Wait, no. No, that's not it at all. Although I'm sure that's the headline I'll read in the paper tomorrow, revealing that 1) most "science" writing is either left to, or filtered by, oatmeal-brained executives who wouldn't know a p-value if it ran down their legs, and 2) it is possible to completely bury the thrust of a study such that the general public comes away with the completely wrong idea. Even my beloved Jezebel is guilty of this practice, with the headline "Breast Maybe Not Best for Babies' Balls."
Yeah, I get the hilarious alliteration, but really, really missing the point here.
Here, a sensible rundown of the new study. While there is a link between exposure of the breastfeeding mother to hazardous chemicals such as PCBs and testicular cancer in the child, the answer is not "well, how about formula then." NO NO NO.
The answer is NO MORE PCBs. The answer is NO MORE HAZARDOUS PESTICIDES. God, it seems like such a no-brainer to me -- why focus on the poisoned milk when we should focus on the FUCKING POISON?
I'll tell you why. Patriarchy. No, really.
It is so much easier, so much more profitable to the powers that be, to aim the blame at women -- mothers breastfeeding their children! The world goes into a tizzy about "breast or bottle?" and meanwhile, nobody is talking about the wholesale poisoning of the world! It's the old divide-and-conquer: if we're all too busy getting butthurt about baby feeding, maybe we won't notice the guys with the 55-gallon drum glupping glow-in-the-dark goo into the river.
Even better is the idea that mothers are poisoning their baby boys. Oh, you evil women! Will you stop at nothing?
The whole argument places all the agency, all the responsibility, upon women, who, last I checked, did not have a whole lot of choice as to the quantity of PCB and hormone mimickers stored in their body fat. It's a sham, a lie, a straw-woman. The mothers have nothing to do with it. The breastmilk is not the problem.
The chemicals are the problem. The collusion of government and industry to ensure that this evil stuff gets into our water, our soil, our bodies, our babies -- that's the problem. And it's not a breastfeeding mother's problem, it's not a women's problem -- it's everyone's problem. That shit doesn't just go straight into breastmilk and stay there.
I'll know we're improving the second that someone looks at a study like that, and the first thing out of that person's mouth is "How can we stop the chemical contamination?" And not "is breast really best?"
What to do in the meantime? I'm taking suggestions. In the personal sphere, buy as organic or integrated pest management as you can (not for the health benefits, and that's another post in itself, the so-called "takedown" of the "organic myth", but because every organic strawberry you buy is that much less fungicide into the waterways, as well as into your mouth), especially the high-contamination foods. Don't use personal care products with phthalates and other endocrine disruptors. (How can you tell when they're not on the label? Avoid anything with "fragrance," for one. And yeah, that includes air freshener and Glade). Here's a nice starter list of things to do.
But what about the subject of the study -- the effect of geographical location? That's a hairy one, and even more tied up with privilege than the stuff I listed above. I don't know the answer, and I hope someone comments who does. I do know there are a lot of locally based groups who work on this kind of thing -- like BURNT here, and MOMS (Make Our Milk Safe) in California. There's also Moms Rising. Pay attention to the local news, because this stuff, it happens locally. It happens in your backyard, in your town, in your watershed. That's where you can fight it.
And on that note, I'm off to order my No Spray Nashville sign.