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The breast-feeding story we should be talking about

May 11, 2012|By Alexandra Le Tellier
  • Women breastfeed their babies at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington during a "nurse-in."
Women breastfeed their babies at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington during… (Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty…)

Time magazine fanned the flame around the "attachment parenting" debate Thursday with its provocative cover of a young mom breast-feeding her almost 4-year-old-son. Imagine the controversy the cover would have sparked if she were feeding him vegan breast milk? Oy.

The New York Times broached this topic on Room For Debate last month, pitting former child actress and attachment parenting advocate Mayim Bialik against, well, working women. In Motherhood vs. Feminism, the moderator asked: “Has women's obsession with being the perfect mother destroyed feminism?” Bialik argues:

We care about what hormonal contraception does to your body and your brain. We research why doctors prescribe birth control to teenagers and adults who don't have a "regular" menstrual cycle. We object to routine inductions with pitocin and interventions during labor because of the risks to the mother and the baby. We believe that breast milk is biologically and nutritionally superior to anything formula manufacturers tell you is equal to it, and that sleeping next to your baby releases positive hormones that facilitate bonding. We have empowered ourselves and refuse to endure a male-centered obstetric history that has taken women’s bodies and molded them to their preferences for their convenience, their comfort and for their world view.

Now tell me how attachment parenting is inconsistent with feminism?

Heather McDonald, author, comedian, producer and mother of two, takes a different view of what it means to be a feminist. “Being a mother is part of who you are, but it should not be all of who you are,” she writes, arguing against sacrificing one's identity for one's children.

Is one type of feminist mother better than the other? Wait, don’t answer that. What’s most important is that we live in a day and age where women are fortunate to be in a position to make these types of decisions, rather than being born into a role they feel they must follow.

Stories concerning breast-feeding, of course, always stir the pot. Is it socially acceptable to breast-feed in public? Is it OK not to breast-feed your child? How long should a mother breast-feed? Will babies suffer if a mother’s breast milk doesn’t contain enough vitamin B12? Everyone, it seems, has a strong opinion.

But here’s a story we don’t often hear. Mothers who fall into a deep depression after they stop breast-feeding, otherwise known as weaning. Lifestyle blogger Joanna Goddard, who often writes about her beautiful little boy, recently shared her struggles in an intimate post. Her unexpected depression left her listless, unable to care for her baby in the manner she’d dreamed of.  “I had always wanted to be a mother. I always had baby fever. I always looked forward to having children,” she writes. “But now that I had a sweet, curious, beautiful baby, I suddenly couldn't handle motherhood. I felt exhausted and inept.”

Eventually, she arrived at the root of her problem. And with her blog post, she called for awareness:

Even though there's a wealth of information about postpartum depression right after you have a baby, it was virtually impossible to find information about depression related to weaning. But now that I've spoken to other mothers who have experienced the exact same thing, with the exact same timing, I know that it's a real condition. I found a mention here, and a forum here. [Update: A lovely reader recommended reading this post, as well; thank you, Kathleen!] But otherwise, depression around weaning seems to be a real gap in medical research and awareness. (One psychiatrist, whom I called for an appointment, actually said to me, "Well, I guess anything’s possible.") I hope that people will become more aware of it, and more research and preventative measures will be developed.

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Breast-feeding a big kid on the cover of Time? Yawn

Follow Alexandra Le Tellier on Twitter @alexletellier. Follow Opinion L.A. on Twitter and Facebook.

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