Are Western women just too lazy to breastfeed?

29 March 2013


This meme* has been doing the rounds on Facebook lately.  Aside from the obvious stereotypes this kind of imagery conjures up, there are many reasons why I find it offensive, and it’s appalling to see it shared around enthusiastically among so called ‘natural parenting’ groups.  Apparently as a way to ‘get breastfeeding out there’ and as a pro-breastfeeding, supportive meme.

Why do I find it offensive?  First and foremost it attempts to make breastfeeding a simple black or white issue (literally, if you’re looking at the cultural and racial differences represented) it presents one mother as ‘bad’ or just lazy, and the other as ‘good’ and hard working.  This maybe obvious – but the problem with this is that it breaks it down into mother vs mother, it totally ignores the context in which we are mothering, which I know, makes a huge difference.  How we feed our babies, whether or not it was a choice or we feel we were defeated by obstacles can be a huge barrier between new mothers, and from my experience, a hurtful tool for judging other women and claiming a higher moral ground.

What I have come to value is that the key to being a happy mother is knowing we have real choices about how we care for our children, and that we are sovereign beings and have the right to chose to become mothers, the right to chose where, how and with whom we give birth, the right to access to safe abortions, the right to access accurate and unbiased information, and the right to respectful care.  This means we remain in control of our own bodies, at a time when we are more than ourselves, we are growing another human being inside of ourselves.  There is a continuum when it comes to how we chose to feed our babies, if, as individuals or as a society we continue to push the idea that a woman is a good mother if she sacrifices herself for her baby, we lose sight of something fundamental, something that perhaps only a woman who has been pregnant can grasp.

Digging deeper, and thinking about the two women who supposedly represent us, firstly the white woman, so it’s ‘too hard’ to breastfeed.. what about her family history, did she ever see a baby breastfed as a child?  Was she breastfed?  Did everyone around her tell her how hard it is?  Did people give her bad advice?  Maybe she was abused and has BIG issues around that…  What was the birth of her baby like, was she induced, was she given synthetic hormones, was she separated from her baby at birth?  Did she have a surgical birth, was her baby given a bottle or a dummy, did she go home feeling empowered, in control, healthy, and capable?  Maybe her maternity leave runs out in 12 weeks and she’s under major financial pressure to go back to work.  It’s likely, that in those early crucial weeks, she finds herself is at home alone with her new baby, with the burden of housework, food preparation, loneliness, maybe she does not feel confident to breastfeed in public.

For the indigenous woman, if I can assume all the cultural stereotypes this image implies, we might not see that she lives with her extended family, sure she’s a working mum, but look!  She can have her baby with her while she works (how many western women have that as an option?  I wish I did) maybe she’s sharing all the day to day work with family, not just the nuclear family like the Western woman pictured (I assume).  How was the birth of her baby?  Was she surrounded by women who had done it before, maybe she had even been at births before, maybe she grew up seeing her mother and other women breastfeeding their babies, maybe she has been around women getting on and working, baby in sling, breastfeeding doing what they need to do.

I also think this image also shows ignorance of the work involved in bottle feeding, preparing bottles at night, feeding a baby while out.. breastfeeding is ultimately portable and ready anytime anywhere, mothering is hard and exhausting where ever we are, and however we chose to feed our babies, we just trade on the perceived benefits and costs of our choices.

Finally, this image makes infant feeding a personal issue, putting tremendous pressure on individual women, to succeed or fail, while our society holds up the ideal of perfect motherhood.  This image fails to acknowledge the context that we mother in, this is vital to understanding, bridging relationships and the source of real support.  If women are struggling to breastfeed, if women are struggling to mother their babies and live with happiness and purpose it’s not because they are failures, or are lazy, it’s because our traditional supports are not there, challenges for women as mothers are cultural and social issues, not a personal ones.

I don’t know what the solution is, but I do see what can cause damage and what can undermine women.  What I can do is support women rather than judge them on their choices, and keep the dialogue open.  What can you do?  Do you know what would make a difference?

This post was inspired by a discussion that followed the administrators sharing the above meme on a Facebook page, ‘The Natural Parent’.

* This image has been shared around, and is in the public domain, and here’s what the creator of it had to say: Alicia Gonzalez:  ”I made that meme! My point was there is “work” in breastfeeding, but is doable and very worth it!..I wasn’t breastfed I never saw any woman in my family to do it…the ones that did it was for just a few weeks..I had to learn, read, ask.. educate myself. I use those sleepless nights, with my first baby in my arms, to read every single post or book I could find about breastfeeding, I knew it was the best thing for Her , and in the long run for Me too. When something is important for Us, We’ll find the way, if not We’ll find excuses, right?”

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