Friday, May 18, 2012

The Breast Wars –Part 1

Sekile Nzinga-Johnson, Guest Blogger

Tiara and Eve Maria (Kate Hansen Art)
I want to start by saying that I have yet to read the recent article by Time Magazine entitled “ Are you mom enough?”.  I initially sat quietly and listened to the collective gasps of horror as well as the “breast is best” chorus that followed its release. I must admit, I too, had a visceral reaction to the cover photo. You hit that one out of the ballpark, Time! However, I was not repulsed by the sight of her exposed breast nor by the mere act of her breast in her child’s mouth. I also was not disturbed by the age or gender of the child who suckled at her breast. I WAS thoroughly enraged by the titling of the article “Are you mom enough” and what I feel was Time’s aggressive positioning of the “good” mother.

I assumed the public’s reaction to the photo would center on whether or not mothers should be breastfeeding children during their toddler and preschool years. This perspective continues circulate within the US despite the fact that the World Health Organization and The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and then for as long as desirable by mother and child. Nonetheless, I imagine that the Internet and social media have been abuzz with squeamish and sexually conflicted Americans who simultaneously lust after the breast yet are repulsed by its functionality.  

Reactivate Divisiveness and Distracting Tactics: Time’s Purpose?

My primary concern with the cover centered on Time’s attempt to resurrect yet another round in the mommy wars. The “Good mother”/”Bad mother” dichotomy has taken on many forms and Time is attempting to reactivate divisiveness amongst women once again simply for sensationalized market gain. It’s a cheap shot and sisters, I hope that you didn’t fall for it!!! I do not use Twitter but I know that the topic of breastfeeding was trending this past weekend. I hope that  there was not a polarized #teambreast/#teambottle battle that distracted my sisters (and brothers) from the real issues. All women, mothering or not, breastfeeding or not, have bigger fish to fry! We have better questions to ask and we have more significant demands to make!

First, let’s review. Breastfeeding provides food that is species specific and supports children’s overall health and brain development. It also lowers women’s risk for breast and ovarian cancer. Breastfeeding longer is ideal and has significant long term health and economic benefits  These are the facts. Deal with it! Having said that, there are a host of structural barriers that inform why many US women choose not to do so. Yet, we blame mothers for their choices not to breastfeed without putting them in full context. We can simply review the anti breastfeeding sentiment that centers on repulsion or the sexualization of the breast to gain a sense a why breast-feeding continues to be a challenge for many contemporary US women.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t be fired up.  I’m just challenging us to refocus our collective energy and critically focus on the real issues at hand concerning breast-feeding. Instead of “throwing up a little” in our mouths about a mother breastfeeding her toddler, we could express our outrage regarding the United States’ refusal to sign onto the International Code for Marketing of Breastfeeding Substitutes, sponsored by WHO and UNICEF 

 This international agreement promotes breastfeeding as the best source for infant nutrition and discourages the mass marketing of breastfeeding substitutes like infant formula. We might also ask why breastfeeding is only accessible to US mothers with more wealth and leisure. We could ask why is breastfeeding not exempt from public indecency laws in 32 US states. We could ask why so many US companies do not provide mothers with adequate time or a location to breastfeed their babies. We can also ask why do Western women and men construct the infant feeding practice of breastfeeding as a necessity to emotional bonding between mother and child instead of emphasizing its preventive health, nutritional, and economic benefits? This rhetoric simply evokes anxiety and guilt amongst new mothers when they do not experience the feelings of promised intimacy during breast feedings. It also does little to promote prolonged breastfeeding.

If we ask these questions, then we could direct our collective attention towards multinational corporations that are allowed to peddle formula to women in hospitals around the world.  We could ask why do these corporations continue to disobey the International Code of Marketing Breastfeeding Substitutes by marketing formula to women who do not have access to clean drinking water to prepare it or keep bottles and nipples clean. Many women with breasts full of milk leave hospitals with corporate sponsored infant formula samples that are too expensive to purchase once they return home.  Infant mortality and malnutrition in developing countries have been linked to formula feeding practices for decades.

These are just a few of the questions that don’t get enough public attention. They are the ones that get me hot and bothered on the topic of breastfeeding. They are deserving of our attention and our action. We must not let the media continue to divide us, shape our opinions, dull our perspective…or create fake wars between us as women and mothers.


  1. I am so glad that you have given this issue a different light. I am a mother who tried to breastfeed my son, but went back to work two weeks after he was born. I tried pump during work hours, and there was nowhere to accommodate me. I ended up in dirty bathroom stalls or empty offices that people sometimes tried to walk into for meetings on my 10 minute breaks trying to pump milk for my son. It only lasted a couple of months before I gave up.

    You are right. There are more important issues that we should focus our energy and passion on.

  2. Hi Darlin:
    Thanks for taking the time to comment on this post. You have captured the intent of not only this post, but also the general purpose of the blog--to explore issues that aren't always talked about. As a mother who breast fed, I'm among the first to tell anyone that it was hard. I enjoyed it, but it was indeed a challenge.
    Tell us more about what you would like to read in the future.