Author: has written 7 posts for this blog.

blue milk is one of the 2012 roster of Feministe Guest Bloggers. She normally blogs at her own blog, Blue Milk and also contributes to Hoyden About Town.
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83 Responses

  1. matlun
    matlun August 26, 2012 at 12:58 pm |

    I am not sure I get what your problem is with individualism.

    Are you just saying that it is a problem with the conversation that we talk so much about it that it distracts from more productive discussions? (This was how I read the first part of the OP)

    Or are you criticizing the individualistic perspective because it does consider dependency and the needs of the larger family? (That was how I read the last part)

    1. mxe354
      mxe354 August 26, 2012 at 1:25 pm |

      The individualism here is found in merely painting breastfeeding as a choice without talking about how that choice is often restricted because of prejudiced social attitudes towards breastfeeders.

      1. matlun
        matlun August 26, 2012 at 2:08 pm |

        Ok, but I have always read the line of “we should accept the individual choice” to be an argument against external pressures. Ie not only “they have that free choice”, but also including “they should be given that free choice”. (Ie classical individual freedom arguments)

        Anyway: I think we agree in that the larger discussion about societal structures and cultural pressures is probably more productive. It seems to be the discussion to have if we are to change those structures to something better.

        1. matlun
          matlun August 26, 2012 at 2:34 pm |

          Or what Kristen J said below @5: This type of semantic discussion is not very important compared to the substance of the issue.

          I just did not get what you meant, but this sidetrack is probably just a distraction that should be allowed to die.

    2. Chataya
      Chataya August 26, 2012 at 2:13 pm |

      I read it as an “I choose my choice” critique where you have a lot of people saying that they chose to bottle-feed/breast-feed because of Reasons and that’s all that matters, rather than attempting to change the toxicity surrounding that choice or even contributing to that toxicity. Because if I* can do it, why can’t you*? Or, I* did X without experiencing hostility or social pressure, so why are you* complaining?

      Basically empathy fail.

      I’m not a parent, though, so there might be some nuance I’m missing.

      *general I, general you

      1. Lolagirl
        Lolagirl August 26, 2012 at 2:43 pm |

        I also think what blue milk is getting at is that the tendency to get all me, me, me about this subject does nothing to address and change the negative societal notions and stigmatization of breastfeeding that is still so common here in the U.S. Instead of getting so defensive and caught up in defending our own decisions or desires wrt to breastfeeding the conversation needs to do more to make the choice to either breastfeed or formula feed one no longer a socially and personally loaded one that can be made without everyone and anyone insisting that you’re doing it wrong.

  2. Esther
    Esther August 26, 2012 at 1:23 pm |

    I’m saying “hear, hear” to the issue with individualism. I actually see this with birth as well. I’ve had my babies at home with a midwife. First, the problem is: is it safe? can it possibly be safe? can you possibly be trusted to be in charge of giving birth to your OWN babies in a way that isn’t irresponsible? But once I learned how to navigate that issue, I feel like I fell into an even more permanent and unsolvable quaqmire, which is individualism. I’m tired of “each mom should do whatever makes HER comfortable” and “you do what you’re going to do and I’ll do what I’m going to do and we’ll agree to disagree” because when we live that way we don’t shame the medical system into doing a better job of serving women who want more choice and control over our birth processes (less Pitocin, less monitoring, etc). The emphasis on individual taste is like choosing to be collectively re-active instead of active — chocolate or vanilla, but no going to a different ice cream store! — and all in the name of being nice to each other. Believe me, I do want us to be able to be nice to each other, but…not voiceless in the process.

    Good work untangling this.

  3. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. August 26, 2012 at 2:20 pm |

    I wish both sides of the debate would focus more on reducing contraints on choice rather than on converting others to their perspective.

    1. antigone23
      antigone23 August 26, 2012 at 7:43 pm |

      I agree wholeheartedly!

  4. Safiya Outlines
    Safiya Outlines August 26, 2012 at 3:04 pm |

    I do think turning breast and or formula- feeding back into how I feed my baby or child, instead of some kind of wider political statement or method of personal fulfilment or way of defining an attitude towards parenthood would help.

    So much is put into “how you feed your baby” and I don’t think it helps parents or babies. So I’m not sure how helpful a post looking at things through the prism of breastfeeding is. It feels like everything is being reduced down to a minor issue (Yes! I said it, how you feed your child or infant is not the be all and end all), instead of talking about the big things that affect parents throughout their child raising years.

    1. Lolagirl
      Lolagirl August 26, 2012 at 3:30 pm |

      So I’m not sure how helpful a post looking at things through the prism of breastfeeding is.

      I think blue milk is pretty explicit on why this is such an important discussion. It isn’t about defending or explaining our choices, it’s about how deconstructing all the many ways our U.S. society at large treats women in discriminatory ways for the sin of being women and mothers. It’s about judging us and discriminateing against us for either choice to breastfeed or bottle feed, for having the nerve to breastfeed in public, for insisting that we have equal rights to exist and move about in the public sphere, for having breasts at all, for reminding men of the uncomfortable reality that our bodies and our breasts are not solely for them to use for their personal playthings, and for insisting that we don’t need to be just like men in order to be treated as intellectual and social equals to men.

      1. Safiya Outlines
        Safiya Outlines August 26, 2012 at 3:47 pm |

        I did get that point, but considering the anti-women BS pushed by within lactivism, as seen in Deborah’s comment below, which gets a massive pass because 1)It’s women doing it and, 2) Breastfeeding is seen as sticking it to The Man, I do not see breastfeeding as the field for fighting for wider mother’s rights.

        That well has been truly been poisoned, by people on both sides of the debate.

        1. Lolagirl
          Lolagirl August 26, 2012 at 5:28 pm |

          I disagree.

          And that certainly doesn’t mean that we then throw our hands up and not deal with all of the other related issues discussed in blue milk’s post.

