[Parentsgroup-list] RE: Parentsgroup-list] anti-breastfeeding article in the AtlanticMonthly

Sebastian Velez svelez at oeb.harvard.edu
Fri Mar 20 10:13:31 EDT 2009

Dear all:

Here's the father and evolutionary biologist adding data to the mix:

I completely formula-fed my second daughter, so that her mother could work.
At the time, I wish she had breastfed, but she would rather do other things.
Besides, my wife comes from a very poor background where formula, hospitals
and anesthetics are a luxury, and  babies die when the mother cannot produce
enough milk, a C-section is necessary, or from simple complications while
giving birth at home. We watch with amazement the whole debate about home
births, going without pain medicine, and breastfeeding and cleaning cloth
diapers when the mother could be working and enjoying life. I also run a
project in Haiti where we have women dying all the time because of
complications when giving birth and see malnourished babies with women who
just don't produce enough. Asking these women if they'd like to give birth
in a hospital, with anesthetics, and later have the option of formula and
disposable diapers would be an insult. Of course they would.

Anyhow, here's some more data for the discussion: there something called
parent-offspring conflict in evolutionary biology. Actually, one of its most
prominent researchers is here at Harvard and last year I taught a class with
him on Vertebrate Viviparity (the evolution or live birth in animals with
backbones). There is a lot of evidence for the existence of conflicts
between the interest of babies and that of their mothers, and between the
genes of the father and the genes of the mother. For example, a fetus will
try to extract the largest amount of sugar from the mother's blood by
manipulating insulin levels, while mothers will counter that with their own
insulin surge which the baby then again counteracts with
anti-mother's-insulin enzymes. It is to the baby's advantage to be the
strongest baby possible, while it is to the mother's advantage to survive
the whole thing and be healthy enough to have more babies later. In other
words, your baby is literally trying to suck the life out of you. On the
other hand, the father's genes will want the baby to extract as much as
possible from the mother, while the mother's genes want a baby with little
needs/extraction urge. You can see the clear evidence of this with some
genetic defects in which either some of the father's or mother's genes are
inactivated: you either get a baby that does not sleep and totally consumes
the mother, or a baby that sleeps all the time, does not cry and makes
little physiological demands on the mother to his own expense. Guess which
sets of genes (mother or father) get inactivated in each case.

Don't confuse how things are (science) with what they ought to be (ethics).
We don't live in the African savanna during the early Pleistocene, and
there's no reason to behave like it. My purpose in life is not to have as
many progeny as possible or to wait and see what natural selection would
have done to my children 100,000 years ago. I don't trust industry one bit
to care for my children or do anything else than to make a profit, and I
look at formula and all baby products with deep suspicion. But aguments of
things being more "natural" don't go too far with me either. The human body
is the best argument against intelligent design.

