It’s Not a “Nanny State,” It’s a Booby Trap Nation!

By now, you’ve probably heard Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann’s inaccurate and inflammatory quote about the IRS ruling reversal that allows breast pumps and pump supplies tax-sheltered status: “I’ve given birth to five babies and I breast-fed every single one,” Bachmann said. “To think that government has to go out and buy my breast pump. … That’s the new definition of a nanny state.”

We know that this is simply wrong, and that “tax-sheltered” doesn’t mean “government-purchased.” It means that moms can purchase pumps and pump supplies through health spending accounts or that they can deduct the costs of those products when they file itemized income taxes. (For a clear explanation of the tax break for moms, see this post.)

Instead of opting to correct Bachmann’s statement or focusing on an explanation of what the new ruling means, the story quickly deteriorates into fodder for the Mommy Wars.

Breastfeeding is a non-partisan issue.  Or at least it ought to be.

Breastfeeding is the biological norm. When families are prevented from breastfeeding or accessing donor milk, it compromises the health of both mothers and babies.  (Yes, many formula-fed babies enjoy good health and breastfed babies do get sick, as do the mothers who fed them; but biologically speaking and statistically speaking, breastfeeding affords better outcomes.)  A tax-break on breast pumps and supplies will cost the government substantially less than providing formula through WIC and on healthcare expenses for a population that can’t meet their personal breastfeeding goals.

Breastfeeding=healthier people. Healthier people cost less (both at the individual and government levels).  Breastfeeding is completely compatible with both liberal and conservative agendas, but it continues to be framed by the media as a partisan issue.  (And for the record, the fact that Michele Bachmann, Michelle Obama, and Sarah Palin (and Hilary Clinton, and Laura Bush) all breastfed their babies reinforces that point. There’s common ground underneath all that media spin!)

So really, when the media portrays this in a way that pits woman against woman, party against party, and mom against mom, moms are the ones who suffer.

What’s even worse is that while the media spins this to generate more headlines, they’re not even getting their facts right. Sandy Rios, a Fox News contributor, was quoted as saying, “You have to remember that 75 percent of American women already breast feed. We are talking about a problem that is specifically in the black community.”

The sad state of this Union is that record high numbers of moms intend to breastfeed, and record high numbers are failing: the 75% number Rios cited in her interview is not the number of moms who “already breastfeed,” but the number who begin breastfeeding in the hospital.  And actually, CDC data shows that the number of expecting moms who want to breastfeed is 86%!

But only 13% make it through the six-months of exclusive breastfeeding recommended by the AAP and the WHO, with most giving up much sooner – within days or weeks.  Why?  Because they encounter a gauntlet of institutional and cultural barriers — the Booby Traps — that make breastfeeding unnecessarily difficult and convince them that they and/or their babies just couldn’t do it. In other words, moms are being prevented from achieving their personal breastfeeding goals.

This isn’t a partisan issue, it’s a human rights issue. We can’t even say it’s an issue of personal choice: so many moms are denied their choice to breastfeed by un- and misinformed health care providers; by a system that separates moms and babies too soon after birth; and by employment situations that make pumping and providing breastmilk during separation an epic task. The Booby Traps are the enemy here, not moms.

Those moms who are Booby Trapped and don’t meet their breastfeeding goals leave what should have been an exquisite foundational experience with their babies filled with grief, regret, blame, guilt, and anger.  And the cycle of the Mommy Wars continues, because that’s a lot of baggage to bear when the subject of how moms feed their babies is breeched.

A politician like Bachmann makes an inaccurate statement and the story quickly deteriorates into fodder for the Mommy Wars.  Talking about the common ground among these women with such opposing political views makes for a much less sexy headline, even if it’s the truth.  (Best for Babes is committed to empowering moms to meet their breastfeeding goals; we want to steer clear of the political fray and do what’s best for breastfeeding, moms, and babies.)

Moms find themselves encouraged to pit themselves against each other by politicos and profiteers.  And all of this is paid for by moms and babies and breastfeeding relationships that didn’t have to fail.

The Booby Traps are the real story behind the suffering, and it’s time to end them. Moms deserve the cultural and institutional support that will allow them to meet their breastfeeding goals.  After all, it’s good for everyone’s bottom-line: those of moms, babies, families, and even those of the government and economy as a whole. It’s time to take the pressure off of moms, and turn the heat up on the Booby Traps!

13 thoughts on “It’s Not a “Nanny State,” It’s a Booby Trap Nation!

  1. So so so so so well stated!! Thank you for this! I work in politics and it is so refreshing to see a well-informed piece that puts the issue at hand up front and doesn’t get dragged down into the political quagmire. As a person who identifies herself as a political conservative (and a breast feeding mom!), I was very disheartened to see breast feeding become fodder for the partisan cannons!


  2. I agree CJB. Difficult to see my politics & my breastfeeding activism clash. Truth is that it would take an hours explanation to these politicians to understand the true issues. We don’t need government mandates to breastfeed. We need culture change.
    This is not a political issue!


  3. Love this. I think politicians just see what the other side is for, and then promote the other side, without thinking about what it really is. And this is what upsets me about politics in America. They say they’re going to reach across the aisle, but only do for show.
    We all benefit from breastfeeding. Less cost for medical interventions overall, less for formula, and so on. Since that’s what so many people focus on… Money… not the lovely act of a mother nurturing her child(ren).


  4. Love this. Thank you! I’m a liberal left-wing nut job, but I’m also (and one could argue: foremost) a breastfeeding mother. I was thrilled to see the IRS ruling reversal because I felt it was a step in the right direction…and not just my liberal left-wing nut job direction. Before I’m a liberal, I’m a woman and a mother, someone who believes that if every woman who WANTS to breastfeed is not provided every ounce of support, education and opportunity needed TO DO SO, then we have let her down. If this helps a few more moms fulfill their goals, if it helps our country worry (and spend) less on keeping children and mothers healthy? Then it seems like the right choice to me.

    I’m glad I’m not the only one!


  5. Wonderful post! It is amazing to think how much higher breastfeeding rates would be in the U.S. if every mom who wants to breastfeed received all of the support she needs (from doctors, nurses, employers, childcare providers, friends, family, people in general etc.). It is good to know that many prominent women have breastfed. It would be nice if they would all speak up and help shine a light on the barriers that are making moms swim upstream. Great post!


  6. In other countries where relationship and well being are prioritized it statistically makes the difference. In France new moms are paid to stay home for the first year, the check is only addressed to THE MOM. No one is perfect; but lets tell our political leaders now how important this issue is.


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