So Bluemilk pointed to this incendiary article by Hanna Rosin. Lots of people have responded to the substance of the article, and the fudging of the medical literature. The bit I’m fascinated by are comments like these on BlogHer. There are lots of things that can be hard in a baby’s first year of life. Breastfeeding is a learned skill and it can certainly be tricky to get the hang of, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible, or that grabbing a bottle is the obvious solution. Commenters cite their baby’s ‘allergy’ to breastmilk, their baby’s weightloss (it’s normal for babies to lose weight after birth, they regain it, not necessarily according to a chart), their ‘lack of milk’, their post-natal depression, their return to work at 6 weeks post-partum, their struggles with normal and common breastfeeding issues (like attachment). They switched to a bottle of formula and the problems lessened or ended, so, they reason, the bottle was the solution. There’s a lot of talk about individual choice in these discussions.

Sometimes the bottle is a solution. Sometimes when you’ve got a 5 week old baby and you have to go back to work next week and breastfeeding and pumping isn’t working, and there’s no one to call who’ll come and help you to get it working, reaching for a tin of formula is a reasonable solution to your circumstances right now.

It isn’t a solution to the problem for all women, for our society, and we shouldn’t accept it as such. A woman who has to go back to work at six weeks or not at all doesn’t have a “choice”, she’s operating in a society that wants her to bottle-feed or live in poverty (or both, or “marry well”). The systemic solution isn’t for all such mothers to grab a bottle, it’s to provide financial support for mothers of infants so they don’t have to rush back to work quite so soon. Breastfeeding isn’t the problem, the lack of maternity leave, and family-unfriendly workplaces, are.

A woman who can’t access knowledgeable supporters when she struggles with attachment in the first few weeks doesn’t have a choice, she’s being neglected and bullied into bottle feeding. A woman who takes her baby to a doctor, a person who is supposed to understand baby development, and they tell her that her perfectly normal baby isn’t gaining weight fast enough and that the solution is formula, doesn’t have much of a choice, she’s being bullied. A woman who has suffered post-natal depression while struggling to breastfeed her first child without support, and is then advised to bottle-feed the second child, isn’t being liberated. She’s being dudded. The key phrase in the problem isn’t “breastfeeding” it’s “without support”. There are lots of women who are conned into framing their individual breastfeeding/bottle feeding dilemma as a matter of personal choice or personal circumstances. It isn’t. Babycare happens within a society that is structured to make some options easier than others, a society that makes some “choices” nigh on compulsory. The problem isn’t breastfeeding, it’s a lack of accessible professional and social support.

Which is why the discussion around whether or not bottle-feeding mothers “should” feel guilty is stupid. Guilt is pointless when you’re doing your best to muddle through a broken system. Anger at the stupid system, on the other hand, is entirely justified, no matter what you fed your baby.