Another Reason to Breastfeed … Or is It Just More Propaganda?

When you hear the phrase “a woman’s right to choose,” there’s generally a quick synapse pop to the word “abortion.” However, I feel that the push to force women to breastfeed gives new meaning to the idea of choice … and it’s a meaning that does not reflect well on the medical profession.

Anyway, there’s a new study out that gives yet another enticing reason to breastfeed—it evidently lowers the risk of developing Type II Diabetes (the one that’s linked to obesity) later in life.

From Bloomberg Businessweek:

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh studied more than 2,200 women aged 40 to 78. They found that 27 percent of mothers who didn’t breast-feed developed type 2 diabetes, almost double the rate among women who breast-fed or never gave birth.

The researchers say the differences between the groups held up even after they adjusted the statistics for factors such as age, race, levels of physical activity and body-mass index.

“Diet and exercise are widely known to impact the risk of type 2 diabetes, but few people realize that breast-feeding also reduces mothers’ risk of developing the disease later in life by decreasing maternal belly fat,” said Dr. Eleanor Bimla Schwarz, an assistant professor of medicine, epidemiology, and obstetrics, gynecology …

… and reproductive sciences at the University of Pittsburgh, in a news release from the university.

I’m caught up on the phrase “later in life.”  How many young women are thinking in terms of what their life’s going to hold when they’re forty or fifty?

I started smoking when I was eighteen.  I knew it had health risks “somewhere down the road”; my grandmother died of emphysema, my grandfather of lung cancer, and I knew this intellectually, yet I just could not reconcile my own smoking with those very real, very specific, and very personal examples.  I never had any sort of epiphany about the potential harm my Marlboros were doing to my body … I quit when I found out I was pregnant with my now six-year-old because a life growing inside of me was a compelling reason.

How many teenagers or twentysomethings think about things like monitoring calcium intake to lower the risk of osteoporosis when you’re old?

Not having unprotected sex because STIs can have lifelong (and lifespan shortening) effects? Limiting alcohol intake because it can cause liver damage if used in excess for long periods of time? No, they go into Scarlett O’Hara mode and think of old age as something they’ll worry about another day.

So pardon me if I think this study, co-funded by the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and the National Institute of Child Health and Development, is singing a very familiar song in terms of being aware of the effects of what you do on your lifelong health.

Does breastfeeding lower the risk of developing Type II Diabetes “later in life”? Yeah, probably. Who the hell am I to argue with an assistant professor of medicine, epidemiology, and obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences? Anyway, I lost significant weight following the births of both of my daughters, so sure, there’s probably something to this.

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this on ZL before, but my mother is a pediatric nurse practitioner. She’s my go-to girl on anything medical, and we had a really interesting discussion about this study. We came to the dubious—and rather cynical—conclusion that reports like this are fuel to the fire in terms of women feeling shamed into breastfeeding.

Is breast milk best for babies? Absolutely. I am not (and will never) argue against that. I breastfed both of my daughters, and I’m very glad that I did—although I was seventeen when my first princess was born and got frustrated by the inconvenience at times (motherhood does not equal maturity) and had to literally pump while driving an hour and a half to work with my second. It was important to me, and I chose to miss out on some parties (and probably gave some truck drivers cheap thrills) because I made the decision to breastfeed.

Let me tell you a story about “Mary,” a white collar professional woman in the medical field who gave birth a year or so ago to a sweet and special little boy. Mary had a lot of experience with children but almost none with newborns, and her work had forced her to be far away from her family. As a medical professional, Mary was of course going to breastfeed—after all, it was best for the baby.

But when the baby came, Mary couldn’t breastfeed. She was unable to relax, and the more pressure she put on herself (and the more pressure her doctors and lactation consultants and the baby’s pediatrician heaped onto her), the more impossible it became. Mary’s baby lost weight, cried all the time because he was hungry, and looked like skin and bones in pictures.

When she started to consider formula, you’d think she was contemplating having the baby castrated without anesthetic or something. She felt horrible about herself, guilty at not being able to give sustenance to her child, and completely miserable about motherhood. I know this because I spent a lot of time on the phone with her. It was horrible.

But she prevailed, and pretty soon Mary’s baby was a chubby little guy affectionately referred to as “Jabba the Hutt” with a constant smile on his face (and moobs). There was a smile on Mary’s face, too, and the bonding that the breastfeeding debacle had kept at bay happened and was completely magical. That baby is healthy and extremely smart—his one-year-old vocabulary includes words such as “turtle” and “Hey, Cutie.”

