Last week, we attended a lecture at Kent University by US academic Joan Wolf who seeks to offer an alternative message in the debate around breastfeeding- that we need to “transfer 'it’s okay to not breastfeed' to the pantheon of Things Every Parent Should Know.”
There are many factors that come in to play when a woman is deciding how to feed their baby, including the needs of their existing family and their work commitments, not least whether or not it is physically possible for them to do so. Wolf argues that there is no universal perfect way to feed babies as breast or bottle will make sense in different circumstances.
In a guest post earlier this month, one new mum described how she was “made to feel so awful” after deciding to stop breastfeeding at six weeks. But the cultural pressure runs both ways. As Viv Groskop points out, “if you breastfeed past a certain number of months, you will get funny looks in public and questions about why the baby hasn’t grown out of it.”
Instead of this moral hand wringing, what women need is support. And there are many ways women’s choice around feeding can be supported- from the provision of accurate and impartial information about formula feeding to ensuring women feel comfortable breastfeeding in public and removing barriers to breastfeeding after returning to work, as advocated by Maternity Action.
An audience member raised a very important point during the lecture: the discourse around breastfeeding is often centred on health but it is also about women’s rights. Women’s reproductive choices and issues around care giving are emotive topics- but we must trust women to make these decisions for themselves and for their family.