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The Case Against Breastfeeding

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Four women discuss the science and culture of breastfeeding.

Mom Hanna Rosin GOES OFF about the pressure on women to breastfeed in the April 2009 issue of The Atlantic.

"In certain overachieving circles, breastfeeding is no longer a choice -- it's a no-exceptions requirement, the ultimate badge of responsible parenting," she writes. "Yet the actual health benefits of breastfeeding are surprisingly thin, far thinner than most popular literature indicates. Is breastfeeding right for every family? Or is it this generation's vacuum cleaner -- an instrument of misery that mostly just keeps women down?"

Hanna continues: "Breastfeeding exclusively is not like taking a prenatal vitamin. It is a serious time commitment that pretty much guarantees that you will not work in any meaningful way. Let's say a baby feeds seven times a day and then a couple more times at night. That's nine times for about a half hour each, which adds up to more than half of a working day, every day, for at least six months. This is why, when people say that breastfeeding is 'free,' I want to hit them with a two-by-four. It's only free if a woman's time is worth nothing."

Hanna and three of her friends sit down to discuss breastfeeding, and most seem to feel it's just another thing to control women and bring them down:

Do you agree?

next: Couple Charged for Taping Sex Acts with Children
66 comments so far | Post a comment now
m March 15, 2009, 10:40 AM

Science speaks for itself regarding breastfeeding. This article and clip undermines women and is not representative of most breastfeeding moms. Le Leche League is a great organization not a cult of freaks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Daryl March 15, 2009, 10:56 AM

Are these women delusional? First they are misinformed…the heath benefits of breastfeeding are thin? Too bad almost every doctor and scientist would disagree with that statement, but hey they’re women they know everything. As far as keeping women down…I’ve been nursing my daughter for 10 months now and have never thought of it as taking up my time. It’s one of the best things I’m able to do as a mother and I’ve loved every minute of it. Even in the beginning when my nipples were sore and bleeding I never thought of giving it up. If I ever want a “break” I pump and my husband can feed her.

Emma March 15, 2009, 11:06 AM

How does breastfeeding bring down women? first of all I went back to work when my baby was 2 months, he had BM exclusevely until he was 13 months. I worked I was able to go out and and not once did I feel tied down. It sounds like these women are being paid by the big formula companies.

Kay March 15, 2009, 2:05 PM

I breastfed all of my children and never once felt that this was keeping me down. I could take them anywhere—and did. The youngest ones were breastfed in parks, baseball games, school plays, the state fair…it did not matter where we were, I was able to keep up with my other children and be there with them at functions because I breastfed. In addition, I would never have survived the sleep deprivation if I had to have warmed bottles at night. My kids were right there nursed and we went back to sleep without being totally wide awake. Breastfeeding helped me to survive my five children and meet their needs as well.

Anonymous March 15, 2009, 2:37 PM

These women are arrogant and stupid.

kristy March 15, 2009, 3:36 PM

Pregnancy and breastfeeding are the most natural womanly things. Saying breastfeeding is keeping women down is ridiculous! next it’ll be pregnancy is just another way to keep women down and no one should do it! Wake up and say what you mean. You are selfish and don’t want to take the time to do it. At least be honest instead of manufacturing crap to justify yourself.

Suzee March 15, 2009, 4:50 PM

Yes, there are benefits to nursing for baby and the mom. The writer makes the point that nursing exclusively shifts a lot of the caring giving to woman, because the man cannot breastfeed, especially in the middle of the night, ergo eventually other baby care gets shifted to her. Maybe not w/ all dads, but if you are the mom whose husband is/was like this, you, too, would become resentful. Mine figured, ‘you’re breastfeeding—so you burp, change,’ etc. We have ONE child as a result of his attitude. I breastfeed for 17 mos., the first 10 mos. exclusively until both husband and I came down w/ the flu. I felt so drained and could not pump more than 2 oz. at a time, that I resorted to bottled milk for when others fed her and breastmilk for when I could feed her. It was liberating. And, my baby was fine. The writer has many excellent points to make unspoken by many of us organic eating, tight-jean wearing, big sunglass wearing moms. She’s being honest.

