Michelle Obama, Bachmann, and Palin All Get the Breast-Feeding Issue Wrong

The first lady makes moms feel guilty, Tea Party favorites miss the chance for productive dialogue.


Every mother I know already feels guilty about just about everything. If she works outside the home, is she spending enough time with her children? If she is a stay-at-home mom, are her children getting the proper social skills they will need to succeed in the nasty world that is preschool, kindergarten, and beyond?

In fact, all moms feel guilty pretty much from the moment their child is born. The breast-feeding debate is not new, but now thanks to Michelle Obama, Sarah Palin, and Michelle Bachmann, we are fighting this battle again, and again we are being asked to defend the decisions we make. All three of these women are mothers; you would think they would know better. You would be wrong.

Obama started this by saying women should be encouraged to breast-feed because breast-fed babies are less likely to be obese. Disagree as I may with her husband’s policies, I support the first lady 100 percent in her efforts to make us a healthier nation. I fail to see how eating healthy is a partisan issue. But breast-feeding isn’t as simple as just pulling up your shirt.

When my son was born, I tried to breast-feed. Oh, how I tried. My whole life I figured one of the benefits I would surely have as a well-endowed woman, would be I could breast-feed my child. The health benefits to the child are endless, not to mention the cost savings. And after seeing the dramatic weight loss my friends who did breast-feed had encountered, I was ready and willing. Someone just forgot to tell Able. [See photos of the Obamas behind the scenes.]

I tried lying down. I tried with the Breast Friend (a lap pillow meant to aid the process). I tried with a regular pillow, and I tried standing up. I tried pumping. My work environment was supportive of my efforts. Every day I would close my door for about a half-hour and pump. But whether I was home or at the office, the results were always the same: Trickle. Trickle. Trickle.

One night after six hours of my son at my chest, howling, I sent my husband out at 11 p.m. to find formula. He came home, and our son ate immediately and went to sleep.

That was it. I was done. I wasn’t going to have my son starve to death just so I could somehow feel better about myself. So what if the nurses at the hospital where he was born thought I was inadequate as a mother if I couldn’t do something so natural? Enough was enough.

Now that he is nearly three, no one, and I mean no one, would consider our son obese. In fact, they might likely ask if we feed him enough. Aside from a nasty spell last spring where it seems we were in the doctor’s office every week, and a nasty cough he is battling now which simply won’t go away, he has been healthy—we know we are lucky.

It’s great that Obama wants to encourage more mothers to breast-feed. But this encouragement needs to be accompanied by real advice, and the acceptance that some women just can’t, and some babies just won’t. Furthermore, the moms who formula-feed their children should not be made to feel as if they somehow care less or are lazy. I can assure you they do not and are not. [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on President Obama.]

Now, Palin and Bachmann could have used this as a real launching pad for their likely national aspirations. Women of all political stripes have feelings on breast-feeding, and the subject could make for strange bedfellows.

Instead, they decided to show their ignorance and their lack of common sense. Palin said Obama’s words were a result of rising milk costs. The thing is, though, you can’t give babies milk until they are at least one. As the mother of five, Palin should know this, and since her youngest is only a month older than my son, she should not have forgotten this so soon. [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on Sarah Palin.]

Bachmann, not wanting to lose out on that crucial crazy attractive female vote both she and Palin aspire to capture, chimed in as well, accusing the Obama administration of wanting to create a nanny state. Really? I know that’s exactly the kind of productive dialogue I want to see and hear from my leaders. Please.

My hat goes off to the women who can breast-feed, and if we have more children, I will surely try again. But giving tax breaks to women so they can buy expensive pumping devices, which is what Obama was talking about when she made the initial remarks, only sends the message that somehow formula-fed babies are less important. If there are going to be tax breaks for feeding your children, these families should not be left out. Formula is not cheap, even generic brands from Target can cost about $14 per canister. Name brand or specialty formula can run anywhere from $25-$60. If you are lucky, that canister lasts a week.  

Palin and Bachmann should have rallied to the defense of formula-feeding moms instead of going to their default notions of opposing anything Obama says simply because Obama says it. That’s not what leadership is about.

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