I share that with you because breastfeeding is the ideal—but sometimes it just doesn’t work out. And that should be okay, too.  And so studies like this, studies obviously spun to give credence to the breastfeeding police, rub me the wrong way.

Until every action we take is scrutinized in terms of its impact on our future, I see this as just more propaganda to medically “prove” the benefits of nursing your baby … and that is taking away a great deal of choice in terms of a woman’s rights to her own body.

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19 thoughts on “Another Reason to Breastfeed … Or is It Just More Propaganda?

  1. I have a friend who tried desperately to breastfeed and couldn’t. When she finally broke down and fed the baby formula she sat in the bedroom reading the ingredients label, crying, while her husband fed the baby. It was very painful.
    My own sister just flatly refused to breastfeed her own kids and she has received no animosity from me on the subject. What I’m saying is that I’m not one of those “you’re killing your baby slowly unless you breastfeed” kind of breastfeeding proponents.

    So I feel comfortable saying that was possibly the stupidest spin I’ve ever seen on a medical study. Are you suggesting that medical studies that show a link between breastfeeding and good health should ignored or unpublished? Because they might upset women who can’t or won’t breastfeed? Or should they just stop doing studies? What are you even saying? I’m really confused by your objections to this medical study.

    And just because you couldn’t reconcile youth with the thought of someday growing old doesn’t mean there aren’t smart young women out there who pay attention to these things and try to live in a healthy way now to benefit their futures.
    Hell, I’ve seen stupid young women start using sunscreen and eye cream at 20 to avoid wrinkles when they’re 40…

  2. I never automatically trust scientific studies. Lately, there has been this enormous push to breast feed. While I fully support breast feeding in general, I think there is far too much pressure on new mothers. Lately, in the San Antonio area, they’ve been running advertisements on the radio and on billboards touting breast feeding as the perfect way to get back to your pre-baby body and fast. Sure, that sounds great. But what a way to feed into a new mother’s insecurities. Why not just say, “You fat slob, don’t be so lazy. You can feed your baby AND lose some of that fat you gained.” My sister-in-law went through hell after her first child. An intelligent, self-sufficient lawyer was reduced to a sobbing mess because her doctor and the nurses at the hospital told her water was poison and if she gave the baby formula, he’d never take to the breast. EVER. Had my mother, a nurse, not arrived in time, my nephew would have gone into shock. He’d gone 48 hours with barely any liquids because she couldn’t get her breasts to produce milk, she was afraid of giving him formula, and water was “poison.” It was insane. New mothers, no matter how smart, are vulnerable and insecure. They trust their doctors and their nurses, and these people prey on them, and I don’t understand why. Yes, breast is best, but some women just can’t do it. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

    • The lack of breastfeeding education and awareness is crippling many American women from even making an informed decsion to breastfeed or not.

      To MonBon specifically, I have family in San Antonio, and there are billboards up to promote breastfeeding because many of the young hispanic women there are 2nd or 3rd generation formula feeders. Among that same population, obesity and diabetes is pretty prevalent. Might breastfeeding not be a good idea for both mother and baby there, as well as elsewherre?

      And no, that baby would not have died after 2 days of no milk. It usually takes 3 days or a few more to get your milk in. In the meantime, colostrum is all the baby needs, as the belly is literally the size of a marble at first!! Again, lack of knowledge makes breastfeeding scary and seems un-attainable, or something only a wonder woman can do.

      My mother-in-law jokingly called me a cow when my son cried for me while she was holding him. “Here, go back to your cow baby boy”. And a while back she was very squeamish about me feeding my then- 14 month old daughter. She kept reminding me that my daughter could drink regular milk now, etc. She’s from San Antonio, and her attitude towards breastfeeding is much the societal norm there. So bravo for the billboards. The LLL needs to stage a coup there! Hahaha!

