Sunday, March 22, 2009

the case against breastfeeding?

this piece by hannah rosin has been tearing through the blogosphere, or at least the feminist and mommy blogs. i think the article is best summarized by this, from the lead-in: “…is [breastfeeding] this generation’s vacuum cleaner—an instrument of misery that mostly just keeps women down?” rosin points out that, despite all the public health campaigns and pediatric prescriptions, the evidence on breastfeeding is far from overwhelming. the benefits that have been found are marginal at best. and, yet, breastfeeding has become, “In certain overachieving circles, the ultimate badge of responsible parenting.” the problem then, is that,
The debate about breast-feeding takes place without any reference to its actual context in women’s lives. Breast-feeding exclusively is not like taking a prenatal vitamin. It is a serious time commitment that pretty much guarantees that you will not work in any meaningful way.

so, when it comes to breast-feeding, women are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. but, once you cut through all the sensationalism and all the incendiary comments, i think rosin misses the most important point of all.

changing public opinion so that we are no longer damned as bad, neglectful mothers if we don’t breastfeed is a red herring. the only thing it can do is assuage a guilt that rosin argues we shouldn’t even be feeling. it does not give working mothers any new options; it does not make co-parenting any easier; it does not even promote equity among the sexes. as rosin and moms and dads everywhere know, parenting is inconvenient. and it is hard. we all weigh the costs and benefits of our decisions and then do the best that we can. and we all draw our lines in the sand for what qualifies as “bad parenting.” maybe rosin is right that lines should be redrawn around breastfeeding. but this is a zero sum game here – if one doesn’t need to feel bad about not breastfeeding, then employers don’t need to make any accommodations for mothers who do want to breastfeed. if one doesn’t need to feel bad about spending only a few hours a day with his/her children, then employers don’t need to make any accommodations for parental leave or flex time. what is really at issue here is the age-old question of equality versus equity: have women really succeeded if we can do the same things men can do, but we have to do them in the same way that men do? what rosin wants is to feel good about not breastfeeding, but what she is pointing out is that often times women lack the options to make their own choices about breastfeeding. even worse, she is jeopardizing the gains that have been made to accommodate breastfeeding in the workplace and in our culture.


Friday, March 6, 2009

language development and... strollers?

a recent piece in the new york times documents a linkage between social interaction and a child's orientation in a stroller.
When traveling with their babies in forward-facing strollers, caregivers were observed speaking to infants in only 11 percent of cases, while the figure was 25 percent for those using toward-facing [rear-facing] strollers, and even higher for those carrying children or walking with them.

moreover, this appears to be causal and not an artifact of self-selection (i.e., chatty parents choosing rear-facing strollers).
In a follow-up exploratory study, we gave 20 mothers and infants aged 9 to 24 months a chance to try out both stroller types, and recorded their conversations. Mothers talked to their children twice as much during the 15-minute toward-facing journey, and they also laughed more. The babies laughed more, too.

admittedly, these are small samples (the first study included only 2700 observations) that are unlikely to be representative. still, i find the results very provocative... in no small part because the article (i should note that it is an opinion piece, not a news piece) also states that,
Neuroscience has shown that brains develop faster between birth and age 3 than during any other period of life, and that social interaction fosters such neurological development.

i certainly wouldn't go so far as to say that using a forward-facing stroller inhibits child development, nor would the author, i suspect. but it does make me think twice about the various "things" i use to make life with my child easier, and what the trade-off might be between that convenience and what is best for my child. of course, we now have all sorts of things that could perhaps offset any negative effects of a forward-facing stroller and, potentially, do more to encourage development than i could with my idle chatter anyway.

in the meantime, i'll take this opportunity to plug baby-wearing (my favorite options are the moby wrap, the wallababy solarveil ring sling, and the pouch-style hotsling) and say that riding in the back seat with my 16 month old in her still rear-facing carseat is really for her neurological development, not because i'm spoiling her!