Breast is Best? One Dad Says No to Breastfeeding

In an article published yesterday in The Atlantic, one dad makes his case against breastfeeding, saying that the "breast is best" mindset added insult to injury after his wife struggled to nurse their son.

Related: 10 Ways Dads can Help Ensure Breastfeeding Success

"Betsy really wanted to breastfeed. She tried. Really hard. It wasn't easy," Chris Kornelis, music editor at Seattle Weekly, writes. "There were problems with the 'latch' and with Thomas getting enough to eat. We went to a lactation consultant, rented a pump, and were up every two hours for a hazy routine of turning on the machine, attaching the tubes, applying the supplemental nipple system, and trying to feed a crying baby. There wasn't much milk, but there were plenty of tears."

Related: Could Breastfeeding Ruin Your Marriage?

They turned to formula, and almost immediately their lives changed for the better.

"That meant that I could get up on my own and feed Thomas while his mom went for six hours of sleep," he writes. "The advantages extended beyond quality REM sleep. I got to bond with my son. I got to sing him songs and tell him stories. Those hours of father-child bonding were a good thing. I got to take him to my parents' house for the day -- without worrying about having enough milk or keeping it cold -- and give Betsy an afternoon to rest. Betsy and I got to go away for a long weekend -- to be together, to work on our marriage, something that was not just good for us, but good for the baby, too."

But plenty of dads manage to bond with their babies even if their wives are nursing. And "work on our marriage" veers dangerously close to another anti-breastfeeding argument usually offered by guys: the idea that a woman's breasts are a man's sexy time toys. Seem far fetched? Just last summer, bottle company promoted bottle feeding with tweets like "New baby? Reclaim your wife" and "Feeling like you're competing with your newborn for mommy's attention?" Over at the New York Times, guest blogger James Braly (over)shared about how watching his wife breastfeed ruins his sexual appetite. Infidelity is a side-effect of extended breastfeeding, he writes, and "the positive effects of extended breast-feeding should be considered in light of the negative effects on the marriage."

Kornelis doesn't go there, thank goodness. Instead, he complains that the warnings slapped on containers of powdered formula made him and his wife feel like failures.

"I've never seen a sticker on the outside of a box of frozen chicken nuggets that says 'experts agree, feeding your child chicken that's definitely chicken and not covered in breading is best'," he writes. "Our pediatrician told us it was no big deal to switch to formula. Do you think he'd say the same for a steady diet of fast food?"

The reason that chicken nuggets don't come with warning labels is that the medical community has ever pushed them as an alternative to actual chicken -- though given the way that McDonald's, Burger King, and other fast food giants are being made to post calorie counts and offer healthier menu options, one could argue that there's a big warning label on the fast food industry as a whole.

On the other hand, just a generation or two ago women were told that formula was a cleaner, more modern way to feed their babies -- and many people in developing countries still feel that way, in spite of the dangers posted by unclean water supplies and tainted formula (one study found arsenic in certain organic baby formulas, and Enfamil is currently being sued after three babies died of rare bacterial infections). And as recently as last year, the United States was actively lobbying against breastfeeding in other countries, saying that encouraging new moms to breastfeed could "damage the milk industry and negatively affect employment," according to news reports.

Some women may feel that, when it comes to breastfeeding, dads shouldn't have a say at all. But Kornelis isn't actually making a case against breast feeding; his article is more of a case against pressuring people to do what doesn't work for them, which makes sense, wrapped in a complaint about "ideal" being the same as "only," which doesn't. The problem isn't which feeding method moms choose, it's the fact that parents who are striving to be perfect don't stop to consider what works best for them -- and that some people think "breast is best" is some sort of a personal attack instead of a medical suggestion.