Breastfeeding babies (and older children) is a wonderful option for mothers and families who can do it. The baby gets to eat something specially made for them while the mother forges a special bond with their child (SORRY, DAD). There's even endorphins! But here's the thing: not everyone can do it. Which makes this Daily News op-ed from noted pediatrician Dr. Harvey Karp particularly infuriating.
Karp praises Mayor Bloomberg and his administration have an initiative for hospitals to encourage new mothers to breastfeed called Latch on NYC. Hospitals are even locking formula away to push women to breastfeed!
Dr. Karp rightly points out the wonderful properties of breast milk—after all, it's what women's bodies produce to nourish their babies:
While all formula is the same — from first gulp to last — breast milk changes its character: watery to quench thirst at the beginning of a feed and fatty and rich at the end of a feed to promote sleep" plus there's "perfect balance of nutrients (including scores of sophisticated immune boosters.)
However, the doctor fails to note that some mothers can have trouble with breastfeeding—ranging from issues with babies latching on to infections from cracked (yes, cracked!) and bleeding (yes, bleeding!) nipples—P.S., it can also be difficult to find compound pharmacists who will make the ointment for your messed up nipples. Oh, and there can be low milk supply, too. Add to that the potential of post-partum depression, it's an overwhelming mix for a new mother.
Karp also asserts that:
This milk is not only best for babies; it’s also best for families. It is convenient, inexpensive and boosts a mother’s health by reducing postpartum bleeding; promoting weight loss (the calories a mom gives her baby in milk each day is equivalent to her running about four miles); and by reducing the risk of many serious health issues later in life (including osteoporosis, arthritis, breast cancer, ovarian cancer and type 2 diabetes).
Okay, it's "inexpensive" if the mother has maternity leave and can afford to be away from her work (fuck you, America). If a working mother can afford a breast pump, which can be ridiculously slow if you're pumping your own milk (it's more expensive to rent a commercial grade machine), that's great—but then that mom needs a place at work to pump and store her milk (there are laws!) and then she needs to figure out how to get that milk home. But it's not inexpensive when a mother who is having trouble breastfeeding is suddenly paying $175 for a lactation consultant to instruct her in how to get her baby to latch on.
The weight loss-while-breastfeeding might be true but it also also be a myth—everyone's bodies are different (see these comments!)—so it's insulting for Karp to dangle that as a reason for women to breastfeed.
Another issue: When the baby is a newborn, that kid is waking up in the middle of the night A LOT. So who gets to feed her? The person with the boobs. Formula is imperfect, but in the face of having a sleep-deprived mother or a mother who feels awful that she can't breastfeed her child without experiencing intense pain, it's hardly evil.
In the press release for Latch On, NY State Health Commissioner Nirav Shah says, "Mothers who choose to breastfeed their baby are making a healthy choice for their child and themselves," and NYC Health Commissioner Thomas Farley says, "With this initiative the New York City health community is joining together to support mothers who choose to breastfeed." But what about the mothers who want to breastfeed their baby but can't? That's the trouble with the campaign: Is this going to make new mothers, already dealing with the new stress of being a parent, feel worse if they can't adequately feed their babies? Is New York not going to support them?
Bottom line: breastfeeding is awesome for mothers who are physically and emotionally equipped for it. But, NYC, please don't shit on mothers who can't.
Disclosure: The author has firsthand experience with breastfeeding. If she has a second child, she will breastfeed again.