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.
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.