          We’ve had this back and forth so many times here on Feministe. It’s really discouraging. I absolutely agree with you that there is a small segment of lactivism that goes overboard and shames some women for not breastfeeding. That’s wrong and should stop. However, in the bigger picture our society as a whole is still very anti-breastfeeding and a huge number of women still get tons of pressure and shaming for trying to breastfeed at all. Not to mention all of the structural issues that stand in the way of women trying to stick to their choice to breastfeed once they leave their own homes and either go out into public or, heaven forbid, work outside the home and try to continue breastfeeding.

  5. Deborah
    Deborah August 26, 2012 at 3:17 pm |

    While family supported her decision to bottle-feed, some strangers were not so accepting. One woman told her “if you can’t feed your child you shouldn’t breed” while another called formula “evil”.

    They make you feel like a bad mother

    Really, it doesn’t matter what you do as a mother. Someone, somewhere, will tell you that you are wrong and bad, and that it’s all your fault, without ever, ever, looking at the social structures that surround you and push your “choices” inexorably in one direction. And then you get blamed for not being strong enough to stand up to the pressures.

    1. Stephanie
      Stephanie August 27, 2012 at 2:36 pm |

      We also need to start talking about the history of feeding babies. There is a lot of discussion about how mothers “fail” to breastfeed now and that it never happened in the past. Difficulty with breastfeeding is not just a 21st century problem (though our cultural knowledge base has in many ways disappeared), mothers had/have a hard time breastfeeding in communities without formula or donor milk available. When that happens sometimes the babies failed to thrive, but there was also a community of other breastfeeding mothers who fed not just their own children.

  6. Deborah
    Deborah August 26, 2012 at 3:23 pm |

    A case in point, of individuals being blamed no matter what. It’s all lovely supportive messaging, until the last sentence about most mothers being able to work through the issues, “if they choose to.”

    Judged mums defend bottle feeding

    Breastfeeding support organisation La Leche League spokeswoman Lisa Manning said all mothers deserved to be respected and supported “irrespective of their feeding choices”.

    “We’re all just trying to do the very best we can,” she said.

    “It’s not helpful for women to feel they are being judged or compared.”

    Personal choice or health issues aside, lack of support was one of the biggest obstacles to women continuing to breastfeed, Manning said.

    “With the right support from your family, your whānau, your partner . . . most women, if they choose to, can work through any issues.”

    1. FashionablyEvil
      FashionablyEvil August 26, 2012 at 8:55 pm |

      “With the right support from your family, your whānau, your partner . . . most women, if they choose to, can work through any issues.”

      I’m not sure what goes in that elision, but I think the meaning of the sentence is clear: with support most women can work through any issues they have with breastfeeding.

      1. Lolagirl
        Lolagirl August 27, 2012 at 9:32 am |

        I agree that, taken at face value, the statement that a parent can overcome obstacles to breastfeeding can do so if they want to is perfectly acceptable. I had some significant obstacles to breastfeeding my twins the first month or so, and that sort of cheerleading message really helped me to stay confident that I could work through them and make it work. It was important to me to breastfeed them and not just give up, and that had absolutely nothing to do with caring about or judging what other parents ended up doing with their own babies and everything about doing what felt for me, my babies and my body.

        The bottom line here is supposed to be about parents doing what they decide is best because it works for them. Which is why the language used in that sentence is “if they choose to.”

  7. robotile
    robotile August 26, 2012 at 3:33 pm |

    I agree that breastfeeding is a political issue, and discomfort and lack of support for it does marginalize women as a whole, and does reveal how much society is still structured around patriarchy and men’s needs, not women’s.

    But part of the blame should lie with health and public health officials. Getting more women to breastfeed on a population level is a very noble goal, because in aggregate, it will probably lead to better health. But for an individual woman, they will never be able to discern whether their kid is healthier or not because they were breastfed (or not). Pushing and shaming individual women who choose not to breastfeed is actually pretty stupid public health policy, yet doctors, nurses, and even epidemiologists who work in outreach spend most of their time advocating for policies that increase pressure on individual women to breastfeed, while paying only nominal lip service to political changes that would actually make breastfeeding easier on a population level. So in the end, they get to feel good about spreading a healthy message, but in practice they are stigmatizing women and not doing much to raise actual breastfeeding rates and by extension, public health.

    Of course, it’s uncomfortable to be in a position where you’re advocating for something that is inherently political and controversial–which is what guaranteed maternity leave is, or guaranteed pumping rights, or baby friendly workplaces.

    If doctors seriously started lobbying for paid maternity (And paternity leave, because let’s face it, women will still be disadvantaged in the workplace if men don’t take similar amounts of time off to raise their kids), they would probably be demonized by conservatives. It’s uncomfortable to be disliked, and to be caught up in a political issue (see climate scientists).

    But it’s absolutely necessary if they actually want to be doing their job, which is improving public health, not just individual health. To me, this type of cowardliness is endemic to the field–which you can see in the constant shaming of overweight people while placing only weak emphasis on structural elements of society that encourage a sedentary, fast-foodified lifestyle.

    1. Bint Manga
      Bint Manga August 31, 2012 at 7:12 am |

      Resounding YES on the paternity leave issue – if anyone thinks that all we need is maternity leave and the workplace will automatically be more fair to parents, that’s wrong – people will simply continue to mommy-track women and hire/promote men instead. And women who don’t want to stay home with new babies will be forced to do so anyway because, hey, you’re the one getting the paid leave, and we’ll have more lovely patriarchy forever.

  8. ana
    ana August 26, 2012 at 3:59 pm |

    What you’re describing is the status-quo damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t experience that I have had as a female since I was very small.

  9. Alexandra
    Alexandra August 26, 2012 at 4:21 pm |

    Right. I think the critique of Public Health is spot on. Public Health, by its very nature, is part of the government of nations; and where governments have two conflicting interests – on the one hand, improving the population-wide health of children through breastfeeding, but on the other hand, serving the interests of corporations that don’t want to have to pay for maternity leave – you’re going to see Public Health people not advocating for what would do the most good, ie society wide structural changes, but rather advocating “education” into the right choices as some sort of panacea. Education is critically important, but in the US there are lots of populations of women who know about the importance of breastfeeding, but who find it difficult or impossible to do for structural reasons like an unfriendly work environment.

