Breast. No Bottle.

To nurse, or not to nurse: that is not a question!

Medicalization of Breastfeeding as Abuse

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Medicalization of women’s lives and bodies as a form of control and patriarchal abuse against women has a long and well-documented history in feminist literature. The most prominent example related to reproductive lives of women is medicalization of birth that hurts millions of women worldwide to this day. Medicine today continues to view women predominantly as sex objects and reproductive organs. The encroachment of medicine into breastfeeding claims women’s breasts as production sites of medicinally valuable fluid while disregarding whole women as nurturers.

Medicalization of breastfeeding undermines women in the very process of turning an event of daily lives of women into a physiological process that takes place in vacuum seemingly outside of women’s lives and regardless of women’s relationships with their children. Medicalization of breastfeeding operates on three levels – conceptual, institutional, and interactional.

On the conceptual level we frame a complex relationship between a woman, a child, and the environment where they live, as a physiological process that takes place free from any outside influence – lactation. We decidedly start shoving an intimate relationship that can be described with infinite number of words commonly understood by every woman into a very narrow medical vocabulary understood by a handful of healthcare providers. This shift in vocabulary inevitably influences how we later think about breastfeeding and how we talk about breastfeeding with women.

On the institutional level we assign a new medical specialty, a lactation consultant, to address any kinds of breastfeeding issues, including structural medical and social issues as the individual medical issues of women.

On the interactional level a lactation consultant as a representative of patriarchal system of medicine will diagnose a woman to begin treatment. Lactation consultant will reassign a social problem into a personal deficiency of each individual woman thus placing the burden to solve these social issues to individual women. For example, most early problems with breastfeeding stem from violent hospital births. When a woman cannot breastfeed, it becomes her problem, not the problem of a medical system that makes breastfeeding hard to impossible.

Much like medicalization of birth and PMS medicalization of breastfeeding is so successful because physicians and women of higher socioeconomic standing unite their efforts to move breastfeeding into the medical sphere. Most certainly the initial move of medical providers is fueled by the desire of monetary gain, while women are trying to solve the problems they face with breastfeeding. The important interplay between the physician and women interaction here is that women’s problems stem not from any inherent deficiencies but are the continuation of class-specific subordination.
This pattern of medicalization of breastfeeding has been observed in both the United States and Russia, where female healthcare workers push for medical solutions of social ills.

The general effect of medicalization of breastfeeding is to increase control over each individual woman via physicians and lactation consultants as control agents. Encroachment of medicine into private life of women-citizens hides the social context of breastfeeding issues and deprives women of the opportunity to uncover, expose and solve women’s social, not personal problems.

Based on
Cultural Perspectives on Reproductive Health edited by Carla Makhlouf Obermeyer

Written by Medical Nemesis

October 14, 2014 at 22:27

One Response

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  1. Reblogged this on veggiewitch and commented:

    Most certainly the initial move of medical providers is fueled by the desire of monetary gain, while women are trying to solve the problems they face with breastfeeding.

    This quote specifically speaks to me, as I have experienced similar pressures first-hand to either supplement with (garbage) formula, or quit breastfeeding altogether. There is a monetary gain for doctors (OBGyns, Family Practice, et al) and health nurses to “recommend” formula supplementation, and it is provided to these “professionals” from the formula manufacturers in the form of commission checks. Anyone who’s had the privilege of working in an electronics department, sold cars, real estate, etc., is familiar with the concept of profit motivation – the more you sell/push, the more money you make each month. The same holds true for doctors and nurses promoting the benefits of their formula. They’re paid to do it. There’s little wonder so many women can be convinced they’re not producing enough milk. Perhaps if doctors and nurses didn’t have a financial stake in undermining the breastfeeding relationship and dynamic, they would be more supportive of it? We won’t know for sure until Big Pharma finally gets put in their toxic and pathologically false claim-making places.


    October 15, 2014 at 12:35

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To nurse, or not to nurse: that is not a question!

Breast. No Bottle.

To nurse, or not to nurse: that is not a question!

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