Skip to main content

The Politics of Breastfeeding

I breastfed E for 26 months. I did it because I had the milk and the time and the research-backed knowledge that breastmilk was best to raise a brainy child. In this world wreaked with violence, the existence of emotionally secure children would be beneficial for the rest of us.

The US, in what is being observed as a policy shift towards representing only corporate interests, threatened Ecuador with trade tariffs if it continued to promote a global health proposal that sought to promote breastfeeding and restrict the sale of breastmilk substitutes.

This scandalised the assembly of nations and many third world countries were bullied out of leading the proposal. Russia eventually backed it on the stance that it is unfair for a powerful nation (hegemon) to upend a notable cause through predatory tactics.

Yet, there are women who can’t breastfeed for as long or as much. To protect their feelings, should we promote breastmilk substitutes that could harm infants? This is the argument forwarded by the USA, which is, of course, representing corporate interest.

Image via cafemom via The New Yorker

What about women who don’t want to breastfeed? To protect the infant, should we promote legislation that essentially indenture working women to their baby for the first six months? This was my thought in relation to how this has applied to India

In India, breastfeeding seems to be the key to keep women out of the workplace and in the home. A 2016 amendment to the Maternity Act, 1986 (check) requires private companies to grant mothers six months of maternity leave (up from 26 days) and the option to work from home thereafter.

The bill came with an explanatory note stating that this measure was to ensure the promotion of breastfeeding. The amendments proposed no paternity leave or made any mention of the father’s role in infant care.

Other amendments include, the provision of creche facilities within walking distance of the workplace and breaks to the breastfeeding mother/female employee to go feed her infant four times during the work day. Once again, no mention of the dual role of the father/male employee.

I’ve heard it argued in various (male-dominated) corporate circles that these amendments are now, a serious deterrent in hiring young, unmarried or just married women (essentially fresher women) because they’ll “have a baby and disappear”.

Infant care isn’t just about breastfeeding. Yes, women have uteruses and breasts. But care can be split between parents. Rather than creating provisions that enable this, our laws (global and local) mandate that childcare remains the mother’s responsibility.

Such laws are harmful because they inform society and culture. Fathers are unable to form an attachment with their infants because they have to work because only the women get paid leave to stay at home. What if the mother wants to work and the father wants to care for the child?

It is unfair for the state to get involved in what may also be global health issues. Childbirth and breastfeeding are deeply personal choices for a woman. It’s unfortunate that state interference has resulted in these choices being reduced to obligations for many of us.

Image via The Condé Nast Store