A Breast-Feeding Plan Mixes Partisan Reactions
By KATE ZERNIKE
Published: February 17, 2011
The surprise is how many of the reactions crossed the usual political boundaries.
On blogs and in interviews, some liberal Democrats found themselves agreeing with Representative Bachmann, a Tea Party celebrity from Minnesota, when she criticized the first lady for a campaign to promotebreast-feeding. Some conservatives, meanwhile, stood up for Mrs. Obama for promoting what they said was a healthier choice.
Mrs. Obama told reporters this month that she would promote breast-feeding, particularly among black women, as part of her campaign to reduce childhood obesity. TheInternal Revenue Service then announced that breast pumps, which can cost several hundred dollars, would be eligible for tax breaks.
Ms. Bachmann lashed out at the campaign on Tuesday on Laura Ingraham’s radio show, saying that it reflected a “hard left” position that “government is the answer to everything.”
While noting that she had breast-fed the five children she gave birth to, Ms. Bachmann said, “To think that government has to go out and buy my breast pump — You want to talk about nanny state, I think we just got a new definition.”
While few if any of those who offered comments were against breast-feeding, many noted that some women were unable to breast-feed for medical reasons. Others said that many women without offices or flexible work hours were not offered the time or a place to use breast pumps.
“Holy mackerel, I might have to agree with Michele Bachmann on this one!” noted one person on a blog.
A new mother who called herself a progressive Brooklynite — and would not be identified for fear of scorn from her Democratic friends and other mothers — said that while she hated “just about everything to do with Bachmann’s politics, she is not completely wrong here.”
“I support what the first lady is trying to do, but I also think there’s already enough pressure on working moms,” she said. “Yes, breast is best, but there are plenty of mothers who love and care for their children, but simply can’t pump — for time, work or physical reasons.”
At the same time, people who said they did not like the Obamas applauded the first lady for her efforts. “I am a conservative,” said a writer to an Arkansas Times blog. “I am also a breast-feeding advocate. This is just stupid.”
Ms. Bachmann was wrong that Mrs. Obama wants the government to pay for breast pumps; the I.R.S. would simply allow people to deduct breast-feeding expenses if they itemize, or use the pre-tax dollars in their medical savings accounts to pay for pumps.
And the federal government is now one of the biggest buyers of baby formula, through its nutritional programs for women and infant children. So giving a tax break for breast-feeding might actually help reduce government spending, as Ms. Bachmann advocates.
But the debate about breast-feeding goes well beyond questions of federal spending. TheAmerican Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be fed nothing but breast milkfor the first six months, citing its benefits for the child, the mother and the environment.
Still, some studies have found it hard to make a strong connection between obesity andbottle feeding, or breast-feeding and a higher I.Q. or a lower incidence of allergies.
A spokesman for Mrs. Obama anticipated the debate, calling breast-feeding “a very personal choice.”
By Thursday — perhaps, again, inevitably — Sarah Palin had weighed in. “No wonder Michelle Obama is telling everybody, ‘You better breast-feed your baby,’ ” she said at a speech on Long Island. “Yeah, you’d better, because the price of milk is so high right now.”