Monday, March 8, 2010

WSJ Talking Crap About Breastfeeding

I just read a really irritating post in the Wall Street Journal blog about parenting. The post is called "The Economic Consequences of Breastfeeding." I had to reread the post a couple of times to figure out why it bugged me.

It starts, "Returning to the office after maternity leave isn’t easy, adding to the adjustment: To pump or not to pump. I’m not doing it. Before I came back to work this week, I decided that I would continue to nurse my daughter in the mornings only.

I’m well aware that breast milk is considered the optimal food for babies. That’s why I happily nursed for the past six months. But working moms may face stiff penalties for breastfeeding, a price that I’m not sure my family can afford. My job’s irregular schedule makes it impractical to pump milk at work. And given that my husband and I have financial goals, such as saving for retirement and a healthy portion of our daughter’s education costs, I don’t want to quit or downshift my career to accommodate a regular pumping or breastfeeding schedule.

There is a negative effect of breastfeeding on women’s employment status, says Phyllis Rippeyoung, assistant professor of sociology at Acadia University and co-author of a working paper about the economic consequences of breastfeeding. “In terms of long-term earnings, women who breastfeed less than six months have similar income trajectories to those who never breastfeed, but those who breastfeed for six months or longer have far steeper declines in income, mainly due to their increased likelihood of reducing their work hours or quitting,” Ms. Rippeyoung says.

It just seems to me that the premise of this article is wrong- many moms CAN work pumping into their schedule, and many of them left comments stating so. I had another problem with the article- I felt it was giving false information about the nature of breastfeeding. Here is what I wrote- I was comment #139.

Two quotes in this article really bother me, because they are FALSE.

1. “
For moms who have pain when the baby latches on, there are helpful professionals, but they demand a professional rate. A recent article in The New York Times described a certified lactation consultant who charges $200.
The lactation consultants at my local hospital in Stamford CT provide FREE services in phone or in person to ANYONE who calls them. They also offer a mother’s group every week to anyone who wants to come. It bothers me to see something FALSE written in WSJ. The Stamford Hospital LCs, at no cost, have helped me breastfeed successfully for almost a year, and helped me figure out the best way to pump at work.

2. “
There are also non-financial opportunity costs. While a can of premium formula comes with a premium price tag, feeding infants with formula uses less of one of mom’s most precious resources: time. Moms who nurse their babies frequently lament being tied to the house. Young babies can feed every hour or two, allowing only a slim window to make it to the supermarket, take a shower, walk the dog.”

Tied to the house? You can’t breastfeed a baby in a chair at a store, or in the car outside the grocery store? Of course you can. I’ve done this dozens of times. I have breastfed in line at the airport check in counter, while walking around Target, and in restaurants, with a cover in the early days, and without a cover as I learned how to more quickly latch the baby on and as he got more head control of his own. One of the NICE things about breastfeeding is how easy it is to do on the run, without having to haul around bottles and formula.


Get the facts right!

Why would a woman only be able to breastfeed in her own home? That is just a really odd thing to say.


Laurie said...

Hi! I found this post through twitter. My first time here. What struck me about the WSJ blog post is the way the research was presented, as if breastfeeding longer than 6 months CAUSED women to reduce their work hours or quit. As if breastfeeding might force you to quit your job. That's a silly conclusion!

It is more likely that a woman who chooses to breastfeed for more than 6 months is already someone considering working less. She is someone who wants to spend more time with her child and that desire is what may lead her to cut her work hours and breastfeed for longer than 6 months.

In science this means there is a correlation (not causation) between longer breastfeeding and reducing work hours.

blog at

The Fearless Formula Feeder said...

Laurie's point is an interesting one. I thought something similar myself when I read the WSJ article, but couldn't have expressed it so coherently.

I'm usually a big fan of the WSJ, and I was disappointed by this article. I've interviewed some economists on the economic factors/impact of breastfeeding vs formula feeding, and I don't think this author did the subject justice at all. In fact, I felt she came across a little defensive.

While I agree that there is an economic cost (albeit a modest one) to breastfeeding, this article did not really do the subject justice. As you said, many lactation services are free - unfortunately, not all of them, and if you are in a real bind, like I was, getting the hours of personal attention necessary to make nursing work can be expensive. But that's not true in every case, and something like pain when latching is a common enough problem that could be solved by free or low-cost LC or LLL services, I expect.

Also, the malarky about being tied to the house irked me. I've seen what my diaper bag looks like compared to my nursing friends' bags. Trust me, breastfeeding looks like it would be a heckuva lot more conducive to running errands and being "free". I can't tell you how many times I've had to run home b/c I forgot my kid's formula container. Arrrg. :(

KOR said...

