I had conceived this post ages ago. I had some kind of angry ranty thing in mind about how militant lactivists were an enemy of those who struggle to breast feed, need to combination feed, or need to formula feed. Then I thought about it, let this post sit for months and realized that the fundamental issue with lactivism is that it’s not one thing. It’s a reaction to a huge mass of issues. The focus is often too broad and by being so broad it often hurts those it may have wanted to help.
No, really, there are many issues encompassed by lactivism that require radically different approaches, but are often grouped under the same agenda.
Lactivists want breastfeeding to be normalized and for more people to breastfeed. Lactivists want support for women who intend to breastfeed, they want more education for medical professionals, more time off from work, more time to pump, and appropriate access to lactation consultants.
These all sound innocuous and positive, but some things do seem to be lost in interpretation in practice.
So while you’ll get the kind that push for women to trust their bodies, breastfeed openly to normalize it, and give information to expectant mothers, you will also find the type that stubbornly believes every woman can breastfeed, that breastfeeding just takes work and will argue with you when you talk about issues (yes this has happened to me). There are those that are aware of the social and medical problems women face, will warn you that medical professionals may not have a clue, will rail about proper parental leave, pumping rights, and the pushing of formula, but will be less than accommodating if you just don’t like breastfeeding.
Obviously those are stereotypes to some degree, but I’ve certainly encountered individuals who espouse those ideals. So while it’s a stereotype, it’s not an exaggerated one I don’t think.
My focus is much narrower. I believe that until all the women who want to breastfeed are getting all the help that they want and need in the form of appropriate support, correct information, and real diagnoses I don’t give a damn about those who just don’t want to breastfeed. One issue at a time and helping those that want help seems like a better place to start than bemoaning those that don’t want help. Sure, I’d love it if everyone thought breastfeeding was normal and wanted to do it, or if formula companies didn’t have a drive for profits, but before we get there we need to address the diagnostic and support issues women face.
I’d like to think that real lactivists are doing things like writing letters to hospital boards pointing out the benefits of the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (or how staff at BFHI hospitals can and should be accommodating to those who are not breastfeeding), offering support and education on issues like tongue tie, IGT and PCOS, or helping educate those in front line medical roles. People doing good work to educate and change policy. I’d hate to tar everyone with the same brush. Think about the stereotype of feminists versus the reality, except with radical lactivisim it’s women against women. I’m sure there are some out there that aren’t whiling away their time berating women for choices made out of familiarity or desperation. I think that one of the perils of lactivism is the unfortunate association of those that are trying to change things and offer support with those, well, amateurs, that are unsympathetic and inflexible. One makes for an iconic bogey man and punching bag, the other is more subtly working for change.