Lactivism vs Feminism

I wandered into a discussion the other day about whether or not lactivists want to ban formula completely. I actually wrote this post last week, but have been putting finishing touches on it and autoscheduled it for later.

Anyhow, some of the anti-formula commenters involved in the discussion (I don’t consider being pro breastfeeding the only requirement for being a lactivist) said that no, they didn’t want to ban it completely, but they wanted it to be prescription only. I backed away before I started picking fights because I’m being a coward. But that just made me feel sick. (Not the prescription only bit, that’s old news, the banning it bit. Also, you may have had to be there.) How has lactivism come to supersede feminism? First off, some of the problems with that are that it punishes women for needing to formula feed without adding anything to help women. It assumes that formula being available causes formula feeding. Long before we had commercial infant formulas people would feed babies anything white in lieu of breast milk, so chalk dust and water for instance. Oh and then there was pap. Bread, water and flour. I’ve even seen reference to pap containing ground walnut shells. I am not kidding. Not that long ago condensed milk was given to babies. Even now there are people who dilute formula or give infants skim milk to save money. I don’t think formula is that great, but it’s pretty darn good compared to what used to be available. Sure it would be grand if there were milk banks for everyone and it was free, or cheap, and screened, but there aren’t.  So stop holding up the what if and focus on the what is.

I wish everyone wanted to and was able to breastfeed, but, fact is they don’t or can’t. Punishing formula is not the answer. Besides the fact that it’s inanimate and you can’t hurt it, limiting it hurts women. Limiting formula availability does not guarantee more available care for breastfeeding. More available care for breastfeeding does limit formula use though. Sure, they have a connection, but there are many other factors at play, foremost the education of health care providers. You know what? I fully support the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative for promotion of breastfeeding. When properly applied. Properly applied it doesn’t limit it, it just makes it not free. Having it not be freely available in the hospital setting does more to protect women’s breastfeeding goals from poorly trained health care providers, than it limits any choices. If you know you want to formula feed, you bring it in. If you have serious issues while you are there they do provide it for you. If you don’t know before you go, then you aren’t actually in the hospital that long. I both gave birth and did my post birth recovery in BFHI centres (two separate places), and they provided water and washing supplies for formula preparation and bottle cleaning, they just didn’t provide the formula. I realize there can be issues with BFHI staff, but I’m just going to have to come down on the side of women who want to breastfeed on personal principle. I guess I’d rather have untrained health care providers being snotty than sabotaging biology.

Popular voices of the lactivist movement have little regard for the feminist movement. Erroneous lactivism wants women to have jobs that are suitable for breastfeeding, if they have jobs at all. So what about women who travel, who work unpredictable schedules on call or similar, and women who work in the field, away from spaces and facilities to pump? Are these jobs no longer suitable as women’s work? Because of breastfeeding is there again such a thing as women’s work? Is that what lactivism is currently telling us? Even women who just don’t pump well get the short end of this stick, being lesser in lactivist eyes for simply working outside the home.

I don’t like to consider myself a feminist because I don’t like associating with other self described feminists. Oddly enough those were the people that gave me the most flack when I became my households primary earner in a male dominated field. I’m certainly a postmodern feminist. I enjoy the benefits I would not have had historically, but find little issue with my modern life. I don’t like to think of myself as a lactivist either, because of the company that I’d be keeping. I certainly do have issues with breastfeeding support and education as well as access to services. I just can’t get on that bandwagon with many of those that consider themselves lactivists. In both cases, for me, its about walking the walk without talking the talk.

The ideas behind, and in truth, real lactivism is no more ‘breastfeed or else’ any more than real feminism is about the superiority of women and putting y’s in words. With both there are hangers-on to the cause that miss the point and push a different agenda. Lactivism is about breaking down barriers to women breastfeeding. Feminism is about women being equal people. The image of lactivism is now tainted by unyielding group-think much the way the image of feminism has been tainted by bra burners.

I guess that’s my new comeback for the anti-formula crowd (I’m making an effort to use the word lactivist properly, for those trying to inform and break down social barriers). Oh, so you aren’t a feminist then?

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