The Conflict

This article annoys me:

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/aug/29/womans-place-elisabeth-badinter-review

Hewitt’s argument is that the drive for natural motherhood – breastfeeding, co-sleeping, natural birth and so on, is unscientific ideology, and is in fact bad for women. The naturalist account is supposedly wrong both about what is natural and the benefits of a natural approach. She is contradicted by the medical community, the scientific community, and the evidence.

The World Health Organisation (1), NHS (2), American Academy of Paediatrics (3), andUnited States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (4) all support breastfeeding. Breastfed babies suffer from fewer middle ear infections (5), half as much diarrhoea (6), fewer upper respiratory tract infections (7), and fewer urinary tract infections (8) than those which are not breastfed, among other health benefits (9). The longer an infant is breastfed, the less likely they are to suffer from depression and other psychological conditions (10). Breastfeeding also improves cognitive development – breastfed babies become more intelligent than those who are not breastfed (11).

Co-sleeping involves risks as well as benefits, so in America it is recommended that infants and parents share the same room but not the same bed. Nonetheless children who co-slept as infants are happier, less anxious, have higher self-esteem, are more comfortable with intimacy, and are generally more independent as adults (12) (13)(14) (15).

Evidence suggests that home birth with a midwife is just as safe as hospital birth, except in a small percentage of high-risk cases (16).

Hewitt’s arguments about breastfeeding, like arguments against the reality of man-made climate change, are characterised as being in favour of science but in fact contradictprevailing scientific evidence. She accuses her opponents of being ideologues, and then comes up with a spree of irrelevant attacks that provide no counter to the fact that breastfeeding works. It provides innumerable benefits with very little risk. Breastfeeding is obviously natural, but what is more important is that it is effective.

Hewitt is worried that women are disadvantaged in the workplace. But the best response to that problem is not to view breastfeeding, co-sleeping, “natural birth” (use of that phrase tars all alternatives to medicated birth with the same brush, and is worth an article of its own), and anything else that smells anti-modern as evil. The answer is to work out how best to use those benefits and accommodate them with the rest of our lives.

References:

1    http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2003/9241562218.pdf

2    http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/Pages/why-breastfeed.aspx#close

3    http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/115/2/496

4    http://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/promotion/index.htm

5    http://www.jpeds.com/article/S0022-3476(05)80843-1/abstract

6    http://www.jpeds.com/article/S0022-3476(95)70395-0/abstract

7    http://www.nature.com/jp/journal/v22/n5/full/7210742a.html

8    http://dx.doi.org/10.1080%2F08035250310007402

9    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK38337/

10  http://www.jpeds.com/article/S0022-3476(09)01036-1/abstract

11  http://jhl.sagepub.com/content/18/4/361

12  Crawford, M. “Parenting practices in the Basque Country: Implications of infant and child-hood sleeping location for personality development”, Ethos, 1994, 22, 1: 42–82.

13  Forbes, J.F. et al.. “The cosleeping habits of military children”. Military medicine 1992: 196–200.

14  Heron, P. “Non-reactive cosleeping and child behavior: Getting a good night’s sleep all night, every night”, Master’s thesis, Department of Psychology, University of Bristol, 1994

15  Keller, M.A., and W.A. Goldberg (2004). “Co-sleeping: Help or hindrance for young children’s independence?”. Infant and Child Development 13 (December): 369–388.

16  Durand, Mark A. (1992). “The Safety of Home Birth: The Farm Study”. American Journal of Public Health

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