No, Emuna, There Are No Lactation Police

Emuna Braverman on Aish.com, with an article entitled: A Radical Parenting Theory. Quotes are in italics.

Discussing lactivism, the editor wrote, “But there is a line, at least in my mind, between supporting the nursing mother and insisting that you know the best thing for her family. Breastfeeding, like so much else, is just one part of what makes up a mother/child relationship. And we at Brain, Child have faith that mothers can make the best decisions for themselves and their children.”

What is so radical about the view that we should let parents make their own decisions regarding their children? Lactivism is not about judging parents. It is about ensuring that they get accurate information to counter the marketing and “education” that so many parents and medical professionals are subjected to from formula companies. Instead of seeing breastfeeding and formula as a simple choice (something formula companies have worked hard to promote), lactivists work to make breastfeeding the normal, default option.

While the Torah mandates that we teach our children certain appropriate behaviors and values, Jewish wisdom is silent on whether you should use the Ferber method of gradually reducing the time it takes for your child to cry himself to sleep or whether you should pick her [sic] your child whenever he cries. It doesn’t prescribe feeding on demand or on a fixed schedule. And the Torah doesn’t comment on the complexity of factors that affect a mother’s decision whether to breastfeed or not.

Well, the fact that (according to Braverman) the Torah doesn’t mandate “certain appropriate behavior and values” hasn’t prevented her from giving her parenting advice on the Aish website for years and years (not that I have disagreed with all of it). And the Torah does support breastfeeding; just check the comment section of the article for lots of sources.

For the record, demand feeding and the benefits of breastfeeding are not at all controversial. Demand feeding, now more accurately referred to as “cue feeding,” has been proven beyond doubt to be the best way to ensure a good milk supply. The inferiority of formula has been proven in countless studies. Braverman doesn’t do anyone a favor by acting as if these are debating points in the “Mommy wars.” Unfortunately, Ferberizing is still practiced and supported, even though Ferber has modified his views on the matter to the point of allowing that there is nothing wrong with the family bed (where parents sleep with their children, often through the preschool years).

It’s ironic that a society that preaches “live and let live” when it comes to a range of controversial behaviors, is outraged if a mother refuses to breastfeed. Is she not entitled to be treated with tolerance? Should she be forced to explain her very private decision to the lactation police, to complete strangers?

What the heck is she talking about? She should try going to a mall sometime and breastfeeding in public. Society is much more tolerant of bottlefeeding. Emuna, there are no lactation police. Formula has money behind it and breastfeeding has only mothers, volunteers like me, who adored breastfeeding their babies so much, and learned all about motherhood by breastfeeding, that they don’t want women to abandon it because of erroneous information, unhelpful advice, or lack of support.

And even if one discounts Chaza”l on parenting (and I don’t understand how anyone writing on Aish could do that, despite sources not always being clear-cut), breastfeeding and parenting are issues for the Jewish community. Breastfeeding mothers are less likely to have closely spaced children, making it more likely that the family will have the economic and emotional resources to raise each one properly. Not to mention the unnecessary expense of formula. Breastfeeding mothers are more likely to be in tune with their babies (not always, don’t shoot me!). Children whose cries are responded to quickly, night and day, are more likely to become caring and self-confident adults.

A word about guilt, because that is always brought up as a reason for not promoting breastfeeding too much: I think young parents have it very rough. I know I did. I didn’t succeed in nursing my oldest as long as I wanted. Actually, I feel bad about a lot of choices I have made for my children at various times. But like most parents, I did the best that I could with the resources I had available at the time. I believe that we as a community need to make sure that young (and not so young) parents have access to the resources to deal with whatever issues they are facing. In the case of breastfeeding, that means accurate information and support for their choice. And the freedom to choose bottlefeeding, if they wish. No one should feel guilty for doing the best they could.

None of us is perfect. Yet how a child is raised does matter. We should care when Jewish children are left screaming to sleep at night because their parents are overwhelmed and can’t cope. We should care when a rabbi tells a mother she shouldn’t nurse her 9-month-old more than once a day and he hopes to see her with a new baby in a year’s time. Caring doesn’t mean judging parents or criticizing their choices. It means listening to their concerns, helping them out as a community when they have a new baby, pointing them to organizations that support young families, and simply giving them a call to see how they are doing and if they need practical help. We are talking about the future of the Jewish community. We need to do everything we can to ensure that young families get the help and information they need to raise their children in a warm, loving family.

Wishing everyone and your children a safe night, wherever you are.

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Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    I am so glad you addressed this article! It has been bothering me since I read it, and you responded with eloquence and grace. Thank you from another volunteering breastfeeding mom!

  2. SephardiLady says:

    Great review of the article. I am personally glad that I had friends and doctors who took the time to educate me a bit about breastfeeding. Fortunately, here in the US, there have been great strides for nursing and there are lactation consultants in the hospital and oftentimes even in pediatric practices.

    There is nothing wrong with EDUCATION. And, I have yet to meet the lactation police, just those who educate others. Those of us who grew up with the bottle (I’m including myself here) often lack information and support and I think we should all be grateful it is there.

    Are you really a better parent if you make your own baby food?

    As for this comment. . . here too, the babyfood industry has convinced many mothers that they NEED pre-jarred food (which my kid wouldn’t touch). EDUCATION doesn’t hurt at all and I doubt anyone thinks so and so is a better mother because she makes her own baby food. . . but, it is good to know that you can make perfectly healthy food for much, much less EXPENSE (an Orthonomic note!) and you do not need Gerber or Beechnut.

