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.