4 thoughts on “Fiona Woollard on the choice to breastfeed– or not

  1. Completely agree: insofar women’s bodies are crucial to the production of wealth (through their [unpaid] social reproduction of labour), there needs to be ample support offered through all stages of natality.

    Having said that, as a child who was not breastfed and suffers quite miserably from a gamut of allergies, I strongly recommend being aware of the vital role mother’s milk plays in establishing a child’s immune system. Mother’s milk contains probiotics that are crucial in maintaining a healthy immune system. (Then again, one can, of course, always supply their child with powdered probiotics)

  2. Brava! I’ve got three kids and the breast-feeding promo is a pet peeve of mine. The fact is the benefit to babies of breastfeeding are small while the inconvenience to mothers is great. Even beyond the hassle of pumping, freezing in little baggies, etc. women are being asked to compromise their careers, to postpone going back to work or go for flexible hours or whatever in order to establish breastfeeding. The idea is: if you’re a mother no sacrifice is too great for any benefit however minimal.

    This promotion of breastfeeding is thoroughly anti-feminist. And here’s something else that’s always struck me. Back in the 1950s, who most women didn’t work outside the home so breastfeeding would have been convenient, and bottle feeding was a huge hassle that involved mixing formula, sterilizing bottles, etc. breastfeeding, at least in the US, was considered unthinkable. In the 1980s when most women work working outside the home, prepared formula was available and affordable, and bottle feeding was convenient it was roundly condemned. Make of it what you will.

  3. I suspect that the “toxic context of guilt, shame and judgment” surrounds breasts rather than “infant feeding.” If you use your breasts to feed, you may be praised for your selfless use of your body to feed an infant but you’re also a shameless whore because clearly you aren’t concerned with “modesty.” And if you don’t use your breasts to feed, you may be praised for your modesty (or even modernity) but you’re also clearly a selfish prude, and you’re also condemned for your failure to selflessly use your body to feed an infant. To meet one set of norms you must fail to meet the other. Like so many oppressions, it’s a double bind.

    If certain social norms become embodied, and I think the norm of hiding one’s breasts is such an embodied norm, it might have the *physiological* effect of stemming ease of breastfeeding. I’d wager that fighting against the objectification/sexualization of breasts would go further toward helping people breastfeed than any public health initiative. (This is not to say that it’s not up to individuals as far as how to feed their children, barring some extreme nutritional failures.) I have read (but I do not know whether it is “science fact”) that, for instance, the norm of having privacy during excretion is so bodily-engrained (in many regions/”cultures”) as to make it physiologically difficult to excrete *without* privacy, and that this engrained norm results in poorer birth outcomes when too many people or too many unfamiliar/non-intimate people are present during birth because they literally cause a physiological response in laboring people that leads to the slow-down or failure of the birth process. I would guess that something similar occurs in a breastfeeding context. I don’t know if “infant feeding” is the kind of thing to which the guilt and shame attaches, at least not on the level required to shift average health outcomes. But breasts probably are.

  4. I feel this is a bit sad really. The main reasons breastfeeding rates decline or increase are societal rather than individual – societies that do or don’t support breastfeeding. Yes it can be related to individual conditions, but if you study it as a social historian, as I’ve done, societal forces are more important. It’s a pity that philosophers seem to captured by the rhetoric of individual choice. This article does recognise that we should support mothers, but still falls into the ‘individual choice’ trap

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