Did America's pediatrician sell out?

By Katie Allison Granju

Published January 30, 2001 8:59PM (EST)

Read the story

I am amazed at how militant some parents can be with regard to the issues of breast-feeding vs. bottle feeding. Some women simply cannot breast-feed, and they should not be made to feel inadequate for it.

My own infant went on a breast strike at 3 months. She screamed and cried at feeding time and refused to nurse. Breast-feeding is supposed to be a wonderful experience for both the mother and the infant -- in my house, it became apparent it was neither. It also turned out that she was not tolerating breast milk very well. So I switched to soy formula. I then had a very happy infant with a very happy mother. We continue to have a loving relationship -- 11 years later! I commend Dr. Sears for stating that bottle-feeding patients can still benefit from "attachment parenting." I think that his Web site should offer balanced information about breast-feeding and bottle feeding.

-- Kristine Quart

For years, breast-feeding advocates and attachment-parenting practitioners have been ridiculed and labeled as "Nazis." I am saddened, as a pediatrician and a parent, by these attacks on Dr. Sears by his own followers. I strongly support and encourage extended exclusive breast-feeding and attachment parenting. For years, I have enjoyed Dr. Sears as sort of a harmless crank who takes an extreme hard line that those of us in general practice cannot. Over time, the mainstream is moving closer to embracing his ideas. I think Dr. Sears is exactly right to reach out to parents who want to do the best for their babies but are not ready or willing to go all the way with attachment parenting. Those who choose to attack Dr. Sears show themselves to be the caricatures they have fought for years. Dr. Sears shows common sense and care for his patients when he tells them to buy the cheapest formula -- they are all the same. To deny our patients any advice about formula is to ignore a part of our job. Give Dr. Sears a break and be glad that he is reaching out to a wider audience.

-- Jennifer Anders, M.D.

Dear God in heaven, I am sick to death of the breast-feeding Nazis!

I had my daughter -- now 6 -- when I was a junior in college. I could not take a semester off to stay home with her because she was the product of an awful, abusive relationship from which I could only escape by quickly finishing my education and entering the professional world.

I had to attend classes, write papers and participate in all of the other trappings of undergraduate life while attending to the needs of my newborn. When I gave birth to her, I was never visited by a lactation consultant, yet I was constantly bombarded with literature and phone calls from people who insisted on proclaiming that the only loving choice was to breast-feed my child.

I tried -- for three months I tried. I constantly felt guilty while I was sitting in class, engorged, in pain and leaking, afraid that I was wasting that milk and my daughter would starve because for her caretaker to give her formula was not a loving choice.

I was given no support by these lactation fascists. I finally gave up and at about 3 months my daughter began a formula-only diet. She is and was very healthy and well-adjusted. We have a beautiful single-mom/only-daughter relationship in spite of my past lactational inadequacies.

Breast-feeding is a luxury, not a duty. Not every new mother has a life that will allow such attachment. Can we have some balanced reporting on this issue?

-- Christina M. Szejk

Katie Granju's article about Dr. Sears is excellent -- fair, thorough and justifiably skeptical of Dr. Sears' explanations of why he decided to partner with an infant formula company. The WHO Code is simple and clear: Healthcare professionals are not allowed to accept gifts from companies that make or market infant formula. This includes free formula for hospitals, free lunches for the pediatrician's office, free pens -- and free Web site designing and hosting.

Dr. Sears' quest to bring bottle-feeding parents into the attachment-parenting fold has little chance of succeeding anyway. It is unlikely that parents who consciously choose to bottle feed -- knowing that formula increases their child's risk for many diseases during childhood and later life, and knowing that formula decreases average I.Q. -- will choose to take the time and energy to embrace the other practices that make up attachment parenting. Not to mention that a mother who is bottle feeding won't have the critical "mothering" hormones in her bloodstream (prolactin and oxytocin) that automatically predispose her to attachment-parenting practices. These hormones are released from a mother's pituitary only in response to her child suckling at her breast.

I'll continue to refer parents to La Leche League International for breast-feeding support and attachment-parenting advice. Their integrity is guaranteed.

-- Katherine A. Dettwyler, Ph.D.

It would appear that La Leche League International and attachment-parenting proponents are failing to see the forest for the trees. I am in complete agreement that breast-feeding not only is the healthiest way to feed your baby but also creates a special bond between mother and child. However, there are many mothers who, for whatever reason, have decided not to breast-feed.

I completely agree with Dr. Sears that his books "preach to the choir." I think that he was right in wanting to preach to those other mothers who most likely would not buy a book on breast-feeding or attachment parenting. Perhaps one of those mothers would have seen the brochures that were to have been included with cans of infant formula and become interested in attachment parenting. Who knows, she might even have decided to breast-feed her next baby. Of course LLLI and attachment-parenting proponents do not want to appear to endorse formula use, but they also need to stop being so shortsighted if they intend to win any new converts.

-- Diana Sugiuchi

Lighten up! Go nurse your baby or take her for a walk in the baby sling. The guy made some mistakes. It's probably not every day that he launches a Web site. He has taken steps to fix them. It's hardly a sellout, and it certainly doesn't change the world of good he and his wife have done for modern mothers and infants.

-- Cynthia Jessup

I have several of Sears' books. I felt naturally inclined toward the practices he promotes (baby wearing, breast-feeding, sleeping with my child). I felt great comfort that I was doing a lot right when I found "The Baby Book," and found it an excellent source of both affirmation and information.

I see nothing wrong with his having financial ties to a formula company. A lot of people choose not to breast-feed exclusively, or at all, for a myriad of reasons. If he promotes one formula over another, knowing that not everyone can/will follow his breast-feeding recommendations, the baby still needs to eat. Why not promote the best one? He clearly still promotes the breast as the very best, and doesn't go back on that. It's not as if he were promoting this formula as totally comparable to breast milk -- just better than some other formulas. All formulas, in my opinion, really are pretty nasty, but not everyone wants to or can be as committed as a woman whose child's lips never come in contact with rubber nipples.

My daughter never took a bottle or a pacifier, and I am glad, but it was at times very difficult and I consider myself lucky to have been in a position to provide that. Why do we all jump to criticize others' parenting? A combination of the strictest of Dr. Sears' parenting recommendations -- along with a little formula here and there -- can still constitute great parenting.

-- Sarah Spanyer

By Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------