Oh God, my first comment sounded flippant, but baby is freaking, so gotta run.

KOR said...

Laurie, I also had that correlation not causation idea... those women aren't quitting bc of breastfeeding, they were breastfeeding bc that was their priority rather than the job!

And FFF, you are right, not all free LCs are responsive as mine, and they weren't available to me at say, 3 am. I had to wait for weekday work hours.

I know! That "tied to the house" thing. What? Maybe with a screaming reflux baby, like my friend had, might make you reluctant to feed on the go, but for most breastfeeders, I think it's pretty convenient. For goodness' sake, if I were grocery shopping, I could probably latch the kid on and breastfeed while standing up in like, 4 minutes flat.

I also agree the author sounded defensive- I don't have a problem with her being defensive if that's how she's feeling- I'm defensive about plenty of my parenting and feeding choices- but in a national forum like that, I think she should have been a little more responsible about distinguishing between facts and "usually or sometimes a fact for some people."

I think the author is right that some workplaces are NOT supportive of breastfeeding, and that for some women, it might play a role in being discriminated against... but that's not the fault of the breastfeeding, or the "economics of breastfeeding," as she called it. And if she's in that type of workplace and feels she has to make that choice, well... as long as she is OK with that, she should not feel defensive about her decision.

After Words said...

I haven't read the WSJ piece but I did want to offer up my own experience:

I had difficulty nursing my son outside my home: he was a challenging kid, a difficult latch, etc. For the first almost 6 months, he only really fed if I sat in a particular spot on a particular sofa in my apartment. I did what I could to work around that--with the help of LCs, friends, etc.,--but ultimately it was what it was. So, just as it's unrealistic to claim that every nursing mother is tied to the home so I also think it's unrealistic to overestimate the portability factor: it's not so easy for everyone.

KOR said...

I agree. I made sure I said MOST breastfeeders, because I'm trying to be more conscientious about my breastfeeding generalizations. Babies have such different nursing styles. If mine was, say, constantly coming off the boob to look around, I would not nurse as much out and about.

But the author of the article was saying it's hard to get out because babies nurse so often- and she was stating it as fact- and I really found that irritating, because that was not at all true for the dozens of moms I met at my hospital's moms group and my baby yoga class etc. If anything, it was the napping that kept us home. The author should have said, SOME moms who nurse lament being unable to leave the house.

Paige said...

Another hand up for free LCs here in Cleveland OH

The time factor and "tied to the house" thing bothers me too. My baby is hungry - it takes me the time to snap open my nursing bra (unless I'm home and probably braless) and bam, baby is eating. How is that MORE time consuming than making a bottle of formula?

Leaving the house? I need only be sure that my breasts are still attached to my chest. Check. No bottles, formula, bottled water (to avoid all that Fluoride), etc.

My biggest problem with the article is that it blames breastfeeding for some of these problems. Yes, pumping at work can be difficult depending on your job and yes, some women feel they can't nurse outside their home. THESE ARE NOT PROBLEMS WITH BREASTFEEDING! These are sad commentaries on our society that so devalues mothers, children, and breastfeeding. Don't NOT breastfeed! Change the laws/norms to make breastfeeding in public safe and normal. Change the laws and patronize companies that support lactation in the workplace.

Finally, no economic review of breastfeeding is complete without the cost to society of not valuing families. Perhaps if the US offered Canada-style maternity leave this would be a non-issue. I know by the time my daughter was one year I didn't need to pump at work at all. Why does it have to be a choice between what is best for baby and what is best for mom. We need to realize that best for baby is best for mom and IS BEST FOR SOCIETY.

Sorry, for the all caps, I know I'm preaching to the choir!

TheFeministBreeder said...

Thanks for writing those comments. I'm just too freaking exhausted to even fight right now. The minute she opened her "article" with an I statement, I knew that POS was going to be anything BUT good reporting.

Tied to the house? MY ASS. Costly? MY ASS. I have both formula fed (my first) and breastfed (while working 50 hr weeks and going to school full time) and I will say ALL DAY LONG that breastfeed was MUCH easier/cheaper/more economical than that formula feeding I did. I will never go back to formula feeding after experiencing how easy breastfeeding is (and yes - even the pumping part of it, which was admittedly the worst part, was still easier and cheaper than formula.)

What really pisses me off is this "well, I didn't do it so it CAN'T be done" attitude of hers. If she didn't feel like working and pumping, good for her, but do NOT tell me it cannot be done, or that it's fiscally irresponsible. That is horseshit.