A New Study on Breastfeeding Proves… We Read Too Many Studies

Does the study label mothers who don't breastfeed ignorant? Or does the media?

A new study tells us that many moms quit nursing because they’re nervous about nursing. Finally!!! A study that proves we read too many studies!

To breastfeed or not to breastfeed is an ongoing battle in the larger “Mommy Wars.” In explaining some of the study’s astounding revelations, such as that 92 percent of mothers “have concerns” about breast feeding in the first two months of their babies’ lives (wow, really?), Lori Feldman-Winter, a pediatrician at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, N.J., said:

“My sense is in my gut that the ability for moms to find adequate breastfeeding support in the community is very variable and in many communities non-existent.”

Feldman-Winter also chairs the policy committee for the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Breastfeeding, and all of that makes me concerned. This is how a formal advocate of breastfeeding is quoted?

There’s some backlash in the blogosphere and on parenting websites that the study insinuates that “ignorant” moms are the ones who quit. But I say, no wonder moms who choose not to breastfed are offended. “My sense is in my gut…” Um… I thought she was a woman of science. She’s got senses in her gut? Sounds like she might need to use the loo. This doctor could not be where she is professionally if she were not a smart cookie, and the quote being used by every outlet has her saying that community support for breastfeeding moms is “very variable.” One headline went this far: Mothers Discontinue Breastfeeding in Two Months After Facing Post-Partum Difficulties. Yeah, I said “headline.” This is news? Of course women have post-partum difficulties; of course women have stopped nursing when maternity leave is over (read: two months); and some women nurse for two years.

Those first days are brutal and breastfeeding is mysterious and uncertain. My friend Rachel said that in the beginning of the experience she wanted to rapidly tap her boob like a mic–Is this thing on? You’ve been trusting your body for nine months to grow this baby. You’ve been foregoing sushi and soft cheese, upping your water and calcium intake. You are in perfect control, and the monthly, then weekly, OB visits reassure you that you are doing A-OK. You got this.

Then the baby is born and no matter the birth experience, no matter where on the scale between trauma and bliss you deliver the child, everything changes. It all gets a lot scarier. This squirming purple, veiny thing is not exactly who you imagined meeting, and as if that’s not bad enough, you have to trust your body again, but this time it is much more intense. That baby is a presence 24/7. He or she is no longer safely tucked in your pouch, viewed and measured intermittently, and only known to you through punches, kicks, and swoops across your belly in the evening, when you finally lay down and the baby can stretch.

You monitored how much fiber and iron you ate. You choked down salmon like an effing Alaskan Grizzly. But you can’t see the milk inside your boob. You can’t measure healthy portions. You had all those months of mystery of who this person was and now the person is here and you are charged with their very life, their actual life. You are the one to make sure he eats and poops and that she actually breathes in and breathes out. But things are more mysterious now than they were before the baby joined you on this side of the universe. You don’t know what he’s consuming. You don’t know what that cry means, or why she’s squirming and howling and changing colors, turning even more raw looking. You can’t just rub your magic belly until the baby settles down.

I basically had my third child so I could breastfeed again, which sounds creepy even to me when I say it like that, but anyway, I was lucky. I plowed through the near-impossible first baby’s first weeks with cracked and bleeding nipples, and pain so bad I winced and teared up mostly because I’m just stubborn (this also explains 19 hours of back labor with no meds. What? Me? Need meds?).

People make a choice to have kids. They have a choice to not find out their genders or have a gender-reveal cake, for God’s sake. They have a choice to deliver their baby on a garden swing or in a pool or in their own bath tub with their other children looking on, as well as a choice to have meatballs every Friday and allow big giant bowls of gummy bears in their home. They also have a choice to breastfeed. Or not.

Parents divide into extreme “camps” exactly because of studies like this. Disparate parenting philosophies cause so much heat because there is so much passion behind it: We love our kids and want to do what’s best for them, so when someone else tells us we’re not, especially because we don’t know any better, expect reactions just as extreme.