What Lactivism Isn’t, Or Shouldn’t Be

If you’ve read any of my previous breastfeeding posts, you’ll know that I’m pro breastfeeding. And, yes, we’re still going strong at almost 20 months. This doesn’t, however, mean that this is what I think is “right” or it’s what I believe everyone else should do too. Far from it.

I do lurk around on a few breastfeeding and so-called “lactivist” forums. But I really, really hate the word “lactivist”. I think it sounds unnecessarily confrontational and so often seems to immediately alienate anyone who chooses not to breastfeed, or struggles to breastfeed. My opinion of the term is not helped by some the self righteousness I’ve come across on these forums. Like the woman who was incredulous that her “friend”, who also identified herself as a lactivist, wanted to give up breastfeeding at two years, for a host of carefully considered reasons.

It has struck me that some women truly believe that lactivisim is about forcing others to start, and then to continue, breastfeeding. That it’s about increasing breast feeding rates at any cost.

But it shouldn’t be.

To me, lactivism, or breastfeeding promotion, is about ensuring that every single pregnant woman and new mother has access to balanced education about the risks and benefits of all feeding options, and help and support to ensure they can process that information and make a properly informed decision about how they want to feed their baby. Because just telling women that breastfeeding is better because… x, y and z reason, isn’t helpful if a woman doesn’t have the capacity to process that information and its relevance to her life. It’s also about ensuring that women who do choose to try breastfeeding have the necessary support to get over difficulties they may encounter.

It’s not about attacking other feeding options, drawing battle lines, defining a single “right” pathway to follow or telling people what to do.

It’s simply about helping people make choices once they are in possession of all the facts, and not only when they begin their breastfeeding relationship, but at any point during.

Choice is key. We do all, ultimately, have the right to make our own choices. But I suspect that many women do not even attempt to breast feed because of misinformation, or a lack of information, or an inability to understand the information. And many more give up because it isn’t what they expected (another rant forthcoming on the marketing of breast feeding as easy and natural) and because the support they need isn’t there when they need it.

If I felt every person who does not breastfeed was happy about that decision, or had been properly informed in making it, then I would be happy. But until that day, lactivism needs to focus not on blindly recruiting breast feeders, but on cultivating a generation of women who really understand the options for feeding infants and can hopefully in turn pass that knowledge on to their sons and daughters.

Breastfeeding boy

This topic has been on my mind for a while, but I was prompted to finally write this down now during National Breastfeeding Awareness Week.

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6 Replies to “What Lactivism Isn’t, Or Shouldn’t Be”

  1. Interesting post, I’m all for breastfeeding but don’t like pushy lactivists. Out of my five children I’ve bf three successfully to past their first birthday and one past her second birthday. The other two I tried but had various problems and hated being made to feel guilty for not trying harder. So, I have to agree with all you say.

    1. Thanks for your comment Anne. I really feel pushy-ness (is that even a word?) about breadtfeeding simply alienates people and adds fuel to the competitive nature of parenting. I do still wish more women fed, but mainly because I believe more want to and don’t get the support, or don’t really understands all the elements of each type of feeding. But beyond that, it has to be up to each person and no one should dictate or make others feel inferior.

  2. Great balanced view on this topic. I feel similarly about it…. so long as mums feel that they have had support then they can make their own decisions. P.s your LO is so cute 🙂

    1. I just wish that all mums did get the help and support needed.

      Thank you – he can be a proper little pickle too though, and he isn’t so cute when destroying our house, screaming loudly in the middle if the night or throwing an epic tantrum! Wouldn’t swap him for anything though x

  3. So true! I am pro breastfeeding myself but had a very tough time in the early days with both my children. Especially with my second I came quite close to giving up, oddly because I *knew* how long it took with my son to get better and I just couldn’t face having to go through the pain for that long. But I stuck with it and now it is once again a joy. The pushy tactics of lactivists make me so angry – they are just putting women off more. I live in an area with a very low bf rate, and while I was pregnant with my daughter, waiting for a midwife appointment at the local clinic, I saw a team of NHS bf vultures swoop down on a poor woman who clearly gave the ‘wrong’ answer to their questions about how she intended to feed her baby. They talked at her at top speed for five minutes, pushed some pamphlets into her hand and congratulated themselves on a job well done. Clearly didn;t do anything to change the woman’s mind.

    1. Bullying tactics never work for anything. Unfortunately the issue of Breastfeeding is now so divisive that some people put the barriers up the moment it is mentioned, and that means people aren’t making a true choice. I wish I could come up with a workable way to support all women to make a proper, actual *choice*!

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