The case against The Case Against Breastfeeding

by DaniGirl on March 20, 2009 · 21 comments

in Working and mothering

I was absolutely tickled when Kate over at One Tired Ema asked me to bring my posse of lactating Canucks into the conversation about an article in this month’s Atlantic called “The Case Against Breast Feeding.” You can go read the Atlantic piece if you like, or you can skip on over to Kate’s place and read her excellent summary and reply, and some really interesting comments. Be warned, though — block off some time, because it took me the whole bus ride home yesterday and then a bit more time today to get through it all!

The gist of it is this: as Kate so concisely summarizes, it’s an article “in which a white, upper middle class, urban mom of three–and journalist!–takes on The Popular Establishment, which purports to tell you that nursing is actually better than formula feeding.” She (the author, Hanna Rosin, not Kate) basically refutes the idea that breast is best and says all the medical findings are questionable at best. The literature she reviewed by borrowing a friend’s password to an online medical library showed “breastfeeding is probably, maybe, a little better” but that the studies are largely inconsistent compared to the way they are presented in the popular literature.

She then goes on to opine that we as a society are placing way too much emphasis on the importance of breastfeeding, and that our breasts are in fact ruining whatever slim chance we had at equality in the workplace and even in the home. She literally “seethes” (her word) at the burden placed upon her shoulders as a mother to feed the baby, and says “the debate about breast-feeding takes place without any reference to its actual context in women’s lives.”

Okay, so that’s the Coles Notes version. IMHO, she’s no different than the French woman who wrote the book about how motherhood is a trap for women a couple of years ago — she’s using inflamatory language and a shockingly unpopular opinion to stir the pot and rile people up. Hey, more power to her. It’s hard for me to imagine a mother of three — who, FWIW, seems to have nursed all three to a year — could actually believe what she says she believes, but she also seems to have been generally resentful to the whole process of nursing and maybe even motherhood in general. She says she’s “often tapping [her] foot impatiently, waiting for him to finish.” I cringed when I read that. Poor baby.

Anyway, all of that has been done to death around the blogosphere — just do a search on “the case against breastfeeding” and Google practically oozes the vitriol of the nursing masses — but there is one nugget in here that really interests me, and Kate drew it out.

One of the points that Rosin makes is that the American Academy of Pediatrics officially recommended in 1997 that babies be exclusively breast-fed for the first six months, followed by six more months of partial nursing supplemented with the introduction of solid foods. And we know that in the US, most women get maternity leave in the range of three to 12 weeks. I’ve often commented that I simply can’t imagine how new mothers are coping with being back at work and having a newborn at home. I think this is about the only legitimate point I’d give Rosin: demanding that mothers of young babies be fully functional in a day job AND nurse a baby six or eight times a day AND do all the other things a mother is supposed to do really does set up some unrealistic and often unattainable expectations.

Of course, the answer is change the policies, not change the recommendation to breast-feed exclusively. But I’d like to do a straw poll here and ask: how has your maternity leave affected your ability to — or, desire to — breastfeed your baby? If you’ve been around a while, you know the early days of nursing were hell for me three times over. If I had to be back at work a month after Tristan was born, I’m not sure I would have had the wherewithal to keep nursing.

And there’s the other side of the coin, too. Kate asked me specifically if the year-long maternity leave has affected my career path and my feelings of “equality”. It’s a good question, but also brings out my main criticism of Rosin’s piece: so many factors are at play here, it’s hard to suss out one piece of the puzzle and say it’s the mitigating factor.

I’ve had three years of maternity leave in the past seven years. Because I’m blessed with a job that gives me a full top-up to my original salary from the base that employment insurance provides, we’ve taken no financial ‘hit’ because of my years off. (*says a silent prayer of gratitude*) I returned from my first maternity leave into a new job with my old employer. It was a job I’d been working toward for almost a decade, and I was thrilled to finally achieve it — and then I was back on mat leave within the year. Within six months of returning from my second mat leave, I won a promotion. When I was pregnant with Lucas, I was identified as a potential “high-flyer” in our agency, someone to be groomed for an eventual management position. I was actually supposed to come back from maternity leave into full-time French training so I could start down that road, but as you know I pulled myself off that path by taking a different position and dropping down to four days per week. I’m still with the same employer, just doing a slightly different job.

