Breastfeeding as a Right, not a Choice

Upon reading this article: 1 in 8 low-income parents waters down formula my first reaction is, of course, how horrible for those children.

But my strongest reaction was to this statement:

While some might point to breast feeding as a solution, not every mom is in the position to do this for her child. In some jobs it’s virtually impossible to express milk during the day when a mom is away from her baby.

This statement, so casually tossed out in a conversation about malnourished Americans, reveals that as soon as we dub breastfeeding as a “choice,” then we allow the possibility that, gosh, some people are just not fortunate enough to have that “choice.” Too bad!

But we are scared to death to declare that babies actually NEED breastmilk. We don’t want to take away the illusion that formula is “almost just as good” because we, as a country built on freedom, want the freedom to not be tied down by the hungry little brat.

Or is it that we don’t want to have to give maternity leave, secure a woman’s job if she takes time out to raise the next generation, take away a jillion dollars from formula companies, or lose all our cheap labor that is forced to leave their children in daycare because they are economically trapped?

For some reason, we love supporting a woman’s right to choose formula.

And if I hear one more time how we are making women feel bad who genuinely can’t breastfeed, I’m gonna puke. The incidence of being physically incapable of nursing a child is so rare, and I’m sure those women know in their hearts that they are doing the best they can. I wish women would stop saying “I just can’t” when the truth is they have no support, or they can’t afford to stay home and their job is unsupportive, or they just don’t feel like it, or whatever the real reason is. We must stop accepting the statement “I can’t” as though it were physically impossible and beyond help, when almost always it is a circumstantial problem that COULD be changed by SOMEONE. And that someone is all of us. Once we begin to identify the real reasons that a woman doesn’t breastfeed, then sympathy for that tiny minority who really can’t will be genuinely available.

And adoptive parents? Don’t they already feel awesome enough knowing that they’ve opened their homes, hearts and arms to “someone else’s” child? Is there anyone on the planet who would say, golly, you’re feeding your adopted child formula, that’s a bad choice? The argument that a pro-breastfeeding, anti-formula attitude would even touch these wonderfully generous families is downright silly.

And women who “just don’t feel like it” or “think it’s yucky” or whatever other weak excuse they come up with? Why should I care that they feel bad that they are choosing to feed their children an inadequate food? How is that my problem? Why should I soften the reality of the situation to make them feel less horrible?

I believe that babies have the right to adequate food and shelter. Breastmilk is adequate; it is the natural standard.  The myriad miracle components are what a baby is supposed to have, assuming there is no emergency, extenuating circumstance. Formula is sub-standard; it provides inadequate nutrition, inadequate protection from disease, it is just all around not as good and less than. If there are occasions where formula is actually, genuinely needed, it is obviously better than starving, and no one is going to judge a parent doing the best they can under the circumstances. Just like if a child for some reason needs a prosthetic limb or constant medication for a chronic condition or whatever, no one’s going to say, “Well, the prosthetic limb isn’t as good as a real limb, so you’re a bad parent.” That would just be stupidly cruel.

If we saw breastfeeding as the natural birthright of every child, then, as long as circumstances physically allowed it, mother and baby would be provided with what they needed to have a healthy breastfeeding relationship. There would be no “I can’t” for anything other than an extremely rare medical condition or not being the biological mother. Every mother would be able to afford to breastfeed, would be supported in pumping if that was what needed to happen, would have the information and emotional support, and whatever else was necessary in her particular situation.

Of course, in the United States of America, people go without food or adequate housing or health care, etc. every single day. So I’m just speaking hypothetically. We as a country don’t give a crap about each other when it comes to the very basic necessities of life, much less for something as luxurious and alternative as breastmilk.

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3 responses to “Breastfeeding as a Right, not a Choice

  1. This post is AWESOME! I completely agree! I’m going to be posting this around and referring back to it. THANK YOU!

  2. Pingback: Friday Feature: “Wise Way Tribe” | Diary of a First Child

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