Mention the term breast-feeding in a large group of new mothers and soon the room could be teeming with insults and accusations.
For years a debate has simmered between women who breast-feed and women who feed their babies formula from a bottle. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a full year of breast-feeding, and earlier this year the World Health Organization called for at least six months of breast-feeding.
WHO research showed that exclusive breast-feeding for six months, without supplemental formula, decreases diarrhea and respiratory and ear infections, and improves brain growth.
Formula-Fed? Poor Babies
A national survey in the new issue of Baby Talk magazine garnered 36,000 responses and reveals just how divided the two camps are. (E-mail us your opinion.) Among breast-feeding mothers, 75 percent support formula feeding, but that seems to be their surface reaction only.
The survey also showed that 66 percent of the breast-feeders felt sorry for formula-fed babies, and 33 percent said they thought their bottle-feeding counterparts are "selfish and lazy."
Nearly all of the formula-feeding mothers, 92 percent, support breast-feeding, and most of them, 63 percent, said they have never been criticized by their breast-feeding peers. Among those who were criticized, about half said they were angry or frustrated about the criticism, but the other half said they just didn't care.
Dirty Looks, Snide Remarks
Meanwhile, 83 percent of breast-feeding moms reported that they felt criticized by the moms who use bottles. Much of the criticism takes the form of looks of disapproval or derogatory remarks from other mothers while they are nursing in public, the poll found.
Most of the women — 65 percent — used formula because of the inconvenience of breast-feeding, especially if they were going back to work. Most women receive a maternity leave of only six to eight weeks, which is barely enough time to get comfortable about breast-feeding.
Furthermore, many of the women surveyed by BabyTalk reported that their employers make it difficult to pump breast milk at work, and their husbands discourage breast-feeding because they fear it will interfere with their sex lives.
According to a Surgeon General's report issued last year, some 64 percent of American women breast-feed during their infants' first weeks to month of life. That's better than the 50 percent who breast-fed a decade ago, but it missed the government's goal of having 75 percent of mothers breast-feeding newborns in 2000.
For more information on breast-feeding visit BabyTalk magazine, the
American Academy of Pediatrics, or La Leche League International.