My maternity leaves don’t seem to have affected my employers’ (writ large) opinion of my capabilities and potential, and I’ve been moving progressively up the ladder. I make just about as much now at four days a week than I was making when I was pregnant with Tristan and working full time. I love my job most days and I work hard, but I’ve made no secret of the fact that my family comes first. I’ve pulled myself off the fast-track in search of balance, and it was one of the smarter decisions I’ve made where working and mothering intersect.

So, the answer is of course having children and taking time to raise them and having them be the primary focus in my life has affected my career path. If our time spent, in Kate’s gorgeous phrase, “tooling around in the Badlands of Infertility” had come out differently, I would very likely be in a very different job, likely more senior, and I’d definitely more focused on my ‘career.’

And there would be a big aching void in my life, because being a mother is all I ever wanted out of life. I’m proud that I’m successful, and that I’m seen as someone with potential and worth investing in. But I’m also proud that Kate sees me as a mother whose opinion in this debate is valuable. And I don’t have to tell you how proud I am to be a mother.

In five or six years, Lucas will be in school full time and I’ll be able to refocus on this whole career thing again. If I were a more ambitious sort of person, maybe I would be resentful and see my role as a mother in terms of sacrifices I’ve made instead of joys I’ve earned. Certainly, that seems to be where Rosin’s head is at.

Do we have equality in our home? Hell, no. But we have balance, and I think that’s better. Some things are heavier on Beloved’s shoulders and some on mine, but we share those burdens. That’s why our relationship works, I think — we’re perfectly compliementary, but that doesn’t mean we’re perfectly equal. It works for us.

So, Kate, the short answer is yes, it seems quite likely that Canada’s generous maternity leave policies affected my ability to continue to nurse my babies for as long as I did in a positive way. And no, I don’t think the one-year leave of absence has had a detrimental effect on my career path. I’ve dialed it down myself, but that’s a choice with which I am not only satisfied, but delighted. And just wading my way through all this reminds me again that I am coming from such a place of priviledge, and even many of my Canadian sisters have not been nearly so blessed as me.

Phew, this ran long, didn’t it? But it’s a fascinating topic. Tell me, or tell Kate at her place, what you think: has a longer maternity leave interfered with your career and how do you feel about that?

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Loukia March 20, 2009 at 8:08 am

Great post, Dani.

“often tapping [her] foot impatiently, waiting for him to finish.” I cringed when I read that. Poor baby. – I totally cringed when I read this, too. Unreal!

Family comes first to me, no matter what. I’m so very thankful to be living in this wonderful country that allows us one year off for maternity leave, which I thoroughly enjoyed with my second son. I breastfed him for 6 months, but that was a personal decision. With my firstborn son, I went to back work when he was 6 months old, (and stopped breastfeeding at that time) because that was what they asked of me at work – and since I was not permanent, I didn’t really have a choice (this was when I was still at CRA). Luckily, my mom and mom-in-law babysit, so it really made returning to work easier for me, knowing how much love and care my children were getting.

Anyway, ideally, career-wise, I’d still be working in radio and television. I loved the fast pace world of reporting, news writing, and going on-air with a breaking news story – however, the hours and the pay were not great – for instance, working in radio I’d be there from 6 to 9 a.m. and again from 3 to 6 p.m. and then do the 11 o’clock news writing from 6:30 to 11:30 – clearly not a job for someone with kids, you know? So I chose to use my communication skills and get a job in the gov’t, knowing that a family is what I want. For me the hours, pay and benefits far outweight the enjoyment I get out of working. Do I like what I do currently? Sure – I’m still writing and editing and I work on some very exciting projects here at Health – but it’s certainly not my dream job like TV and Radio was. It’s a sacrifice that was easy to give up, though. Leaving work at 4 is perfect. If I need to take a few hours off for Dr.’s appointments, it’s never a problem. Working for a Director who has 2 young children of her own, she’s very understanding.

So, has a longer mat leave interfered with my career? I’d say no. I changed career paths before I got pregnant with my first. And even after taking 2 mat leaves, I have been advancing steadily in my career. Eventually I’d like to start working part time, though. I’d like to be able to take my children to school and pick them up at the end of the day, and have dinner ready for them when we get home. That’s what is most important to me.

2 Cath March 20, 2009 at 8:08 am

This is a fascinating topic. I’ve got a 2-year-old and a 5-month-old, and have been working since January, even though we live here in Ottawa – because I’m a) a freelancer, b) work from home, c) my husband has access to parental leave, and d) this is the quarter of the year where I can make 60% of my income, given that it’s the federal government’s end of year season – a crucial window for consultants like me.