    “Education” also fits in very neatly with the high value the US has historically placed on individual responsibility for one’s welfare and happiness. It doesn’t make much sense on a public health level to value individual responsibility because so much public health requires collective action (like vaccinating against infectious diseases, or creating sewer systems, or fluoridating water, or…). But there’s so little political will in the US right now to do anything other than lecture people who “make bad choices” or who have the “wrong” sort of body.

    I mean, honestly, if we wanted to change the shape of people’s bodies in the US the place to start would be by changing the kinds of processed foods sold in America, and even deeper than that, by changing food subsidies and thus the kind of food grown, bought, sold, and consumed in this country. But instead we’re getting fat-shaming. So also with breastfeeding.

  10. Safiya Outlines
    Safiya Outlines August 26, 2012 at 5:52 pm |

    Lolagirl – I would disagree that it’s “a small section”. Just starting with the “all women can breastfeed if given the right support” – yes apparently unlike the rest of the human body, everyone’s breasts function always, to the way mothers (generally) are told that you may struggle but it’s worth it – why? If you told women to struggle with any other physical activity for someone else’s benefit, you would be swiftly dismissed.

    That breastfeeding isn’t popular in wider society, does not eliminate or minimise the anti-women rhetoric that is a feature, not a bug, within lactivism, it just means that it is overlooked. The fact that women feel that they “can’t win” whether they formula feed or breastfeed is a big clue, that both sides deserve further scrutiny.

    Also, for those saying that breastfeeding should be a public health issue: no, no and thrice no. All that means is women being given loads of “but it’s for the good of your Baybee!” guilt-tripping.

    1. Past my expiration date
      Past my expiration date August 26, 2012 at 6:44 pm |

      Not necessarily. As Alexandra says above), cavities are a public health issue, so we (the public we) fluoridate; we don’t just say, “Personal responsibility for brushing and flossing!” Safe drinking water is a public health issue, so we have the Safe Drinking Water Act; we don’t just say, “Personal responsibility for getting your water tested!” Infectious diseases are a public health issue, so we have mandatory vaccinations for children; we don’t just say, “Personal responsibility for washing your hands!” And so on.

      (Note that I’m not saying that these public responses to public health issues are 100% effective, just that they exist.)

      I can imagine a society saying that breastfeeding is a public health issue, so everybody gets six months of parental leave and affordable on-site child care. In fact, there probably actually are societies that say this. I just can’t imagine US society, right now, saying it.

      1. robotile
        robotile August 26, 2012 at 11:04 pm |

        The fact that people associate “public health” with “shaming en masse” is because public health as a field has lost its way and has taken to pressuring (erm “educating”) individuals rather than doing what would actually help a population: namely, change policies, change the environment,a nd change the landscape so it is easy for more people to make a healthy choice without even having to think about it. So there are ways to make breastfeeding a public health issue without the shame. It’s just that in the US, we’ve backed so far off our public health roots that we don’t even recognize what effective PH would look like.

    2. Emily
      Emily August 26, 2012 at 6:57 pm |

      Lots of women struggle with the sleep deprivation involved in caring for a newborn and are encouraged to push through it because it gets better. It is physically draining to care for a newborn whether you are breastfeeding or not, but we do it and it gets better and it gets easier (like breastfeeding).

      And I am another pro-breastfeeding lazy mother. I would have loved to have a year of paid maternity leave so I could nurse my kids to 12 months. I have close to the ideal pumping situation (my own office with a door I can close, outlets I can use,etc; not micro-managed on how I spend my time during the day) and I couldn’t keep up the pumping past 7-8 mos. With my second I kept pumping an extra week or two just to make it to our family vacation so I wouldn’t have to bother with formula and bottles while we were away from home.

  11. Lolagirl
    Lolagirl August 26, 2012 at 6:07 pm |

    That breastfeeding isn’t popular in wider society, does not eliminate or minimise the anti-women rhetoric that is a feature, not a bug, within lactivism, it just means that it is overlooked. The fact that women feel that they “can’t win” whether they formula feed or breastfeed is a big clue, that both sides deserve further scrutiny.

    This has nothing to do with breastfeeding being popular. But way to minimize people calling me (and other breastfeeding parents I’ve known) a pedophile, a sicko, disgusting, and a self-absorbed, mentally ill woman who is hell bent on ruining my sons and turning them into mama’s boys and sissys.

    Because that is the sort of stuff that I and blue milk are discussing about societal pressure to not breastfeed that we encounter both on the home front and in public.

    1. Lolagirl
      Lolagirl August 26, 2012 at 6:09 pm |

      Well, maybe this isn’t specifically what blue milk means, but it sure is what I’m talking about.

    2. Bint Manga
      Bint Manga August 31, 2012 at 7:19 am |

      I hear you on the anti-woman rhetoric about BFing being “weird.” Don’t underestimate, however, how powerful the message from doctors, public health folks and others is on why you must BF, it’s magic for your baby, it’s not that hard, you can work through problems if you’re willing to nurse all night and pump all day, and aren’t you selfish for not being able to sacrifice for your baby’s sake, etc. It preys on women’s insecurities and uses a lot of good old-fashioned Good Mothers Sacrifice All rhetoric. One look at Kellymom or La Leche League and those who are ambivalent about BFing or struggling with it can get as good a guilt trip as any in the world. What Jane says below about people suddenly policing your body and your choices is something that those who did not or could not BF are very familiar with. Colleagues, friends, internet parenting sites all pressure women to “do the best thing” for their child and for public health, to hell with their right to choose what to do with their own breasts.

  12. Safiya Outlines
    Safiya Outlines August 26, 2012 at 6:27 pm |

    Again – two separate attitudes about a subject can exist.

