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Fact check: Is breastfeeding advocacy harmful to women?

Natural image of a woman nursing while riding the subway.The question: Is breastfeeding advocacy harmful to women?

They say: French feminist Elisabeth Badinter published The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women last year. In the book, Badinter accuses breastfeeding advocates of pressuring mothers to nurse, thereby sentencing them to a “loss of freedom and the despotism of an insatiable child.” According to Badinter, mothers who initiate breastfeeding in the hospital but stop after returning home simply plead excuses like “a poor milk supply or the agony of cracked nipples,” but, in reality, don’t want to nurse and may even be “repelled by the idea.” “Trapped by political correctness,” however, they keep their true feelings to themselves.

The facts: Yes, some mothers sincerely do not want to breastfeed their babies. But Badinter’s suggestion that mothers who give up on nursing do so because they don’t like it is baffling. There are a number of real challenges that derail moms who often want nothing more than to successfully nurse.

As for the notion that breastfeeding equals servitude, one could see it that way if freedom is defined as doing whatever one wants to whenever one wants to. But that is not how the Church defines freedom: “Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one’s own responsibility” (CCC 1731). And, “The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes” (CCC 1733). So as opposed to having an inward focus, true freedom is rooted in an outward focus on doing that which is good.

As Linda Kracht writes in The Art of Breastfeeding, “Motherhood and femininity look totally different when a mother surrenders herself first to God, then to her husband, then to her children.” A breastfeeding mother (like every parent) does have to deny herself sometimes, but sweet rewards — including cancer protection, weight loss, and the convenience of a bottle-free life — are in it for her.

With the help of good breastfeeding support, a mother can “overcome the times of pain, frustration or perceived inconvenience” and experience the joy of “nourish[ing] [her] baby with [her] own milk.” “Through breastfeeding,” Kracht promises the new mother, “You will more fully experience your femininity.” What could be more feminist than that?

— Marian Friedrichs and her husband, Matt, are CCL graduates in Kansas. They have been married 10 years and have five children.