The Today Show hurts America. That’s right. And while I’m at it, so does Good Morning America, The Early Show, Fox & Friends, and every other American morning “news” and talk show that propagates careless, partial research and half-truths. And Monday, it got personal.
The American media has been finding itself in a heap of trouble lately. First it was the political media that failed us by not accurately and truthfully reporting the state of events leading up to the war in Iraq. Then it was the economic press, failing to appropriately and honestly alert us to the foreseeable consequences to greedy and dishonest deeds on Wall Street and in corporate America. And now it’s the morning news/talk show circuit (and I use “news” lightly) that is flooding American homes with irresponsible, half-assed, and poorly researched segments that can have a profoundly negative impact on the breastfeeding culture as we know it.
Case in point, Monday’s segment titled Is breast-feeding really best?: The case against breastfeeding, hosted by The Today Show’s Natalie Morales, advertised with the tag line, “Some women are questioning whether the health benefits are worth it.” When I saw this segment and read the “supporting” article on www.today.msnbc.com I honestly started to cry; my entire being was deeply saddened by the potential negative consequences this garbage could have on impressionable gestating and new mothers all over this country.
The segment starts by citing the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that mothers breastfeed their children exclusively for the first 6 months and continue to breastfeed while introducing solid foods for the first year. After this, the segment goes downhill fast. Dr. Nancy Snyderman, NBC’s chief medical editor, continues by apathetically listing an incomplete inventory of the health benefits of breastfeeding for both babies and mothers and then states (and this is a direct quote), “But some challenge the science is not so strong.” [I will get to that outrageous untruth in just a moment.]
Next to speak is Hanna Rosin, a breastfeeding (that’s right) mother of three who recently wrote an article for the current issue of The Atlantic magazine entitled The case against breastfeeding. Morales prompts Rosin with the statement, “You are not anti-breastfeeding but you do talk about the society pressures. Explain,” to which Rosin responds, “New moms are really vulnerable. You go into the doctor’s office, you read the magazines, and they make you feel like you are putting your child in grave danger if you don’t breastfeed them. And then you read the scientific literature and frankly, there isn’t the solid evidence you would expect to support this.”
Let’s take these outrageous statements one at a time shall we!
Bogus Claim #1 I believe Rosin is right when she says that new moms are vulnerable and because of this, I feel like we should be using our resources and energy in this country to increase support for pregnant and postpartum moms instead of going on television and touting why one shouldn’t breastfeed! In fact, pregnancy is a time when most women find themselves really starting to form a healthy obsession with researching everything they can about pregnancy, birth, and child rearing. And that is good! We have come a long way from the 1950s when women were given hormone injections to dry up their milk, left alone as their babies were taken from them for hours or days after birth, told that their breasts were either “too big” or “too small” to breastfeed, or worse, that breastfeeding was only for “poor” or “uneducated” women. It is sad that Rosin does not see how wonderful it is that magazines and physicians are finally on board with reporting on the benefits of breastfeeding and how to be successful at it! And if those articles make women feel “bad” about choosing not to breastfeed, that doesn’t mean that these articles are bad, it might just mean that these particular women might need more education and support during pregnancy and postpartum.
Bogus Claim #2 As far as there not being enough scientific literature supporting the benefits of breastfeeding, how about this: a meta analysis published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (AHRQ) in 2007 entitled “Breastfeeding and Maternal and Infant Health Outcomes in Developed Countries,” which reviewed over 9,000 abstracts, 43 preliminary studies, 43 primary studies on maternal health outcomes, and 29 systematic reviews or meta-analyses that covered approximately 400 individual studies on breastfeeding concluded with the following:
“A history of breastfeeding was associated with a reduction in the risk of acute otitis media, non-specific gastroenteritis, severe lower respiratory tract infections, atopic dermatitis, asthma (young children), obesity, type 1 and 2 diabetes, childhood leukemia, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and necrotizing enterocolitis [for the child]. For maternal outcomes, a history of lactation was associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, breast, and ovarian cancer…Early cessation of breastfeeding or not breastfeeding was associated with an increased risk of maternal postpartum depression.”
