The Pressure to Breast Feed and New Breast Feeding Studies Give Mixed Messages Which We Grandmas Can Clarify For the Parents of our Grandchildren

OversellingWhen this Grandma was pregnant over four decades ago, it seems like the Middle Ages with regard to information about pregnancy, delivery, and newborns. We did not have the instantaneous information stream that exists now. We could not even learn the sex of the baby or, for that matter, much of anything else. Our best information came from our mothers, other mothers and one prenatal course. Breast feeding was not in “vogue” in the 1970’s. The hippie types were breast feeding. The rest of us got the message it was unseeming and unladylike. It was not about the baby primarily. It was the mother’s choice.

I was breast fed as a baby. My younger brother was not. We were both similarly healthy according to my mother. I chose not to breast feed. My children grew up similarly healthy. I wonder if the formula companies’ promotion of their products influenced our decisions. It seemed that “formula babies” were encouraged as the modern way to feed. My mother was even discouraging of breast feeding as the new vogue was formula.

All of my grandchildren were breast fed. My grandchildren are growing up similarly healthy. I remember, with my daughters’ experiences, that breast feeding was something that had to be learned and caring for sore and bleeding nipples was a surprise to me and hurt me just to watch my daughters endure that. I think it probably hurt me more because I wondered why they felt they had to endure that. They were well brainwashed that breast feeding was the only way to go.

Studies are replete with the benefits of breastfeeding. October 23, 2015 the New York Times had an article, “Breast Fed Children At Lower Risk For Leukemia.” The author, Anahad O’Connor, wrote:

“Children who are breast-fed as infants have a lower risk of developing childhood leukemia, a new study suggests. Leukemia is one of the leading killers of children and adolescents. Scientists have long suspected that breast-feeding might have a protective effect against the blood cancer because breast milk contains many antibodies and immune-strengthening compounds. In the new study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, scientists found that children who were breast-fed for at least six months had a 19 percent lower risk of the disease compared with those who were not breast-fed at all or were breast-fed for shorter periods of time.”

“The research showed only an association, not a cause and effect, and more research is needed to confirm the link and explain the biological mechanisms involved. The study was based on data from 18 studies that involved about 28,000 children, including roughly 10,000 who went on to develop leukemia.”

“The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers exclusively breast-feed their children for at least six months, saying it lowers the risk of infections, allergies and sudden infant death syndrome, among other things.”

“There is so much research supporting the health benefits of breast milk,” said the lead author of the new study, Efrat L. Amitay, of the University of Haifa School of Public Health in Israel. “It contains antibodies, natural killer cells and all kinds of active, live substances that can’t be produced in a factory.”

Reading these sorts of articles and studies reaffirms guilt among those new mothers who have great difficulty breast feeding, and this Grandma has been surprised as to how many new mothers have such difficulty. No one really tells new mothers that breast feeding may be difficult or that they may not make enough milk to satisfy the baby and the breast may need to be supplemented by formula. No one tells the new mothers of the inability of a break of the treadmill of around the clock feedings to allow the father to feed in the middle of the night, or that they still have to wake to pump, and will still be exhausted.

August 18, 2015, the Miami Herald had an article about a study that parents are less happy after a new first baby arrives. This Grandma knows the upheaval and trauma that a new baby brings to the household, and is not surprised at the study. The author, Ariana Eunjung Cha, in the article on parenting reprinted from The Washington Post, says what we grandmas know:

“Life has its ups and downs, but parenthood is supposed to be among the most joyous. At least that’s what the movies and Target ads tell us. In reality, it turns out that having a child can have a pretty strong negative impact on a person’s happiness, according to a new study published in the journal Demography. In fact, on average, the effect of a new baby on a person’s life is devastatingly bad – worse than divorce, worse than unemployment and worse even than the death of a partner. . . . it is considered taboo for new parents to say negative things about a new child,” . . . .”

The study shows:

“. . . .About 30 percent remained at about the same state of happiness or better once they had the baby, according to self-reported measures of well-being. The rest said their happiness decreased during the first and second year after the birth. . . .Margolis and Myrskylä wrote that challenges of new parents that impacted their decision to have another fell into three categories. The first two had to do with health.”

“Mothers reported that physical pain and nausea conflicted with their desire to work. Fathers expressed concern about the medical issues of their partner.”

“Second, complications during the birth also appeared to shape their decision to not “go through it again.”

“The third category was the most significant and was about “the continuous and intense nature of childrearing.” Parents reported exhaustion due to trouble breast-feeding, sleep deprivation, depression, domestic isolation and relationship breakdown.”

“The findings suggest that new parents need additional support.”

The study confirms one of this Grandma’s mantras that we grandmas must help the new parents of our grandchildren. We also must provide the truth about “the continuous and intense nature of childrearing”. . . .exhaustion due to trouble breast-feeding, sleep deprivation, depression, domestic isolation and relationship breakdown.” We must tell them the truth about breast feeding as now, it seems, choice of whether to breast feed or not is taken away from mothers. Samples of formula are no longer given out at hospitals, as they were when my grandchildren were born. Pressure is placed on mothers that the ONLY option is to breast feed and it is evil not to do so. It seems choice is no longer. We must give them back choice, and we have ammunition to do so.

