Guest Author - Nicki Heskin
I was extremely disappointed to read in the March 2008 issue of People Magazine, where Jennifer Lopez introduced her baby twins to the world that she had chosen not to breastfeed, presumably for any amount of time.
Jennifer was quoted by the magazine as saying:
"My mom didn't breastfeed, and I think that was the thing for me. You read and figure out what's the best thing for them."
In addition to my sadness for her own babies' being deprived of breastfeeding and breastmilk, as I would be for any baby who is bottlefed without even an attempt at nursing, I am primarily concerned about the example this sets for fans, especially for young women, who follow her example as a trend-setter and role model.
My lactation consultants for my first daughter in 2002 were in a trendy part of Los Angeles and often had celebrities in and out of the boutique and sometimes for consulting appointments. My consultant told me once that one of the greatest things that could happen for public health in this country would be for Jennifer Lopez to someday publicly breastfeed her future children. She went on to explain that celebrity examples like this, especially those with fan bases in lower income or minority populations would go a long way toward overcoming the ideas of formula as a status symbol and breastfeeding as a sign of poverty. Ironically, this can cause those who are least able to avoid formula to shun breastfeeding as an insult.
Now, in general, I believe that all babies have a right to breastfeed, and I'll admit I have a hard time accepting some mothers' decision not to even try to breastfeed (medical reasons aside). But I do understand that it is a personal decision involving lots of factors. So why am I giving a hard time to Jennifer Lopez?
Essentially, it's because nothing that J.Lo does and makes public is a simply a personal decision. In February 2007, Jennifer was named by People en Espanol magazine as the Most Influential Hispanic. She puts her endorsement behind clothing lines and perfumes. She was named in the 2007 Guinness Book of World Records as the "Most Powerful Actress." What she does sets an example…creates a trend. And she not only knows this, but claims to love it.
When named the Most Influential Hispanic of 2007, Jennifer was quoted by the magazine as saying:
"Being an example to others is a big part of my work" and "It excites me to think that I could be capable of changing opinions, or of making people laugh or cry. It's a beautiful facet of the work that we do."
So I'm distressed that not only has she denied her own babies the benefits of breastmilk, but potentially influenced others to do the same. And worse, she has chosen to imply that she has read something that has convinced her that not breastfeeding is what is best for her babies.
Now I could reluctantly accept that with her lifestyle and demands that breastfeeding would be difficult (although not more difficult than for the countless working mothers who maintain breastfeeding for their babies). I can also sympathize with the notion that exclusively breastfeeding twins can be tough, any many of the best intentioned breastfeeding moms must supplement (although some heroic moms manage to do it!).
But to state that her decision is somehow an educated one based on what is best for her babies, rather than what is most convenient for her is a bit ridiculous. The can of formula itself tells her in no uncertain terms that breast is best. Her notion that she was not breastfed (and presumably her fans were argue that she turned out ok) seems just silly. Many moms of her generation didn't make children wear seat belts in the car – should she model that too? There are things we know now that we didn't know then, and one of them is that breastmilk is inarguably superior than formula for babies.
Given Jennifer Lopez's access to unlimited resources and assistance that other mothers, much less mothers of twins, do not have, her decision to simply not breastfeed certainly seems misguided and sets a poor example for the women that she has so gladly cultivated to follow her examples. And having had the luxury of staying in nearly complete seclusion with her new family for 3 months, a choice that most mothers never enjoy, how unfortunate that she would not at least spend that time giving her children the benefits of mother's milk.
According to her Wikipedia page, when Jennifer angered animal rights activists over the use of fur on her personal clothing and clothing line, she "told a radio DJ she was open to being educated on the topic." I hope that someday soon takes the opportunity to educate herself properly on breastfeeding and publicly correct her implication that her research has enabled her to conclude that formula feeding is best for babies, whatever her own personal decisions for her children may be.
Luckily, according the most recent data available from the CDC (for 2004), approximately 74% of children are the recipients of at least some breastfeeding in the US, and approximately 42% of children are still receiving at least some breastmilk at 6 months. Maybe J.Lo is not so on top of the trends after all. Let's hope it stays that way.
What's your opinion? Let me know in the Breastfeeding Forum -- Forum Thread for Jennifer Lopez and Breastfeeding
J.Lo tops list of most influential Hispanics, Reuters, Thu Jan 4, 2007
Wikipedia – Search Jennifer Lopez
CDC 2004 Sociodemographic Breastfeeding Data