Barbara Katz Rothman: New Breast Milk in Old Bottles

Keynote Address, Breastfeeding and Feminism Symposium:

Barbara Katz Rothman, PhD

Different ideologies through which one can look at a mother and baby breastfeeding:

Patriarchy. We are all children of men, the essence of everything is in the seed. It is now acknowledged that women are contributing half the seed. Who carries the child (the gestational carrier) is not important, or has no genetic relationship to the child. She can’t add anything, but she can screw things up.

Technological society. Efficiency is everything. The outcome is what counts, if you can get there more quickly, that’s better. Body as machine. Medicalization, efficient management of medicalized body is the goal.

Capitalism. There is a price tag on all things–everything is for sale, blood, semen, of course milk. We promote breastfeeding through the economic lens–it’s financially smarter. What if it wasn’t? Would we still breastfeed? The capitalist ideology makes us see the world as a global market of equal choices. More choices are always seen as good, there is no higher value than choice.

Race. The racialization of milk, history of wet nurses and slavery, the race politics of America has a huge impact on breastfeeding. Pumping: you pump and someone else will feed the white milk to the baby.

Feminism. Looking critically at the “public health recommendations,” which have a history of being wrong (hormone replacement therapy for example).

What are we really doing? What are we trying to achieve? The logic we use to promote breastfeeding needs to be critically examined. If we argue that breast milk is healthier, what happens when they create a formula that is just as healthy, or healthier? Why does it matter? If it’s about breast cancer prevention, what happens when we eradicate breast cancer?

It’s not gonna be about health, and it’s not going to be about choice, or bonding. Why is it we really value it and what are we doing here?

Blogger note: I think there are a lot of connections between Barbara’s argument about breastfeeding and other social and reproductive justice movements. This examination of our logic is huge, and what we need to make long term gains rather than short term wins based on what works today. (Think about the natural birth movement, the pro-choice movement, etc).

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.

Opening Panel

Dr. Bernadette Gray-Little, Provost UNC-CH

Similar to childbirth, breastfeeding is not a shared experience. Many people never see women breastfeeding, it is done as something hidden, in the safety of home or underneath clothing.

Ms. Alice Lenahan, Director, Nutrition Services Branch, NC Division of Public Health

Breastfeeding promotion and protection in North Carolina: Blueprint for action to improve breastfeeding rates in NC

Ms. Barbara Cameron, La Leche League

“Breastfeeding was absent from my personal experiences and any professional or academic discourse.”

College student: passion for reproductive rights, no thoughts about breastfeeding

“Breastfeeding was a way of mothering my children. Unique physical connection with my children and a powerful and healing connection to my own body and femininity.”

“Thinking that baby formula is superior to breast milk is thinking that 30 years of technology is superior to 3000 years of human evolution.” -Christine Northrup, OB-GYN

Liveblogging: Breastfeeding and Feminism Symposium

Good Morning Everyone.  I’m here are the 3rd annual Breastfeeding and Feminism Symposium in Raleigh, NC. This is my first try at live blogging, so bear with me! It looks  like it’s going to be a great conference, lots of big name activists and academics (Barbara Katz Rothman for example) and some interesting topics on the agenda.

As I mentioned before, I’m most excited about the reproductive justice connection–and am interested to see how the framework is woven in.  Stay tuned for more!

Breastfeeding and Feminism Symposium

Next week I am attending the Breastfeeding and Feminism Symposium in Raleigh, North Carolina. This is the third year this event is happening, and to my delight this year’s topic is Reproductive Health, Rights and Justice. The Symposium is being sponsored by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and UNC Greensboro, specifically the Infant and Young Child Feeding and Care and the Center for Women’s Health and Wellness.

I’m looking forward to seeing how these advocates, educators and breastfeeding specialists bring in other reproductive justice issues into their work on breastfeeding. I will be live blogging from the Symposium, so stay tuned for more from the presentations next week.

Go here for more information about the Symposium. If you happen to be in the North Carolina area next week, think about attending!

Breastfeeding rates still face significant challenges

Women’s Enews reported last week that women still struggle for their rights to breastfeed in various states. Many of the fights involve the rights to breastfeed in public and efforts to remove breastfeeding from indecent exposure laws and regulations. Even in states where breastfeeding is protected by the law, women are being penalized for doing so in public, being kicked out of restaurants and other public places.

Some responses to these legal challenges have included “nurse-ins,” where large groups of women gather to breastfeed in a public place (a spin off of the kiss-ins used by queer rights activists).

In addition to the challenges that breastfeeding mothers face, the CDC reports that while the number of women choosing to begin breastfeeding is up, the rates of women exclusively breastfeeding (no formula or other liquids) are still falling short of what is desired.

“The increase in mothers choosing to initiate breastfeeding is good news because it provides health benefits for women and decreases the risk of some early childhood diseases among infants,” said Dr. William H. Dietz, director of CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity. “But it is still quite alarming that mothers and infants are not receiving the full health benefits most associated with exclusive breastfeeding.”

Check out my related blog on Feministing about research into baby formula that could prevent obesity.