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It’s World Breastfeeding Week – More Hospitals Have Been Added to the Baby-Friendly List, and a Word on Judgment

August 4, 2009

It’s World Breastfeeding Week, and Women’s eNews has a piece up about new additions to the list of Baby-Friendly Hospitals, facilities which meet 10 criteria demonstrating a commitment to improve institutional breastfeeding policy, training and practices. The criteria are 10 breastfeeding-focused steps outlined by UNICEF/WHO, including helping mothers initiate breastfeeding, allowing “rooming in,” and other practices. The complete list of 83 qualifying U.S. facilities is available from the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative.

Now, whenever this particular week rolls around, there are inevitably a flood of posts on breastfeeding, especially about how women who can’t or won’t breastfeed experience harsh judgment from others. With so many cultural and workplace barriers in place that discourage breastfeeding or make it nearly impossible, I don’t think it’s that useful to judge individual women for their choices – much better to spend that energy on workplaces that don’t provide adequate breaks or accessible space for pumping, our general lack of parental leave (as compared to other nations), and corporate a-holes who ask women customers to leave businesses or go to bathrooms to breastfeed. Much better to encourage states that haven’t to pass and enforce laws that exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws and explicitly allow women to breastfeed anywhere women are otherwise allowed to be.

Furthermore, people who see a parent feeding with a bottle and automatically jump to the formula conclusion and then make judgy faces offend my sense of logic. That parent could be adoptive. They could be feeding pumped breastmilk out of a bottle. They could be HIV positive and attempting to reduce transmission risk. They could be the non-biological mom in a lesbian couple. They could be cancer survivors who have had a double mastectomy. There are any number of reasons why the bottle feeding you see could be happening that have nothing to do with “Oh, she’s just too stupid/selfish/lazy to know what’s best and choose breastfeeding.” Even if you are going to be judgmental about formula-feeding, you can’t actually know what’s happening or why just by seeing a bottle.

Given the barriers listed above, and the logical failures of seeing a bottle and making potentially erroneous assumptions, making women miserable on a one-woman-at-a-time basis is not a very effective or logical strategy for increasing breastfeeding rates. Additionally, as Lauredhel outlines in a post responding to those who think that society has “gone too far” in supporting breastfeeding, the judging and problems go both ways. Which makes me think a lot of this is not actually about the real barriers and choices, or the actual medical evidence, but about something else that causes each side to feel put upon, no matter their choice.

I think breastfeeding is great. I think it would be awesome if every woman who wanted to breastfeed had the resources and support to do so, as often and wherever and for as long as she wanted or needed to. I think it would be awesome if I didn’t hear at least every other month about somebody’s lactation consultant being unhelpful at best. I think it would be awesome if people on both sides of the choice didn’t try to reinterpret evidence to suit their choices, to suggest that there are no real benefits of breastfeeding or that formula is super-toxin that will kill your baby dead (yes, I’m exaggerating for effect). I don’t need to hear every individual woman justify her choices – I need to see our society shift in a way that allows women to make those choices freely in an educated way in a supportive environment.

[For more information on breastfeeding, see this bunch of links from OBOS, and this website from the National Women’s Health Information Center.]

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Diana permalink
    August 5, 2009 2:01 am

    “I don’t need to hear every individual woman justify her choices – I need to see our society shift in a way that allows women to make those choices freely in an educated way in a supportive environment.”

    Lovely post. Based on my personal experiences criticism, especially from other women, seems to pervade every nook and cranny of an adult woman’s life: to get married or not, to change her maiden name or not, to have children or not, to stay at home or work full-time, etc. I, too, would like to see the judgment shift to supporting access to information and a woman’s right to be free to make her own choices.

  2. August 5, 2009 3:05 am

    Just wanna congratulate your for your Blog!! I always enjoy a lot to read your posts!! Just thanks for that!!

  3. August 5, 2009 3:50 pm

    Great post, Rachel! I must admit that when I first started bottle feeding my son breast milk in public, I almost wanted to shout to people “it’s breast milk! Don’t judge me!” After a while, I stopped caring what other people did or didn’t think of me.

    I didn’t even realize that it was World Breastfeeding Week when I wrote my post on the subject yesterday. I just happened to have a baby who finally took more than a 30-minute nap which allowed me to collect my thoughts on the subject. It’s something I’ve been wanting to write for some time. What a funny coincidence.

    • August 5, 2009 4:32 pm

      Thanks, Meredith – you have unintentional perfect timing!

  4. August 5, 2009 4:57 pm

    Thank for having this page, My daughter is to to have her baby girl any day, I will refer her to this interesting site

  5. August 5, 2009 8:17 pm

    I’ve always been a huge breastfeeding/natural birth advocate. Neither happened the way I wanted them to. The one thing I learned from my experiences of being unable to conceive my son, birth him, or feed him “naturally”, was that the women who were supposed to be the most ardent supporters of other women, were the first to disparage me for my “choices.” Of course, I didn’t choose any of my experiences, but the lazy/selfish/stupid labels still came into play. I had such terrible experiences with lactation consultants and cruel “breastfeeding advocates”, that despite all the education I have about breast being best, the idea of trying, failing, and being harangued for being a terrible mother, when I am already vulnerable and overwrought, is enough to make me consider never attempting again.

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