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Sampling opinion on Gisele’s remarks

Gisele Bundchen has softened her statements. Gisele Bundchen has softened her statements. (Evan Agostini/Getty Images)
By Taylor Adams
Globe Correspondent / August 5, 2010

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Gisele Bundchen’s comments to Harper’s Bazaar UK that mothers should be required by law to breast-feed their infants for six months sparked such an outcry in the blogosphere this week that the supermodel took to her own blog to soften her statements. We asked a few experts for their opinions.

There’s no question that breast-feeding for the first sixth months of life is nutritionally superior for both the mom and the baby. I don’t know why [Gisele] said it in such strong terms, but it sounds like she’s advocating for babies to have the best strong start every day. If you look across the globe in places where infant mortality and malnutrition are problems, breast-feeding can act as an equalizer in that it provides the same optimal food for the infant. I’m sure a lot of people would be upset by her statement, and I wouldn’t want to slam on moms who don’t want to breast-feed. But if all the babies in the world were breast-fed for 6 months, all babies would be healthier. Stephanie Avelino, mother of two, volunteer breast feeding counselor with La Leche League, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC)

Personally, given my experience being pregnant four times and breast-feeding four children, I think it’s far more important to pass a law mandating that all women are allowed to lie on their couches drinking root beer floats and reading novels for the entire nine months of the pregnancy. It’s great that people are enthusiastic about breast-feeding, but it’s silly to imagine that you can pass a law about any of this. I breast-fed one of my kids till he was nearly 3, and I had a kid who was born with a palate malformation that meant he couldn’t feed at all. I spent 6 miserable months pumping breast milk and trying to encourage him to nurse. I think it’s easy for women of privilege to feel that our choices are the only reasonable ones. I think it’s clear medically that it’s better for children to have breast milk than any other type of food. But at the same time, it’s important to understand that while we should do all we can to encourage breast-feeding, and to make it easy for women to breast-feed, we also have to just lay off mothers and let them do what they have to do to get through the day.Ayelet Waldman, author of “Bad Mother’’

It is a health care recommendation that babies receive breast milk for sixth months. There is a lot of evidence that both baby and mother’s health have better outcomes through exclusive breast milk feeding. However, the feeding doesn’t necessarily have to be directly from the breast. Mothers might pump their breast milk and use a bottle, and mothers not able to produce milk might use donor milk through a milk bag. I don’t think you could make [mandatory breast-feeding] a law. I think we’ve made good strides for a woman and her baby’s right to breast-feed wherever they have space to be, but you run into a lot of sensitive area when you try to mandate things like that, and that’s coming from someone who obviously advocates for breast-feeding. Kimberly Barbas, Registered Nurse, (IBCLC), lactation support program coordinator at Children’s Hospital and lactation specialist

I think [Gisele’s] being a very vocal enthusiast, and I think that she’s pretty new to mothering and so on, so she’s wrapped up in what she’s doing. She doesn’t have a whole lot of perspective. Perhaps she’s living a little more of an entitled experience than an average mom in terms of what resources she has available to her. That being said, exclusive breast-feeding for the first six months of life is the absolute recommendation strongly supported by large volumes of research. Not all moms can or will exclusively breast-feed for a full six months or at all, and our role is to educate women and make sure they’re making informed choices. Nancy Holtzman, Isis Parenting vice president of education and services, also IBCLC

Interviews were condensed and edited.

Taylor Adams can be reached at TAdams@globe.com.