    How exactly does stating that there are anti-women issues in lactivism minimise your experiences? By stating this am I saying that anti-breastfeeding attitudes don’t exist? No. So I am neither denying nor minimising your experiences.

    By stating that, you’re putting lactivism above criticism, I.e, because anti-women rhetoric exists in opposition to breast-feeding, we can’t discuss anti-women rhetoric espoused by those who are pro-breastfeeding.

    1. FashionablyEvil
      FashionablyEvil August 26, 2012 at 9:06 pm |

      because anti-women rhetoric exists in opposition to breast-feeding, we can’t discuss anti-women rhetoric espoused by those who are pro-breastfeeding.

      What anti-women rhetoric espoused by those who are pro-breastfeeding? I am sure it’s possible that it’s out there, but I haven’t seen it on this thread.

      1. Safiya Outlines
        Safiya Outlines August 27, 2012 at 8:00 am |

        See antigone’s comment @40 for a description of what is definitely out there.

        Likewise, within the natural birth movement. Natural birth can be an amazing thing for labouring women and their babies, but the push for women to have natural births (which is a big thing in the U.K) can lead to women feeling exactly the same feelings of powerlessness and being denied what they feel they need ( e.g being told good women can handle their pain by moving about, you don’t need an epidural, if you have pethidine, your baby won’t be able to latch on, etc etc) as being pushed down the medical route.

        It’s not enough to take things on face value, just because they’re seen as being natural or women led.

  13. GinnyC
    GinnyC August 26, 2012 at 6:45 pm |

    I think that taking about choosing to breastfeed is a really complicated because which people breastfeed and how is often connected to structures of oppression at the societal level in very complicated ways.

    For example in some Latin American countries, women in the upper and middle classes don’t breastfeed in public, but many indigenous women openly breastfeed their children. So breastfeeding a child in public becomes a radicalized division and one in which the dominant society polices middle-class mestizas and others indigenous women.

    It think that a discussion of breastfeeding has to include the reality that different groups of women are under very different pressures as to where they breastfeed and whether or not they breastfeed. And that not getting harassed for breastfeeding in public can also be a sign that people in the dominant society are not willing to treat you as fully human. But at the same time, breastfeeding takes fewer resources than preparing safe formula and is a tradition that many women very much want to conserve.

  14. Safiya Outlines
    Safiya Outlines August 26, 2012 at 7:05 pm |

    I’m not USian. I live in the UK.

    So we have very good maternity leave (at least 9 months paid), token paternity leave and there is a big push within our universal healthcare system to promote breastfeeding, with what I’ll describe for the sake of brevity as, mixed results.*

    From a UK, looking at the U.S perspective, I think the focus on breastfeeding here, when most working women have to go back to work at six weeks, which really stymies breastfeeding, is…well it’s not what I would prioritise. Also, I don’t think improving breastfeeding rates should be used as the justification for better maternity leave, because I dislike there being any societal pressure around breastfeeding, either for or against.

    * To give a few examples: Some still feel they aren’t getting sufficient support or advice to breastfeed. Pro breastfeeding materials have a disgustingly big emphasis on breastfeeding “helping you lose the baby weight”. Some hospitals refusing to supply formula. Some women feeling pressurised to breastfeed. Some women simply not wanting to breastfeed anyway. Note usage of the word some throughout.

  15. BalancingJane
    BalancingJane August 26, 2012 at 7:17 pm |

    Breastfeeding is a feminist issue not because mummy bloggers like me say it is, but because it’s about working to ensure that women and their bodies are considered as important (as normal) as men and their bodies. Something happens for all of us – regardless of whether we are breastfeeders or not – when a woman is allowed to breastfeed, in public, as a member of her community, while getting shit done in her life – it makes a statement that women belong, that women’s bodies belong, that women are here.

    It was motherhood that led me to define my feminism in a way I never had to before. It was motherhood that pushed me up against the walls of patriarchy in a way that opened my eyes to so many other gender inequalities in our society. While I was aware of women’s rights movements and certainly supported them and their goals, it wasn’t until I became a mother that I felt personally impacted by patriarchal structures.

    Of course, I had been impacted by patriarchal structures before becoming a mother, and I definitely see those things in retrospect. But when I became a mother (at 25), I felt like I was doing a pretty good job of exerting my equality in my immediate society. I was married to a man who agreed that it was just as much his job to do the dishes as mine, I was in college and pursuing a career I loved, and I felt confident and in control of my choices. But once I became pregnant, my perspective completely changed.

    And breastfeeding was a HUGE part of that. The way other people were suddenly policing my body and my choices was eye-opening.

    1. Lindsay
      Lindsay August 26, 2012 at 8:09 pm |

      This, this, all of this.

  16. EG
    EG August 26, 2012 at 7:36 pm |

    I love this post. To be honest, I’ve loved all your posts. I love the way you so clearly enumerate the political aspects of the vast constraints on breastfeeding in the US, and how all of this is so often handwaved away in favor of “everyone makes their own choice.”

  17. chava
    chava August 26, 2012 at 7:49 pm |

    Firstly, public health messages, like those promoting breastfeeding, are notoriously heavy-handed and don’t deal well with nuance. This is a shame because people’s health is actually quite nuanced.

    YES. More than this, though, I think we need to stop making health the moral justification for breastfeeding. We’re in a cultural moment right now where healthy=moral good, and that’s just wrongheaded. Breastfeeding should not be supported because it is the healthier or better choice; it should be supported because women have a right to use their bodies to feed their babies, or not. Period.

    1. EG
      EG August 26, 2012 at 7:54 pm |

      I agree. As blue milk does in this post, it needs to be repositioned as a political issue; we have the right breastfeed in public and for breastfeeding to be made feasible for women who work outside the home because women’s bodies are normal bodies. Making it a health issue not only makes it code for morality, but it also makes it about the babies, not about the women and our right to live in public without fitting our lives into a mold created for straight middle-class white cis men in the 1950s.

      1. chava
        chava August 26, 2012 at 8:33 pm |

        Yes. I love the idea that “turning down the noise” on the flame wars around feeding lets you hear the pushback against women publicly using their bodies for, yes, breastfeeding–but really, and more importantly, anything not patriarchy-approved.

    2. Bint Manga
      Bint Manga August 31, 2012 at 7:21 am |

      “Breastfeeding should not be supported because it is the healthier or better choice; it should be supported because women have a right to use their bodies to feed their babies, or not. Period.” Thank you. Exactly.

  18. chava
    chava August 26, 2012 at 7:52 pm |

    In other “this is still a problem” news, we’re visiting relatives. An older male relative of mine*, when I mentioned the baby needed to eat, broke out with “well you could feed him right here at the table, and if you feed him the way I think you’re going to, you know, we’ll all watch. Amirite, Uncle Chava and Grandfather Chava? We’ll ALL WATCH! Get it! Harhar.”

    So yes, still a problem.

    *he is in most respects a wonderful man. that he thinks this is an OK joke to make speaks volumes about the place BF still occupies as an oversexualized, “dirty” action in our society.

    1. EG
      EG August 26, 2012 at 7:55 pm |

      Wow. Because you know what’s funny? Creepy incest jokes.

      No offense to your Older Male Relative, but does he even realize that he is suggesting that your grandfather ogle the boobs of his own granddaughter?

      1. Lolagirl
        Lolagirl August 26, 2012 at 8:13 pm |

        But there are bewbies on display! Mens just can’t help themselves when that happens, amirite?

        With all of the nasty pushback I’ve experienced in my breastfeeding career, I have to say I’ve been pretty shocked by how open and supportive my super conservative, Catholic, Foxnews watching Dad has been about it. Even when I was tandem nursing twins he was wonderfully supportive (as opposed to my FIL and step-FIL, who have never been.)

    2. DonnaL
      DonnaL August 26, 2012 at 9:05 pm |

      Ugh. I do hope that someone called him on it, or at least supported you if you chose to say something.

  19. lahana
    lahana August 26, 2012 at 9:05 pm |

    I think people also have to realize that not all children can be successfully breastfed. Sometimes it is because – for one reason or another – the mother doesn’t produce enough milk. But in other cases, the children will not nurse strongly enough to get enough milk. When my nephew was born he would not even suck on a premie nipple. He and his sister never took more than 2 ounces of formula at a time. There have always been children like this – in days past they died – it was called failure to thrive. And the last thing these mothers need is someone telling them that they just need to keep trying – that everyone can nurse if they work at it hard enough.

  20. antigone23
    antigone23 August 26, 2012 at 9:24 pm |

    I think shaming women for breastfeeding in public or for breastfeeding toddlers is misogynistic, and it does happen. But there is also overwhelming pressure to breastfeed, particularly in certain regions and socioeconomic groups. And I think many of the tactics utilized by lactivists are paternalistic and misogynistic — distorting the evidence to make formula feeding look far worse than it actually is, guilt, shame, character insults, etc.

    I also think that the breastfeeding debate ties right into the mothers as martyrs issue – that women should have no right to make choices about their own bodies or their own lives because it’s best “for the children.” I’ve been told by multiple people that women who don’t want to breastfeed shouldn’t have children, because it’s “selfish.” I have gotten into debates with people who simply can’t comprehend that a mother taking care of her own needs IS what is best for her children, that continuing to breastfeed when the mother is miserable does not serve the best interests of the baby either because the baby needs a mother who is healthy and happy and up to the challenge of parenting.

    I know a lot of breastfeeding advocates like to paint breastfeeding as the easy choice. And for some women, it is. If breastfeeding works, it’s easier and cheaper than formula feeding. But if it doesn’t work, it can be expensive and oppressive. I spent more money trying to breastfeed for two weeks than I spent on two months worth of formula. And yet the same breastfeeding advocates who promote breastfeeding as easy and cheap will tell women to pump every 2 hours around the clock in addition to nursing and supplementing (while recovering from childbirth…this regimen could drive the strongest women insane!), or tell them to spend $200 a month on prescription meds and herbs to increase supply, or tell them to ignore the pain and misery that breastfeeding is causing them and soldier on, and if they fail to do these things then they are lazy and selfish and destroying their children’s health.

    I am very supportive of breastfeeding. I think it is beautiful. I think it should be publicly supported. I think that women breastfeeding in public should be unremarkable. I support measures such as extended maternity leaves, 24/7 trained lactation support in hospitals with free follow up visits, insurance covering breast pumps. But in the end, the breasts belong to the woman. It IS her choice. And we are never going to achieve the kind of overwhelming numbers that breastfeeding advocates want to see. Because the cat is out of the bag. Women have options and I don’t want to see those options restricted. I don’t think that is in the best interest of feminism. Having read many of the stories on, and been one of them myself, I know that the reasons why women don’t breastfeed are numerous and varied. More support will help. More social acceptance will help. But many of those reasons are not going to go away. There are always going to be a contingent of women who don’t want to breastfeed, who try breastfeeding and don’t like it, or who have challenges that make breastfeeding not worth continuing, for them.

    1. Jill
      Jill August 26, 2012 at 9:39 pm | *

      I also think that the breastfeeding debate ties right into the mothers as martyrs issue – that women should have no right to make choices about their own bodies or their own lives because it’s best “for the children.” I’ve been told by multiple people that women who don’t want to breastfeed shouldn’t have children, because it’s “selfish.” I have gotten into debates with people who simply can’t comprehend that a mother taking care of her own needs IS what is best for her children, that continuing to breastfeed when the mother is miserable does not serve the best interests of the baby either because the baby needs a mother who is healthy and happy and up to the challenge of parenting.

