Breastfeeding Symposium: Feminism vs. Public Health

Dr. Suzanne Haynes, US PHS Office of Women’s Health

Feminism vs. Public Health: Feminism in opposition to Lactivism

The word choice has been stolen from feminists by the formula representatives. “It is a woman’s choice to breastfeed, or not.” The formula ads are written to create doubt. The women who are choosing to formula feed are not informed about the risks about breastfeeding. No disclaimers on formula bottles about these risks (like cigarettes). The formula companies are afraid of litigation. National Breastfeeding Awareness Campaign is about informing women about the risk of not breastfeeding.

The de-sexualization of breasts will help promote breastfeeding. Comment from audience: I don’t want to desexualize my breasts, I love that they are sexual and I get to share them with who I please.

Going back to work is the major barrier to exclusive breastfeeding. Fear of discrimination, ridicule, lack of promotion and lost wages. New toolkits being created to help make employment environments breastfeeding friendly, like lactation rooms.

Status symbol: Buying formula in the 1950s was seen as a status symbol. Formula ads make it seem like all working women use formula.

Formula usage is much higher among low-income women and women of color.  Asian Pacifica Islander women have the highest rates of breastfeeding, African American women have the lowest rates. 

Potential Risk Reduction for Women:
28% decrease in Breast cancer
21% decrease in cervical cancer
12% decrease in Type II diabetes

Pharmaceutical companies produce most of the baby formula, earning $4 billion dollars a year. Formula industries spent $80 million dollars in advertising over two years, the government only had $1.5 million for their breastfeeding promotion campaign.

For more about the Health and Human Services Breastfeeding Campaign, see this Washington Post article.


One thought on “Breastfeeding Symposium: Feminism vs. Public Health

  1. Cara September 25, 2007 / 5:54 pm

    I also love my breasts and do not wish to desexualize them. I really don’t think that desexualizing breasts is the cure for poor perceptions about breastfeeding– we need to promote the fact that just because a body part is sexual, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have other uses and contexts, and that just because a body part is sexual does not make it obscene.

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