Susie March 15, 2009, 6:13 PM

I guess to each his/her own. I have five children four of which I was able to breastfeed successfully. I had my oldest young and really didn’t have the knowledge that I did with my other children, and I have to thank La Leche League for that knowledge. It is time consuming but when it comes to your child it is time well spent!! I don’t get why so many women complain. What better way to spend one on one time with your baby, they grow up so fast as it is.
It is a convenient way to nourish your child, and you don’t have to worry about waste. No throwing away unused formula or a half finished bottle.
I think the benefits and convenience are reason enough to breastfeed. In my opinion anyway.

Amy Jones March 15, 2009, 6:16 PM

What do you mean it is only free if a woman’s time is worth nothing? That is incredibly offensive. How does what I do with my time dictate the worth of the actions I decide to take?

Breastfeeding my child is the obvious right choice. I would encourage other women to do the same. Did you know children who are NOT breastfed are 70% more likely to develop recurring ear infections? That is only one of the vast plethora of reasons you should breastfeed your child.

This article fails to provide one solid shred of empirical evidence against breastfeeding. If your time is “worth” so much, don’t have a child. If you can’t shoulder the responsibility, don’t.

pixiehornet March 15, 2009, 6:25 PM

While I applaud the writers effort for her willingness to take a stand on the less politically correct side of a very polarizing issue I do think that one late night marathon of research on the health benefits of breastfeeding hardly substantiates her claim that the “health benefits are surprisingly thin”. Secondly…missing entirely from her article is any mention of the crappy and questionable science behind the ingredients in the majority of baby formulas currently on the market. Finally making such a strong claim that the time commitment required means that “you will not work in any meaningful way” is disappointing…I work (was back in the office two weeks after my son was born and no he isn’t in daycare) in a very meaningful way, I am an executive and my husband is an equal partner in the care and feeding of our son…has been since day one. I doubt that I am an exception…there are many others with similar experiences out there.

Anna March 15, 2009, 6:42 PM

Women’s rights should be about supporting women to make the best choice for themselves and their families. Not judging them. Sometimes the best choice might be not breastfeeding. And for the record, yes, I breast-fed — which is why I know how hard it can be.

Citril March 15, 2009, 7:27 PM

I’m declining on watching the video as I already appalled that an educated, intelligent woman could write such nonsense! The science proves incredible benefits to the short and long term health of both mother and child. I agree it is incredibly time consuming, but it is worth it - surely we want nothing but the best for our children? Dads play their part - yes it’s hard expressing, being organised, etc but it is worth it.

What I do hate, though, is when women are made to feel second rate if they can’t breastfeed.

Anonymous March 15, 2009, 7:48 PM

Who is this Dr. and where did she get her information from?! Her comment “It’s not about the milk”… insane! It IS about the milk….It IS about the act.

We must know more about the milk now than before. It is a living substance protecting our babies. Nothing else can provide that protection.

In that whole interview, I did not hear one thing about why the BABY benefits from the whole “breastfeeding relationship”. There are benefits for the mother and they include what they say.

WHAT ABOUT THE BABY!? Breastfeeding is as much about the baby is it is about the mom….if not more. Breastfeeding was not invented so moms could be empowered and self riteous. It is a natural thing designed to nurture and protect our babies…just like any other mammal on the earth.

sadiebaby March 15, 2009, 8:19 PM

Whether one chooses to breastfeed or not is certainly that of the individual mother. Although I breastfed my son and would do it again, I would not begrudge anyone who made the choice to formula fed (I don’t say bottle feed because you can bottle feed breast milk) However, you can be sure that breast milk will not be contaminated with melamine or other carcinogens that will poison your child. That to me is worth any “loss of freedom”. Especially when nursing is only temporary.

ks31 March 15, 2009, 8:30 PM

I chose to exclusively formula feed both of my children. The case for breastfeeding is extremely overstated. My husband and I were both formula fed. We hold advanced degrees, high intellect, good health. Immunologically speaking, Humans are not pigs which will die as newborns if they are not breast fed, this is not the case with humans who are born with an immune system passed onto them during pregnancy. Think about it, how would little babies who are born prematurely posts 25 weeks survive in incubation while being fed intravenously with no breast milk. How would they survive at all if they had not immune system of their own in place.

