Any time Michelle Obama says something, there's going to be a reaction from the other side of the aisle. But this time the topic was breastfeeding and the reactions were not as predictable as you might think.
The first lady announced to reporters recently that she'll be promoting breastfeeding as a part of her campaign against childhood obesity, and will be paying special attention to advocate it among women of color.
That, followed by the announcement that the IRS will offer tax breaks on breast pump purchases, sent some Republicans -- and Democrats -- over the edge.
One of the loudest to speak out against Obama's initiative was conservative Representative Michele Bachmann, a Tea Party founder who has also rallied against same-sex marriage and abortions. Although she says she breastfed all of her five children, Bachman called the idea "hard left," an indication of the perspective that "government is the answer to everything," and an effort to create a controlling state.
Bachmann also scoffed at the idea of the government paying for breast pumps, saying, "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."
Although this is not accurate -- the IRS would allow deductions for breast pumps and related expenses -- the government does subsidize baby formula and acts as one of the top purchasers of the product in the country.
Michelle Obama cited the nutritional and health benefits of breastfeeding, from reducing SIDS and ear infections to type 2 diabetes and childhood leukemia, and in helping to curb obesity. Her aides said that this was created as an example of how parents can improve the health of their children . This stance is echoed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommends six months of exclusive breastfeeding.
The first lady's communication director said, "Breast-feeding is a very personal choice for every woman. We are trying to make it easier for those who choose to do it."
That "very personal choice," also seems to be the theme of both conservative and progressive critics of the effort. Single parenthood, lack of space at work to pump, full-time work, pressure, physical limitations, babies who don't latch properly, intruding on maternal choice, and many other arguments have been thrown out in comments and on blogs by people of different party affiliations. Proponents repeatedly question why Bachmann would fight against making breastfeeding more accessible when she breastfed her own children. They also repeatedly mention how the tax break can't hurt the health of children or their mothers who opt for it.
Sarah Palin joined the chant against Michelle Obama and government support of breastfeeding by making a joke that also criticized the president for the state of the economy. At a speech last week, she said, "'You better breast-feed your baby.' Yeah, you'd better, because the price of milk is so high right now."
This contradicts her formal stance while serving as governor of Alaska. She not only proclaimed October 2007 Breastfeeding Awareness month, she also described many of the same health benefits of breastfeeding cited by Michelle Obama. Palin proclaimed then that "government and community organizations have a vested interest in protecting and promoting breastfeeding as a means of preventing infant malnutrition, morbidity, and mortality."
Is breastfeeding -- and potentially cutting back on government spending on formula and encourage women who have not otherwise been supported in breastfeeding -- something that needs to be divided up by party lines?
There seems to be more banter going on about who said what and how intrusive this could be or how contradictory the commentary is than the real issue -- that the government could be empowering women who do make the personal choice to breastfeed just as they've empowered women with subsidized formula.
I'm not sure it matters whether a woman who is against this is Democratic or a woman who is for it also sides with the Tea Party, or vice versa. I just think that it would be great to get a sheet tucked into that hospital diaper bag stuffed full of products telling me how much of a break I might get on my taxes for keeping up the breastfeeding or investing in a breast pump. It'd be a nice balance to all the free formula in there.
Some of the critics are correct -- there is not enough designated space or employer support of breastfeeding in the workplace, it can be harder for single parents to manage breastfeeding solo, and lactation consultants and other breastfeeding gear can be very expensive, and some babies really don't latch and some mothers just do not have it in them to go on. That's all valid. We have far to go. But why would we argue with making this option easier for mothers who want it? Mothers who don't have or want to designate the $50 a week to spend on formula?
Can Michelle Obama's effort just be a way to support those women without being seen as a way of blaming or condemning women who mix up their child's meal instead of nursing?
And if the government steps in with tax breaks or advocacy in a health issue does it always have to be so...political?
Where do you stand on the announcement by the IRS and Michelle Obama's newest anti-obesity push?
Should there be a tax break for breastfeeding gear? Should women be encouraged by the government to breastfeed their babies?
Is this a Democrat v. Republican argument worth fighting?
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[photo credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images News]