Despite both state and national breastfeeding policies that protect a mother’s right to breastfeed in public spaces, many women still feel inhibited to exercise their right. Knowing that breastfeeding is the healthiest option for both mother and baby, initiatives are being taken on to increase its popularity among new mothers.
I recently held the belief that the main discouragement for women to breastfeed came from an overwhelming disapproval of its public performance; people finding it offensive, inappropriate and unclean. While I still hold to the theory that sexualization of the female form has changed the way we look at a woman feeding her child, looking at the disparities of breastfeeding rates between women of different ethnicities and race, reveals how sociodemographic factors such as age, income, employment and marital status can also significantly influence a woman’s choice.
But you also have the influence of medical providers, family, friends, husbands and of course, the media.
I take a number of issues with media images alone. Aside from the obvious lack of diversity being represented, photos of overly romantic and fail to acknowledge the range of emotions new mothers experience when breastfeeding and therefore deny the unique experiences of each woman whether positive or negative with the slightest variation from such images.
Slogans are also idealistic, often implying that a mother’s choice reflects her morality and “goodness”. What images and slogans don’t tell us, however, are the common challenges that women face such as sore nipples or a low milk supply.
Overall, there are a number of influences on a woman’s choice to breastfeed and the debate over which is most significant, though meaningful, is essentially not the most precedent issue today.
I believe that in addition to encouraging more realistic media images, recognizing and individually addressing the various factors among women of different sociodemographics will also allow us to more effectively and inclusively help women. It is not society’s duty to decide what is right or wrong but to provide women with the education, tools and support that is needed to make the best decision for the mothers and their babies and most importantly, without shame or guilt.