeding are based on the Leche Leagues' LIES (Kramer study proved that Breastmilk may only offer a small protection against gastro-enteritis, all the rest:crap crap crap), I do not see a valid reason to force oneself to breastfeed.

We should revere "Nature"? Nature is a killer, nature without science wouly just have us live what ? a painful 40ish years?...Just because we have boobs, we SHOULD breastfeed? It is just an APPROXIMATIVE way nature found to feed babies. Darwin. Adaptation. Mammals. But in reality, breastfeeding without the help of doctors and formula, would leave many of our small ones dying in pain. Because being hungry is terribly painful. What an horrible death...so young. I suppose this is a side of nature you do not want to see, isn't it? So we have to decide what we want from nature or not...Are you the one who is going to decide for others? It seems like it..
It is rather amusing to find out that our good Dr Sears is a nut church, with eight kids, her wife is a "lactation consultant" at LLL (find yourself a real job). LLL=patriarchy.

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCantaremos

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