Some people will never be happy until women can’t make their own decisions about anything, and “lactivism” is not solely the domain of mothers. There are dude lactivists, too, and they are every bit as insufferable. It doesn’t matter how much you wrap it up in environmental concerns or anti-corporate rhetoric, a man who wants to ban formula and force women to breastfeed against their will is genuinely just trying to legislate what women do with their bodies, and that’s always going to be unacceptable.
In a Guardian article titled “Baby Formula Has No Place in a Sustainable Future,” a man is so incensed by the existence and use of formula that he is actually suggesting a global treaty to reduce the use of formula worldwide. He would model this treaty on the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, but this one would be called the Framework Convention on Formula Control, and it would ban all formula marketing, including free samples. He does at least suggest that this treaty would also have to include breastfeeding support and maternity leave so that mothers could do all the breastfeeding he wants them to be doing, but the part he seems most excited about is the idea that this hypothetical treaty would require formula to be a prescription-only product that would make it accessible “only as a food of last resort.”
He writes that if the proposed treaty were ratified, “the (formula) industry would shrink like an unmilked breast,” and that simile alone is worth a decade of shunning.
Requiring a baby-formula prescription would mean that a woman would have to get a doctor’s permission to not breastfeed, or to stop breastfeeding, and that is completely unacceptable. It’s her body, her baby, her family, and her breasts. She shouldn’t have to go plead for official permission to make decisions about her own breasts and use science milk if she wants to. Some people really don’t trust women to make their own decisions.
There is a pernicious and persistent idea that breastfeeding is a one-size-fits-all solution. “My mom did X, so therefore X will work for you.” But breastfeeding experiences are clearly not universal. Some people love breastfeeding, some people hate breastfeeding. Some people love breastfeeding but don’t do it, others hate breastfeeding and do it anyway. Mothers are not a monolith, and all babies are not the same, therefore what works for one will not automatically work for another. It is always a mistake to assume that one’s own experiences are universal.
There is a lot of social pressure on baby-feeding, and women face inordinate amounts of judgment, whatever they decide to do. There is a ton of shaming and pressure lobbed at parents who use formula, and articles like that one do not help. Can you imagine suffering from postpartum depression and having this sort of article shoved down your throat? It basically acts like a woman who uses formula is a lazy, selfish, uneducated monster who is just tossing her kid on the wood pile. (And who needs a dude to come legislate good motherhood for her, because clearly she can’t do it herself.)
Some women can’t nurse. Maybe there’s severe pain, physical problems, medical issues, or psychological issues. In a lot of cases, there are work, financial pressures, and career issues involved. Maybe a person just decides not to nurse for reasons that are her own. She shouldn’t have to go in front of an advisory panel and hope they decide her reasons are “good enough” to feed her baby formula.
In the comments, the writer takes umbrage at the idea that since he is a cisgender man who has never nursed anything, he cannot really know what breastfeeding is like or why some women don’t do it.
“It’s interesting that there is an assumption that as a man I can’t understand anything about pregnancy or lactation. And yet, I’ve spent the past three years fully engaged in these processes, with my wife first pregnant and then nursing for nearly 2 years now. And none of it was easy. No, I did not suffer cracked nipples or blocked milk ducts but my wife did. We both suffered the psychologically exhausting sleep deprivation,” he wrote.
Dude, that does not count as being “fully engaged in these processes.” I saw my husband write a doctoral thesis. I watched, I sympathized, I brought snacks and carried books and proofread and offered plenty of professional and emotional support, but that doesn’t mean I have a Ph.D., too.
I did, however, breastfeed for 28 months straight. I know what–for me–was good about it, and what–for me–sucked about it. I do have a lot of actual experience with the subject in question, but the difference is that I do not think my experience makes me an expert on other women’s bodies, minds, families, careers, or choices.
Increase support for breastfeeding and legal protections for pumping and breastfeeding parents. Mandate paid parental leave for all parents. Go ahead and regulate formula marketing and monitor the different claims formula companies can and cannot make in their literature. But at the end of the day, the baby’s family has to be allowed to decide what to feed it.