Monday, October 19, 2015

What's the Big Deal With Breastfeeding?

Don't let the title fool you. This isn't going to be your typical pro or anti-breastfeeding screed. I'm not going to discuss (nor am I particularly interested in) the merits or deficits of breastfeeding at all. 

But I am interested in why so many people--women especially--are so profoundly interested in it.

My dad is a science and health journalist, and he claims that nothing gets more reactions or more comments than articles about breastfeeding: People who are convinced your baby will suffer forever if you don't nurse for at least a year. People who say formula is fine. People who try to split the baby, as it were, and tell you to nurse as long as you can and then stop feeling guilty about it.

There are medical and health-related reasons for the passion around breastfeeding, but I think there are also subconscious psychological explanations for it as well. Explanations that have nothing to do with breastfeeding per se.

As a general rule, I think women are sick and tired of being told what to do and how to live their lives and raise their children (if they even choose to have any or can have any). They are tired of being defined by those choices and judged for them. For decades, a scientific community primarily dominated by men and male-driven research dollars has been telling women that their emotions are a sign of "hysteria" (the origins of the word "hysterectomy" by the way); that their health concerns are paranoia; that their maternal instincts are wrong, right, or somewhere in between; that the only institution that consistently provides for their unique medical needs should be decimated by men in Congress. 

They are tired of reading articles--whether written by men or women--telling them what to do with their bodies, what is best for their babies, and what is best for them. So it's not really the merits of breastfeeding that I think incites passion. It's the human need for self-direction, autonomy, and control. A need that has been eluding women throughout the world forever, and which for that reason I think, resonates so strongly.

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