      Yes. One thing I loved about this post (among many things) is how blue milk was careful to privilege women’s choices as needs. She didn’t say this explicitly, but I got the strong sense that she was basically discussing the concept of whole-family health — that the choice to breastfeed or not breastfeed or breastfeed sometimes is a decision in which there are many factors, and social norms and male-centric policies limit real choices. But yes, a lot of the rhetoric from pro-breastfeeding advocates is… not ideal. I particularly hate the “breasts are for feeding babies, not for men!” line. Because, well, why do breasts always have to be for someone else? My breasts don’t feed babies. They also aren’t for men. But one of the best things about them is their sexual function — which is for me. Men are involved. But just like I’m not under the impression that men’s penises are for women, I am unclear on how we got to this place where we see the sexual nature of breasts as being “for men” instead of for ourselves.

      Anyway, side note, but that framing irritates me (not that blue milk was framing it that way — she wasn’t). If this post was the breastfeeding conversation we could have, I think we’d all be a lot better off.

      1. Lolagirl
        Lolagirl August 27, 2012 at 9:50 am |

        I particularly hate the “breasts are for feeding babies, not for men!” line.

        I’ve only ever pulled this line out when I’ve been called a perv for breastfeeding and told that I need to save my breasts for my husband’s viewing and enjoyment. In that sort of context, the reply that it’s perfectly normal and natural and healthy to use my breasts to feed my baby sounds feminist enough to me.

        Because, well, why do breasts always have to be for someone else? My breasts don’t feed babies. They also aren’t for men.

        I’ll agree with this statement too. Yet context is always important, isn’t it? Stop making boobs all about mens’ tittilation and enjoyment and accept that they can and will be used by some people for feeding babies. This all ties back into standard feminist ideas about not treating women’s bodies as sexual objects for the gratification of others. Look at my face, not at my breasts, when you talk to me, walk by me or whatever. And by the way, this basic rule of how not be a sexist person doesn’t change if a baby happens to be nursing from those breasts.

    2. robotile
      robotile August 26, 2012 at 10:56 pm |

      But in the end, the breasts belong to the woman. It IS her choice. And we are never going to achieve the kind of overwhelming numbers that breastfeeding advocates want to see. Because the cat is out of the bag. Women have options and I don’t want to see those options restricted.

      Antigone23, I totally agree. It’s very instructive to look at world breast feeding rates–in no country is the number of exclusive breastfeeding women at 4 months anywhere close to the 95% of women that La Leche League and others claim are physically capable of producing adequate supply of milk for their children. And it’s not just rich countries where rates are low. So clearly, there will always be some subset of women who choose not to breastfeed or to supplement, and it’s not just an issue of getting more maternity leave, more support, etc. Those things are important, but there will always be a substantial part of the population that chooses, for whatever reason, not to breastfeed, and that should be okay too.

    3. Alexandra
      Alexandra August 27, 2012 at 12:58 am |

      I love this comment to death.

  21. Cloud
    Cloud August 26, 2012 at 9:29 pm |

    Blue Milk, this is an awesome post. You have really clarified my thinking on this issue. I breastfed both kids for what in the US is considered an “extended” time- roughly two years. I happen to live in a part of the country and move in circles where that is not a particularly big deal- other than a few people expressing a shocked sort of admiration (and dude, the hard part is the early days- breastfeeding a 20 month old is soooo easy), no one much commented- but I know from my friends and family in other places that this is not a universal experience. I happened to have no problem pumping when I went back to work (at 4 months post partum, both times)- but again, that is not a universal experience.

    I want us to stop fighting about working vs. stay at home, breastfeeding vs. formula-feeding, and look at why things went so well for me (and others), and figure out how we can make that possible for all women who want it.

    And I want to stop needing to point to health benefits to justify the length of time I breastfed. All that should matter is that I wanted to, my kids wanted to, and it hurt no one.

    And god, do I want us to get away from the idea that we have to do everything “perfectly” as mothers, for fear of frittering away some small iota of our children’s potential. Human young are more resilient than we credit. I’ve been doing some reading in the sociobiology/anthropology realm and I believe more firmly than ever that human babies need love and to feel secure- and the rest will probably be OK. The human brain actually generally requires a lot of repetition to learn- which means that an occasional screw up is probably no big deal, as long as the overall environment is good. We don’t have to be perfect as mothers. And there is no one right way.

  22. Natalia
    Natalia August 27, 2012 at 5:14 am |

    People have been having children for thousands of years. Most do OK.

    I’m generally a big fan of the radical notion that we can generally trust women to do their best. With the caveat that there ought to be actual *resources* available to them.

    And that the thing, isn’t it? We’re so focused on the “I choose my choice – No! I choose my choice better than you choose yours!” narrative, that we leave very little room for structural analysis and genuine activism.

    And the other thing is… Parenting screw-ups happen. My parents screwed up majorly once. It wasn’t the “they bought me Malibu Barbie instead of Ballerina Barbie” type of screw-up. It wasn’t “mom breastfed too long” or “mom didn’t breastfeed enough.” It was a grade A, awful, painful screw-up, and I am a different person because of it. At 28, I’m *still* learning to adequately cope with it. I’m learning to mourn the person I will never become because of it – so I can finally let her go. And I don’t rule out the possibility that my child will also come to identify my most glaring mistakes – and to be forced to find ways to heal from them – though I hope my parents’ mistake has taught me something too.

    But for the most part, these things are part of the process we call life. Life is messy. It’s also often ugly and scary – and no one gets out of it alive (hardy har har). I think in the U.S., too many people have lost touch with the fact that life is like that. They want perfection. They want “the perfect baby.” They want the chance to be “the perfect parent.” Yet these concepts are the products of the feverish imaginations of ad executives. They have nothing to do with real life.

    And it doesn’t matter if the Joneses aren’t reading the same baby books that you are – nor does it matter if Alicia Silverstone brings her kid to Coachella. You “choosing your choice” doesn’t matter. What matters is whether or not you get royally fucked for doing so – as most parents, mothers in particular, inevitably do.

  23. Past my expiration date
    Past my expiration date August 27, 2012 at 8:09 am |

    But actually I think that the fact that parenting screw-ups happen — indeed that bad things in general happen — are a major motivation for insisting that I chose my choice better than you chose your choice. Because maybe if I choose all my choices exactly right, then nothing bad will ever happen to my child.

