A mother’s choice about whether to breast feed or bottle feed her infant may seem like a purely personal decision. In fact, for decades it has been an individual decision with wide-reaching social, economic and political ramifications. Issues have ranged from the economic interests of large baby formula manufacturers to the introduction of formula in developing countries where there are problems with its safe use to medical advice suggesting that breast milk is superior for babies and social disapproval of women who either don’t nurse their babies or who stop nursing before the recommended one-year mark.
In an opinion piece in today’s New York Times, author Alissa Quart discusses the fact that less than 50% of American babies are breast-fed for at least six months, despite a medical culture that sometimes portrays formula as “evil” and a competitive mothering society where women ask each other “How long did you go?” Quart opines that this is understandable, given the time-consuming nature of breast-feeding, and the demands of many women’s workplaces which offer little or no maternity leave, little on-site daycare, and not enough flexibility to allow women to either structure their hours to allow nursing, or to pump milk while at work for later use by a caregiver. She argues that this breast-feeding obsession is part of a social phenomenon that seeks to eliminate all risks to children, and that we need to allow women to make individual decisions without subjecting them to guilt trips.
In The Conflict: How Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women (newly released in an English edition), French sociologist Elisabeth Badinter argues that the aggressive push for breast-feeding engineered by doctors, governments, and private groups such as the international La Leche League, is a significant part of a larger social agenda to demand perfection in parenting and especially in mothering. This has huge social and economic ramifications, according to Badinter, because seeking mothering perfection along these lines precludes women from equal competition in many professions, and leaves them at a permanent economic disadvantage in the workplace.
So what relevance do these discussions have for a legal blog? Continue reading “Judging Mothers”