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

Sebastian Velez svelez at oeb.harvard.edu
Fri Mar 20 12:08:30 EDT 2009

Dear all:

Thanks to all for the replies to my post. One of the most important
papers for parental-offspring conflict and genetic imprinting (where
the same gene gets different expression in the child depending if it
came from the mother or the father) is David Haig (1993) Genetic
Conflicts in Human Pregnancy, The Quarterly Review of Biology, Vol.
68, No. 4 (Dec., 1993), pp. 495-532.

You can find it through hollis, or maybe here

or send me an email and I'll send you the PDF. The paper has been
cited more than 300 times, so you can look at those that cite him to
go deeper into any of the subtopics that may interest you.


On Fri, Mar 20, 2009 at 10:13 AM, Sebastian Velez
<svelez at oeb.harvard.edu> wrote:
> 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,
> Sebastian
> 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.  You 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 enough 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 an 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 than 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 child 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 circles, is phrases like "you're doing worse when you give formula," or extolling the 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 pump, 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 near enough is that breastfeeding is wonderful IF its wonderful. And that if you 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 herself "It may prevent an ear infection, Emily, it will not cure cancer." Especially in the emotional insanity of postpartum hormones reassurance and 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 to answerthe question "what is formula ?"
>>> http://www.theecologist.org/pages/archive_detail.asp?content_id=586
>>> 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, so now they are initiating a kind of revolt as naive as their first belief in 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 it 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 members of this listserve will make of it.
>>> http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200904/case-against-breastfeeding
>>> _______________________________________________
>>> Parentsgroup-list mailing list
>>> Parentsgroup-list at lists.hcs.harvard.edu
>>> http://lists.hcs.harvard.edu/mailman/listinfo/parentsgroup-list
>> --
>> 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
> --
> Sebastián Vélez
> Museum of Comparative Zoology
> Harvard University
> 26 Oxford St. Cambridge MA 02138
> 781-799-2906

Sebastián Vélez
Museum of Comparative Zoology
Harvard University
26 Oxford St. Cambridge MA 02138

More information about the Parentsgroup-list mailing list