All the best,


2009/3/20 Michal Herzfeld <mherzfeld at law.harvard.edu>

>  Michelle,
> Thank you so much for your post.  It was pretty much exactly what I wanted
> to say, but in a much nicer tone than I would have been able to manage.  =
> can't overestimate the power of the combination of post-delivery hormones,
> lack of sleep, and the sudden discovery that one just doesn't produce eno=
> milk for one's child.  People make it seem like the single most important
> thing a mother can do for her child is to breastfeed, and to find out
> that one can't makes one feel like an utter failure, less of a woman, and=
> unfit mother.  Hearing phrases like "you're doing worse when you give
> formula" simply reinforces that.
> I realize this debate centers around the choice to give formula rather th=
> giving formula out of necessity, but I wanted to give some voice to the
> minority of women whose children would simply starve without formula.  For
> those who find themselves judging parents who give formula: next time you
> see a woman or man feeding a child formula, try to tell yourself that
> formula feeding is their decision, and a perfectly acceptable one.  But if
> you can't bring yourself to believe that, just think that perhaps the chi=
> is only alive because of the miracle of formula.
> Michal
> <-----Original Message----->
>        *From: Michelle Forman [mlf534 at mail.harvard.edu]*
> Sent: 3/19/2009 1:22:55 PM
> To: emilie.cappella at gmail.com
> Cc: Parentsgroup-list at lists.hcs.harvard.edu
> Subject: Re: [Parentsgroup-list] RE: Parentsgroup-list] anti-breastfeeding
> article in the AtlanticMonthly
> What I think that we need to be careful of, in our highly-educated circle=
> is phrases like "you're doing worse when you give formula," or extolling =
> many benefits of breastfeeding over formula. I say this because in our
> circles we have been utterly, completely convinced of the benefit. What I
> and many of my friends struggled with was the emotional fallout when it
> didn't work perfectly. I have watched friends in and out of this program
> spends hundreds of dollars on lactation consultants, smuggle drugs in from
> Canada to increase production, be told not to let a drop of formula cross
> their infants' lips, obsessively monitor the ounces they were able to pum=
> shut down emotionally at the suggestion that their baby looked hungry, be
> told that a baby rejected the breast was making unhealthy choices and she
> should throw out every bottle in the house, and on and on.
> The message that is not out there - again, in my experience - anywhere ne=
> enough is that breastfeeding is wonderful IF its wonderful. And that if y=
> end up needing to supplement or switch to formula your baby will still be
> healthy and strong, will not suffer intellectually or lack an emotional
> connection to his/her parents. I remember a friend of mine saying to hers=
> "It may prevent an ear infection, Emily, it will not cure cancer."
> Especially in the emotional insanity of postpartum hormones reassurance a=
> perspective are critical, and in my experience, sorely lacking.
> 2009/3/18 milie cappella <emilie.cappella at gmail.com>
>>  Hi,
>>  I wonder why everybody is always talking about breastfeeding PROS and
>> CONS. You're not doing better when you breastfeed, but you're doing worse
>> when you give formula, that's the point. And you know that when you try =
>> answerthe question "what is formula ?"
>>  http://www.theecologist.org/pages/archive_detail.asp?content_id=3D586
>> Of course breast milk is not a magical elixir, people and journalists who
>> tell that are just doing some poetry. Breast milk is only the normal
>> thing.The natural process is more reliable thanthe industrial one, and we
>> don't need to count IQ points to know that.
>> The Atlantic article shows that American propaganda about breastfeeding
>> wenttoo far : some women believed the propaganda and were disappointed, =
>> now they are initiating a kind of revolt as naive as their first belief =
>> the magic. It's unfair for the people who try so hard to obtain a better
>> legislation for working mothers.
>>  Emilie Cappella
>>  ----- Original Message -----
>>  *Sent:* Monday, March 16, 2009 9:36 AM
>> *Subject:* [Parentsgroup-list] anti-breastfeeding article in the
>> AtlanticMonthly
>> Hi parents,
>> I wonder what you'll make of this provocative article. I feel like I also
>> had my issues with breastfeeding (especially the inequality it sets up in
>> the parenting between mother and father) but I feel quite strongly that =
>> is the best option for my child. The article below brings up a lot of
>> questions about breastfeeding and I wonder what the highly educated memb=
>> of this listserve will make of it.
>> http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200904/case-against-breastfeeding
>> _______________________________________________
>> Parentsgroup-list mailing list
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> --
> Michelle Forman
> Doctoral Student, Education Policy
> Strategic Education Research Partnership
> Harvard Graduate School of Education
> 617-895-6455 (cell)
> 617-495-7661 (office)
> _______________________________________________
> Parentsgroup-list mailing list
> Parentsgroup-list at lists.hcs.harvard.edu
> http://lists.hcs.harvard.edu/mailman/listinfo/parentsgroup-list

-- =

Sebasti=E1n V=E9lez
Museum of Comparative Zoology
Harvard University
26 Oxford St. Cambridge MA 02138
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