This time round, I actually feel the opposite – namely, that there’s been a fair amount of implicit judgement of me taking on contracts while J’s this small, mostly from my friends and colleagues with access to full maternity benefits.

I nursed B to almost 2 years, and will go at least the full year if not more with J. Could I do it if I wasn’t working from home? I doubt it. But then, if I couldn’t work from here (in my pjs, like I am now, or while holding a snoozly baby), I’d revisit all of my decisions around work and parenting. It’s not always an easy balance to find, but for me it works. (Today!)

3 Alex March 20, 2009 at 9:02 am

Hi — being a Canadian living in the US with a 2 year old, I have a very different perspective .. and I don’t think it’s fair to judge the career pressures of taking maternity leave in the US from the perspective of taking maternity leave in Canada, where the social and workplace norms are very different.
The expectation in the US workplace is very different … and since very little maternity leave is the norm, and is what most take, signaling that you want more, or working out a way to take more, unfortunately also ends up sending very strong signals about your desires for your career. Of course there are always exceptions where one might find a ‘good’ boss or a company but in my experience and all those that I have talked with, this is a widespread issue for women in the US.

I think it’s sad that daycares take infants at 6 weeks old … those infants should be with their moms! and personally, I was blessed with being able to take a very generous leave (for the US) of 4 months, but I wasn’t guaranteed the same job on return.

My point is, since it’s not the norm in the US, taking extended maternity leave (more than 3 months) signals that a woman is less interested in career, and often takes her off the track she was on.

Can you work to get back on? Yes, but it takes work to get back on, and that’s after only taking a measely 4 months. Already I know that since I am now in a more senior position now, if I want to maintain that, I won’t be able to take more than about 10 weeks leave for my second child. true, these are trade offs I am choosing, but not working is not a choice … and if I have to work, do I really want to lose the job I have worked hard to achieve?

this life balance thing is tough! And I applaud the governments of other countries for making it a little easier on women to be there for their babies.

4 Loukia March 20, 2009 at 10:26 am

Alex, I think it’s terrible, too, that so many babies as young as 6 weeks old are in daycare! It is absurd, and too bad most countries don’t offer a longer period of maternity leave.

5 Lindsay March 20, 2009 at 7:24 pm

I’m not sure how to politely say that I agree with Rosin to a large extent. In particular, her paragraph on the new ethic of “total motherhood” rings true with me. I can rhyme off all the things I’m supposed to do as a young mom, including breastfeed, organic, no tv, make my own baby food, stimulation, massage, baby yoga, socialization, classical music, read to her in utero – all as Rosin puts it, to “optimize every dimension” of my child’s life. That pressure is enormous!

I think fundamentally, that the best way to be a good mother, is to mother in a way that is true to yourself – and that’s going to be different for everyone. That may mean choosing not to breastfeed, just because you don’t want to. And to read people writing “poor baby” because the mom was impatient… that’s such a shame. I’m a good mom with a great kid so far (she’s 5) and I breastfed; but, I was impatient too. And I can’t believe I would be judged for that. Judge me when she’s 30! That’s when we’ll know how I did! 🙂

More on point with your post, I was in law school when I had my daughter and after much discussion with the Dean and some older lawyers I took a year off with her. It had an impact for sure. In my cover letters for articling positions I had to explain my “missing year”. And in interviews I was told flat out that if they had to choose between someone with a child or without, they wouldn’t choose the one without. Downtime in the legal world is unacceptable.

I’m now working for the federal government in Ottawa because I couldn’t find a way to balance my work and family life while in private practice. And looking ahead, the lawyers I knew in private practice were told they could have 4 months off and then they were “actively encouraged” to return to work. I knew I couldn’t get the leave I wanted in the private sector.

So yes, a year of maternity leave did affect my career… both in the options available to me and in the choices I’ve made.

I’m not sure I’ve added much to the conversation here… but it’s an issue I’m still struggling with because of the nature of the work I do.

