Breastfeeding: The Battle To Feed In Public

Despite a burgeoning advocacy from health professionals and governments alike, mothers continue to report being discriminated against for publicly nursing. In our July/August magazine we looked into the battle to breastfeed.

As the news floods with stories of women being shamed for breastfeeding outside the home, more mothers are taking a stand against what they say is another example of the policing of women’s bodies. Lactivism, otherwise known as breastfeeding advocacy, is the latest feminist movement making headlines. Tired of patriarchal double standards allowing one women to bare her breasts for advertising purposes while another is shamed for using them to feed her child, lactivists are calling it quits on the popular blood or “milk” sport of critiquing mothers parenting.
Courtney Jung is just one such woman speaking out against the perils of modern motherhood. A professor of political science at the University of Toronto, Jung is the author of the recently released Lactivism, a book examining breastfeeding as an industry. In it, Jung describes how breastfeeding has become a moral issue. “Breastfeeding has become an important marker of who we are and what we believe in. For some it signals a commitment to attachment parenting, for others it is an environmental issue, and for still others it is a protest against the predatory marketing practices of the big formula companies,” explains Jung. “Some parents on the Christian right see breastfeeding as a sign of the rightness of heterosexual marriage, with different roles for men and women and some feminists believe it is an emblem of female empowerment and the life-sustaining force of female bodies.”

“Breastfeeding is normal. But, in a society that sexualises everything mammary, it appears we struggle when breasts are transformed from objects of femininity, sensuality and sexuality to a maternal and infant necessity.”

It is this very perception of breastfeeding as a moral act that continues to leave many mothers in a complex bind. In a world where breastfeeding is considered the optimum way to feed a child, women who cannot or do not want to nurse their children frequently report feeling pressure to breastfeed (a recent study by online video community Channel Mum shows women who bottle feed are three times more likely to be abused in public). This pressure, combined with the moral fervour surrounding the act, sends a conflicting message: to not breastfeed is to risk your child’s health, but to do so publicly is to possibly offend.

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