The Positive Power of Breastfeeding Righteousness

BY ON September 13, 2011

Painting with mother breastfeedingIt’s a truism that men never outgrew their fixation on their mothers’ breasts. But I’m beginning to think the same thing holds true for women. As a co-founder of Moms Clean Air Force, I’ve ventured into the online world of self-styled “mommy bloggers.” Theirs is a rich, exciting, provocative community–and it is full of excellent writing. I only wish I had had such company when I was a new mom.

But I’ve been stunned by the vitriol around breastfeeding. It has gotten to the point that many writers simply won’t write about the subject anymore, because of the feeding frenzy (so to speak) of flamers that attack the bloggers, no matter what their position on breast-feeding.

Sisters, sisters! Let me insert a few words from my end of motherhood: children grown up and out of the house.

Breastfeeding is NOT an issue we should be dividing on, as women and mothers. Lactivists are necessary heroines–when they’re focusing on what can be done to make nursing mothers feel safe and comfortable, and make breast-feeding easier. Moms shouldn’t have to fight the culture to do what comes naturally.

I love the moments of support I spot in the best blogs, like Mama Knows Breast; I read a story about women who gave their breast milk to a new mother who had survived a double mastectomy. That makes you feel proud of women–and grateful for the Internet that connected everyone.

But breastfeeding has to remain a laissez-faire situation, to each her own. Many women are comfortable with breastfeeding anywhere and everywhere. Great! It wasn’t that long ago, in the 80s, when I was breast feeding my sons, that I had to sit in the bathrooms of restaurants, because it was considered unseemly to feed them, even covered, at the table. Yuck. I rejoice that our society is more open now; that breastfeeding in public isn’t such a taboo.

Yes, the breast is a sexual organ, but it is more, too. Drape it if you’re modest–or if others around you are. Be considerate of prepubescent and adolescent boys, otherwise digging for back issues of Victoria’s Secrets. It doesn’t have to be more complicated.

Flaunt it if you must prove your exuberance about your body. And for those in the audience–if it bothers you, look the other way. Or get comfortable with your fascination, and analyze why, exactly, you are fixated on that breastfeeding mom. Try to remember being a baby yourself. Just don’t start acting like one.

There are women who cannot breastfeed, for various reasons. Be compassionate. Don’t judge. They aren’t lesser moms; their children will not necessarily be lesser world citizens–or have lesser brain power.

And some women simply do not want to breastfeed. So? Suckle and let suckle by other means. Breastfeeding does not warrant conversion fervor. I don’t believe any study that “proves” can isolate breast feeding as the factor that makes children perform better academically. That’s just silly–and poor science; it ignores too many contributing factors.

Back when formula manufacturers were trying to convince moms that their stuff was better than breast milk, breastfeeding became a politicized issue. But we know better now. We have a choice. That’s what counts: The choice.

How about moms take the breastfeeders’ righteous passion, and spread it around to other topics.

Here’s what is worth getting VERY worked up about:

BPA–and all the bisphenol chemicals–in plastic bottles, toys–and food cans. The latest: Scientists have found that BPA and methylparabens block breast cancer drugs, interfering with their efficacy in fighting the disease. All breastfeeders–all people–should support the “Safe Chemicals Act” introduced by Senator Lautenberg   Don’t even get me started on triclosans in those anti-bacterial soaps we’re told we should have–and we should really avoid.

Air pollution–this is my number one priority, especially pollution containing toxics like mercury, which cause neurological damage, from coal-fired power plants. When moms eat fish contaminated with mercury, it gets into their breast milk–and into their babies. Lactivists: join your righteous voices to Moms Clean Air Force, so that we can fight against air pollution. It is completely connected to breastfeeding.

We’re all fired up about buying “green” clean products, low-voc paints, formaldehyde-free particle board (or we should be.) But you know what? We still have to open the windows. Moms should be fighting air pollution with all their hearts–and despite the overheated political rhetoric, cleaning the air actually creates jobs and strengthens the economy.

Being a mom is tons of work. We’re all in this crazy-tough business of mothering together. You may feel alone with an infant now, but believe me, you’ll be getting strength from your village for years to come. We all have a lot to learn from one another.

And guess what? You think the breastfeeding thing is tricky? Its nothing compared to what’s coming up!

TOPICS: Activism, Coal, Mercury Poisoning, Politics

  • Abbie

    Just nursed my 18 month old to sleep… So I’m a biased reader. I agree that there’s a lot of passion from all sides of Breastfeeding, and I’ve even blogged my Breastfeeding experience. I would also live to see that passion directed at cleaning up air! Moms who boycott nestle should also think about Applying that type of pressure to polluters!

  • GloPan

    Great post, Dominique. In more conservative cultures, where women are more modest, the idea of breastfeeding in public is unthinkable. In other cultures, where working women are a distinct minority, the idea of spending money on formula is unthinkable. This is the USA, so we have people from all sorts of backgrounds bringing their own cultural baggage to breastfeeding, and we need to respect that. It Is about choice. But when it comes to clean air and water, I believe there should be no choice at all – we need it for our kids, for ourselves. The vast majority of AmeriCans agree with me. So Why do our lawmakers then make choices and horse trade around these must-haves and why do we let them get away with it???? It’s outrageous.

  • Any mom with a baby young enough to nurse or drink from a bottle needs all the support she can get. She is getting very little sleep and if she has a job outside the home, very little mercy. So I agree, live and let live and all of us should stick together and use our power on the stuff that affects us all.

    I am glad to see that there is research going on about the environmental causes of breast cancer. As one who went through the full menu of treatments for the disease back in the early 1990s, I’d like to see some focus on where this is coming from. Yes, new treatments are important, but lets do what we can to stop breast and other cancers at their root.

    Clean air gives us all a better chance of living a healthy life.

  • mollyrauch

    Thanks for this perspective. All babies should live in a world where they can get good nutrition, whether it’s from their mom’s breast milk or from their formula. Babies should not have to drink environmental contaminants. We shouldn’t be letting polluters mess up breast milk with mercury from coal plants (we should fight for clean air!) and we shouldn’t be letting polluters mess up formula with BPA and other chemicals leaching from baby bottles (we should fight to make sure that chemicals in consumer products are tested before they go on the market!).

  • I remember once I was discreetly nursing my daughter in a restaurant booth and a person in the next booth mumbled, “That’s disgusting.” All I could think of to say was, “You know what’s more disgusting? Hungry, screaming babies in restaurants!”

    Breastfeeding babies should be a non-issue. Period.

    What scares me more than idiots that don’t get it, are the pro-polluters who are poisoning our air. If we allow power plants to spew their toxins at us, we may no longer be saying, “Breast is always the best.”

  • GloPan

    Why are people so judgmental about personal behavior, but not so much about corporate behavior? There’s a huge disconnect here.

  • Good one, Gloria!!