Advocacy

Hand over the World Breastfeeding Week and no one will get hurt

yodaAugust is National Immunization Awareness Month, as well as Psoriasis Awareness Month. September will bring National Chiari Malformation Awareness Month, National Guide Dog Month, National Hispanic Heritage Month, National Honey Month, National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and National Preparedness Month.

I would like to put out there that I support you regardless of your choices around immunization; the state of your skin, brain, ovaries, or disaster preparedness; whether or not you feel guide dogs or honey are important; and if you happen to not be Hispanic. I am here for you.

“Why,” you might be saying, “I understand that the existence of those commemorative weeks does not constitute a judgement on my person, actions, or beliefs.” That seems to be a very reasonable response. So why does World Breastfeeding Week generate a campaign to demonstrate to moms that they’re supported regardless of how they feed their babies?

I really hope that it’s evident by my words and actions that I support moms, regardless of how their babies are fed. What matters to me is: a) that a baby is being fed and b) that a mother/parent is happy with the way a baby is being fed. When I read, yet again, about how breastfeeding advocates are judging moms, why, I feel a bit judged.

All moms (and parents) need support. This should be self-evident. Moms should also feel free to celebrate their successes without feeling bad for having them, and without being looked down upon because they’re not, in the next breath, trying to make sure that no one feels offended that they’re celebrating. I can’t recall the last time I heard a speech from an athlete about how I shouldn’t feel bad that I’m not an athlete, too. When I’m riding my bike and people are passing me at high speeds while I’m huffing and puffing up a hill, I try to focus on how I’m doing my best, rather than assuming that everyone who passes me thinks I should get off the trail.

When I breastfeed my babies, it doesn’t mean I’m breastfeeding at you. When I talk about how to help make sure your breastfeeding relationship will be successful, I’m not criticizing you for not knowing that in the first place. When I go to McDonald’s, I’m not looking down at your organic quinoa burger. When I’m posting about World Breastfeeding Week in an attempt to empower breastfeeding families and raise awareness of how to make breastfeeding successful, it is not an underhanded attempt to make someone feel bad about not breastfeeding.

Oh, gosh, do I support moms. I support you all. But I also think, just maybe, it’s okay for breastfeeding advocates to take a week to strut their stuff and get out their message without having to apologize for it. After all, we’re not going to create a countercampaign to make sure that everyone knows that non-Hispanic people are human, too, even during the month of September.

The aim of this campaign is wonderful. The timing? Not so much.

3 comments

  1. As one of the three founders of the "I Support You" movement, I hope it's okay if I respond.

    You're not alone in feeling this way…. I've seen comments like this from quite a few people in the breastfeeding advocacy community. And I totally concede your point- all I can say is that our intent was NOT to belittle the efforts of those working hard to support breastfeeding moms. The three of us believe that by creating an atmosphere that is less about "success" and "failure" (which unfortunately breastfeeding is set up to be, as the focus is on raising exclusive breastfeeding rates rather than helping mothers meet their goals), it will ultimately help more mothers nurse their babies (provided that they want to). We all have different experiences, which is why the three of us came together; all three of us breastfed to varying degrees and have strong feelings about it being every woman's right to have adequate support in feeding her child the way she sees fit. I don't see this campaign being antithetical to WBW unless we're going under the assumption that breastfeeding support is only exclusive breastfeeding support. We want to give voice to the women who are combo feeding, or who wanted to breastfeed (and therefore want to support other moms in their efforts) but couldn't, and so forth.

    To use your own analogy- we see this as more in line with some of the memes going around in support of same-sex marriages from straight couples – people who refused to get married until gay marriage was legal; interracial couples who talked about how their union would've been forbidden by law not so long ago. I don't think anyone felt they were trying to usurp the gay community in fighting their own fight; they were just trying to join in and offer support in a way that was relevant to their experience. That is what we are trying to do – open the dialogue, so that women stop fighting with each other and arguing over who has it worse, so that we can refocus that energy on all the battles we REALLY need to fight (maternity leave, better maternity care for underserved communities, etc).

    Just as a little background- the idea for "I Support You" came from a formula feeding mother in my FFF community, when we had an online discussion about how we could show our support for our breastfeeding members (and friends outside of the community). Every year, WBW brings out a number of negative messages and memes (like the current one going around with the bottle in a casket) and it turns into a week of hell for us, trying to defend our experiences without belittling the need for awareness for breastfeeding. This was our way of attempting to infuse positivity into a week that so often derails into mommy wars and negativity.

    I'm not trying to argue with you, because your concerns are valid and understandable. Just trying to explain a little more about where we are coming from.

  2. Thanks for your explanation. I understand that the intent probably wasn't to undermine breastfeeding moms (not just breastfeeding *advocates*), but to at least some of us, that's how it comes across.

    What is difficult for me to process is that, somehow, the feelings of moms who aren't providing breastmilk to their babies (in any way and to any degree) don't seem to count. (Some breastfeeding moms are joining your charge, but that is not *all* breastfeeding moms.) I understand that it can be hard for a mom who wanted to breastfeed but ultimately did not. It can also be hard for a mom who breastfeeds to wade against the current of society. As much as we may hear from governmental and private organizations about how great breastmilk and breastfeeding are, the vast majority of the people American women meet in their day-to-day lives are not supportive of breastfeeding.

    I could stand more behind the campaign if the message was simply, "I support you," with no commentary. One of the images I saw said, "Breast wasn't best for us…" and just that phrase serves to undermine a lot of what breastfeeding advocates are trying to promote. It would be sort of like a straight couple, to continue to analogy, holding a sign saying, "Being gay was a bad experience for me, but I'm glad you're able to get gay married." You're left thinking, "Why was it a bad experience? Does this mean it will be bad for me, too?"

    I understand your concerns about how breastfeeding advocacy focuses on increasing exclusive breastfeeding rates, but that's partly because it's a more easily measurable metric than "are you happy with how you are feeding your baby?" or "have you met your breastfeeding goals?" Both of those are good things to keep in mind, but do not make for (relatively) watertight statistics. It is, however, true, that most moms want to breastfeed. They start out wanting to do it, initiate doing so, and do not succeed. The exclusive-breastfeeding numbers ticking up means that we're helping more moms succeed at what they started out to do.

    In any event, the timing is unfortunate. The theme of this year's World Breastfeeding Week is "Breastfeeding Support: Close to Mothers," and, as someone who works in various capacities to support mothers, my gut reaction to the campaign was that I was being accused of not supporting ALL moms because my focus is on supporting breastfeeding. You probably could have avoided a negative reaction by waiting a week, and I'm surprised that this conflict wasn't anticipated.

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