    So, in sum, I’m happy that Gerber and Beechnut exist. But, I’m happy that my pediatrian has let me know that I can make all sorts of great foods for my babies and that I don’t need these companies. Information is power, and I’d rather not break the bank over a lack of information. But, I’m happy that those who enjoy the convience of jarred baby food, have access to it.

  3. mother in israel says:

    Anon, thank you for the kind words and keep up the good work!

    Thanks SL for stopping by! I also never bought baby food after my first. I didn’t even make it, unless you count mashing a banana for a week or two. After that it was finger food all the way. . . Jarred baby food, like formula, is marketed to babies much older–and younger — than those that actually need their solid food mashed, or need it at all. I’m actually not glad that those companies exist. Marketing of early solids interferes with breastfeeding. Formula doesn’t need to be advertised or marketed, but it is a necessity for babies for 6-12 months who are not breastfeeding. You can’t say that about jarred baby foods.

    Actually, I believe the bf rates in Israel are much higher than in the US, and according to the most recent study, they have risen sharply recently probably because of the Remedia scandal (babies died from vitamin-deficient formula). I think much of it depends on where you live.

  4. SephardiLady says:

    Our baby food was mashed foods, so I guess I never made baby food. We basically went straight from nursing to solid foods in small pieces.

    Marketing for babies is huge and information is crucial. I’ve been thinking about writing a post on such and I’m glad you brought the subject up.

  5. mother in israel says:

    SL, ome books advocate making gourmet baby food==basically imitating the jarred foods. For instance, freezing mashed food in ice-cube trays and taking out cubes as needed.

    Are you going to write about marketing of formula, or other baby products as well. Because formula marketing is in a class by itself. . .

  6. Anonymous says:

    I’m glad you wrote this piece and that Aish posted it though I wonder about the line about nursing helping to space children. Let’s say a mother “nurses clean” for 6 months, the average, and then becomes pregnant. I wouldn’t call children 15 months apart something to write home about in the spacing department!

    Gone are the times of the Gemara when women nursed for two years and did not become pregnant during those two years, thus ensuring at least 2 years and nine months between children.

    Many dedicated nursers do not experience a break of this kind, even without resorting to supplements and pacifiers.

  7. mother in israel says:

    Anon, thank you! I hadn’t realize that Aish posted the comment.

    You’re right that 15 months is “nothing to write home about,” but it’s still a lot better than 12 months. I just heard about a mother with premie twins, born at 32 weeks, who has an 11-month-old and a few more at home. Most American breastfeeding women beginning solids at 6 months experience 6-12 months of amenorrhea (lack of periods), but much longer is not at all uncommon, even today. Have you read, “Breastfeeding and Child Spacing,” by Sheila Kippley?

    I’ve been drafting a post explaining how breastfeeding infertility works. This is information that young couples do not usually get, and their doctors don’t really know either. I hope to get to it soon.

  8. SephardiLady says:

    I think I will write a brief post about how nearly everything “baby” (food, equipment, bathroom stool, etc) seems necessary and can even sell for far more than it is worth because it says “baby.”

    At least for me, shopping for the first baby was overwhelming. It became hard to distinguish need from want, necessary from unnecessary. The marketing is just overwhelming.

  9. Anonymous says:

    You said ” I think much of it depends on where you live”
    Totally!
    Where I used to live, we DID see ‘BF Police’ Usually Earth-Mama types (if anyone reading this is an E-M, no offense meant)who would glare at the offender, and then go over to the poor mother/father bottle-feeding the child,berating the. Ocassionally BFP members would be seen actually speaking politely.

    BF really needs to be a personal decision BASED ON EDUCATION!

  10. mother in israel says:

    Anon, that is very unfortunate!! Those “EMs” you describe need to learn that it’s not only what you say but how you say it. “Berating” people gives breastfeeding a bad name. Mothers don’t need to be attacked for their choice. The mother in the store may already be in a lot of pain over the fact that she did not succeed at bf. Unfortunately there are enough women who want to breastfeed and run into difficulties; breastfeeding advocates should focus on helping them.

  11. mother in israel says:

    And anon, I want to add that when I think of the “lactation police” referred to in the article, I think of the government or other authorities preventing women from bottlefeeding, not a few obnoxious women. I don’t think there is any danger of that happening. Why, 42 states found it necessary to pass laws allowing women even to breastfeed in public! There’s no law like that in Israel because breastfeeding is considered more normal here. Or because Israelis are less prudish.

    Recently the NY Times had an article mentioning a proposal that formula packages contain a warning label similar to that on cigarettes. Even if that became a reality I think it is a far cry from society being “up in arms” about a woman choosing bottlefeeding. I think that article may be what Braverman was referring to.

  12. Actually I am sort of surprised that the article made no reference to the varying sources in Hazal that say to breastfeed. The Ben Ish Hai gives it over as halakha that a woman should try to breast feed for 24months…

    So it would seem that her assertion that there is absolutely no Torah mandate is not quite accurate. I know these halakhot are based on rarely learned parts of the Sh”A…(sources upon request), but still if you are site like Aish, I guess I expect some knowledge of those sources and thus at least an attempt at a redress if one disagrees with them, or follows a posek which disagrees with them.

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