Monday, June 26, 2006

Mammary Memories

I'd kinda gotten out of the lactation habit (hey, it happens to us all eventually!) Understand, a tendency to lactivism runs in my blood; I haven't bought a Nestle product since I can't remember when. But I'm older, the kiddos are growing up, the well's been dry for quite some time, and it wasn't something I was spending an awful lot of time thinking about. Then, over the weekend, it started raining breastfeeding stories.

First was this post on Catholic blog The post was interesting, and of course spawned a slew of comments (I must confess I yielded to the urge to contribute.) The article the post cited is in a British online periodical called Ecology. I skimmed but did not read it entirely; though thorough, it didn't seem to have a whole lot of new information. It's probably a good resource if you're not up on your breastfeeding facts. For me, after scrolling through a couple of screens' worth (oh, it is looooong) I started to feel a bit like the anecdotal small boy who is assigned a report on a book about penguins and begins his essay with 'This book told me more about penguins than I wanted to know.'

On the other hand, curiosity and an idle comment led me to do some poking around on the breastfeeding and HIV issue, and I found this article from a Johns Hopkins study. In the third world at least, breastfeeding by HIV-positive mothers is still considered safer for infants younger than 6 months--but only if pacticed exclusively. (A commenter on the Jimmy Akin post explains that standard practice is to nurse exclusively for six months while the transmission risk is low, then wean abruptly at six months when the risk factors start to shift.)

Then there was this article sent me with no little ire by my sister-in-law. It is by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach [I think he has something to do with cable program Shalom in the Home with which I'm not familiar.] and is titled Should Mothers Breast-Feed if it Disrupts the Marriage? The Rabbi had recieved 61 comments when I looked in, most of them from very irate mothers.

The article begins citing an NYT Science times report on the benefits of breastfeeding (Rabbi Boteach obstreporously persists in hyphenating the term--the single word is correct. A lot of lactivists went to a lot of effort about 15 years ago to get the UN to standardize the term.) Then, not denying any of those benefits, he proceeds to sweep them all aside with the earth-shattering observation that breastfeeding can get in the way of a marriage. (At this point I'm itching to issue the following correction: Raising an infant, regardless of the feeding method used, can get in the way of a marriage. But the Rabbi has a point to make, and he's not about to let minor details get in his way:)
Even Harvard University published a study years ago which found that in the first year after a child is born a couple’s love life would decreases by about 74%...
There are two effects of breast-feeding that we often do not focus on. One is the de-eroticization of a woman’s body, as in her husbands eyes one of the most attractive parts of her body becomes, in effect, a cafeteria, and second it often means that a husband and wife can’t even sleep in the bed because the baby is either in the bed or the baby cries and takes all the mother’s attention.
So why we must always glorify the benefits of breast-feeding, if it begins to disrupt the marriage itself we have to begin to question if the family is better off with a baby on the bottle because no matter what benefits there are to a baby with breast-feeding, these would all be severely undermined if the parents marriage itself began to crumble.

I initially proposed to her that an inherent inclination on the part of the rabbi to favor procreation might be clouding his judgement just a little. SIL, as her comment on this post indicates, thought otherwise.After a reread of the column I'm beginning to agree with her that his prejudice might be a little more personal. I've also been musing, with all the confidence of the woefully ignorant, on the theological aspects of the whole thing. In the interest of keeping my musing neat and orderly, I'll leave that for a subsequent post. All these lactation discussions have got me thinking some serious research into the issues they brought up is in order.

While I'm reflecting on the Rabbi's column and other views of breastfeeding in our time, I urge moral courage of all husbands of lactating women. The rabbi's intentions may be noble, but I really do think he's thrown the baby out with the bathwater in his zeal to 'save' marriages [pun intended.]
SIL commented upon the column,
...Grow up, little boys and become men!
To which I add,
Remember, Christianity had to come along before that redemptive suffering thing really caught on!

This post has been edited by the author since its initial posting.



Blogger Mollyreinvented said...

Sister-in-law here. Thought provoking post. I saw an ad for TLC with Rabbi Shmuley on it in which he discussed his childhood being born the 5th child. He said it was "brutal". I am not sure what his feelings are on the whole procreation piece although I imagine it must be in the back of his mind. I admire that he is trying to keep families together. Given our cultures high rate of divorce it is an important and admirable pursuit. I think there are many reasons why intimacy can die in a marriage but I think he may be jumping the gun on attributing it to breastfeeding. I wonder if "intimacy" actually increased with the cessation of breastfeeding in the case he mentioned.

12:06 PM  
Blogger CMinor said...

Very good point. I can easily see a mom who may already be harboring some ill-will who's just weaned under pressure from husband and rabbi feeling just a leetle resentful.

If the rabbi is concerned about saving marriage, he needs to be careful how he goes about it.

8:31 PM  

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