6 bea March 20, 2009 at 7:45 pm

I read Rosin`s article expecting to be outraged and instead I found myself agreeing with a lot of what she`s saying. The pressure to breastfeed is intense, and it comes at a time when I, at least, was very emotionally vulnerable and my whole success as a mother seemed bound up in my ability to breastfeed exclusively. Just today I read about a study showing that children who are fed fish twice a week score 5% higher on IQ tests, and children who eat fish more than four times a week score 11% higher. And I kind of nodded and thought, oh, interesting – because there is NO WAY my kids are going to eat fish. And I`ve been doing this motherhood thing long enough now that I`m not having a crisis about that – I`m no longer so invested in giving them whatever is `best`every moment of every day. But when they were newborns and I was a lethal cocktail of hormones – a very different story.

I wouldn`t trade my experiences with breastfeeding for the world – but I do wish I could have felt less anxiety about it, could have supplemented in those early days before my milk came in without panicking. And I agree with Rosin that the pressure on all women to breastfeed has implications for the way mothers and fathers parent and the way they are treated in the workplace. Taking mat leave was tricky for me, since I work from contract to contract, and changing rules in the collective agreement meant that the lapses in my employment worked against me for awhile. I`m now at the point where my employment situation has stabilized, so long-term there were no negative effects. But I`m sure that my decision not to seek a tenure-track position was affected by the fact that I spent three years either pregnant or nursing during those key years when my Ph.D. was freshly minted enough to be marketable. It was just unthinkable to me to leave my breastfeeding babies for a weekend to fly out of town for a job interview. I`m pretty happy with where my life is right now, working a four-day week as you do and finding a pretty manageable work-life balance. But I`m also aware that my individual decisions are replicated on a larger scale across society, with implications for how women are represented in the workplace.

7 kate March 21, 2009 at 7:21 am

I wasn’t going to read the article until I read Bea’s comment. But now I have and it actually seemed relatively balanced. I remember before I became a mother, I thought it was horrible for a woman just to choose not to breastfeed. But once I actually started breastfeeding — and it went relatively swimmingly — I changed my mind. I nursed my son for 20 months, and he never had a drop of formula, but there were moments when I think it would have been better for him to have some formula now and again. Pumping didn’t work for me, and the fact is that being the only source of food for the most precious being you’ve ever had the good fortune to be near is huge pressure. As much as I loved nursing, I looked forward to it not being the only source of his food. And I didn’t tap my foot impatiently, but I also had overactive letdown, so after about two months, he never nursed for more than five minutes at a time.

I have also had thoughts that all the emphasis on breastfeeding, and all the other ways motherhood is prescribed, do have the effect of keeping women down, making us doubt our choices and abilities. Before I had kids I probably would have bristled at all my emphasis on the experience of motherhood rather than parenthood. But being a mother has physical demands that I don’t think the neutral word parenting reflects. I’m lucky in that my husband saw that imbalance and did everything he could to support my role as breastfeeder. Sometimes that meant just having him sit with me in the middle of the night, when I was raging against the six-week growth spurt and needed someone to witness my experience.

Of course, you didn’t ask about any of that. You asked about mat leave. I loved my year-long mat leave, but was only topped up for 6 months. I came back 3 days a week, then switched to four days for other reasons. I also got a promotion around the time I switched to four days. That said, I’ve never wanted a career that overtakes all other priorities. I’ve always wanted a job I like but one that mixes with other things I like doing, including relationships and family. So I did react to Rosin’s emphasis on work and career being the major problem with breastfeeding.

8 Theresa March 21, 2009 at 11:51 am

At this moment, with my 8 week old son due to wake up anytime now to nurse, I only have a moment to answer….and so I’m answering a slightly different variation of your question.

Did work directly affect breastfeeding?!

I would say YES! My first child was supplemented with formula during the day, while I was at work, and breast fed at night from 2 to 10 months of age (returned to work at 2 mo.) My second had me at home for his first 10 months. When that mat. leave expired I felt that I was forced to ween early…and my son protested loudly for three full weeks before accepting the bottle without fussing….that HURT! And my third, and newest edition, has the benefit of a mommy who decided to change my priorities and not work till until he is much older. I am not on mat. leave this time, as I began my stint as a stay at home mom a full year before my third was born, so in that regard I can’t make comparisons about mat. leave length. All I know is that is has been a slow, and often painful, emotional journey adapting my goals and expectations (career-wise) to being a full time stay at home mom. Rising child care costs, and our decision to have a third child, prompted me to make the change, however, in an ideal world I’d love to be able to have the best of both worlds. Yes, being at home allows me to nurse and enjoy my children and handle (?!?) other related domestic duties…but the major downside is that my brain does NOT get a workout very often!! Do I have any regrets, though, at sacrificing my career goals?? NOPE! Every time I sit down to breast feed my son, I marvel at the fact that I can! This just didn’t even come close to being possible when I was working.

