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Lactivism: A Social Movement Around “Liquid Gold”

If you’re a mother who breastfeeds, especially a new mother, you may be feeling overwhelmed when it comes to information on how to breastfeed, its health benefits, and the techniques. Even more than that, you may be feeling overwhelmed as to whether or not breastfeeding is right for you and your baby. 


Perhaps you are at or returning to work, take certain medications, or have health complications, and for your and your baby's health, breastfeeding is not an option for you. This is perfectly normal and acceptable. 


However, there is a mass-marketed breastfeeding industry and promoters of breastfeeding that make you feel unsure as to whether or not you are doing what is necessary and best for you and your little one.   


We all know that breastfeeding comes with benefits for you and your baby. 


However, many new moms are experiencing criticism over how they choose to breastfeed, if they pump and how often, if they are not following the “best” way to breastfeed, or even if they do not want or can breastfeed at all. 


The problem lies in lactivism: the social movement dedicated to promoting breastfeeding culture, often at extreme measures. 


Avid proponents of breastfeeding, known as lactivists, often coin breastmilk as “liquid gold,” which has done nothing but drive commerce and public policy away from the needs of new mothers and their infants and make as much profit as possible from them. 

What Is Lactivism? 

Where did lactivism come from? We explore the issues that have stemmed from lactivism and remind you that personal choice is what is most vital for you and your infant. 


The issue started around the 1970s when breastfeeding rates morphed into something much bigger than a personal choice, but mothers were taking a moral high ground. The “issue” as to whether or not to breastfeed has started to reach across political, religious, medicine, feminist, race, and social classes with far-reaching implications. 


It emerged in the 1970s as a response to Nestlé promoting formula in developing countries, especially in places where families lacked access to clean water, so their formula became easily contaminated. Many babies were suffering from malnutrition and sickness from polluted formula, which made people in the United States become more aware of breastfeeding. 


Unfortunately, once breastfeeding became more prominent, especially lactivism, it also impacted women and babies in developing countries as well. Due to Western lactivists, many major health organizations encouraged women to breastfeed, even though doing so could transmit HIV. 


As a result, between an estimated 4.9 to 7.35 million babies have been infected with HIV through breastfeeding since the 1970s. 


It wasn’t until 1998 that many world health organizations revised their guidelines which promoted breastfeeding policies over information for the health and safety of HIV-positive women and their babies. Their guidelines that emphasized breastfeeding above all directly ignored evidence that it was possible to transmit HIV through breast milk. 

The Liquid Gold Dilemma 

Sometimes toited as “liquid gold,” breastfeeding is now often linked with the standard feeding term. Even beyond that, it is a symbol for what good mothering and responsible citizenship looks like. 


This idealization of breastmilk is dangerous for all mothers. It targets women across race, class, and geographic statuses. It puts working women at a disadvantage. And even though breastfeeding exclusively for six months is seen as a necessity, it can even bring risk to babies.


Language has power. Referring to breast milk as “liquid gold” does nothing more than separate mothers and pit them against one another.  

Who Are Lactivists?

What type of moms are lactivists? Many moms have encountered other mothers who offer advice on breastfeeding or how to be the “right kind” of mother. This advice is not always wanted, and while perhaps coming from a good place, it can make any mother feel anxious, ashamed, and unsure. 


Some lactivists go so far as to shame other mothers who choose not to breastfeed or to use formula for their infants. In a lot of cases, lactivists dramatically oversell the benefits of breastmilk, even though much of the benefits they promoted came from inconclusive or very little backed up research. 


Even worse, they target mothers who do not have breastfeeding as an option, whether it’s due to medical or health-related reasons. Mothers feel even more pressure to exclusively breastfeed their child, which may not be feasible for many full-time working mothers, especially if conditions are not suitable to do so. 


Where is the fight for paid maternity leave? Mothers in the United States are not granted state-paid maternity leave, but only receive up to twelve weeks unpaid maternity leave. 


In fact, up to thirty percent of American mothers do not take any postnatal leave at all. Lactivists do not fight for all women and what would benefit all women because lactivism is about promoting breastfeeding at any and all costs. 


Many lactivists who are extremists only focus on the moralization of feeding choices instead of the lack of supportive breastfeeding policies in the US. With this promotion of breastfeeding culture, breast-pumping and feeding markets emerged in order to profit off of all mothers who nurse. 

Shedding Light on Lactivism

Thanks to Courtney Jung, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto, is the author of “Lactivism: How Feminists and Fundamentalists, Hippies and Yuppies, and Physicians and Politicans Made Breastfeeding Big Business and Bad Policy.”  


