Friday, August 11, 2006

Lactivist Manifesto

From a recent comment submitted by Anonymous: "The problem with you nazis is that you marginalise mothers and women who make alternative feeding choices." well put. Nazi. Yes, that'd be me. By day, I'm an ordinary boob-flashing mom-about-town, selfishly dragging my kids to parks, swimming pools, grocery stores, and cafes so that I can freak out the squeamish by nursing topless. By night, I get together with my brigade of nursing-bra-burning Nazis to strategize about how to marginalize formula-feeding moms and win the Mommy War once and for all.

This is the problem with flinging accusations at people whom you've never even met, Anonymous. I am, in fact, quite aware the many reasons why it is so difficult to breastfeed in the United States today and I do not judge harshly mothers who choose to formula feed. There is MUCH work to be done before breastfeeding can possibly become a choice most mothers make without sacrificing themselves and their families in ways that many now feel they cannot.

What work would that be?

Mothers need the option of taking at least six months of paid leave after the birth of a child. Fathers (and, in an alternative universe in which lesbian and gay couples could legally marry and enjoy the privileges heterosexual couples take for granted, the non-lactating mom in a lesbian apologies to gay men for seeming to exclude you from this equation, but I haven't worked out in my own head what this alternative universe would look like for you) should also have the option of taking at least a month of paid leave, to support their spouses and care for older children during those first few critical weeks as mom and babe establish their breastfeeding relationship. It would be nice if all employers would accomodate mothers who want to return to work, offering them time and space to pump, but there are so many jobs which cannot reasonably accomodate a breastmilk pumping mother and returning to work can negatively affect a mother's supply. Police officers, flight attendants, and trial lawyers are just a few off-the-top-of-my-head examples of people whose jobs don't just stop 'cause it's time for mom's 30 minute pumping break. Rather, moms should have the option to stay home during those first six months of exclusive breastfeeding.

Americans need to get over their breast fetish. I'm not suggesting that breasts should no longer be considered errogenous zones, but we need to stop fetishizing them to the point where people are uncomfortable with them performing their primary function. Some people find ankles quite sexy, but don't freak out and complain to management when they see a woman in an ankle-exposing outfit at a grocery store. Breasts have a job to do. Let's let them do it in peace.

Lactation consultants should be as on the scene after every baby's birth as pediatricians are today. Every mom should be visited by a lactation consultant at home or in the hospital during the first days after giving birth, see one again later as necessary, and have those visits covered by health insurance.

Breastmilk banks should be as common as blood banks, if need be, and women who donate their milk should at the very least be honored with a nice little lapel sticker that says, "I donated milk today." Just as the Red Cross goes around to college campuses and business parks, seeking blood donors, they should set up pumping stations where lactating mothers can come donate milk. If every lactating mother donated four ounces of milk once a year, would that be enough for the babies whose mothers cannot breastfeed or pump themselves, or die before their babies reach one year of age?

What about the moms who still, given six months off work, visits with the lactation consultant, etc., do not want to breastfeed? Of course, every woman has that option, just as she has the option of smoking cigarettes during pregnancy. Every mother should know, however, that choosing to formula feed actually puts her child's longterm health at greater risk than choosing to smoke during pregnancy. Statistically speaking, smoking during pregnancy, which can lead to low-birth-weight, actually poses fewer risks to a child's health than being fed formula during the first year of life outside the womb. Does anyone say that doctors are trying to make mothers who smoke feel guilty when they advise them to quit smoking?

We need to stop talking about "making" mothers feel guilty about not breastfeeding and start talking about the fact that formula is a processed, inferior food. While it contains calories and nutrients, formula is missing much that breastmilk supplies. Of course, no one forces parents to feed their children 100% organic whole foods everyday, but most of us recognize that Ritz Crackers and Fruit Roll-Ups are no substitute for fresh fruits and vegetables. Nutrition experts are not labeled "fruit Nazis" for trying to persuade more people to eat healthier foods. Mothers the world over breastfeed not out of guilt, but because it is the least expensive, most convenient, and healthiest way to feed a baby.

Breastfeeding advocates like myself are not the vanguard of the Mommy War (that would be the mass media). While some of us don't always take the time to understand the unique challenges moms who don't breastfeed, many of us do. Let's stop fighting and start working toward building a culture that supports mothers who want to breastfeed and celebrates them, rather than shames them, for doing the very best for their children, whenever and wherever they are hungry.


caramaena said...

Well said.

Knittymama said...


msubulldog said...


MomToTracyNSheri said...

Whoo hoo!

I would like to take just a moment to applaud my own boss, Dr. Gaby Hawat, Dean of Engineering at Valencia Community College in Orlando, FL. He has supported me 100% through both of my pregnancies, supported my breastfeeding, and been a real champion of mother's rights at the college.

There ARE good jobs and good bosses out there. Unfortunately they are not always the ones we talk about every day. Let's not forget to congratulate the good ones and hope that others are inspired by their vision.

knittinmom said...

Sweet! Looks like you've got a good start ;-)

Brittney said...

This is fantastic, Chris. Everyone in our culture (and otherwise!) should read this manifesto! Publish, publish, publish!

Mike said...

I just want to reinforce the fact that my wife is one best not trifled with! So all you anonymice (I like that, it makes me laugh whenever I think about it), either gain some intestinal fortitude, or slink back to your holes and watch some more "reality" TV and feed your kids poptarts!!!

Mike said...

Please pardon the pedanticism, but the anonymouse who called my wife a Nazi ought to invest in a dictionary. Either that, or use the pseudonym "shrubbery," "gwb fan," "lover of rove," or some other means of indicating that the measure of their intellect is quite possibly less than their shoe size :P

momtozach said...

Very nicely said.

Chris said...

I lurk on your blog every now and then and must say that I really enjoyed this post! You're so right, it isn't about making the formula feeders feel guilty. It's about changing how society thinks about it and educates about it so that those women who *couldn't* can and don't have to feel guilty anymore.

So you have to add this to your list of things that need to happen...all those doctors and nurses who care for lactating women and their children... they need more/better education about it so that they can give better advice.

Thanks for your blog!

Anonymous said...

Brava. Except I would like you to specify the source of pay for the paid leave. There really are many small employers that can't do it--can't pay two employees for the work of one. If you are talking about a program like unemployment insurance or workman's comp., then I can go with the program

Chris said...

I don't think any paid family leave schemes requires employers to directly pay employees who while they are taking leave. Here in Oregon, the state legislature is considering a paid family leave bill that would be financed by workers, at a cost of just a few dollars (as I understand it, under $5)/month. I think it's on the order of 10 cents/hour. This is how California finances its family leave and that fund actually has a surplus.