Sunday, April 3, 2011

Breastfeeding a No No in Some Places?

So I read two articles recently that set my teeth on edge. Not because the articles were bad just the subject matter of the articles. These two articles can be found here and here. Basically the articles talked about groups of people who are so beyond against breastfeeding that it is seen as wrong, and beyond revolting. They see it as akin to becoming an animal and in some cases even view it as child abuse. The two cultures that perpetuate this view are France and Australia. 
The Australian views are not as strongly minded or worded as the French ones but still not pro breastfeeding by any stretch. They think that BF past 12 months is insane and that it is only done for comfort and unnecessary for the heath of the child. 
The French views though are just outright disturbing. They actively tell mothers that their breast are not for their child but for their husband and that they need to remember that. They tell them in the hospital that they should not breastfeed for fear they will lose their sexuality as women and become like a cow or beast of burden. A leading bestselling book in France, The Conflict: The Woman and the Mother, warns that breastfeeding is a trojan horse rolling back the gains of the women's movement and shackling women to "despotic, gluttonous babies who devour their mothers". The article also speaks of the philosopher Elisabeth Badinter who "argues that women must beat back their babies with bottles of formula milk and rigid feeding regimes if they are to retain their independence and their sex lives." and that the La Leche League is "the most powerful and nefarious lobby on earth, a coven of Catholic fundamentalists bent on using the World Health Organisation to turn back the clock to an unscientific patriarchal "naturalism"." This quote blew my mind.
The idea that two entire nations can overall have such a backward view on breastfeeding scares me a little. Then I remember than from the 1920's until about the 1990's it was commonplace in the United States for doctors to tell pregnant women that only farmers wives and poor housewives breastfed and that if they were smart and wanted the best for their children they would use formula. Which by the way even today formula does not compare to breastmilk but certainly it did not 50 years ago. Then again 50 years ago an invention by child psychologist Skinner encouraged parents to let their children live the first two year of their life in what was essentially a rabbit cage, the "Air Crib". It was a crib with a place for waste to fall and the baby was left to be naked and free and diaper-less.
What I am saying is that we have come a long way. Research today supports breastfeeding as the best option for your baby. It boosts immunity, drastically reduces both your and your babies chances of cancer, allows for chemical and emotional bonding, deters postpartum depression, boosts metabolism for both you and baby... the list goes on.
The first article the one on France's views on breastfeeding is the story of one man and his wife's struggle to breastfeed in a culture that abhors it. I found his words so touching. He had this to say about his own experiences with being French and wanting his partner to breastfeed their baby. 
"Frankly, as my partner and I discovered, getting a mother out of a French maternity ward while she is still breastfeeding is something of a miracle. We were repeatedly told that we would never get our premature child home unless we gave it a bottle. Everyone agreed breast milk was best – in theory – but the hospital (one of the most advanced in the country) preferred if the mothers pumped their milk so it could be given to the babies by a gastric tube or by bottle, usually pasteurizedWe gently resisted the offers of free formula (and the four baby milk posters in our room) and our daughter became known as le bébé au sein(the breastfed baby), such a freak of nature that France Télévisions wanted to make a documentary about how I carried her skin-to-skin, a standard practice for premature children for decades elsewhere. A psychologist, a diehard Freudian (as the law dictates all should be in France), later suggested that my partner breastfed because she was getting a sexual kick out of it. Most of our friends who do manage to breastfeed hit a wall at between four and nine weeks when their doctors tell them they don't have enough milk, and they must pass to the l'étape biberon (the bottle stage). This peculiarly French phenomenon may have something to do with the fact that women are beginning to think about going back to work at that point, maternity leave being on average less than half of what it is in the UK. A paediatrician as good as confirmed this to me, claiming that he was doing women a favour by allowing them to rediscover their vie de femme. It is possible to work and breastfeed in France, although the only woman we know who dares to bring a pump to the office is a human rights lawyer who spends her days putting the fear of God into central Asian dictators and Algerian generals. Which is where fathers come in. Within days of my daughter's birth, doctors, nurses and friends were reminding me of my primary duty as apère de famille – to couper le cordon, to cut the cord, and save my partner from turning into a mama-vacheune bovineune tétine géante(a giant dummy), as one put it. She will get her perinea retrained to return her to peak sexual performance – a wonderful French tradition that is actually about preventing incontinence, and which the NHS would do well to copy – and my job was to make sure the baby did not get in the way of her vie de femme. In that, I am afraid, I have mostly failed as a French father. My daughter is, at 17 months, still a boob baby and we all sleep in the same bed. But that is our little secret, OK? I don't want those documentary makers knocking on the door again, this time for one of the regular reports on weirdos who still allow a sneaky suckle at two or even three years of age! That, as one radio presenter said, is quite possibly sexual abuse."
I am beyond words just reading that. I applaud this couple and there efforts. I for one was proud to be a cow and I would do it again and again. I pity these women who are scorned for wanting the best for their babies in a society where sex is the number 1 priority but the outcome of sex is the lowest priority. As for Australia.. they seem to be making some changes but it seems a slow turn around. Here in America though we are not off the hook. This country also has some backwards views on BF when a national figure like Rachael Ray can bash it on television.

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