Equally Shared Parenting - Half the Work ... All the Fun

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Here's where we keep you updated on news about parenting as it relates to division of responsibilities, career versus home decisions, work/life balance, and legislative and grass-roots movements toward equality or better choices for families. We'll also throw in our opinions of life as equal parents in a nonequal world, regardless of what's in the news.

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Equality Blog

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Breastfeeding Trap

I just finished reading an article entitled 'The Case Against Breastfeeding' in the Atlantic. And although I'm by myself in my quiet kitchen (the kids are asleep and Marc is away for a few days), I want to stand up and applaud. Bravo to journalist Hanna Rosin!

Lest any of you get too uncomfortable, I breastfed both M and T just as any new mother is bound to do in this day and age in our culture. I bought the arguments that 'breast is best' and did my best to make it work. My pump was a big part of my life once I returned to work each time (although I figured out a way not to pump at work the second time around - an accomplishment of which I'm particularly proud). I gritted my teeth through those tough first few (make that six) weeks of soreness and pain, a bout of mastitis, nursing bras, leaking, etc. I made it through to when it becomes easy and quick - and it was pretty smooth sailing for the many months I breastfed after that. I never quite made it through to not wincing if I needed to feed in public; although I fully support the rights of breastfeeding mothers, I personally felt I needed to protect my own rights not to have to breastfeed in front of strangers sometimes.

Anyway, my own story is not the point here. Rosin's article is long, but it is excellent. I urge to you to click over and read it if the topic interests you at all. From an ESP perspective, breastfeeding can often interfere with a father establishing himself as an equal parent early on. It doesn't have to, by any means, but even well-meaning mothers and fathers can use breastfeeding's intimate and time-consuming bonding opportunity to set mothers on the course of being the 'better' parent if they don't consciously work to overcome this issue.

Rosin describes a friend who refused to breastfeed because she "felt that breast-feeding would set up an unequal dynamic in her marriage - one in which the mother, who was responsible for the very sustenance of the infant, would naturally become responsible for everything else as well." Rosin goes on to say: "We were raised to expect that co-parenting was an attainable goal. But who were we kidding? Even in the best of marriages, the domestic burden shifts, in incremental, mostly unacknowledged ways, onto the woman. Breast-feeding plays a central role in the shift. Then other, logical decisions follow: she alone fed the child, so she naturally knows better how to comfort the child, so she is the better judge to pick a school for the child and the better nurse when the child is sick, and so on."

I think that the breastfeeding effect on keeping couples from ESP is much larger than most of us realize. And somehow, the La Leche League, Dr. Sears, and so many others have made it taboo to even speak of not breastfeeding our children. Given the paucity of actual well-done scientific research to prove any true benefits to breastfeeding, not breastfeeding ought to be an option. This would sure make ESP a whole lot easier in the first year of parenthood. There, I said it!

But I know most of us aren't quite ready for that message. And we don't have to be. There are many ways to get around the breastfeeding period with your equal parenting intact. In fact, I've yet to meet an ESP mom who didn't breastfeed at all, and I know many who have done so well beyond the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended time period. How they did so is a subject for another post. But today, I'm just glad to see one journalist explore the issue so that perhaps we can all be better armed to get through it.


Blogger aztec-rose said...

Let's face it, breastfeeding is a polarising topic. In my experience having to pump for about six weeks until I could get my baby to latch on her own - was kind of liberating in a way. Because Mr G - took on the night feeds, being the night owl he is, and we took turns feeding Possum during the day. It made those early days with our baby a very bonding experience for us both and neither of us were sleep-deprived. It wasn't planned this way, it just happened, we certainly evolved into ESPs - which probably would have happened anyway even if I had exclusively breastfed.

6:12 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

Hi, Aztec-Rose! Yes, this is no neutral topic. I agree that your first 6 weeks made ESP easier, AND that you'd have prevailed with equal parenting even if she had latched on right away.

7:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know, I really wouldn't characterize this article as "excellent," even though I think breastfeeding advocates go too far in their pressure on women to breastfeed (and in denying formula to babies because they don't believe in undersupply).

Rosin's analysis reminded me of nothing so much as the global warming deniers and the disbelievers in evolution. "Oh, those 'experts' don't know anything. See, I'll show you a couple of holes I found in a couple of studies! We really don't know anything!"

Actually, although as with anything in science there is not 100% certainty, there is voluminous good data that there is a significant, if modest, benefit to breastfeeding. Five to ten IQ points are really nothing to sneeze at, especially as an epidemiological matter.

She had no reason to discount this data other than her feeling that it is unfair that women carry this burden alone, that it shouldn't be true. Well, it's unfair and it's true: breastmilk is not exactly reproducible, and while formula is perfectly adequate, breast is best.

Let's all be adults. If we decide to give up breastfeeding's benefits to the baby for the increased fairness in distribution of childcare duties, let's not pretend those benefits magically disappeared.

10:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that it's more than up to mom what she feeds her baby.. But the whole bit about babies and daddy sort of bothers me. It's so unnecessary and so untrue. There are so many ways in which dad can bond with baby that don't involve an artificial nipple. IMO saying that you're not going to breastfeed because it will create an unequal dynamic in your relationship is a bit similar to saying that you're adopting because gestating and carrying a child will cause an unequal dynamic in the relationship.

I wrote a post on the topic of daddies, bottles and bonding here:


It talks about the many things that dad can (and should) do to bond with their baby that don't involve bottles or feeding.

Yes, sometimes breastfeeding can cause bonding issues. But that's only when one or both partners choose to use it as an excuse. Often out of fear or feelings of incompetence.

But bottle feeding isn't the solution to that.

3:07 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Chinston and Sara,

Thanks for weighing in. I appreciate both of your comments. Although I haven't combed the breastfeeding data, and wouldn't consider myself capable of a full analysis of it even if I had, I do believe there are myths on both sides. Breastfeeding, we can agree, is wholly natural - it only makes sense to consider it the default option. But it isn't the only way that loving mothers can feed their children.

I liked this article because it questioned a lot of the data (something I do everyday in my 'real' job - only in a different subject area - and it is amazing the holes one can discover in seemingly airtight data). I also didn't get the impression that you got, Chinston, that the author was simply discounting the data because she felt it was unfair that only women can breastfeed.

Sara - great post on your site - thanks for directing us to it. I agree that dads have ample opportunities to bond without bottle feeding - absolutely true! There is no need for breastfeeding to prevent ESP, and I agree that it is a myth that ESP can't occur when a woman exclusively breastfeeds.

However, I believe many couples do let breastfeeding, and maternity leave, send them down non-equal paths because they do not consciously create equality in other ways. And I, for one, didn't mind pumping at all; I liked to be able to store up milk in the freezer, and to give Marc half of the midnight feeds (I love sleep) and to be able to go to work and still know I could provide my babies with breastmilk.

Thanks for writing!

7:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for the post Amy. I think the challenges Hanna Rosin mentions in her article have a lot more to do with the challenges of implementing ESP in general and the strain that parenting puts on gender roles, than it has to do with breastfeeding in particular. She has chosen that as her scapegoat for a lack of equality in her marriage, but it doesn't have to be.

I wrote about our experiences and my thoughts on breastfeeding and feminism here:


My mantra for equally shared parenting (and balance in life in general) is that I want to achieve balance over time, not every day.

9:12 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

Hi, Annie!

Great post on your site! I agree with all of your points (although I could have used your advice about where to get that hands-free breast pump). And equal partnership doesn't just happen (at least not in our current culture), which I think is a key point you raise. It takes consciousness and discussion between parents - perhaps something Ms. Rosin didn't think to do. I also think she raises some useful points about our culture that I'm generally pleased to see raised.

I agree that ESP isn't a minute-by-minute equilibration - that would be a tedious and annoying way to live for sure!


7:55 PM  
Anonymous Mary Jones said...

Well, it's unfair and it's true: breastmilk is not exactly reproducible, and while formula is perfectly adequate, breast is best.

5:49 AM  
Anonymous buy papers online said...

how wonderful while i have little reservation but almost satisfied from it. Formula must be unique

12:24 PM  
Anonymous Rohan Sam said...

There is no doubt that breast feeding is THE best natural nutrition an infant could ever get.
But unfortunately modern moms underestimate it.

2:56 AM  
Anonymous Kate said...

I know a few so-called moms who are against breast feeding their babies just because they are afraid loosing the breast shape. On my opinion it's a crime to not give your baby the most natural nutrition possible when you can.

2:48 PM  
Anonymous Young said...

Personally, I believe that breast feeding is the best natural nutrition for infant. But sometimes formula is great, too, saving a lot of trouble

7:52 AM  
Anonymous roshan@topratedbestbabymonitors.com said...

Its true. breast feeding is not a little topic. I see how my wife struggles to feed my cutie.

4:25 AM  
Anonymous Jane said...

While most would agree that breast is best it is not always possible.

9:39 AM  
Anonymous Jamis@bestplaypenforbabies.com said...

Thanks for this great insight. I see it more valuable these days.

10:38 PM  
Anonymous best baby car seats said...

It is true what you have described here.

10:40 PM  
Blogger Rainbow said...

Great post!

12:46 PM  
Anonymous Sophie van der Linden said...

I can't understand why do some women refuse to initiate a breastfeeding relationship with their babies? Breastfeeding is very intimate, personal contact. Why do some women think that this will be torture or feel like a violation? It's obvious that they know that babies can thrive on formula and simply choose not to breastfeed because they don't want to. Such a sad topic to discuss!

6:47 AM  

nice post, thanks for sharing this blog.

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