Now, I know that this is a prolife blog and breastfeeding isn’t technically prolife material. But hey, unborn babies eventually need to be fed. The link may be tenuous but here I go.
Like everything childbirth, those who have had the great privilege of (a) giving birth, and (b) deciding how to feed their infant, know that there is no easier way to be shot at than to unravel the breast vs bottle issue. (Well, actually, prolife blogging is a pretty sure-fire way of being called names–I would link to some of them but it seems that most pro-abortion bloggers cannot criticize without a generous helping of profanities, at least those who link to us.) But back to breastfeeding. McGill researchers have just published a study linking breastfeeding to higher intelligence. Read the news release here.
Now, for the disclaimer: I have 5 children, all of them were breastfed to a certain extent. 3 of them had their first bottle by their 3rd week, one of them was supplemented with formula from birth. Some of them were weaned the hard way, some of them weaned on their own. I’ve had about every breastfeeding joy and tribulation found in books and even some not found in books. And, dare I say it, all my children are brilliant AND cute as buttons. I honestly don’t care how you fed your baby nor for how long you breastfed. I only care that you fed your baby and if not, that child welfare authorities have been notified. Okay?
Back to McGill researchers. What I find interesting is that breastfeeding has been linked to higher intelligence. Given that breastfeeding is how human babies should be fed in the big scheme of things, shouldn’t we say that breastfeeding is linked to normal intelligence and artificial feeding linked to lower intelligence? On that topic, I found this article very interesting. Warning: do not follow the link if you don’t want to be challenged on breast vs. artificial feeding or if you can’t stand a white font against light blue background.
Andrea compliments Véronique on her amazing knack for putting together a line of almost non-sequiturs and keeping me interested and laughing in the process. And I don’t even have children to feed. But I won’t read the link because of the light blue background–and their choice of font. Terrible.
Rebecca’s theory on breastfeeding and IQ: the intelligence flows straight out of the maternal brain, out the mammaries, and into the baby.
Patricia adds: Hear, hear, Rebecca.
I have nursed to some degree or another all five of my kids, in most cases up to about 13 months. (All of my kids seemed to have lost interest at about that stage.) Each time, the first three months have been a grueling ordeal with pain rivalling childbirth and a host of attendant complications most of which are too gruesome to relate. Over the years, I have had help from professionals, La Leche, my breastfeeding friends, etc., so mine is not a case of being uninformed or unsupported. And, finally, every time, I have wondered why I insist upon putting myself, my husband, my other kids and my baby through the process, and I’m still not 100% sure that I did any of us any favours.
I’m read the press release from the McGill study and, while I’m no expert, I was not convinced that their “control” eliminated all the biases in favour of a certain type of mother. According to the press release, the study was “randomized by taking half of the mothers and subjecting them to “an intervention that encouraged prolonged and exclusive breastfeeding” while the other half of mothers continued with their usual maternity hospital and outpatient pediatric care and follow-up. Well, what type of mother do you think was most persuaded by the intervention in support of breastfeeding? I suspect it was mothers who accept that “what is best for their child” is what is recommended by a certain kind of expert, who relies more on those experts than the experience of her mother, who has the time and support to give to the breastfeeding process, who can persist when it doesn’t go well initially, who takes advantage of lactation consultants, etc. And I wonder how often this type of mother has a certain kind of intelligence and a certain determination to interact and stimulate her child that results in that child, at age 6.5, to do well in certain measures of intelligence.
There are all kinds of reasons to breastfeed – my personal favourite is that it’s cheap. (You might think it’s free, but I have such a voracious appetite when I’m breastfeeding that I’m sure there is an added grocery cost.) When it works, it’s lovely and convenient. But then, so is snuggling up to give your baby a nice, peaceful bottle, especially if it provides you with a break from stomach-churning pain. Let’s face it, infant formula has been around for a long time and was developed for a reason.
What I think really bothers me about the “breast is best” argument is that, for many, many women, it seems to set such a high standard of motherhood so as to make it unattainable, impractical, or something that they may undertake once, under the right conditions, but not something that they would want to have part of their lives on an ongoing basis. I’m sure that any woman who saw me weeping and literally gnashing my teeth as I struggled to overcome the pain involved with getting my infant to eat would think “thanks but no thanks” to whole process. To me, the whole argument has an association with a view of childrearing that says “we must have to best at all costs for our little prince/princess” from breast feeding at any price to the dupioni silk baby carrier (I saw one the other day when I was trying to buy a bib for my youngest). And if you can’t provide that, you’re really not trying hard enough to fulfill your child’s entitlement to the “best”. In some ways, that’s a very worthy standard, but it pretty much guarantees that having child will be seen as some extraordinary undertaking rather than part of everyday life.
And don’t even get me started on natural childbirth (which, incidentally, all of mine were, not by intention, believe me) or attachment parenting.
Tanya agrees: Oh, Patricia, thanks for bringing that up. Didn’t I just feel like the devil the first time I hopped my 2 week old baby up on formula. When you are pregnant, no one seems to mention that breastfeeding might actually be really, really hard.
Here’s a good gauge, now that I have valuable hindsight: If you want to crawl under a rock every single time your newborn cries of hunger, you’re not alone. Breast is not best if it makes mom lose her sanity.