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Volume 2, Issue 4
Winter 2006:

Lactation Police

Barbara Nachman

Cell 2 Soul. 2006 Winter; 2(4):a2

The young woman was sitting on a sofa in the rest room of a department store feeding her baby a bottle.

"How old is he?" I asked, proudly informing her of my new grandma status.

"Two months," she answered.

"He's adorable," I said as I turned toward the door.

But then she spoke again and what she said brought me to a halt.

"I feel so guilty," she confessed.

I couldn't imagine what she would say next. Or whether I really wanted to hear it. But how could I leave her now?

"Why?" I asked with a genuine concern.

"I don't have enough breast milk," she said sadly. "So I have to supplement with a bottle. But they tell me that even a little breast milk will give him the antibodies he needs," she added, though I could tell she was far from believing this.

I hope what I said comforted her. I told her that my daughter, the mother of my new granddaughter, hadn't been breastfed at all. Nor had the children of most of my friends. And miraculously, they'd all grown up healthy, intelligent and well-adjusted. At least as well-adjusted as anyone else.

In fact, when my daughter was born about 30 years ago, there was no great push to breastfeed. Natural childbirth was the rage back then. I don't remember all the horrible things that would happen to a baby if a woman caved in and consented to a pain-management procedure other than deep breathing. Let's just say it wouldn't be pretty.

I told this to the new mother. And she shook her head. I knew she heard me. But I also knew my message hadn't gotten through.

She was already in the grip of the lactation police.

The lactation police are those men and women, professional and lay people, who make new mothers feel that unless they breastfeed their babies, they might as well leave them at the side of the road.

They make all sorts of claims about the superiority of breast milk, many of which have scientific merit, I'm sure. Though why all the babies of my daughter's generation flourished without breast milk doesn't seem to be addressed.

My favorite claim comes from a colleague who is breastfeeding her third child.

"Breastfed babies have higher IQs," she insists.

Really.

And how was that scientific study conducted? The only way I can think of to gather that sort of data would be to take identical twins, breastfeed one and bottle-feed the other. I haven't heard of any such study, nor do I think any mother would consent to it. Unless she's the kind who would leave her baby on the side of that road.

Having said all this, I must add that I am not affiliated in any way with any company that produces or supplies baby formula. In fact, I believe breastfeeding is a beautiful way for babies to receive the nutrition they need. I'm just saying it's not the only beautiful way.

Next time, we can talk about how babies sleep. Thirty years ago, a baby's life was in imminent danger unless you put him to sleep on his stomach. Today, if your baby is not on his back, you might as well leave him…you know where.

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