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Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Lactivism: How Feminists and Fundamentalists, Hippies and Yuppies, and Physicians and Politicians Made Breastfeeding Big Business and Bad Policy


I read about Courtney Jung's Lactivism: How Feminists and Fundamentalists, Hippies and Yuppies, and Physicians and Politicians Made Breastfeeding Big Business and Bad Policy in a long form article on breastfeeding, and I found it was readily available for reading on my Kindle. Wowza. I was not expecting such a gut punch of a read. Bottom line: It was incredible.

The title and subtitle of this book tell you the gist of what the book is about -- Jung dives deep into lactivism, what it is, how it supports itself, and how the movement may be doing more harm than good for American mothers and children. I will say that I was swept up in the lactivism push myself. After all, who doesn't want to give their child every advantage that they can? I sure do. In all honesty, I am thrilled with the idea of an average child, and I have no doubt that in later posts this explanation will come out. (Blame too much knowledge, folks.) However, if breastfeeding can give my little guy an advantage in terms of health, brain development, physical development, and bonding, then sign me up. Jung points out that breastfeeding is the great uniter of everyone from feminists to fundamentalists to hippies to yuppies. (That is, after all, the title.)

The problem with this push is that, at least in the United States, the evidence for most of the claims touted by lactivists just don't hold up. Mostly we know that it helps my kid's immunity against ear infections and some gut issues, but connections to intelligence and heftier diseases just isn't there.  (While I can't say I have done an exhaustive search, as I am also busy writing my own research, I can say that I checked out Jung's and it was pretty thorough. I love a fellow academic.) Like Jung, I went forth with breastfeeding because it was easy (after a few weeks -- the first weeks were brutal) and because it was free (but only kind of -- more on that in a bit). I make no bones about the fact that did it for convenience and not because of any moral high ground or ulterior motive. Sure, the bonding is great, but we could have had that without breastfeeding. While breastfeeding is literally life or death in third world countries, in the United States it's simply a preferred choice. There isn't anything wrong with this, but Jung's point that the guilt-driven push and borderline hostage-taking of women in poverty is egregious. If you don't know of what I speak, do some quick research into your state's WIC guidelines regarding benefits for breastfeeding versus non-breastfeeding mothers. Egregious doesn't even begin to cover it.

I am part of a breastfeeding support group on the book of faces, and I had to stop following posts regularly because I was horrified by the weight that women put into breastfeeding their children -- so many see it as life or death. As I said, in some countries it is, but in the industrialized world, it just isn't. While I will admit to being swept up in the breastfeeding mania at first, this book was a complete eye opener in terms of truly supporting women from a feminist perspective. No child is going to be harmed by being fed formula. I don't believe I, or my son, are better off because we were breastfed, and I don't think so many people and kids that I know are worse off because they are fed formula. I have put a lot of thought into the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative, and I'm now not as gung-ho about it as I was a year ago when I was planning for the birth of my son. No one should have to justify their desire to feed their baby by formula, whether it's a desire or it's a necessity. I am happy that my son and I have had the chance to breastfeed, and I wouldn't change it for the world. I also don't hold any other woman to any standard other than that they have to feed their kid, be it by the boob or by formula. 

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