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Perspectives: It's Not About A Mother's Right to Breastfeed

Looking for The Lactivist? She's retired. But you CAN still find Jen blogging. These days, she's runs A Flexible Life. Join her for life, recipes, projects and the occasional rant.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

I've been thinking about this for a few weeks...starting just before our nurse-in here at the Port Columbus airport. I wondered what I might say to the press or to folks that stopped to ask us what was going on.

Now I realize that I'm probably not the first one to think or say this, but I think it really needs to be reiterated.

It's not about a mother's right to breastfeed. (stick with me here...) I think that by putting so much focus on the woman and her rights, we end up losing the battle with those who have puritanical values. It's easy enough for people to tell a woman that they should "respect" other people (ironic, eh?) or that they should "plan ahead" (always said by people that have never breastfed).

So if it's not about a mothers' right to breastfeed, what is it about?

It's about a baby's right to eat.

Seriously. I've found that when you change the perspective from mothers' rights to babies' rights, you tend to win people over more quickly and more easily. After all, while people wouldn't think twice about asking a grown woman to inconvenience herself, most people understand the ridiculousness of expecting a baby or toddler to do the same. While we've made this a battle for the women's movement, we need to be making it a battle for children's rights.

It's not that a mother has the right to breastfeed wherever she might be, it's that the baby has the right to EAT wherever that baby might be.

It's not that mom shouldn't have to cover herself up, it's that the baby has the right to eat without a blanket over their head.

It's not about mom not having to skulk away and hide, it's about baby being able to enjoy the world while enjoying a meal.

I know it's simply semantics, but I can't help but wonder if we might see more progress if we changed our focus as Lactivists. The mothers' rights and needs that we should be campaigning for are the right to good information from health care providers, the right to access lactation consultants and peer counselors and the right to express milk during the work day. The fight to breastfeed in public without being harrassed needs to morph into the simple "fight" to allow a child to eat in public without being harrassed.

Again, when we make it about the woman, it's very easy for other adults to write that woman off. After all, adults are inconvenienced on a daily basis by this or that. It's easy to say "well it's not too much to ask" (even if it is.) But when we're talking about children...well it's a lot harder for an adult to write off a child's need to eat without REALLY looking like a colossal jerk. ;)

What do you think? It it pure semantics, or is this a shift in focus that we need to see in the Lactivist community? Do we stand to make more progress by focusing on the rights and needs of the child rather than on the rights and needs of the mother?


  1. Anonymous Damien McKenna | 7:20 AM |  

    I like it, and I think you need a few t-shirts with "its not about my right to breastfeed, it's about my baby's!" :-)

  2. Blogger Jennifer | 7:26 AM |  

    Hmm, good idea. I'm actually working on new shirts this week, should have at least half a dozen new shirts this week, plus re-designs on some classive Lactivist tees. ;)

    I think I'll come up with a varient on that one as well...

  3. Blogger Leah | 8:40 AM |  

    I like it! Good call.

  4. Anonymous Anonymous | 9:45 AM |  

    Absolutely. Well said! I mean, I think we ALL have rights in the situation, but semantics can be everything, sometimes, especially when you're trying to win people over.

    I think as a society we often forget that babies DO have rights (the right to have their foreskin left in tact is another I am thinking of, off the top of my head, but I digress . . . ). It's unfortunate that it's even an issue, that we would even need to make an issue out of mama's rights, or baby's rights, it should just be the NORM. Grrr. . . .

    LOL, reading your blog always gets me riled up!

  5. Blogger Jennifer | 10:27 AM |  

    Honestly, the circ issue is really what made me think of this. That's quite honestly how the intact crowd won me over. If Elnora had been a boy, she probably would have been circed. But while pregnant with Emmitt, the crowd over at the Childbirth Choices board on BBC got into several Circ debates. Once I realized that there were no medical benefits, it was the "personal choice" argument that got me.

    So many say that circing is "personal choice" and it should be...but it should be the choice of the person being circed. Thus, my son is intact.

    That got me to thinking that if we changed the perspective on breastfeeding from mom's "rights" to baby's "rights" that we might be able to reach more people.

  6. Anonymous Anonymous | 5:10 PM |  

    Maybe. Though, the idea of pressuring a woman into putting her choices (and breast feeding is a choice, a very personal one at that) last through arguing the rights of a baby sounds a bit too close to manipulation to me. I think when it comes to the rearing of offspring no rights ought be secured, except where serious violent harm is concerned. From conception to birth, that's nature at work there and those of us who aren't the parents or child, should leave it be.

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