On Breastfeeding and Gender Equality

When browsing yesterday, I came across an article where a woman detailed her reasons for choosing not to breastfeed her next child. The reasoning boiled down to breastfeeding creating an uneven family dynamic, since the mother would be in change of all feeds and the baby might therefore prefer the mother.

As you might imagine, I found her reasoning to be rather silly, at best. First, it is an insult to women in general and mothers in particular to say this normal biological function impedes women and the family. I agree that it is hard to be a breastfeeding mum thanks to societal ideas about it and the fact that many employers do not give mothers the support to continue breastfeeding. However, the problem isn’t breastfeeding, but that society doesn’t value mothers. A growing, but still small, number of employers is allowing mothers to bring babies to work or work from home. In fact, when I was working part-time at the University of Liverpool after having Kieran, I was allowed to bring him with me. I also took him to lectures. I know this isn’t done in a lot of places, but that’s why we should fight for this. Incidentally, this is something to fight for for bottle-feeding mums, too.

This also downplays the mother’s role in the family. The author saw that her son preferred her, and she saw that as bad. Instead, it is the biological norm. It is also not exclusive to breastfed babies; my mother bottle-fed my siblings, and so I asked if they still preferred her when they were babies, and she said they did. Anecdotal, I know, but still of interest.

Most of all, it is insulting to women because it tells women that their biology is not just subpar, but actually damaging to the family and society! If women must suppress her natural, normal nurturing in order for the family, and thus for society, to be good, then this tells women she is naturally bad or damaging and should change to be like men. We’ve already seen this in debates about birth control and abortion, so I suppose I should have expected to see it in the breastfeeding debates, too. Instead, we should celebrate woman’s unique biology and support her instead of requiring her to change.

This attitude is also insulting to men. The assumption is that the father cannot adequately bond with the child if he doesn’t share in feeding. How insulting to think he can’t bond without sharing in the feeding! He can play with, bathe, change the baby. He can snuggle the baby. I practice full-term breastfeeding, and breastfed my eldest until he was 4.5. Now nearly 6, he would much rather spend time with his Papa than me a lot of the time. Obviously my husband was able to bond with him for this to be the case.

This doesn’t even take into account the way mothers must fight even to establish breastfeeding. If it is seen as something dragging us down, I can’t imagine that more support, which is desperately needed, will be forthcoming. We need to celebrate women and their amazing, unique ability to grow and nourish a child. We need to celebrate men in their amazing roles as fathers. And we need to support the children who definitely benefit from breastfeeding.

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