Feminism is about choices. It is about informed choices. It is about socially respected and supported decisions made by women.
Breastfeeding is a personal decision. It's something that a woman decides to do, or not to do, with her body. But how to nourish your baby is a decision that is not informed enough, not respected enough and not supported enough.
I could bore you to death with amazing data about the benefits of breastfeeding, both for the mother and the child. And there is no debate around them, they are facts. Breastmilk is better than formula (which makes sense as we are mammals) but formula is a great human invention that has made the lives of a lot of families better. We have absolutely nothing against formula, but we are against multi-million-pound businesses misinforming parents (especially during vulnerable times), we’re against shame and the expectation to be covered or having to feed in the bathroom as if breastfeeding were some sort of exhibitionism, and we are equally against women having to justify every decision as if their boobs were a democracy.
I truly believe that if we give women the facts and we normalise breastfeeding, if we stop associating women’s breasts with shameful and lustful sexual organs, many more women would choose to breastfeed.
And if we provide all that information and support and women decide to not breastfeed, whether it be because of their circumstances or just because it's not something that they want to do after having weighed up the pros and the cons, then that is also completely fine. We need to fully respect, understand, and support that decision.
It breaks my heart when I see what a battle this topic has become. Because we are failing women, all of them - breastfeeding mothers and formula feeding ones. We are making it about taking sides, not about personal journeys. We are aggravating an already vulnerable moment (being a parent) and filling it with more guilt instead of filling it with kindness.
I have breastfed our 2 kids and I'm a massive advocate for breastfeeding - to the point that I trained to be a breastfeeding peer supporter - but every time I speak with a new mum or mum-to-be I make sure I highlight the importance of the decision being theirs and I can't repeat enough how the most beneficial thing for a baby is having a happy mother. Sure, breastfeeding is scientifically proven to be better, but not at any cost.
If they want data about breastfeeding I can give them loads. If they want help with positioning I can send them videos or sit with them with my crocheted massive fake boob and a doll. If they want somebody to complain about how hard it is I'm happy to listen and agree, while honestly promising that it gets better and easier. If they want a reminder of why they made the choice to breastfeed I can come up with heaps of reasons, from practicality and finance to health and wellbeing. But if they decide that it's not for them I remind them that it is ok, that they are still extremely good parents and their happiness (and mental health) is key! I remind them that their kids will be fed, cuddled, and loved and that's what really matters.
We are failing women in their feeding journeys - when they have a new life depending on them. We're questioning them, as a society, at a moment when they are most questioning themselves. We treat them like children, telling them that breastfeeding won't hurt and that it is easy, and they get frustrated and feel like failures when reality doesn't go as expected.
We, women, are tough. We can take reality. We can take the truth and weigh things up and go for our own choices with a clear mind. We don't have to be patronised by commercials selling us their version of 'perfect' motherhood behind a new formula brand, and we don't need to be lied to about a mythological painless breastfeeding journey with endless joy.
Breastfeeding is a feminist issue because we need to trust women, empower them, support them to make their own decisions. My body my choice after all, right?
This post was originally published in The Feminist Shop