Breastfeeding and Social Justice

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:

Breastfeeding is the most precious gift a  mother can give her infant.
If there is illness or infection, it may be a life saving gift.
If there is poverty, it may be the only gift.
John F. Kippley

10 thoughts on “Breastfeeding and Social Justice

  1. I have long believed that a baby has a right to its mother’s milk, but it seems to fall on deaf ears when and if I say it!

  2. This is a very good point, and hopefully Pope Francis will address it as such. But I think there is something else here also that needs to be addressed, and that is the culture we live in. Whether it is materialism, or the culture of death, or something else, there is real stigma associated with women remaining close to their small children. What I mean is, there is very little in the world of education or career that will be encouraging of a woman who wants to be physically present to her children, such as is necessary for almost any kind of breastfeeding – certainly it is for ecological breastfeeding. Our culture has this kind of idea that career is better or more important than the natural and healthy mother-child relationship, than family life.

    I agree that teaching about breastfeeding should be considered a matter of social justice. But in order to do this, aren’t we also going to have to face this underlying cultural problem?

    • My hope is that the right kind of talk and action by Pope Francis will not only encourage mothers around the world to do ecological breastfeeding for at least a year or at least exclusive breastfeeding for six months but will also have a positive effect on many cultures as well.
      –John K.

  3. I heartily agree! I was not breastfed either; it just wasn’t being done in America. The doctor told my mother that it wouldn’t be the best thing for her babies! I think it was arrogance that made scientists and doctors believe that their formulas and directives were better than just leaving the matter up to “mere chance”! Besides, the Evil One, who always works with lies, wanted women to have their children coming less than a year apart…to make a market for the horrific “pill” he saw scientists working to invent! When I told the doctor, 45 years ago, that I planned to nurse my firstborn, he snorted, “That’s odd”! I don’t know how I first encountered La Leche League, but they were invaluable. I definitely think it is the baby’s God-given right!

  4. Me again. I just looked up the history of La Leche League, which I had long forgotten. From their history, it is even more clear to me that this is a moral issue, one where the forces of good and evil have much at stake. I know Pope John Paul encouraged it. Get Pope Francis to call it a social justice issue!

  5. What a nice post! Made me think of this quote by the late James P. Grant, Executive Director of UNICEF from 1980 until his death in 1995, who said:
    “Breastfeeding is a natural ‘safety net’ against the worst effects of poverty. If the child survives the first month of life (the most dangerous period of childhood) then for the next four months or so, exclusive breastfeeding goes a long way toward canceling out the health difference between being born into poverty and being born into affluence …. It is almost as if breastfeeding takes the infant out of poverty for those first few months in order to give the child a fairer start in life and compensate for the injustice of the world into which it was born.”

    Thanks for sharing!

    Karen Gromada, MSN, RN, IBCLC, FILCA and LLL Leader

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