“All too often, advocates cross the line from supporting a woman in her decision to
breast-feed into compelling a woman to do so,” is the blurb to introduce the article, “Overselling
Breast-Feeding, “ by Courtney Jungoct, October 16, 2015, in the New York Times. I love her editorial, and not only because I agree with all of it, including the pressure she received to breast feed. I did not know that “the teacher at our hospital birth class announced that she wouldn’t explain how to use formula because it was against hospital regulations.” What! Are we back in the Middle Ages with regard to newborns?

Courtney Jungoct gives us statistics I was unaware of:

“It turns out that American mothers breast-feed just as much, and often for much longer, than women in many other Western countries. Seventy-nine percent of American mothers initiate breast-feeding, and 49 percent are still breast-feeding at six months. We come close to Canada, where just over half of women are still breast-feeding at six months, and we are way ahead of Britain, at 34 percent. Yes, Norway is higher, but France is much lower. In 2011 we met or exceeded most of the 2010 Healthy People Goals set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet the moral fervor surrounding breast-feeding continues unabated, with a steady stream of advocacy and education campaigns, hospital initiatives, social pressure and workplace and insurance regulations designed to push breast-feeding numbers still higher.”

She gives her opinion as to the reality of the push toward breast feeding:

“A lot of what passes for breast-feeding advocacy, though, actually promotes breast pumping, not breast-feeding. In 2010, the Affordable Care Act amended the Fair Labor Standards Act so that it now requires employers to provide “reasonable break time” and space for women to pump breast milk at work. Not that the law requires them to be paid for those breaks. Since 2013, the A. C. A. has also required insurance companies to reimburse mothers for breast pumps. Faced with the gap between the standard recommendation to breast-feed exclusively for six months and the absence of federally mandated paid maternity leave, women are expected to pump on the job so that someone else can feed their baby breast milk from a bottle. One large study of American women found that roughly 85 percent of those who breast-fed were also using a pump. Nowhere else in the world is pumping so widespread.”

This Grandma, cynical as I am, wonders if it is now the breast pump manufacturers behind all of this like I believe the formula manufacturers were behind the vogue in the 1970’s.


“Oddly, the fervor of breast-feeding advocacy has ramped up even as medical research – published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, BMJ in Britain and The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition – has begun to report that the effects of breast-feeding are probably “modest.”

“Some sobering results have come from Dr. Michael Kramer’s Probit trial, which has studied a wide range of outcomes among about 14,000 mother-infant pairs for 16 years. Dr. Kramer’s research does not compare breast-feeding with non-breast-feeding, but by measuring dose response effects in a large group of subjects his research challenges the findings of many observational studies. While Probit found that breast-feeding had some benefits, including for cognitive development, it did not reduce the risk of obesity, asthma, allergies, dental cavities or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.”

“The benefits associated with breast-feeding just don’t seem to warrant the scrutiny and interventions surrounding American infant feeding practices. Just last month, a British study found that breast-feeding has no effect on I.Q. from toddlerhood through adolescence. And a meta-analysis of the research on breast-feeding done by the United States Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality in 2007 concludes that much of that research is weak: Some studies are too small, or they fail to control for confounding variables. The findings themselves are often inconclusive. One study will find evidence of an effect and another won’t — so we just don’t know which results to trust.”

. . . “.Doctors and researchers generally do agree that breast-feeding reduces the risk of infection, at least during the period a baby is actually breast-feeding. That is certainly not nothing, but here, too, we shouldn’t get carried away. As the director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality explained in 2009, if six babies are breast-fed exclusively for six months, one of them will not get an ear infection she otherwise would have had. That’s about 5,400 hours of breast-feeding to prevent one ear infection. If 26 women breast-feed exclusively for six months, they can collectively prevent one hospitalization for a respiratory tract infection.”

This Grandma suggests that you read the entire editorial to be fully prepared to discuss this issue or send the entire editorial to future parents.

I totally agree with the author’s conclusion:

“Does all this mean that women should stop breast-feeding? No. If you want to, if it’s easy for you, if you are healthy, if your baby is thriving on breast milk, if it’s important to you, then by all means do it. If I had to do it all over again, I probably would. But it would be different. Even though I might breast-feed as a way to nourish my baby, I could no longer use it as a talisman to ward off evil and disease. It’s a perfectly good choice, but it’s not the only choice, and it may not always be the better choice.”

“Surprisingly, the question of choice, which is central to so many women’s issues, is almost totally absent from discussions about infant feeding. Some breast-feeding advocates actually identify “choice” as the language of the enemy. Breast-feeding, they insist, is a maternal obligation.”

“But it is not choice that is the enemy. There is a difference between supporting a woman’s decision to breast-feed through policy changes like improved maternity leave, flexible work schedules and on-site day care facilities, and compelling women to breast-feed by demonizing formula. A woman should breast-feed because she wants to, not because someone tells her she has to.”

Another mantra this Grandma has is that the grandchildren will grow up just fine with loving and nurturing parents and a supportive family, including grandparents. Nothing really matters other than those basics. Raising children is hard and whatever choices are made to minimize the trauma to the difficulty of parenting should be the choice of the parents. We grandmas should support them, assist them, help in any way we can.

Part of that helping is providing complete and truthful information. The pressure to breast feed and new breast feeding studies give mixed messages which we grandmas can clarify for the parents of our grandchildren. We want them to make an informed decision and an informed decisiont should be the norm in the twenty first century.





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