Hanna Rosin makes a strong case that doctors and others have wildly oversold the benefits of breastfeeding in “The Case Against Breast-Feeding” in the April issue of the Atlantic. Rosin reviewed the research on breastfeeding and found that “the medical literature looks nothing like the popular literature.” Good studies have found that nursing is “probably, maybe, a little better.” But it offers far from the cascade of benefits that guides such as William Sears’s The Breastfeeding Book say. And the modest advantages may not justify the cost to a mother’s independence, career and sanity.
So what accounts for “the magical thinking about breast-feeding”? Rosin quotes Joan Wolf, a professor at Texas A&M, who ascribes some of the overzealousness to a new ethic of “total motherhood” that pressures women to “optimize every dimension of children’s lives”:
“Choices are often presented as the mother’s selfish desires versus the baby’s needs. As an example, Wolf quotes What to Expect When You’re Expecting, from a section called the ‘Best-Odds Diet,’ which I remember quite well: ‘Every bite counts. You’ve got only nine months of meals and snacks to give your baby the best possible start in life … Before you close your mouth on a forkful of food, consider, ‘Is this the best bite I can give my baby?’ If it will benefit your baby, chew away. If it’ll only benefit your sweet tooth or appease your appetite, put your fork down. To which any self-respecting pregnant woman should respond: ‘I am carrying 35 extra pounds and my ankles have swelled to the size of a life raft, and now I would like to eat some coconut cream pie. So you know what you can do with this damn fork.’”