By Neve Spicer
Breastfeeding is the most natural of all parenting practices. Yet, while this ancient rite is available to (almost) all mothers, not all mothers have an equal opportunity to make it work for them and their baby.
At the beginning of August, the world celebrated World Breastfeeding Week. It was the perfect opportunity to change the ‘mommy war’ debate. After all, the big issue isn’t whether well-educated, well-off, and well-informed women choose to breastfeed. The real problem is breastfeeding inequality.
In the poor state of Louisiana (US) only 56% of mothers ever breastfeed, but in the relatively wealthy state of California, 93% do. Disparities such as this often correlate with socioeconomic status. This is well-known in academic and health-care circles, but it is rarely spoken about in mainstream media and blogs.
This infographic by We The Parents shows the startling reality of breastfeeding inequality.
Mothers, Let’s Unite
Too many words, tweets, and blog comments are dedicated to debating whether or not mothers should be free to bottle-feed without feeling guilty. Yes, that’s an important conversation, but the real issue is that many mothers who want to breastfeed are not getting an equal opportunity to do so.
Whether it’s zip code, family income, education level, marital status, quality of hospital maternity support, job lactation programs, or the many other socioeconomic factors involved, through no fault of their own, many women simply do not receive the support and knowledge required to make a success of breastfeeding.
Surely we moms can all agree on this: when a mother wants to breastfeed, she should be given the best chance to do so. Let’s make this the cause we get passionate about online.
The solution is complex and must involve things like better paid maternity leave and lactation support in lower-paid jobs; it will mean improving breastfeeding education and community support; we’ll need to boost the quality of hospital maternity support, especially in deprived areas; and the old conflict of interest between hospitals and formula companies which results in women receiving free formula samples in hospital discharge bags will need to be tackled.
Achieving breastfeeding equality is by no means an easy task, but perhaps events like World Breastfeeding Week can be the catalyst for parent-bloggers to reframe the debate. Let’s fight together so that all women, in all walks of life, have an equal opportunity to breastfeed their babies if they want to.
Neve Spicer is the founder and director of WeTheParents.org, a website dedicated to helping people parent their own way; trust their intuition; remain flexible and child-like; and, where possible, try to stay in the moment, because the ride goes by quickly.