So in answer to YOUR question…a longer mat leave didn’t interfere with my career, but it sure gave me much more time to realize that my children came first….and allowed me to realize that I maybe even wanted one more child! When I went back to work so early with my first child I hadn’t even formed a strong enough bond with him, by then, to know any different when returning back to work. It was as though he were put on hold…rather than work being put on hold….and something about that doesn’t sound too great!!

One more thing to add though…when I was employed I definitely felt absolutely NO tolerance for my being a working mom. Childcare issues, sick kids, emergency room visits, were all seriously frowned upon. Should we really have to feel, as working moms, guilty about having children?!? Really I think people (employees, employers, moms, men, people in general) need to reassess their priorities just a little bit more…

Apparently this topic provokes rambling….I barely even know what soapbox I’m standing on….and I haven’t had a chance to proof read what I’ve said….so please accept my explicit apologies….but I do know that I am finding more satisfaction, and enjoyment, and sense of fulfillment, in being the primary caregiver for my children than I ever would have thought possible. I’m not sure if I would have come to this realization on my own, with out the benefit of having a longer maternity leave.

9 Annika March 21, 2009 at 7:45 pm

I have to agree with a lot of what the author wrote, and what many on this forum have said too (particularly, Lindsay).

Dani, like you, I also work for the feds, and the long mat leaves haven’t affected my career path negatively at all. I am grateful for their family-friendly HR policies and for how ridiculously well-paid I am to ponder, research and write.

Both of my babies were breastfed in the first three months, and then switched to formula. I have no regrets. It was the right decision for us, and my children (now 2.5 and eight months) are thriving and delightful. My marriage is also thriving and delightful due to the fact that my husband and I are relatively well-rested and there is a nice sleeping/eating routine that keeps us all quite happy and healthy.

Getting my body back to myself after those first few months of breastfeeing was a relief to me both times. While I truly loved the bonding and nurturing and closeness with my newborns, I usually started to burn-out at the 11-12 week mark. The sleep dep would take its toll and the “being tied down 24/7” inevitably took its toll on me as well.

I enjoy exercise and having some free time. I think that, for me personally, the mental and physical health benefits of switching over to formula were priceless. Do I repsect mothers who breastfeed for longer? Most definitely!! They have my full support and admiration. Do I respect mothers who choose not to breastfeed at all? You bet! I respect their reasons for choosing formula, whatever they may be.

Dani, I must thank you for your comments on this matter. I think what it really comes down to is that all of these issues (whether or not to breastfeed and for how long; whether to return to work or not, and when; etc.) are incredibly personal. They vary from mother to mother, baby to baby, family to family.

I wish we moms could all just respect each other. I find that mothers are often ready to judge others who approach this honoured role in different ways. I wouldn’t ever say “poor baby” to the child whose mother is a bit impatient during what may possibly be the eighth nursing feed that day. Just like I wouldn’t judge you for taking your older children to Dairy Queen for dinner once in a blue moon or taking five minutes away from your family or your work to write a blog entry. We do what we have to do to raise strong, healthy children and to hopefully retain a little bit of ourselves at the same time. The last thing we need to do is put additional pressure on each other.

10 Theresa March 21, 2009 at 11:17 pm

I have to say I agree with Annika about respecting others decisions….and about feeling the need to have your body back sometimes being stronger than the need to breastfeed. I have used formula for that very reason, and also currently pump once a day, most days, in order to enjoy feeding my baby a different way…it is pleasing and refreshing to watch my little guy glug away at his bottle…it feels less taxing on me…and although I am doing mostly ok with breastfeeding, I relish the once a day ‘break’. It seems strange to prefer a bottle over ‘the natural way’ but I know I felt a huge sense of relief at having my babies on bottles once they were weaned….women need not be so hard on themselves. Providing ‘the best’ for our babies 24/7, 100% of the time would be absolutely impossible to achieve (what is ‘the best’ really?!?) without completely exhausting ourselves and loosing something in the process. We should pat ourselves on the back for achieving what we are able to handle…and quit looking over the fence and judging or trying to measure up to anyone else. What’s right for one mom, may be unbearable for the next.

