Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Breastfeeding, Morality and Parenting Outcomes

So one of my favorite parenting authors wrote a super controversial piece about breastfeeding and it being a moral choice.

And the Internet exploded with backlash.  Most notably Simcha Fisher who writes.

But the Church does not tell us we must breastfeed. The Church does not tell us this, because breastfeeding is not always the best way to care for babies’ physical, emotional, and psychological needs, which are bound up intimately with the physical, emotional, and psychological needs of the mother and the rest of the family. - See more at: http://aleteia.org/blogs/simchafisher/more-than-milk/#sthash.T1ySTvgE.dpuf

That is all true.  The church doesn't tell us that we HAVE to breastfeed.  Some mothers can't.  That is very much true.

However, it is still very much true that breastfeeding is ideal.  I'm not going to claim that it's a moral issue, but I am going to claim that it is best. I'm not going to get into the all scientific reasons for it, it's just common sense and you can read it for yourself.  You get pregnant. You give birth.  You have these things called breasts which make milk and you feed the baby and the baby grows.  That's how it was designed to work.  It just makes sense that a natural food that changes as your baby grows, that contains antibodies and immune factors and all the vitamins and minerals and probiotics and differing levels of fat and protein is going to be superior to something made in a factory that comes in a can.  The scientific studies on the benefits of breastfeeding are overwhelming...and not just for the baby but for the mother too....lowered breast cancer risk, faster uterine shrinking, etc, etc.,
 Of course there are people who get formula who are intelligent, healthy people That doesn't negate the fact that breastfeeding is still the best/normal/natural way to feed a baby in a general sense. 

However, it is also true that we live in a world that is far from ideal.  We live in a fallen world. We live in a world where people have health issues.  For many individual mother-baby dyads, breastfeeding may NOT be best for their particular situations. THAT'S OKAY.  Because, while breast milk is ideal, it is more ideal that the baby has enough to eat, so if your body can't make enough milk....well thank God for formula. 

People say that breastfeeding versus formula feeding is a choice.  But, I really don't think it is.  I think it is an outcome.  Yes, I do think most moms should try breastfeeding. Obviously there are exceptions...maybe the mom has cancer and needs treatment or has deep psychological issues or experienced abuse.  There are numerous reasons why breastfeeding may not be best in a particular circumstance, but that doesn't take away from the fact that it is best in general.  When people make recommendations about public health...it is done in a general sense.  They aren't thinking of every single little exception. 

It is not incongruent to say that breastfeeding is best while still acknowledging that it may not be best for some individuals.

Just like it is best if a child grows up with a mother and father who are married to each other. However, if one of those parents is abusive, it is best if the child grows up WITHOUT an abusive parent so in that cases a single parent household may be best for the child.  And sometimes bad things happen, a parent dies, and a child has to grow up without both parents.  Sometimes a single woman or teen or college student gets pregnant and the father of the baby is not a good candidate for marriage or not interested in helping.  In those situations, a child grows up with a single parent.  That's life...it's not ideal, but it happens and we make the best of it.  

Studies have shown that it is best if a baby is born vaginally.  The baby gets important bacteria from his/her mother's birth canal and a Cesarean birth put the baby at more risk of allergies and asthma.  Of course, it is also best if a baby is born alive and without brain damage and if the mother survives childbirth without injury.  So, if a c-section is what is necessary for a baby to born alive and without brain damage and for the mother to survive childbirth without injury, than in that particular situation, a c-section is best.   That doesn't take away from the fact that overall it is best if babies come out through the same passage the sperm gets in.

We have a guilt problem here in the United States.  Apparently we are never, ever allowed to say that anything is best or ideal because there are people for whom the best or ideal is not possible and we might make them feel guilty. Furthermore, we are never allowed to say that anything a mother does is ever linked to an adverse outcome, because someone, somewhere may feel guilty.  I don't get that. 

Guess what, my life is not ideal.  My children are not always raised in the most ideal manner possible.  It would be more ideal if we had more money and could give our children more experiences.  It would more ideal if I didn't have to work at home and could devote more time and energy to my children. That's not our situation, and  I'm not going to waste a single iota of energy feeling guilty about a situation I can't change at the moment.  I believe that it would be ideal if I could feed my kids 100% natural, organic food all the time.  Guess what....I don't do that.  I CAN'T do that.  And I don't feel guilty about it either but I can still acknowledge that 100% all natural, ideal food is better even while saying that it is not possible for me right now. 

Nor should anyone waste a single moment of time feeling one single iota of guilt because they need to use formula or had a c-section or whatever other parenting outcomes they had that are less than ideal, because life is less than ideal.

I'm going to make a confession here.  I am a La Leche League leader. I have put in untold volunteer hours helping mothers breastfeed.  I have NEVER gone up to anyone in a store or restaurant or park any other public place and said anything to them about bottle feeding or formula.  NEVER.  I only help or talk to mothers about breastfeeding who come to me first and WANT help.   And then I put in a  lot of my own time, unpaid, helping them.   People who can't breastfeed say it is hurtful when they hear the slogan "breast is best."  Well, guess what..... it is hurtful when you say "breastfeeding is just a choice, it doesn't matter" to moms who put in a LOT of effort to breastfeed, or moms who give up their own time to help other mothers breastfeed.  I have known moms who went through a terrible time in the beginning and many are very GLAD they continued.  Why?  Because it got easier, it got better and suddenly they enjoyed breastfeeding.  Now, this isn't everyone.  Some moms can't make enough milk, they never can.  And when they decide to use formula, it's a relief. That's okay too.  

No one should be made to feel guilty about their their outcome (because sometimes it's not a choice, it's an outcome).  But also no one should be made to feel that breastfeeding doesn't matter and that it's not important and their hard work is for nothing because it's just a choice anyway.  

How is it NOT okay to claim that "breast is best" (when the science is clear),  but it IS okay to call people who say that, "breastfeeding bullies?"  Yes, there may be a few bullies out there, but the vast majority of breastfeeding proponents are NOT bullies.  They are very nice people who just want to help others.

Why can't we just acknowledge that science says that breast is best/ideal, but that it not may be not best/idea for some individuals because we live in a broken, less than ideal world?  

Is that really so hard??

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