    (Yes, I know that this is not the actual way of the world.)

    And, to tie it back into blue milk’s post, this magical thinking is a feminist issue because if something bad does happen, obviously it’s the mother’s fault for not having chosen her choices correctly.

    1. Natalia
      Natalia August 27, 2012 at 9:25 am |

      Of course, they are indeed guided by that motivation. Which is silly at best – and at worst is guided by some serious fear and hate.


      The need for perfection fosters the illusion of control.

    2. robotile
      robotile August 27, 2012 at 7:36 pm |

      This type of magical thinking is very similar to situations where women feel that they are safe from rape if they are good girls who don’t wear the wrong clothes or walk down the wrong street or drink too much or say yes to some sexual acts….etc.etc.etc. Obviously, the “if I’m good enough bad things won’t happen to me” mentality is incredibly problematic for so many aspects of life.

  24. Athenia
    Athenia August 27, 2012 at 8:35 am |

    Breastfeeding is a feminist issue not because mummy bloggers like me say it is, but because it’s about working to ensure that women and their bodies are considered as important (as normal) as men and their bodies.


  25. SWNC
    SWNC August 27, 2012 at 10:33 am |

    Because, dependence is not deviant behaviour – being young, being old, being unwell, being hurt and healing, being disabled – it’s normal life.

    This is beautiful. One area where I feel like contemporary feminism–at as seen on the Internet–sometimes fails to acknowledge the reality of many, if not most, women’s lives. My child is dependent on me. My elderly, often sick parents are dependent on me sometimes and likely to become more so. Do I resent my parents or my child? Not at all. I’m proud that I can take care of them. But I do resent the larger social structures that make it so hard to provide that care.

  26. Stephanie
    Stephanie August 27, 2012 at 12:47 pm |

    This is a great post, but I have one quibble: For some of us, breastfeeding is anything but a lazy act. I breastfed until 13 months and it was a struggle the entire time. Not because of latch (though that was a horrific experience in the beginning, but because I am a super-producer (I know, boo hoo, me). I had to constantly manage my supply and breasts due to chronic plugged ducts and mastitis. Luckily I have a super supportive husband and workplace so I was able to do it for longer than most despite the trials.

    It was also never an on-the-go activity due to the size of my breasts which I had to hold up to keep in my child’s mouth due to their weight. Finally giving up (not entirely my choice due to a mastitis that effectively shut down one breast) was the most liberating thing I have ever experienced.

    1. Lauren
      Lauren August 27, 2012 at 3:06 pm |

      I cannot stand the assertion that breastfeeding is easy/lazy. If the learning curve and maintenance of the breastfeeding experience super-easy and totally lazy, it’s likely because you have nature and privilege propping you up. The ease of this experience doesn’t seem to be the norm.

      Granted, it’s a hot-button point for me because during both of my pregnancies, all the “you should do it! so cheap! best thing for the baby!” cheerleading broke my heart. It wasn’t in the cards for me and all of my explanations or protests got lost in the rhetoric, which then became a mental and emotional chore to endure.

      1. chava
        chava August 27, 2012 at 3:37 pm |

        Well, when it works out well, it certainly can be (eventually) easier than bottlefeeding IME. When it doesn’t, though, it tends to tank rather spectacularly.

        The “easy” or “lazy” rhetoric tends to come from a place of trying to justify one’s decision (at least for me). I’ve had friends have a go at me for breastfeeding, and I’ve certainly used the “it’s easier than formula for me” defense.

  27. Brandy
    Brandy August 27, 2012 at 1:49 pm |

    Very interesting perspective! I completely agree that we have to become more accepting as a culture for breastfeeding to work! There are just so many “natural” challenges presented to breastfeeding women to be adding on these cultural challenges!

  28. Christa
    Christa August 27, 2012 at 2:11 pm |

    Amen! Well said!

  29. Owen Davies
    Owen Davies August 28, 2012 at 5:50 am |

    Isn’t the whole issue of breastfeeding pretty much an impossible one to “solve” (if, indeed, it needs solving)

    Breastfeeding is best for the child, in the vast majority of cases.
    This, correct me if I’m wrong, is FACT and it’s pretty hard to argue against it.
    So, health care providers, the ones who have read all the research, point out the benefits, as they should do.
    But, by doing this, they get accused of demonising women who can’t / choose not to breastfeed. They say that hearing these facts makes them feel like they have failed as a mother, which, clearly, isn’t good.

    So what do we do? Do we stop pushing breastfeeding, stop pointing out the benefits and then watch the breastfeeing rates decline, or do we keep on pushing it and risk making women feel like failures.

    1. EG
      EG August 28, 2012 at 7:54 am |

      Did you read the post? This isn’t about individual choices. It’s about systemic problems.

    2. EG
      EG August 28, 2012 at 7:55 am |

      Similarly, babies don’t exist in vacuums. What’s healthiest for a baby is a happy mother.

      1. Owen Davies
        Owen Davies August 28, 2012 at 8:37 am |

        Honestly, I wouldn’t agree with that.

        1. EG
          EG August 28, 2012 at 8:47 am |

          Really? A primary caretaker who’s depressed and unhappy isn’t going to have a negative effect on the baby? You have a very low opinion of babies’ capacity for empathy, as well as a low opinion of the effect of unhappiness on caregiving. Low opinions, and inaccurate ones.

        2. Owen Davies
          Owen Davies August 28, 2012 at 3:00 pm |

          My wife really struggled breastfeeding first time around. Crying with the pain when baby was latched, crying when baby was waking because she knew it would want a feed.
          Had mastitus 3 times, bleeding nipples.
          Very self aware when feeding in public, so would never do it.

          So not a happy bunny at the start.
          Did baby give a sh*t? Course not, it was getting fed with breastmilk, with all its benefits, and being settled by being on the nipple. It didn’t care if mother was crying when feeding.

