"Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves." - C Jung

November 10, 2010

Daddytypes today had a link to this very interesting and informative blog post about some children known as the Fultz Quadruplets.

The four Fultz girls -- identical quadruplets -- were born in 1946 to parents Pete and Annie Mae, who already had six children. Pete was a tenant farmer. Annie Mae was deaf and mute. The family lived in North Carolina, and, much like the Dionne Quintuplets born twelve years earlier, they were taken from their birth parents and raised by doctors and nurses. In the case of the Fultz girls, their care was subsidized by a company called PET milk - an early formula company.

There is a ton to be shocked by in this story, starting from the doctor who delivered them deciding to name them after members of his own family. But what made me absolutely irate in reading this was not actually the story -- it was the blog author's very casual note, at the end that all four girls had breast cancer (three died from it), and that this was the "consequence" of being formula-fed (rather than breast fed) as infants.

Give me a break.

Lets set aside for a moment (as my friend jenne.heise pointed out) the logistical difficulties involved in a poor woman with six children being able to nurse four hungry infants. Lets set aside, too, any thought that I personally might not feel like "breast is best". I nursed my son as much as I was able, but I also fed him formula. Because he had to eat something and he would have starved to death if his only choice had been the few ounces a day I was able to pump.

I know women who put forth this kind of uninformed, unsourced, judgemental, incorrect hogwash mean well. They want every mother to breast feed and that's a fine and noble -- and totally unachievable -- goal. Breastfeeding does a lot of good things, and protects babies and small children from a lot of things (including some childhood cancers), but it does not protect them from getting Breast Cancer. Rather it is women who lactate for at least 24 months who see the big decreases in breast cancer rates.

But it just doesn't help. I didn't feed my son formula because I wanted to. I did it because I had to -- I had to go back to work and he had to eat something. I'm sure my friend W.'s first choice isn't to formula feed as a stay-at-home mom, but breastfeeding simply wasn't working for her, and so having the option of formula available is keeping her baby happy, well-fed, and healthy.

In trying to find any -- any! -- source studies for her assertion, I discovered this interesting tidbit: in the 1960's, mothers with a family history of breast cancer were advised not to breast feed their daughters, since it was felt at that time that breast feeding might somehow increase the baby's chance of developing the disease in adulthood.

There is so much we can do to increase the rate of exclusive breast feeding in this country -- starting with education, especially for health care professionals and low-income families, right up to the pipe dream of Canadian-style year-long paid leave for new mothers. Scare tactics like this are not part of education. They don't convince anyone. All they serve to do is to increase the guilt and worry all mothers have over whether they are doing every single thing right for their baby.