      As for this article, I agree with Alzaetia. And I happen to be breastfeeding a 6mo old right now. He just got his 2nd tooth in and he’s been biting me. But this too shall pass and with any luck we will make it to our 12 month milestone, and hopefully even 18 months or even 2 years! I did 18 months with my daughter because she was very unruly at that age. If anyone is having trouble breastfeeding, I will give you my email address and I may be able to help you out or point you in the right direction. We need support and understanding to help us increase our number and over-all health in the U.S. These articles are actually propaganda against breastfeeding. Please. There is enough of that to contend with already…

  3. Rocket fuel chemical found in 15 of the most popular brands of infant formula:



    If milk banks were more affordable or if wet nurses were still used today as they are in some European countries (no kidding), there would be less reason for children to be fed a bunch of chemicals- aka- formula. Instead, in the States, when it comes to formula, it’s either you do or you don’t breastfeed, when instead it should be something that happens when possible and that either a combination of formula/breast milk or another mother’s milk in general should be considered as an alternative to those moms who can’t produce enough milk for their babies.

    One problem with breast feeding today is that many moms report having difficulty (more than usual) trying to feed their child if they gave birth VIA C-section, and considering that up to 1/3 of mothers deliver in this manner, well that probably doesn’t help.

    Also, another problem with breast feeding is that our society doesn’t accept it. How many times have you heard that there’s been problems when a mom tried to bf her child in public?

    ….and one more point. We don’t have mandatory PAID maternity leave for moms and considering that many moms go back to work soon after delivering, how on earth are they expected to bf if they aren’t even around their child? Breast pumps are great and all, but they only help to a certain point.

  4. There is a lot of societal pressure on women, either way. I felt it as a new mother trying to breast feed. My 9.9 lb baby was HUNGRY, and I hadn’t slept in three days. Luckily I had a good lactation consultant that helped me. She explained that we feel so much pressure to get things right the first time. Nursing is a skill that has to be learned by mom and baby. It takes time. Once I got over feeling stupid for not getting it perfect right away, it came naturally.

    • I’m afraid I would have trouble with breastfeeding based on the fact that I get super stressed out without even realizing it. I think it would be very intimidating; I just wish there was more support for women who breastfeed, because it clearly doesn’t just happen by magic.

  5. Btw, scientifically, it does make sense that allowing the body to function as intended cuts down on hormone/endocrinology issues later in life. I realize that isn’t always an option, though. My friend had a baby a couple months ago, and she got so stressed out about trying to figure out nursing that her milk dried up. It’s hard, especially when most of us weren’t raised around women that openly breastfed. We have to go back to work after only a month and a half, right when moms and babies are really getting into the swing of nursing.

  6. I feel like I need to clarify since I evidently didn’t make my point very well in this post. I think that breastfeeding is without a doubt the ideal … but it just doesn’t work for everyone. As someone who’s had a lot of people close to me feel like utter failures as a result of not being able to breastfeed, I find the scientific studies that “support” breastfeeding to just add to the stress and pressure that so many women already experience.

    I do not doubt the veracity of the scientific study … my intended issue here is that studies like these just make what is a horrible experience even worse for mothers that struggle with breastfeeding.

    “It’s not enough that my baby’s going to be dumb and miss out on immunities and have to take in a foreign substance … no, now I have to worry about freaking Type II diabetes, too????”

    Does that make what I was trying to say any clearer? (*fingers crossed*)

      • Yeah, I don’t really see your point. You were quite clear — that breastfeeding is best — but the link between pressure on women to breastfeed and scientific studies is brought up tenuously at best. Also… is pressuring women to breastfeed neccessarily bad? Like pressuring kids to eat healthy, or people to drink responsibly?

  7. I wonder if history will repeat itself on this. I had my kids in the late 70′s and I was the “weird” one for breastfeeding. Now it seems to be the other way around. I just wish that all new mothers would relax and not adhere to the pressures that are being put upon them by all of the outside sources. Education needs to be given in both instances and the mother needs to make the best decision that she can based on her circumstances.

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  10. I know what you mean about nursing in pulbic after a certain age. I stopped nursing in pulbic after my first daughter turned two. My Grandma was appalled but I still felt I could justify it up unitl then. After that my daughter also understood better that nursing was something we did in private. I just couldn’t teach her that before then. And when she wanted milk she was relentless!@Hope Hm. Since you used the sling for babywearing more than a purchase for the purpose of covering up, I would say that the sling is not neceassarily a cover. And clothes can naturally be used to be discreet but a cover is an extra accessory you buy for the specific purpose of screening the act of breastfeeding. As for the scarf it sounds as though you seldom use them which means you’re in the uncovered category too.Note to all: If you aren’t sure how to answer look within yourself to the type of person you are. Are you shy or a confident don’t care who sees me kinda woman? Just answer to the best of your ability. I don’t plan on using this for my Master’s thesis or anything. Lol.Melodie’s last blog post..

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