          She got there though, a few months in it all changed.
          2nd and 3rd were breastfeed, this time without so many issues, wife enjoyed it from the start. Babies were no different to her though.

        3. EG
          EG August 28, 2012 at 6:29 pm |

          I don’t think you get what “unhappy” means here. It doesn’t mean “unhappy for a while and then things get better.” It means ongoing misery.

        4. Owen Davies
          Owen Davies August 28, 2012 at 11:43 pm |

          Unhappy for the first few months is a fair chunk of time in a babies development.

        5. EG
          EG August 28, 2012 at 11:58 pm |

          But the issue isn’t the baby; it’s the mother. Your wife wasn’t so unhappy that she stopped, or wishes she had, from what you say.

          But sure, I’ll counter your anecdote with one of my own. The earliest memory a close family member has is from before he was two years old, and it’s of understanding that his mother was sad and depressed, but he was not, and not knowing what to do about it.

        6. Golden
          Golden August 29, 2012 at 6:44 pm |

          I was so unhappy I considered killing the baby. Breastfeeding was so miserable, I hated it so much – and everything else that was going on, that infanticide seemed not only natural in a profoundly animal way but impossible to avoid.

          I did get help. I had lactation consultants, I had support, I had a caring partner. It did not matter because due to a very traumatic birth, not only had I not bonded but my body was in severe shock with constant, agonising pain. Sixty stitches will do that to you. My body could certainly produce milk but I couldn’t cope with the pain of the latch (which wasn’t ‘that bad’ because it was ‘only bleeding a bit’) on top of all the other pain, and I ‘realised’ after a little that killing the baby was wrong so suicide was a better option.

          And what turned out best in the end, for me, was to stop breastfeeding, amongst other things. I desperately needed decent blocks of sleep to start healing. I’d had to have six units of blood. I needed stronger painkillers than were safe in breastmilk, I needed antidepressants that were NOT safe, but most of all, I needed sleep and time away from anyone touching me to cope with the massive feeling of violation that the birth had caused.

          So actually, yeah, a happy mother is important. Profoundly unhappy mothers can, have, and will commit infanticide because people driven to extremes have very poor decision making abilities.

  30. Breastfeeding: some thoughts « Rainbow Pyjamas

    […] I read this article over the weekend, and one sentence in particular resonated with me: We’re pushing breastfeeding […]

  31. Suzanne Barston
    Suzanne Barston August 28, 2012 at 5:22 pm |

    I agree with much of what you’ve stated here, and it is eloquently expressed. But I’m afraid it’s the same arguments that have been going on in the feminist community for ages now, and I worry that you are missing the point that so-called “defensive formula apologists” like me have been trying to make.

    I have never said that breastfeeding is not a feminist issue. It IS, for all the reasons you’ve brilliantly illustrated above. But I think for the most part, modern feminists have agreed with you, and have put their efforts towards systemic change that will help improve things. And this is an entirely different battle than the one I’m waging, which is to ensure that women are not convinced that they MUST breastfeed in order to be “real feminists” or real women or real mothers. I’m fighting to ensure that we are given real information, not “marketing” as you so rightly put it. Two wrongs cannot make a right, here. I think we are essentially fighting the same battle, and what frustrates me is that we’re letting it divide us rather than working together. Why couldn’t this post focus on the patriarchal society which makes it hard to breastfeed without the unnecessary digs on those of us who are fighting for formula feeder rights, and who may see the fallout from breastfeeding advocacy a bit differently than you do? It’s hurtful, quite frankly, because you had me on board up until the point you started comparing the plight of formula feeders to the plight of breastfeeders. We are held down by different forces – breastfeeders by an ignorant and basically family-unfriendly society (because quite frankly, I think the issue is more one of society not respecting parenthood or the value of child rearing than one of disgust with breastfeeding, although that is certainly part of it), and formula feeders by the medical establishment and governmental and pro-breastfeeding groups who have sacrificed us at the alter of advocacy. True feminism should mean fighting for the right for all women to be supported and respected in how they choose to mother, and I wish to god we could all band together and stop this pointless debate within feminist circles. This is patriarchal society’s wet dream- the busier we are fighting about what Good Feminists Should Support, the less energy we have to make things better.

  32. Basically a Heap of Awful « Babes in Babylon

    […] this just for this line: “Women are entitled to their choices, of course….but isn’t it […]

  33. Bint Manga
    Bint Manga August 31, 2012 at 7:07 am |

    I love most of what you’ve said here, particularly the part about making sure the workplace does not exclude those who don’t have a 1950s style housewife at home and to take seriously the fact that most adults will at some point have dependents. As a feminist, I am however a bit troubled by the subtext of what you’ve said about choice and institutional constraints – you seem to suggest that all women would, unfair workplace/cultural constraints removed, choose to breastfeed, and that we can assume it’s the natural, biologically determined preference. What about those who don’t want to? Would we make the assumption that all women, if not for the need to earn a living, would love to have many more babies and just stay home with them? It’s not just the patriarchal workplace that makes women decide not to stay home with or to breastfeed babies, there may be a number of other factors at play. I experienced a lot of the public hostility to nursing in public when I was BFing and general scepticism about BFing that you’ve described and am a strong advocate of BFing rights, public space nursing rights, pumping facilities and so on, but would really prefer to see advocacy for parental leave framed in terms that don’t focus on just the mother doing things that only she can biologically do, or assume that the well-being of a new baby lies primarily in being breastfed. Let’s fight for paid parental leave for both parents to divide as they wish, not assume that “good mothers” must be the ones to stay home with the baby.

    Also, BFing may be lazy and convenient for some women but is far from the case for others, and doesn’t work with a lot of career schedules, so let’s not assume that your personal experience is the norm.

  34. Suzanne Barston
    Suzanne Barston August 31, 2012 at 11:53 pm |

    Bint Magna, thanks for expressing what I was trying to say in a far less hostile, more coherent manner. That was brilliantly articulated.

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