(Sorry for double posting…I took a bit of a hiatus from commenting cuz posting anything with a newborn around seems to be an invitation for ‘said newborn’ to wake up…but your past two posts hit close to home and I couldn’t resist!!!)

11 DaniGirl March 22, 2009 at 6:53 am

Okay, busted. It was a judgmental comment, and you’ve rightly pointed that out. But in the context of a response to what I see as an inflammatory and ill-researched article designed solely to be divisive and rile people up, I’ll stand by it with the clarification that it’s directed at Rosin in particular, not the nursing populace as a whole. I’m hardly the Queen of Patience myself, but in all the troubles I had with nursing, and they were legion, I’ve never personally felt that way and so maybe that’s what I was reacting to.

It’s not that I disagree with Rosin’s take on the fact that mothers of young babies have far too many unrealistic goals to reach and roles to fulfill – lord knows that’s the truth – it’s that wrapping all that in a sandwich of ill-researched pseudo-science that will misinform instead of enlighten that ticks me off.

12 Theresa March 22, 2009 at 10:43 am

Hmmm….I wasn’t trying to point out that YOU were being judgmental….but that mothers, in general, tend to group up and judge each other (as Rosin referred to in her article) unnecessarily.

Annika wrote in her comment: “all of these issues (whether or not to breastfeed and for how long; whether to return to work or not, and when; etc.) are incredibly personal.” I was just saying that I tend to agree with that. Each woman should have the freedom to make her own decisions, based on her own current situation, and not feel shunned by other mothers around her.

I feel that Rosin’s article was long and generally conflicting and confusing. It’s no wonder that there will be several takes on the many topics that she covers. What bothers me most is that she takes it upon herself, without medical credentials, to contrast and compare breastfeeding vs. formula! It it unclear what her actual position is on any one topic… it’s no wonder the article has caused many of us to react strongly to the issues that bother us most!

My point, if I even have one, is that you, Dani, are most definitely entitled to take your position with out having to feel like you are stepping on the toes of others. And besides that, it’s making for a very interesting blog read!! I can actually feel the gears in my brain clunking (rather sluggishly) into action!!

BTW my captcha sez ‘mises dvburdyburdy’ what on earth is that?!?

13 Erin March 23, 2009 at 7:45 am

I think your outlook might be quite different if you worked in the private sector – the cold realities there are that mat leave, etc. does affect your earning potential and advancement – slowing them down for most female employees. But, it is the tradeoff we make to have kids.

14 Alison March 23, 2009 at 8:24 am

The consequesnces of having young children in the private sector present many many challenges to many women…no top up, intense pressure not to have illness or daycare or DR’s appointments interrupt your day are HUGE…I have not even come close to recovering the income level I had before my kids (8 and 7) were born. I was in commisioned sales and that is largely a man’s world in many industries.

As for the judgemnet we pass on each other as women and mothers over the breastfeeding question… nothing has ever made me feel worse in my life than the looks and comments I got for not exclusively brestfeeding. Not that it was anyone’s business but I had to take medications that didn’t allow me to breastfeed and the judgement and even scorn I endured from self righteous breastfeeders has never left me. We need to support each other and lift each other up not pass judgement.

15 Lindsay March 23, 2009 at 10:08 am


I can appreciate that you feel the information she conveyed is ill-researched… and it might be. But I didn’t find it at all inflammatory or intended to rile people up.

To me, it seemed like one of the few articles out there saying that it’s okay to choose not to breastfeed and your kid will still turn out okay. As I read it, I felt a physical lifting of stress and the sense of having space to breath… because I wasn’t being told I *had* to breastfeed if I loved my child and wanted to do what was best for her. It gave me the space to make a choice, my own choice, and not feel badly about it.

I breastfed my daughter, because I thought it was important, and I would do it again… but I resent doing it a lot less if I feel like I’m making the choice because I want to and not because everyone else is telling me I should.

I don’t know… just my thoughts…

16 DaniGirl March 23, 2009 at 1:05 pm

After feeling a little defensive on the weekend, I re-read my own post and everybody’s comments this morning, and I still can’t quite figure out what you guys are reading into it that I don’t see — and certainly didn’t intend.