In her book, she details the extensive research of how lactivism has turned into something much more sinister. Much of the research done about the so-called benefits of breastfeeding.


What is being promoted isn’t the act of breastfeeding, but human milk as a product. This creates intense pressure for mothers of all income levels to pump in less than ideal conditions, when what would be most beneficial for them is paid maternity leave or formula. 


Jung, who nursed her own babies, is not against breastfeeding. She is against the policy that drives it into something much more divisive and harmful against many mothers who do not find breastfeeding to be right for them. 

The Mesh Between Lactivism, Feminism, and Class

Lactivism intersects between women of different class statuses. Often, working-class mothers and those of low income are often targeted and penalized. 


It also raises the question as to how much government intervention is needed and when to draw the line. Jung discovers the United States government targets women of lower-income who don’t exclusively breastfeed by withholding benefits and food best for their babies through specific programs. 


Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) has provided enhanced food packages to breastfeeding mothers, which provides incentive for mothers to exclusively breastfeed. They also receive this package for one year instead of six months. The program sets apart women who breastfeed and those who use formula. Beyond that, it even separates women who exclusively breastfeed and those who partially breastfeed. 


This separation and targeting of women who are making choices on what is best for them and their baby are not only discriminatory but dangerous and coercive. 


Jung also unpacks the true nature of how breastfeeding has turned into a capitalist profit. With breast milk advocacy comes breast pumps, lactation consultants, health websites promoting misinformation on lactation, breastfeeding accessories, and vendors of unregulated breast milk. Lactivism provides companies with a marketing angle geared towards promoting a breastfeeding-only agenda. 


Many lactivists celebrate the advancement of two laws in the Affordable Care Act by the Obama administration. Companies with more than fifty employees provide a place, other than a restroom, for mothers with young infants to pump their milk.


However, lactivism hides all the complexities of the true reality of breastfeeding as a mother. Companies do not have to provide a breastfeeding break or an area specifically for employees that are nursing mothers. 


The government fails to provide a regulation that protects working mothers, nor does it enforce a paid maternity leave which is detrimental to many mothers with infants at home. 

What Is The Right Choice?

The answer is simple: it’s up to you. Breastfeeding is not the only acceptable option when it comes to your baby. Nursing can be a rewarding and emotional experience, but the advocacy that promotes feeding babies breast milk, at the cost of the mother, or even their baby, is what needs to be challenged. 


It raises the question: if women are allowed to have a “choice” in their reproductive activities, why can they not choose how to feed their baby when they arrive? Why has it turned into a mass-marketed production? 


Parenthood is a whirlwind, but making your own decision is what’s most important for you and your baby at the end of the day. Always consult with your healthcare provider or doctor to get a second opinion, do your research, and know your health history to see if you want or can breastfeed. 


At the end of the day, none of that even matters. What do you feel is best for yourself and your baby? You do not need to explain how you feed your own child, so doing whatever feels suitable for you is what is most important. 

Lactivism and Going Forward   

At Greater Than, our Trial 6-Flavor Variety Pack contains endless benefits for mothers and the entire family! After all, not all hydration drinks are created equal.


We want to help you make the necessary informed choices so you can decide what is best for you and your baby. That means helping you be confident and sure in parenthood and what you feel is the best option for you and your family. 


Breastfeeding can provide benefits and be a great way to bond with your baby, but it’s not in the cards for all moms. You should never feel ashamed to make personal and informed decisions on what you, your baby, and your family need. 


At Greater Than, we don’t want you to feel overwhelmed with information on how you’re supposed to be the “perfect” mother. Breast milk is not “liquid gold,” nor is it a way to make you the perfect parent. Although some wish there was a clear-cut answer as to whether or not you should breastfeed your baby, it’s really up to you as a mom. 


The real power is in having the freedom to choose. And that’s what makes being a parent so overwhelming, complex, and rewarding. 






Sources:

Book Review: Lactivism: How Feminists and Fundamentalists, Hippies and Yuppies, and Physicians and Politicians Made Breastfeeding Big Business and Bad Policy | SAGE Journals 

Breastfeeding | CDC 

Benefits of Breastfeeding for Baby and Mom | Cleveland Clinic 

Courtney Jung | University of Toronto 

'Lactivism' by Courtney Jung | New York Times 

Breast Pump Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report By Product (Open, Closed Systems), By Technology (Manual, Electric), By Application (Hospital-grade, Personal Use), By Region, And Segment Forecasts, 2021 - 2028 | Grand View Research 

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