I am truly baffled by the piercing screeches by those who choose to breastfeed who pass judgement over those who don’t. Formula is not dishwashing detergent. My children have thrived, have had very good health (Thank God), are advanced intellectually, well tempered and flourishing in every category. You cannot look at anyone and tell if they were formula or breast fed.

Do your research ladies and do what’s right for you and your family. There are not right or wrong’s here. We all are get to make the choices that are right for us and our children.

Bec Thomas March 15, 2009, 9:11 PM

Babies are time comsumming, people really should think about that before they have one. This is as bad as the old arguement against breastfeeding, the breasts are for sex arguement and that it’s gross to breastfeed. I see this is more based on selfishness and ignorance then anything else.

K&C's mom March 15, 2009, 10:29 PM

Breast feeding is natural, formula is not. I breast fed my son, but my daughter would not nurse. I felt better with my son then I did my daughter. They are getting “close to a mother’s milk” so they say. That should say something about formula.

Nicci March 16, 2009, 8:22 AM

That is just ridiculous. It has never taken me an hour to feed my baby. I breastfeed both my kids for over a year. It’s easy, I never had to fumble with bottles and formula. Plus I kind of like the time I have to sit down and breastfeed my youngest. It lets me rest. I read a book, it is a little bit of time every day that I know I’m going to get to sit and not be chasing after two preschoolers.
As for formula feeding. I don’t have a problem with it, it just wasn’t for me.

Anonymous March 16, 2009, 10:04 AM

So you don’t want to breastfeed?, fine, but making that choice based on a need to share every parenting responsibility 50/50 with your husband is not putting the needs of baby first, it is putting your needs first, let’s be honest here. Then come up with a way to convince yourself the two feeding methods are equal? The author discusses the need for complete equality extensively in her lengthy article, why is this the goal? Mothers and fathers are supposed to have different roles in raising an infant, maybe we should figure out a way that men can get a uterus implant and share that experience as well! Enjoy being a woman, a mother, and give to your child without expecting a return benefit, or equal ratio in care giving. This is a selfish way to look at taking care of a baby. Babies take a ton of care, the hormones that are released when we give birth prepare us for that responsibility and time commitment, so we will ENJOY it and not begrudge them this time. A man does not experience this flood of hormones. Nature has/had a plan in designing men and women, trust that intelligence, why challenge it. It is all gone so fast anyway, and your kids will be rolling their eyes at you! Enjoy them, share yourself, don’t begrudge them your time and love. The author speaks of breastfeeding as a “prison”, my gawd, then don’t do it, and why have kids. Even if I chose formula to feed my babies, I still wouldn’t expect 50/50 from the father, these are two separate issues these women and blending here, and so confusing their sketchy breastfeeding debate. Breastmilk does not need to be tested over and over to prove its credibility, we KNOW what we are feeding our babies is specifically made for humans to thrive. Formula is an experiment(only a blip on the time line of human existence),they are still fine-tuning the “formula”, and will continue to do so, because breastmilk cannot be replicated in a lab. Don’t breastfeed if you don’t want to do it, be a part of the experiment, with eyes WIDE open ladies.

Jennifer A March 16, 2009, 10:43 AM

Congrats, you just lost another reader and follower on Twitter. I can understand breastfeeding is a choice ( a choice I made for both my kids) but this is just horrible. You don’t want to breastfeed fine, but stop slamming my (and many other mom’s)choices. And please cite sources if you are going to say the health benefits are thin. Haven’t heard about that study.

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