I mean, I *couldn’t* breast-feed Lucas exclusively, badly as I wanted to, so I wouldn’t dream of being judgemental about another mother’s choices on that front. And I didn’t fight through two months of hell to nurse Tristan because I felt some sort of societal pressure — truth be told, if you can define society as the two most influential people in my universe, the societal pressure was in fact to capitulate to formula from the second week. That has a lot to do with where I’m coming from, I think.

But under all that, I’ve always thought that each woman must do what’s best for her family. Do I think that breastfeeding is the best choice ? I do — with the standard caveat that you’ve got to do what works best for you and your circumstances. But it’s as I said in the original blog post: there are so many factors at play when a baby enters the picture, I don’t think you can separate breastfeeding from parental roles and obligations from employer expectations from financial and social implications. They’re inextricably woven together, and you can’t isolate a single factor as the defining one.

Perhaps, though, I’m not qualified to comment on how maternity leave affects employment status — that I will give you. But I’ve also never shied away from admitting that I come from a place of priviledge, and never a day goes by that I’m not grateful for the blessings I have.

Gah, time to go back to taking pictures, I think. Words aren’t working out for me lately…

17 Shannon March 23, 2009 at 1:33 pm

I agree with the poster who stated “I feel that Rosin’s article was long and generally conflicting and confusing” – I found the exact same thing. It was obvious she was under a lot of stress and very passionate and emotional about what she was writing.

Has a one year mat leave affected my career? Completely. I had three children very close together – 2004, 2005 and Jan. 2008 and had almost no top up for my first leave. I did not go back to work after the birth of my first son, b/c I was well pregnant again and very sick with morning sickness. I was fortunate enough to be able to extend my leave, and my third “extended” mat leave is ending in June. Ironically, I just recently applied for a position I wanted and am pretty certain I was not chosen to be interviewed. Fair enough – who wants to look at a resume from someone who hasn’t worked since 2004???? Although I love every minute of raising my kids and being home with them, I am now facing some very difficult choices as it is likely I cannot AFFORD to go back to work and pay for three young children in day care. Seems ridiculous to me. I am constantly torn between wanting to go back to work and put my education to good use and to stay home another year or two until I have at least one kid in school full time.

OK – I am way off topic but thought I would share that. Year long mat leaves definitely assisted me in nursing my babies for a long time – it made it way easier to do and I have been lucky to have had very easy nursing experiences with all three babies. In my profession it would have been hard or impossible to pump constantly throughout the day.

Great post and interesting discussion!!

18 Amber March 23, 2009 at 6:47 pm

I created a slightly similar post to yours today, and then someone pointed me here. I’m also a Canadian mom, and right now I’m on maternity leave with my 2nd.

I think that our generous maternity leave has affected my ability to breastfeed. My first was premature and we had a lot of struggles. I’m not sure I could have swung it had I been back at 6 weeks. I doubt I would have made it as long as I did. But I think moms and babes who don’t breastfeed also benefit from generous maternity leave – they are also getting a chance to be together and bond and grow and all that good stuff.

I’ve made a conscious choice to step off the fast track and work part-time in a reduced role. I don’t think that I’ve experienced any negative repercussions from maternity leave, and I work in the private sector. Being a mother has re-shifted my priorities. I probably would have tried to swing something similar if I’d had a shorter maternity leave as well. So the current state of my career is related to choices I made, not the length of my mat leave.

19 Mom on the Go March 24, 2009 at 8:45 am

StatsCan released a study this morning on the wages of women with and without children. It showed that “lone mothers, mothers with three or more children and highly educated mothers incurred greater losses than married mothers, mothers with one child, and mothers with less than a high school education.”

I know, for my part, I waited until I’d attained a certain wage level before having a child. If I stay at this level for 20 years, I’ll still retire with a healthy pension and glad for having had Reid. My husband and I had a taste of a promotion during a 4 month period of acting for my boss and decided I wouldn’t try that again until Reid is in school full time. As for the maternity leave, it had no effect on the opportunites offered to me. I had the chance to replace my boss within 6 months of being back at work.

20 Mom of the busy toddler March 24, 2009 at 10:23 am

Wow, this has been an interesting post. I am a married mom of a 13 month old who is still bfing(breastfeeding). As a self-employed worker, I went back to work for 8 hours/month when my son was 5 months old. I pumped and at about 10 months started supplementing his breastmilk intake with formula.

