2 Researchers Challenge Breastfeeding Campaign
Say Moms Who Choose Bottle-Feeding Made to Feel Inadequate
July 6, 2005 -- Campaigns that encourage women to breastfeed may be doing more harm than good by stigmatizing moms who choose not to breastfeed, two researchers from the U.K. claim.
In an interview with WebMD, one of the researchers charged that the "breast is best" campaigns have turned a debate about nutrition into a "politicized moral crusade." He says women often feel pressured to breastfeed and are made to feel inadequate if they can't or won't.
He further criticized those he calls "breastfeeding zealots" for refusing to present both sides of the issue.
"We need a more grown-up debate about breastfeeding," says sociologist and author Frank Furedi of the University of Kent. "What is needed is a proper discussion that isn't centered on whether breast versus bottle-feeding is morally good or bad."
Breastfeeding proponent Ruth Lawrence, MD, couldn't disagree more strongly with Furedi's claim that women who don't breastfeed are made to feel like second-class mothers. She says her own research on the subject shows just the opposite.
Lawrence tells WebMD that the breastfeeding campaigns she helped write simply highlight the many benefits of breastfeeding.
Lawrence is director of the Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Study Center at the University of Rochester Medical Center, and she is on the breastfeeding committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The AAP recommends that women breastfeed exclusively for six months, and continue breastfeeding for at least a year.
"What we are doing is giving mothers the facts so that they can make their own informed decisions," she says. "For years the formula companies put out the message that bottle-feeding was just as good as breast. Now their goal is to discredit the campaigns that aim to educate women about the benefits of breastfeeding."
Attitudes Toward Breastfeeding
She says Furedi's research, which was funded by a group of formula manufacturers in the U.K., is just the latest effort in the pursuit of this goal.
Furedi is a sociologist who is known for tackling a wide range of provocative societal issues. His 2002 book Paranoid Parenting urges parents to trust their own instincts rather than defer to the "experts." Furedi's 2003 book Therapy Culture challenges the value of psychotherapy as it is practiced in today's society.
Along with University of Kent colleague Ellie Lee, PhD, Furedi surveyed roughly 500 new moms about their attitudes toward breastfeeding. A total of 63% responded that a woman should breastfeed if possible, but roughly the same number stated that supplementing breastfeedings with formula feedings was necessary on occasion.
Less than a third (29%) of the women who intended to breastfeed exclusively were doing so by the time their baby was 6 months old.
Of the women who fed their babies formula during this time, 32% expressed a sense of failure about not breastfeeding, 48% said they were not certain they were doing the right thing, and 23% were worried about what their health care provider would say.