The breastfeeding debate continues

We’re in the middle of moving from our blah apartment in midtown to our superfly apartment in Brooklyn (trust me, of the two locales, I’m so much more a brooklyn girl than a midtown girl), so this is going to have to be short and sweet, but the controversy sparked by the Department of Health and Human Services’ television ad campaign on breastfeeding has really heated up. Women’s Health News has a great rundown of the issues, as well as faboo links to many of the comments and responses by both the professional media, the blogosphere and individuals which is well worth reading.

Here’s a comment from Feministing’s post on the subject that really stuck with me:

    “So how, then, do you all propose explaining to pregnant moms that, from a health perspective, breastfeeding is *by far* the best choice, without making moms who don’t/can’t breastfeed guilty? And on a budget a small fraction of that which the formula companies are using to imply that there really isn’t much difference?

    Why aren’t you who can’t breastfeed because of employment ANGRY, instead of guilty, that your baby is deprived of this advantage because of your company’s policies, or your government’s approach to health care and maternity leave?

    Women in other countries have significantly longer maternity leave, with at least a percentage of their paycheck during that time, *and* national health services to help them breastfeed to boot. Why aren’t we ANGRY that our babies and their moms don’t have these things?

    Moms deserve accurate info about feeding their babies. Some of those moms won’t be able to breastfeed for all kinds of legitimate reasons – that’s a shame, and they are right to feel sad. They and their babies have indeed missed something valuable and special – let’s not minimize that.

    We should be working to make the number of moms/babies who can’t breastfeed smaller – but in order to do that, our society as a whole has to understand that such an investment is worth it. How will we get there if the message of the superiority of breastfeeding is watered down to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings?

    Moms who are feeling guilty about not breastfeeding should be blaming the patriarchy, not the folks who are trying to improve the health of moms and babies in this country.”

I think this comment raises a lot of valid points, but I also think that this campaign is not the right approach to take with this issue at all (especially when women and mothers in our culture are already beset with way too much guilt on all sides from way too many sources). Why do women feel guilty and internalize the blame, instead of getting angry and looking at the situation we’re surrounded by? Women shouldn’t feel like they’re bad mothers if they have to formula feed their children, for whatever reason, but why is breastfeeding such a challenge for so many women, and such a challeng for our culture? And what can we do to change this???

Thoughts? Comments? Personally, I think that all of Heather W’s suggestions from my previous post would have made much more effective commercials than this current campaign. I still maintain that the focus should be on the barriers in our society that can make breastfeeding so damn hard, rather than on the message that if you don’t breastfeed your baby, you’re taking an unecessary risk. I think that most mothers already know that breastfeeding is the best thing they can do for their baby: GREAT! Now how do we give them the support, strength and courage they need to actually carry this out?

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2 Comments

  1. heatherw
    Posted June 27, 2006 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    I do think we need to change the image of breastfeeding in our culture… and I think these new commercials and getting “angry” over our lack of rights are steps in the wrong direction. Breastfeeding educators need to be teaching pregnant women some manners, not just that they have the “right” to strip half naked in the middle of a bus station and wave a gigantic brown nipple at a kindergartner.

    Many women that I know who got a good start to breastfeeding and then gave up did so either because of barriers (real or perceived) to pumping in the workplace, or because they were afraid to nurse in public, and got sick of sitting at home.

    I’ve nursed and worked full-time for a total of over two years now (I have two children, one still an infant), and I have found that I get every accomodation I need by being clear and specific about my needs, and frequently saying “Please”, “Thank you”, and “I truly appreciate all the help and accomodations that you have given me.” Then “Thank you” once more and another “Please”. How could I “stand up for myself”, and then ask for help in locating a utility closet near enough to an electric outlet? That’s rude!

    I think lactation educators need to be teaching women how to nurse discretely in public. Why aren’t they? Do they not know how? Are they afraid that, if they teach women how to cover themselves up, they will be promoting the idea that the breast is shameful? I think that learning some simple skills – like how to tuck the corner of a receiving blanket into a bra strap, and work the buttons of a shirt underneath the blanket with one hand – would empower more modest women to continue to nurse. In my opinion, it is unrealistic to think that greater awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding is going to change our society’s attitude to having boobs on display. I think a lot more women would nurse in public if they had the tools to do it politely.

    I, personally, have never gotten any comments or stares while nursing in public. By and large, no one knows I am doing it. No one sees me, and I am like every other mom around. When people think of nursing moms, I think a lot of them are stuck with the image of that lady in the bus station. “Fighting for our rights”, and getting angry at the patriarchy is only going to reinforce that negative stereotype.

  2. TinaH
    Posted June 28, 2006 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    I think that nursing advocates also need to march themselves to groups like the US Chamber of Commerce (the voice of America’s business) and begin convincing them of the workplace benefits to employers for enabling their employees to nurse.

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