Luckily, our family income and my profession is enough to let me work 2.5 days/week currently. I really enjoy and I think my son likes our bfing relationship. I wanted a child for a long time and I was willing to lead a reduced work life for the first few years of our son’s life. I’ve worked in childcare before and made the decision to not put my child in daycare fulltime.

The one thought I had when Rosin talked about bfing not being free is that giving a baby a bottle takes time as well. We had to supplement our son with a bit of formula and then later pumped breastmilk to top him up to get his weight back up. The most important feeling I had about using formula was if it’s needed, you use it. I have to say though, that preparing those bottles, trying to find boiled water in public and such is a lot of work.

I also sometimes feel that other people (not only other mothers) are judgmental about breastfeeding and other parenting styles. I’ve had those thoughts, but haven’t said them. What each parent does is their choice.

The last thought I have is about bfing a toddler. I find it interesting how some people who were very supportive in the beginning give me glances/comments of disapproval as I continue bfing past one year. I will continue doing it probably until he’s 18 months or 2 years, if that works for my son.

We all make decisions about the paths our life will take and I think it’s great to have this conversation. Way to go Dani!

21 Cloud March 26, 2009 at 2:21 pm

HI! I followed you over from One Tired Ema. It is interesting reading the perspectives of people who have far better maternity leave than I did. I won’t rehash my response to the article here, but as an American who is working and in the same general class as Roisin, I have a couple things that might be interesting to you:

1. First, to correct a small factual error in your post: I think most American women get at least 6 weeks of at least partially paid leave- it is considered disability leave. You get 8 weeks if you end up having a c-section. After that, you are generally guaranteed another 6 weeks, but it may be unpaid- you are at the mercy of your employer. Unless you live in California (where I live), which has paid family leave for people working at companies with more than 50 employees. It is not full pay, though, particularly not for professional women. Fathers qualify for the family leave, too, and in my circle of friends, most fathers take some leave.

Before my other points, some background:

I have one child, who is almost 2. I am pregnant with my second. I went back to work when my daughter was 3 months old. I worked part time for a month (so did my husband- we split child care that month), and then 35 hours/week until she was about 10 months old and I switched jobs. Now I work the full 40 hours/week. I only fully weaned my daughter a couple of weeks ago, when she was 23 months old. Clearly, working did not impede my ability to breastfeed her. I pumped at work for 17 months, and had no problem with that. My daughter went into day care at 5 months old, and is thriving there. We intend to do essentially the same thing the second time around, except I won’t get the months of 35 hours/week work. My current company does not support that.

Now, my remaining points:

2. I don’t care what anyone else feeds their baby, and certainly don’t know anyone as judgmental on the issue as the playground mothers mentioned in the article. The main problem I had with Roisin’s article is that by trivializing the science that indicates breastmilk is best for babies she undermines the fight to get more women in the US the protections I have in California- namely, to have breastfeeding be a protected right and to have employers required to give me the time and space to pump. This makes a huge difference, I think. Pumping is not fun, but it is not usually too bad, either (although I know of some women who did have a hard time pumping). However, you have to have the time to do it and you need a private space.

I also disagree with her interpretation of the science, and think that the cumulative evidence that breastfeeding is better for your baby is convincing. However, we don’t parent entirely by science, and nor should we. If someone wants or needs to feed their baby formula- fine by me, I don’t think they are doing anything wrong.

3. I actually found going back to work to be an overall good experience for me and for my child. It helped me get my feet back under me and start feeling competent again. It also helped me find my new identity as a mother by allowing me to reclaim my original identity, which is quite connected to my work (I am a scientist). Day care has introduced my daughter to a lot of different activities and has helped her develop some skills (like napping!). The teachers all have training in child development and the center director has a PhD in that field. I honestly think they do a great job with her, and have since she started there. I don’t think all kids NEED to go to day care, but I also don’t think all kids need a stay at home mom, even when they are little. I think the debate about day care is largely missing the point- high quality day care is great. The problem is that many families can’t afford high quality day care. My day care costs me more than $16,000/year. This is clearly out of reach of a lot of families.

I’m not sure what I would do if I had a full year’s leave offered to me. I’m not sure I would want it. I think the ideal situation would be one where the leave was available for those who wanted it, but that there was no stigma attached to the decision to take it or not. I also think that more support for part time work and/or reduced work weeks would be great. I wish I could have my 35 hour week back, and I wish I could take two months part time rather than just one this time around.

Thanks for sharing your experiences, and thanks for letting me ramble on about mine!

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