An article posted yesterday on Motherwear’s Breastfeeding Blog originally referenced this study and I highly recommend reading the post as it is both informative and extremely well put! As far as Rosin’s article, she only cites 2, that’s right…two research articles to support her argument that there isn’t enough evidence that “Breast is Best.”
Bogus Claim #3 The segment continues with Rosin stating, “I feel like many people do feel like they’ve failed, if they can’t breastfeed or have trouble breastfeeding, or if they want to stop breastfeeding. They just feel like ‘I’m giving my kid poison if I give them formula’, and it really isn’t like that.” In Rosin’s article she also gaffs at the idea of a “lactation consultant” by writing “(note to the childless: yes, this is an actual profession, and it’s thriving).”
What Rosin fails to realize is that lactation consultants are a woman’s ally, not enemy. Their training and purpose is not to make women feel bad about not being able to or having trouble with breastfeeding, but rather to assist them in anyway so that they can become successful at breastfeeding! And if after their help a woman still cannot breastfeed (for whatever reason), then at least she can rest assured that gave it her best. Should other mothers now judge this mother? Of course not! But that doesn’t mean that the information and support about breastfeeding should not be provided to that mother first! Rosin alludes to the fact that in this country, women do not have enough postpartum support and yet she degrades one profession that seeks to do just that! And furthermore I’d like to shout, Hey NBC!!! How about next time you put together a panel to speak about breastfeeding issues, you include someone who actually is an expert in breastfeeding or breastfeeding education, like a lactation counselor, La Leche League leader, pediatrician, nurse, midwife, or obstetrician, instead of an Otolaryngologist (a head and neck surgeron) who specializes in head and neck cancer. (That’s right, Dr. Nancy Snyderman is an otolaryngologist). To me, that’s downright irresponsible journalism.
Bogus Claim #4 Both Snyderman and Rosin stress the inconveniences of breastfeeding throughout the segment as well as pointing out the societal pressures against it. “If you want to clear a zone of inhibition around your lunch table [at work], breastfeed your baby in public,” squawks Snyderman. By this point in the show, I began to think to myself, what is this segment’s main argument? Is it that some mothers know the benefits of breastfeeding, but question whether the benefits are worth it to them? OR Is it that breastfeeding does not offer health advantages for both mother and baby over formula feeding? I hate to break it to the Today Show, but the former statement, although very saddening, is probably true…but the later statement is just blatantly FALSE!
Is it that mothers should support each other, even if situations beyond their control arise that prevent their ability or shorten the length of time they’re able to breastfeed? OR Is it that formula is just as good as breast milk and therefore breastfeeding isn’t worth the “bother and inconvenience?” Because again the former statement is true…but the later statement is blatantly FALSE! Sadly, the Today Show automatically promotes both of the later statements with its sensationalized hooks and trailers for the segment, which were repeated before every commercial break for 30 minutes before the piece aired. Oh, and by the way Snyderman, formula might not be poison, but I certainly don’t think it is conscientious to go on national television and call it “wonderful” and “as healthy of an alternative.”
Bogus Claim #5 On www.today.msnbc.com, Mike Celizic recaps the segment by writing, “After decades of indoctrination delivered with evangelical fervor, American women have come to take it as an article of faith that if they don’t breast-feed their children, they’ll grow up to be underachievers plagued with health problems and lacking a bond with their mother.” Oh the drama! (…Give me a break!!)
In reality, if an organization or health care provider details and promotes the benefits of breastfeeding it does NOT mean that they are telling women that not breastfeeding their child will result in harm and danger. It’s about RISK REDUCTION. The truth is, research supports the belief that breastfeeding might lower your child’s risk for a variety of illnesses and reduce a mother’s risk for things like postpartum hemorrhage and postpartum depression. That doesn’t mean that every woman who bottle feeds will get postpartum depression and her baby is guaranteed to be plagued with frequent diarrhea and ear infections. It just helps decrease their risk!
