Social scientist and mother Courtney Jung explores the ever-expanding world of breastfeeding advocacy, shining a new light on the diverse communities who compose it, the dubious science behind it, and the pernicious public policies to which it has given rise
Is breast really best? Breastfeeding is widely assumed to be the healthiest choice, yet growing evidence suggests that its benefits have been greatly exaggerated. New moms are pressured by doctors, health officials, and friends to avoid the bottle at all costs-often at the expense of their jobs, their pocketbooks, and their well-being.
In Lactivism, political scientist Courtney Jung offers the most deeply researched and far-reaching critique of breastfeeding advocacy to date. Drawing on her own experience as a devoted mother who breastfed her two children and her expertise as a social scientist, Jung investigates the benefits of breastfeeding and asks why so many people across the political spectrum are passionately invested in promoting it, even as its health benefits have been persuasively challenged. What emerges is an eye-opening story about class and race in America, the big business of breastfeeding, and the fraught politics of contemporary motherhood.
This harsh critique of breastfeeding advocacy in America may be hard to hear for people who subscribe to the now widespread notion that "breast is best," but Jung makes some thoughtful points against seeing the practice as the most or only acceptable option for mothers. She worries that "lactivism" transforms parenting choices into competitive arenas or moral imperatives, makes it too easy for companies to present themselves as family-friendly simply on the basis of allowing employees to pump at work, and encourages peer judgement by defining formula feeding as a poor lifestyle choice. Jung also sees women's control over their bodies as being at stake, noting that nonbreastfeeding women have seen their federal nutritional benefits reduced. Arguing that the evidence for breast milk's nutritional benefits over formula is modest, she believes that the societal treatment of breastfeeding has gone way beyond acknowledging that it's a good method to feed a baby, moving into self-congratulatory middle-class identity politics. Though Jung probably won't convince anyone to change policy, her intersectional perspective, which looks at how feminist concerns mesh with those related to race and class, may encourage advocates to approach new moms with more sensitivity, and to view the ubiquity of breast pumps with a slightly more dubious eye.