There has been a lot of backlash the past decade about what lactivism or breastfeeding advocacy is and isn’t. There is often the idea that being proud about breastfeeding is at the same time shaming or making other parents feel guilt. What I am proud about doesn’t have to take away from what you are proud about. All parents have a steep cliff to climb when it comes to new parenting. All parents who are trying hard to care for our children deserve support. I really don’t know a lot of true advocates who are into making people feel bad. Most of us are working too hard at dispelling myths and helping parents work towards making informed decisions and giving support. I listen to a lot of moms cry. I am usually the one who helps them feel better, not the one who tore them down.
For myself and a lot of people I know, breastfeeding empowered us as new parents. This reason I am a breastfeeding advocate in the first place. Breastfeeding my little ones helped me get to know them. It helped me to feel proud of my body and my own sense of the natural in me. It helped me to be in sync with my children when they were young and to find rhythms in day and night. We learn about how our body works. We learn about how baby and mother and our biology work. Knowledge is power and we have that power when we inform ourselves. Breastfeeding is our human biological NORM. I often do a lot of informing on that idea itself as I advocate and support parents for the length of THEIR breastfeeding goals. I feel lucky to get to watch a transformation in many new parents when they find that power and capacity in themselves.
There are so many articles about “pressure” to breastfeed. I wonder if we can reframe that to really talk about what is going on? Formula companies want to sell us their product to replace something we have the POWER to use ourselves. I feel like there is more pressure in the bottle-feeding culture to relinquishing the power we hold in our own body for FREE and buy replacement products. I think it is more about MARKETING to new parents and less about pressure from other moms. I know that I have wonderful friends who are terrific mothers and fathers who also take different parenting paths than I do/did. We each have different obstacles and options. However, I often see the idea that moms have to cover or hide while they breastfeed or pressure to use bottles in public (with either pumped milk or formula in them). I see a lot of pressure put on breastfeeding moms to conform to bottle-feeding culture standards when it comes to how they act both in public space and with regards to things like schedules and sleep as well. I feel that that is even more enhance when a new parent has less options when it comes to employment as well.
So, when it comes to advocacy and lactivism, try to think of it this way… you discover a new exercise program or healthy food or interesting book and you want to share it. You are so excited about it. You know it was something you enjoyed. You know it made you feel healthy or strong. You want your friends to feel happy, healthy and strong too. You want to invite the old and the young to join in. This is not because you want them to feel bad that they didn’t know about that game or book or exercise. This is because you care about them and you know that a new skill or healthy option can then be passed on.
The same is true for those of us who are happy to tell about natural birth options, breastfeeding options, sleep information, and how our bodies and breasts work. It is sad to me that so many of us don’t know about our own biology. I hear a lot of fear and confusion in questions about breastfeeding. I so often get calls from new parents asking about basic things. When they have accurate information, they are able to work towards their goals. This information should really be taught in middle and high school Science classes. People should know about how they get pregnant, what happens during pregnancy, and that MOST women will lactate unless they choose not to… as Ina May Gaskin has been quoted, “Remember this, for it is as true and true gets: Your body is not a lemon. You are not a machine. The Creator is not a careless mechanic. Human female bodies have the same potential to give birth well as aardvarks, lions, rhinoceri, elephants, moose, and water buffalo. Even if it has not been your habit throughout your life so far, I recommend that you learn to think positively about your body.”
There are far too many Booby Traps out there set up as a blockade against breastfeeding. I know many parents who feel guilt. Or rather, they feel regret. There is a difference. Guilt is something we feel that can make us also feel shame. It is something that can hold us back. Regret is something that we can also feel. We can allow ourselves to feel regret about something and also forgive ourselves or even make changes to move forward with growth. I am not implying anyone should feel guilt or regret about their decision to breastfeed or introduce formula but I am making clear that advocates can’t make someone feel guilt or regret. This is something we choose and not something that is brought on by advocacy. I hope to legitimize and acknowledge feelings here and not to make anyone feel they purposefully choose guilt. *Please do read my blog post on Wanting to Breastfeed before you consider this entire guilt/regret idea I am putting out there.
I personally know about guilt and regret too. I am a mom after all of 3 little ones myself after all. I know that not all parents have the same support, healthcare, and information and have written about this previously. I know that we all start out with different goals and ideas of what success is. I know that most of us feel pressure to do better and try harder and really don’t give ourselves credit for the good we do. But I feel that most of that pressure is not put on us by advocates (supporters, allies, friends) but rather by antagonists and those who feel competitive. I know that this is why I am and always will be an advocate. I am advocating for better health care, better education systems, better maternal and child outcomes, better birth options, better support for breastfeeding and better family working situations, better maternity/paternity options, more options and more information. I take the idea of “personal is political” to heart. We can’t wait until all the other things are fixed or things are perfect to then advocate and support breastfeeding. We can continue to advocate for better choices and options all around. I sure will.