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Opinion: Breast-feeding is not for everyone

I was dismayed to see the interview with Arnetta Stewart and Katja Pigur of the Maternity Care Coalition ("An effort to increase breast-feeding in Philly," June 5).

I was dismayed to see the interview with Arnetta Stewart and Katja Pigur of the Maternity Care Coalition ("An effort to increase breast-feeding in Philly" which appreared on June 5).

While the breast-feeding initiation rates cited are spot-on (78 percent of mothers initiating breast-feeding), the hand-wringing about their inadequacy is not. These statistics do not take into account the deeply personal reasons the remaining 22 percent do not breast-feed from birth - women who have undergone mastectomies, women on certain contraindicated or borderline medications, and women who have histories of sexual trauma, to name a few.

Seen in proper context, 79 percent nationwide is pretty darn impressive.

Ms. Stewart claims that "Babies that are breast-fed are healthier babies."

This is patently false; the vast majority of infant feeding research is associative, bogged down by shoddy research methodology and confounding factors. We do have enough evidence to suggest a health benefit from breast-feeding, but this does not mean that every formula-fed baby will be sicker than his breast-fed peer.

She claims that breast-feeding promotes bonding between mom and baby; perhaps in most cases, but certainly not for the women who I've counseled, women who despised breast-feeding or for whom the act of nursing triggered memories of sexual assault, severe physical pain, or feelings of failure.

But of all the misleading claims in this piece, one stands out as particularly alarming. Says Ms. Stewart, "breast-feeding puts their children physically, mentally, and emotionally on the same playing field as moms of a higher income."

No, the way we feed our babies in the first year does not level the playing field. Better health care, secure and safe housing, and equal education for all begins to level it. Breast-feeding, not so much.

Suzanne Barston, creator of FearlessFormulaFeeder.com and author of "Bottled Up" (University of California Press, 2012)

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