Feminism and the Modern Breastfeeding Movement


The modern breastfeeding movement is one of the many philosophies to have emerged in recent times with regards to women’s role in the workplace and in the household. With feminism becoming extremely widely talked about in all spheres of the media, and with its diverse and varied nature, feminism as a single unified movement does not exist.

Different branches associate themselves with different ideologies, the most prominent of these branches being the modern feminist movement – a movement which may or may not be in tandem with the interests of the modern breastfeeding movement.

The modern breastfeeding movement is one which endorses breastfeeding as the ultimate badge of responsible motherhood. Not to be confused with the attempts being made by liberal feminists across the world to normalize the act of breastfeeding in public, this movement is similar only in terms of the subject it deals with. While the former aims to remove the stigma surrounding a woman’s right to breastfeed anytime and anywhere without being subject to moral judgment and disapproving looks, the latter upholds breastfeeding as something every good mother should do – preferably by taking time off from formal structures of employment to do so.

The issue now becomes whether the modern feminist movement can reconcile itself with the modern breastfeeding movement. Hardcore advocates of breastfeeding often exaggerate the benefits of it to the point where one might believe that a child deprived of breast milk would never grow into the strong and healthy adult that a child who is regularly breastfed would. While most researchers believe that the absence of breast milk does not in any way impede the holistic development of a child, there are several studies which acknowledge that there are some benefits associated with it.

The issue with women sacrificing their jobs to stay at home and take care of (read: breastfeed) their children is that the male now becomes the sole bread earner in the family, thus fortifying existing male-female power structures. Being the sole bread earner in a household has often been seen to elevate the individual in question to a position of utmost and unquestionable authority regarding all family decisions. Meanwhile, staying at home reinforces societal preconceptions regarding the woman’s position as a homemaker and caregiver rather than as an independent decision maker.

Most mothers leave the formal workforce with the belief and hope that they would one day return to it.

The reality of the situation, however, is far from this. After taking a two to three year hiatus, many women find it difficult not only to re-enter the job market, but also to earn a salary which comes even close to that of their working husbands – a comparison which is hardly fair, given that the husbands in question have had three uninterrupted years to advance their careers and income prospects, but a comparison which is made evident to these women nonetheless. The decision to stop taking care of the baby and look for a job is now looked at from a cost and benefit angle. The woman is often seen as “shirking” her responsibility as a mother for the sake of a meager addition to the household income. Bowing to such pressure from all sides, most women give up any dreams of re-entering the workforce and take up the role of a homemaker full-time.

There are, however, a number of women who actively and independently choose to retire permanently from the formal workforce when their children are born. For such women, the decision to stay at home and nurture their children is a relatively simpler one. But for those who actually entertained the idea of going back to the way things were before their child was born, reality often hits hard. At the same time, there are several who feel that both parties on either side of the debate create a false dichotomy – a woman can be both an active member of the formal workforce and take care of her child at the same time (even meeting the standards of the modern breastfeeding movement). A simple solution in this regard would be to bottle the breast milk (if at all breast milk is considered a necessity), and feed it to the child at regular intervals, either by a third party (a babysitter, for instance), or by both parents. The idea that it is only women who should have to compromise on their ambitions post childbirth is one which is completely contradictory to the philosophy of feminism.

With more and more people clamouring for the concept of paternity leave across the world, male-female stereotypes are slowly starting to lose the strong foothold they enjoyed in the 20th century.

Many liberal supporters of the modern breastfeeding movement state that the aforementioned sacrifices are far from a compulsion, but critics argue that when the supporters of the movement call it the ultimate badge of motherhood, it sets in motion a chain of events involving both family guilt tripping and indirect subconscious guilt felt by the woman herself. Be it as a homemaker or as a corporate mogul, the modern feminist movement aims to ensure that every woman should be given the freedom to pursue happiness in the manner of her choice – an aim which the modern breastfeeding movement might stand in the way of.


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