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Archive for April 20th, 2009

Breastfeeding: the good, the bad and the ugly

Posted by dlandgren on 2009-04-20

No, nothing to do with Mme Marceau today.

I just watched a 4-video interview from The Atlantic on the question of breastfeeding, where 4 women discuss their experiences in breastfeeding and what it all meant. I found it really bizarre. But then again I find modern America profoundly bizarre. I forget that the richest, most powerful country on earth can’t get its act together sufficiently to offer a woman a year off work to introduce her child to the world.

They discuss the pros and cons of breast versus bottle, which seem to boil down to what’s in it for the child, and the mother. (well duh!)

I have difficulty coming to terms with the mindset that makes people care to hypothesise over whether there is a tangible, measurable clinical health benefit that may accrue to a breastfed infant and then complain about the difficulty of drawing reliable inferences from the available statistics. Different social classes make different choices about breastfeeding (well duh! redux). And it messes up the stats! It’s hard! Not fair!

Nor should it be a problem that women could be engaging in some narcissistic feel-good behaviour at the same time. Those sneaky women! They’ve just gone through nine months of all sorts of ups and downs, and you would begrudge them that? If they draw some physical or psychological pleasure from the act, well, think of the savings in medication!

And people give you filthy looks when you say you don’t breastfeed. That’s okay, people give you filthy looks for all sorts of things. It’s in our nature. Whatever gets your child fed is fine by me.

But what really got on my wick was the futility of the exercise. Because the whole issue is moot! How long has the choice been available? By a rough calculation (based on consulting a couple of Wikipedia pages), formula in the present form only kicked off after the World War II, when complex industrial society really took off. Breastfeeding has been around for, hmmm, 300 000 000 years. So, here’s a question: which one will go away first? And even if I’m wrong in those numbers by an error of four orders of magnitude, evolution is still looking pretty good. (Sidelink: an article on how mammary glands may have evolved).

The question, if a bald, clinical question is to be posed, is:

On the one side we have an assembly line requiring formula foodstock, water, electricity and a bunch of specialist technicians to keep the thing tuned. And a largely petroleum-based delivery mechanism to bring it to you. On the other side, we have a woman, who is just hungry. And an infant.

When does it become more energetically interesting to just get some food to the mother, and let her produce the milk? When does the costs-benefits analysis go positive? I think that the fact that we can do without formula means that at some point in the foreseeable future, we probably will. So if in the meantime, formula does it for you and the water’s pure, go for it, end of story.

It’s another one of these things that we will just continue to do until we can’t, and then we won’t.

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