Furthermore, when I go to the dentist and the dentist looks at my teeth and says to me, “Have you been flossing twice a day?” and I say “No…” and then he goes over the benefits of flossing and the risks of not flossing, what is wrong about that interaction? True, I might be a bit embarrassed and feel a bit guilty about not flossing, but that doesn’t mean that the dentist should NOT tell me about the benefits of flossing! It would be irresponsible of him as a health care provider to not at least make sure I knew all the risks and benefits and then if I still decide that flossing isn’t something that’s “worth the time”, then I have the right to make that decision for myself as an adult. But throughout her article, time and time again, Rosin writes negatively about providing women with counsel and educational information regarding breastfeeding, NOT just about the unfortunate judgment that some women might face from their peers if they make the decision not breastfeed. When I ask a patient if she is going to breast or bottle feed during my admission interview as a labor & delivery nurse, and she tells me she is going to bottle feed, it is my responsibility as a health care provider to ask her about her reasons and provide her with educational breastfeeding materials so that I know in the end, if she decides breastfeeding is not for her, it is not because of misinformation, old wives tales, misguided pressures from family, or a lack of education, but because it is just her decision.
Bogus Claim #6 As for the time commitment argument, on the show Rosin stated “…and we all know what a time commitment breastfeeding is… I mean it’s a pretty serious commitment to breastfeed. It’s not like taking a prenatal vitamin.” She elaborates on this position in her article by writing, “[Breast-feeding]is a serious time commitment that pretty much guarantees that you will not work in any meaningful way. This is why, when people say that breast-feeding is “free,” I want to hit them with a two-by-four. It’s only free if a woman’s time is worth nothing.”
First I personally know women who work in offices, restaurants, schools, parks, and hospitals, in white collar jobs and blue collar jobs, as doctors, nurses, teachers, farmers, bus drivers, waitresses, and stay-at-home moms, who would like Rosin to know that they believe, as well as myself and many others, that their work IS meaningful. And if you are a mom who feels differently, who feels “miserable, stressed out, or alienated by nursing, or who feels her marriage is under stress and breast-feeding is making things worse”, then perhaps you are right. Perhaps you shouldn’t be breastfeeding and perhaps you should also honestly consider obtaining counseling or joining a support group for new mothers because breastfeeding probably isn’t the root of all of your problems. But for goodness’ sake, for Rosin to go around writing and stating on national television that “the actual health benefits of breast-feeding are surprisingly thin” and that breastfeeding is just “instrument of misery that mostly just keeps women down” [both direct quotes] is untrue, misleading, and hurtful to gestating and new mothers everywhere, both planning and not planning to breastfeed.
Second, I would like Rosin to know that MANY healthy practices in life take a time commitment. Our primary care physicians and cardiologists often tell us Americans about the health benefits of eating a well balanced diet low in saturated fat as well as the benefits of exercising regularly. Everything we do in our lives to better our health takes time, but that doesn’t mean that our doctors and other health care providers shouldn’t continue to educate people on these healthy practices just because people might feel “guilty” if they don’t do them! And it also doesn’t mean that if you don’t exercise three times a week and eat a balanced diet that you are guaranteed to die of a heart attack. It just helps to reduce your risk!
In conclusion, the state of maternity care and postpartum support in this country is in a crisis, and if we don’t even have the media reporting good research and promoting healthy living for ourselves and our children, it is only going to continue to get worse. Shame on NBC for being so irresponsible; it’s one thing for The Atlantic to publish an opinion piece (no matter how outrageous), but it is another thing to put this woman and her bogus research on national television and try to pass it off as news. The unfortunate thing is that for some people, shows like Today are their only source of news! As a society, we should be focusing our energy towards making things better for new mothers by using the power of the media for good, like airing segments on breastfeeding/new parent support groups and tools for breastfeeding success or helping to pass legislation that makes appropriate break time, a clean & quiet place to pump, and an adequate place to store milk something that is available to ALL working mothers! But instead the Today show decided to throw their hands up and agree that things are never going to change by providing unchallenged air time to this sorely misled mother. And if shows like Today continue to propagate and support such astounding untruths on national television, they are going to continue to hurt America.