Breastfeeding is incompatible with capitalism … just as it was designed to be!

hands in the air trying to reach money bag hanging on the hooks

A piece in today’s Guardian asks the intriguing question: Is breastfeeding incompatible with American capitalism?

And while it reaches the right answer — yes, it is incompatible — it fails to note the right reason: breastfeeding is promoted so aggressively precisely BECAUSE it is incompatible with capitalism. La Leche League, the engine of contemporary lactivism, was started with the express intent of keeping women out of the workforce.

La Leche League, the engine of contemporary lactivism, was started with the express intent of keeping women out of the workforce.

Journalist Brianna Bell compares what she was told about breastfeeding to the reality of breastfeeding.

…B]reastfeeding … was not as cost-effective as I had first believed…

There’s also an unspoken cost that many breastfeeding proponents neglect to mention: the cost of a mother’s time…

And that’s time that is taken away from paid work, forcing many women to choose between breastfeeding and working. There’s no contest since most women who work cannot survive without the income it provides.

The solution seems obvious to Bell: paid maternity leave.

I’m strongly supportive of paid maternity leave because both babies and mothers benefit from it. But there are two reasons why it is not the solution.

First, Bell fails to consider that the country with the LOWEST rate of breastfeeding in the world is the UK and it has a system of generous maternity leave. Would more women in the US breastfeed for longer if we had such a system? There’s no reason to think so.

Second, breastfeeding is promoted as aggressively as it is NOT because its benefits; in industrialized countries the benefits of breastfeeding are trivial. (Don’t believe me? The UK, the country with the lowest breastfeeding rate in the entire world, has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world.) It is promoted as aggressively as it is because contemporary lactivism is intended SPECIFICALLY to keep mothers out of the workforce.

That was the conscious plan of the founders of La Leche League, seven devout Catholic women who saw the promotion of breastfeeding as a way to keep mothers of young children from working and send them back home where they belonged.

In the book La Leche League: At the Crossroads of Medicine, Feminism, and Religion, Jule DeJager Ward explains:

[A] central characteristic of La Leche League’s ideology is that it was born of Catholic moral discourse on family life … The League has very strong convictions about the needs of families. These convictions are the normative heart of its narrative …The League’s presentations and literature carry a strong suggestion that breast feeding is obligatory. Their message is simple: Nature intended mothers to nurse their babies; therefore, mothers ought to nurse.

In the late 1950’s when LLL was founded, its members believed that if they forced women to choose between working outside the home vs. breastfeeding as “best” for their babies, mothers would choose breastfeeding. That may have been what happened in the beginning but for at least the last 40+ years, when forced to choose between working and breastfeeding, most women chose working.

That’s why lactivists persist in grossly exaggerating the benefits of breastfeeding far beyond anything supported by the scientific literature. That’s why they dream up ever more arcane “benefits” of breastfeeding (the microbiome! epigenetics!) as the substantive benefits are systematically debunked. And that’s why they have made breastfeeding ever more onerous: refusing to supplement, promoting bedsharing — a practice deadly to babies — and normalizing maternal exhaustion

These onerous restrictions dovetail with LLL’s original mission, to force women to choose between breastfeeding and working. The last thing lactivists want is to make it possible for women to do both. That’s why it is going to be a very long time before the US adopts universal, extended, paid maternity leave.

Breastfeeding as promoted by contemporary lactivists is incompatible with American capitalism … just it was designed to be!