Is it proper to call breastfeeding a matter of social justice? I submit that when something satisfies an essential life-need, is easily available, cheap, and can make a significant difference in the health of those who are helpless to help themselves, it becomes a matter of justice to provide that “something” — which is breastfeeding in the case at hand.
There is a huge problem, however, in writing or talking about this because justice-talk raises questions about morality and guilt and habitual family practices. So I will start by noting that neither my wife nor I were breastfed. That is, this was not part of our respective family traditions. My wife’s introduction to breastfeeding was providential. In our first pregnancy, her childbirth instructor urged all the prospective moms to breastfeed and to attend La Leche League meetings, and Sheila followed those instructions.
That was a real blessing to our children and to her. La Leche League touted many of the advantages of breastfeeding for the baby, but today researchers have found even more advantages for both babies and mothers. For example, now we know that after menopause the former breastfeeding mother still enjoys stronger bones and thus fewer hip fractures. This gets very practical. Sheila still plays tennis and has had five hard falls on tennis courts with no damage. Yet we have known of much younger women who have broken legs or hips from what seemed to be much easier falls.
My concern is that people who should be getting this information are not getting it. We share this information in our natural family planning manual and course, but we may be close to unique. How many Catholic women do you know who were urged during their preparation for marriage to breastfeed their children? And by “urged” I mean they at least briefly reviewed some 20 advantages for the baby and another 8 for the mother, and they were also told about the natural baby spacing effects of ecological breastfeeding.
This is where the justice issue comes up. I think that the advantages to the baby are so significant that all those who are preparing couples for marriage and for family life should be doing their best to encourage this form of baby-care. And since birth control has become a political as well as a moral issue, it should also be stressed that the frequent nursing of ecological breastfeeding is a natural baby spacer. That’s God’s plan for spacing babies, and it requires no abstinence. I think teaching these things is a simple matter of justice for helpless babies and for married couples, all of whom need this information. It is such a matter of justice worldwide that I hope that Pope Francis will address it. For more on breastfeeding and NFP, see the website under my signature.
I encourage you to read an excellent two-page essay on the Eradication of Poverty by Ruth Lawrence, M.D. because Dr. Lawrence really demonstrates what I am trying to say. I am not trying to lay a guilt trip on anyone who hasn’t breastfed or properly instructed others in their care because of ignorance. But what Dr. Lawrence and I are saying is that the great benefits of breastfeeding-in-general and especially ecological breastfeeding are now common knowledge among those educating others about marriage, baby-care, and the fertility cycle. Or at least they should be. This is the 21st Century, not the bottle-crazed mid-20th Century.
I will close with the last three lines from the Lawrence essay: