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Breastfeeding and Sharing: The Authorities Weigh In

Posted Apr 08 2009 12:27am

I'm not sure if all the recent discussionofbreastfeeding had anything to do with it, but the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, the La Leche League International, the International Lactation Consultant Association and the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action have gotten together to issue an official statement entitled Breastfeeding and the Equal Sharing of Responsibilities Between Women and Men.

I'm so happy to see such an issue addressed by the foremost advocates of breastfeeding. This means that ESP is really being considered as a major way of life - something that these groups realize could bump up against mom-centric feeding preferences and a topic that needs attention.

The statement is short, less than 2 printed pages. It starts by acknowledging the challenge of breastfeeding for couples who strive for gender equality. So far, so good. The rest of the document, however, I found to be...well...a bit condescending of the true value of equal sharing. "It makes good sense to share the responsibility of assuring that women can succeed at breastfeeding," is their answer to how gender equality should be approached in the early days of parenthood. "For most mothers, equal sharing of the work within the household is a dream, not a reality." Ah, yes, ESP is next to impossible, so let's just move on. "There are many fathers who take care of their newly-born and older children, but they are still a minority." I'm starting to get annoyed now; do these statements (fact or not) mean that we shouldn't bother with the issue for those fathers who do want to care for their own kids?

I realize that these organizations are taking a global view, literally speaking for all people in all countries - poor, wealthy, industrialized, third-world.

But it gets worse.

The paper then focuses for three paragraphs on reproduction itself, and how women are uniquely able to bear children. Duh. The gist here is that women should be supported to carry this physical burden within an enabling environment. Finally, they get to breastfeeding itself. They slam any "technology" that enables parents to utilize formula or pumped milk for situations that are anything less than life-saving. "The existence of new techniques must not be allowed to de-value, or worse, to erase, the breastfeeding lore that mothers and grandmothers pass to their daughters."

We're avoiding pumps and even a drop of formula because it's our duty to pass on the lore of breastfeeding? That's the best they can do? What about starting the lore of equal sharing - two parents becoming fully capable and intimately involved in caring for their newborn from Day 1? I know, I know. Breastfeeding is not the crux of ESP. ESP doesn't require, by any stretch of the imagination, equally sharing the feeding duties at any point. Plenty of ESP moms exclusively breastfeed their children for long periods of time. But this statement really irks me nonetheless.

The last paragraphs read more pleasantly. Here, the sentiment is that dads can take primary responsibility for other tasks if they want to even out the overall childcare duties, and can take the lead on 'complementary feeding' (solids) after their babies are 6 months old. And that equal sharing means fairness and respect, and meeting everyone's needs.

What do you think of the advice of these authorities?

For another view, check out Judith Warner's column from last Friday - she advocates total destruction of breast pumps (not for lore-preservation, but because she thinks they are torture devices) and liberally supplementing breastfeeding with formula to make mothers' lives easier.
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