I take great solace in Christopher Hitchens’s eloquent essay revitalizing the teachings of Karl Marx (“The Revenge of Karl Marx,” April Atlantic). Over many years of following the stock market, I have found no more consistent sign that we are at the bottom of a bear market than a renewed interest in the teachings of the author of Das Kapital. I have therefore given appropriate directions to my stockbroker.
Edmund C. Tiryakian
Word Frequencies in Response to April Issue
Hanna Rosin’s argument that the benefits of breast-feeding are not scientifically validated (“The Case Against Breast-Feeding,” April Atlantic) misrepresents the medical evidence, detracting from an otherwise valid and important critique of the way American society neglects the needs of women and families.
Unfortunately, the inflammatory nature of Ms. Rosin’s article will only perpetuate a fabricated “debate” that’s pitting women against one another—the very phenomenon that she condemns. Our lack of societal support for women and families does not cancel out the fact that breast-feeding is a vital factor in the health—emotional and physical—of mothers and babies. Rather than attempting to make a case “against” breast-feeding that only intensifies the divisions among women, I urge The Atlantic to instead make the case for the support that so many American families lack, from birthplace to workplace.
United States Breastfeeding Committee form letter
Sent by 976 people in 49 states
I read “The Case Against Breast-Feeding” online after receiving a seriously agitated e-mail from the United States Breastfeeding Committee. The USBC’s e-mail was intended to inflame me into submitting a canned letter condemning the article and speaking out against it. I am now using the USBC’s letter template to thank Ms. Rosin and The Atlantic for the piece.
I am a first-time mother with a baby who will soon be 3 months old. Before I had my son, I was working 60-hour weeks as a project manager, a challenging job that I enjoy and am still devoted to. I am married, and my husband also works full time. Like many other women, I received a short maternity leave. Since my return, I’ve barely been able to hold my project together, and I feel guilty and deficient every day. It’s difficult to complete a task when you have to breast-feed 12 to 15 times a day, and your partner cannot really help out, because he isn’t lactating.
Breast-feeding has been extremely difficult for me. After weeks of pain and repeat visits to my lactation consultant, we were told that my son had some oral-motor-skill deficiencies that were creating the pain and frustration. Now, at the 3-month mark, the pain is more manageable and I’m finally beginning to enjoy this special time with my son.
I suspect that tons of mommies struggle with similar issues but are powering on, trying to do what is best for their children even though all other aspects of their lives are suffering or falling apart. It’s rare that I meet anyone, medical professional or otherwise, who doesn’t make me feel guilty for considering other options.
I spent some time on the phone talking with Hanna Rosin in her quest for information for her article, but I apparently did not spend enough time. I was disappointed in her handling of the scientific data on the health effects of human-milk feeding.
Ms. Rosin selectively quoted articles supporting her perspective that there is insufficient evidence for the health benefits of breast-feeding, and ignored the mass of data that provides ample evidence for its benefits. She grudgingly concedes, “The medical literature … shows that breast-feeding is probably, maybe, a little better” than formula feeding. She should have given more weight to a recent critical review of research in this field, published by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In this nearly 200-page, statistically based, objective analysis of the world’s research, the authors demonstrate that the weight of scientific evidence favors breast-feeding. For example, as they show, it is not trivial that breast-feeding reduces the occurrence of ear infections by half; this is, after all, a disease that nearly every child suffers from during the early years of life. Moreover, it has been estimated that a major increase in breast-feeding, especially for a longer duration, would reduce annual health-care costs in the United States by more than $4 billion.
I am pleased to see that Ms. Rosin is continuing to breast-feed her youngest, even if only for good emotional reasons. He will also reap health benefits, even if his mother does not believe it.
Lawrence M. Gartner, M.D.
Professor Emeritus, Departments of Pediatrics and Obstetrics
University of Chicago
Valley Center, Calif.
Hanna Rosin replies:
The USBC’s letter is the kind of feminist dreaminess I heard from many breast-feeding advocates. “Let’s all work to get support for women and families. Let’s stop pitting mothers against each other. Let’s ease the pressure on harried working mothers.” That’s great! I’m all for it. But it’s not happening anytime soon. So in the short term, the advocates have to recognize that it’s not 1971 anymore, and at this point they are contributing to the impossible pressures women today face, not helping alleviate them.
Yes, there is some scientific support for the benefits of breast-feeding. But the question is: How strong is that support, and for what benefits, exactly? And is it so strong that it overrides everything else going on in a woman’s life?