Why the Mandatory Breastfeeding Law has Nothing to do with Babies.
By UrbanEarthworm on January 31, 2014
If you want more women to breastfeed, stop telling them they can't be trusted to figure it out on their own. If you want someone to ride a bike, you don't threaten them; you help them a little, teach them how to do it and maybe support them until they get their balance, then you just let them do it. Ok, maybe not my best metaphor, but seriously, thousands of years of evolution have been programming mothers to want what's best for their children, so let's stop acting like women are incompetent fiends.
I can probably be called a lactivist. I believe that breastfeeding is incredibly important, and I believe concrete steps should be taken to increase it's prevalence (like, you know, the steps I'm writing about here...). I also disapprove, somewhat controversially, when women don't try, or put only a nominal effort behind their attempts to, breastfeed.
I believe there are a lot of women out there who have been taught by society that breastfeeding is undesirable for any number of reasons and so they just don't want to. I believe there are women out there who "give it a try," just so they can say they tried. But, I also believe that on an individual basis, THAT IS NONE OF MY D*MN BUSINESS.
I can never know the factors that went into anyone's decisions but my own. I may think some women don't try hard enough, but maybe that's because they weren't informed or supported. And I have no way of telling apart women who didn't want to breastfeed from women who desperately wanted to but couldn't. Ultimately, it doesn't matter. What matter is that I know that the vast majority of women would bend over backward to do what's best for their children. That may sound like it contradicts women choosing not to, but if a woman doesn't have enough information or support, her choice is not fully informed or may be so difficult to implement that it would negatively affect her health or that of her child(ren).
I know how much I struggled with not only breastfeeding decisions, but just about every mothering decision I've made. I know that pretty much all of my friends went through the same thing. I know that, across cultures, women willingly sacrifice and suffer to improve their children's lives. Maybe, instead of focusing on punishing women for making the "wrong" decisions, we should trust women to make their own decisions, in light of their own complex and unique situations, and offer them information and support in doing the best that they can for their children. And maybe that knowledge and support will be spread and carried on in a way that is not possible with simple thoughtless force.
If you really want to increase breastfeeding, you need to support women. "If you're medically incapable of breastfeeding, we'll give you a wetnurse" is not support. (And is also not something I would personally want since there is so much bonding tied in with feeding a child - maybe milk donations?).
Normalizing, Informing, and Trusting are all parts of support, but it goes beyond that. Support is giving women access to lactation consultants, especially in the weeks after birth - but also for the next few year. Support is giving working mothers breast pumps and passing regulations to protect them. Support is passing laws making it a crime to discriminate against a nursing mother instead of passing laws that punish women who can't nurse.
Supporting is helping women eat well so they can be confident in their nursing. Support is about making sure that women know that if they are struggling with breastfeeding for any reason there will be someone there that wants to help them, not someone who wants to punish them. Support is about silencing the judges and emphasizing a caring community - and not just one for nursing mothers, but for all mothers.
Support is the most ambiguous of these concepts, but possibly also the most important one because without support, none of the other ideas work. Unsupported, women will never be confident enough to normalize breastfeeding again. Information without support and reassurance is a crutch at best. And support is the best way to demonstrate trust.
I nursed my son for nearly three years. I am glad I did, but I am no more proud than I am of making his lunch today.
This Law is Not About Breastfeeding Of course, none of these suggestions mean a thing in the world of a law like this. Because this law has nothing to do with breastfeeding and everything to do with reminding society that women are dangerous and need to be controlled. Two excellent resources, which include online support, for nursing mothers or anyone who wants to know more are: