|Or maybe not.|
The first dental cleaning I had after having my first baby, my dentist asked if I was breastfeeding. I answered yes. He stated, "That's good. It's much better for the babies." Then on to him saying other pleasantries while I have stuff crammed in my mouth and think, that was kind of weird.
I'll be honest. I initially felt an involuntary twinge of pride. These days there's no end of articles and books droning on about the health benefits of breast feeding. And while overall breastfeeding has been easy for me, I did suffer some nasty soreness and cracking during the initial couple weeks. But is that really enough reason for feeling some kind of feminine pride?
In reality, I was just lucky. Luck that my and my kids' biology went along with my plans. More than that, nobody pressured me to do it. I personally preferred breastfeeding because it was cheaper, I'm home with my kids, and work flexible hours.
I discovered just how much I hate pumping when I worked a summer job. I ended up just letting the milk build up and giving my daughter a big feeding when I got home. If I had a full time job outside of the home, I doubt I would have nursed as long as I did. After all, cloth diapers are cheaper, too, but I gave up that annoying bullshit after less than six months.
Unless there's a dental reason to ask (which as far as I can tell, there's not), my dentist really shouldn't be asking his patients about breastfeeding. How would he have responded if I'd said no?
There are all sorts of reasons why women choose to not breastfeed or to quit early on, many of which they might not want to discuss with anyone. She might have flat or inverted nipples, not produce enough milk, need to go back on medication for a chronic illness, experiencing physical pain from cracked nipples. Maybe she's suffering from postpartum depression that is exacerbated by having a kid or plastic pump suckling on her tits every few hours. Maybe she can't get over feeling weird about pumping at work. Maybe she just wants to go back to drinking a perfectly responsible amount of coffee, beer, and eating junk food. All legitimate, and more importantly personal reasons for not breast feeding.
Bottom line, it's nobody's damn business.
I'm not mad at my dentist for asking. I know he meant well. That he asked and then praised me for making the "right" choice means he's read some of the before mentioned articles/books on the topic. Good for him. The mistake he made is in blurring the line between what is a legitimate basis for public policies, and what is a legitimate basis for personal judgement of individuals.
I'm also not mad at lactivists who argue for public policies that support breastfeeding mothers. For example, making lactation consultants accessible to all new mothers, insisting that employers provide time and an appropriate place for nursing mothers to pump, and ensuring that women are permitted to breastfeed in public. These and more are all important protections for women who choose to nurse.
It's also important to remember that it is a choice, and while the health benefits of nursing are well established, they are actually rather paltry, at least among middle and upper class people in the first world. Dr. Amy Tuteur drives this point home rather firmly in her blog post Does Breastfeeding Matter?
Yes, babies in the third world died when their mothers were convinced to use formula. Formula isn't safe for families living in unhygienic conditions. Yes, there are correlations between higher infant death rates and formula feeding, but only where there are also racial and/or economic correlations.
It's wrong to convince every formula-feeding mother with access to clean water and easy sterilization methods that if her kid has allergies, or gets colds often, or has any kind of delays, that she might have prevented it by breastfeeding. Other environmental factors and genetics play much larger roles in infant health and development.
I like this simple list of benefits of both choices found on WebMD, with the conclusion:
Whichever way you choose to feed your baby -- breast milk, formula, or a combination of both -- the most important thing is that your baby is well fed, well cared for, and loved. So ditch the mommy guilt!
Of course that's harder to do when random people in your workplace, family, or your dentist start expressing their opinions about mothers' personal choices. Limit lactivism to issues of public policy, and leave individuals to make their choices without guilt.