Breast. No Bottle.

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

Devaluation of Women in the Process of Breastfeeding

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This is the second post in the series about the context of human milk research and today I will discuss how the work that women do during the process of breastfeeding is devalued, invisible, and unappreciated.

Antiwomen context of breastmilk research

If we carefully track all discussions about breastfeeding in the media, in medical textbooks, and between members of the public, we will notice that breastfeeding-as-complex-system is reduced to breastmilk.  A woman is hardly given any consideration either in the process of nursing or making milk.  If aliens studied us a culture we would discover that our world is built for men-humans and the definition of a human in medicine has been that of a male. In science and medicine milk is something that exists outside of a woman’s body, is produced in a vacuum outside of women’s bodies and is not connected to women’s environments, lives, and histories. At best, a woman is a milk container similar to a bottle. Mary Joan Florence of North Carolina pointed out to me that even the name “human milk” takes us even further away  from the context of where milk is made.

If aliens studied breastfeeding_eng

This is how it is played out in real life that seems extraordinarily ordinary to all of us. We do not talk about women in context of breastfeeding. We say “support breastfeeding”, “new human milk research”, “develop pumps to get more milk”. Women are not anywhere in the picture. Do note how breastfeeding is often portrayed today – frequently it is the breast but not the woman in focus signifying irrelevance of whole women in the realities of their lives and breast as a milk container concept. Do note that breastfeeding propaganda chops women’s heads off and objectifies women. 


When we completely obliterate women from breastfeeding, equate breastfeeding by a woman to milk feeding, and devalue the time, the effort, the brainwork, and the bodywork that is involved in breastfeeding, real women suffer the consequences in their lives. Society expects women to shoulder the burden of breastfeeding-as-individual-choice-enterprise or supplying breastmilk at her own individual expense without any acknowledgment or compensation for her efforts or more realistically at huge physical, psychological, and material losses attempting to breastfeeding against all odds in a world that is hostile to women and children (being a mother remains the most significant factor for poverty at old age for women).

When we think that milk in a bottle is the same as nursing a child at the breast, we create a culture where women are deprived of one of the closest and pleasurable relationships that exist between people.  Instead we give women labor intensive and unpleasant work of pumping milk, making women spend more and more time and energy to raise children. Deprivation women of pleasure is one the most patriarchal techniques to control and repress women in society.

When we equate “a woman nursing her child” to “milk feeding” we create an idea that a whole woman with all of her knowledge, skills, thoughts, and culture can be replaced by an object with any milk, milk from another woman or artificial milk.  We support the idea that every woman and every mother can be replaced by objects. It is this very idea of “nursing at the breast is equal to milk in a bottle” that gives rise and continues to support to the idea of creating breastmilk substitutes. For ease of comparison, imagine substituting artificial sperm for sex. It is an unequal exchange which is based precisely on the idea that women are not important and stems from invisibility of the work women do while nursing at the breast.

A poll with a very popular question “would you nurse your child at the breast if only formula came from the breast or would you feed your child breastmilk in a bottle” two Russian communities show a very good picture of mainstream and breastfeeding women’s perspectives on breastfeeding – the lack of appreciation for the unique relationship of breastfeeding. The breastfeeding community Lyalechka and the feminist community Feministki had the exact opposite mirror results (there were many nuances in qualitative responses). It is of note that Lyalechka members overall do not think formula is an acceptable substitute for breastmilk and are quite intolerant to the idea of formula feeding. Of a particular note are two small groups of women in both communities who refused to be forced to separate breastfeeding into a product and a process, which is why we are here to discuss  that we cannot separate the unseparatable.

Formula at the breast or breastmilk in a bottle

As a last thought I would introduce a solution to the problem of devaluation of women in the process of breastfeeding.

A Woman breastfeeds her child

1. When talking about breastfeeding start with the words “woman” or “women”. Follow up with the active verb “breastfeeds“, “nurses“, “makes milk”, “expresses milk”, “shares milk”, “gives life”, “resuscitates“.

2. Talk about women nursing children when highlighting the myriad of meanings of breastfeeding.

3. Highlight stories where women’s creative and life-giving abilities are portrayed. Like a story of a woman who brought her son back to life after doctors pronounced him dead to only be called “a human incubator”(!!!). Point out the idiocy of statements women as incubators when it is incubators that poorly replicate what women do so well.  Or a story of a pregnant Danish woman who nursed an abandoned girl to life in Turkey. Thank goodness nobody compared this woman to a human bottle with formula!

4. Sponsor research of complex system of breastfeeding instead of the reductionist research of breastmilk in vacuum outside of women’s bodies and environments. Name women as subjects of your research.

5. When working with women think of supporting women, not breastfeeding. This vastly affects the attitudes, approaches, and solutions to the problems women face.

6. Support initiatives that keep women and children together both in life and hospitals like the Parenting at Work Insititute.

7. Avoid comparing women to animals. This is bad PR in the world where anything related to animals is in stark contrast with the (hu)man achievements of civilized men. Realize that research of kangaroo care is really research about the life-giving and life-sustaining abilities of women, not kangaroos. Say it! Women sustain life. Women resuscitate life. Women give life. Women save people from the brink of death. Low-tech is high-tech. Simplicity is gaining traction today with many young folks.

8. Avoid comparing women to machinery and technology. Women are not inanimate objects. It is a disservice to women to be compared to inferior objects that are designed to replicate and replace women. No, women are not human incubators, artificial wombs, bottles, or better kind of formula.  When discussing technology do point out that is designed to help us when women are unavailable but it scores poorly in comparison to women’s performance.

9. Support legislation that supports women, not milk harvesting on a large scale and breastpump sales for business. Something like paid maternity leave that allows women to recuperate after birth and enjoy their time with babies would be a good idea.

10. When creating materials about breastfeeding, look beyond the medicinal properties of milk. Avoid comparing women to milk bottles. Leave that head on a woman in the photo! Women with heads look really good! Show women in various private and public settings, not in just in bed, doing things besides breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding friendly society


Written by Medical Nemesis

November 16, 2014 at 15:14

One Response

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  1. […] post in the series about the context of human milk research. In the earlier post we discussed the issue of devaluation of women in the process of breastfeeding. The next issue to consider is the society that is organized in such a way that women and children […]

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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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