Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The rhetoric about baby formulas versus breastfeeding

Two key points that got me thinking in this week’s readings include the erasure of women’s breastfeeding knowledge by the biomedics, and the double speaking that characterize breastfeeding initiatives (the chapter by Emily Kripe in Zoller & Dutta). First,I consider the erasure of women’s agency.

I begin with a quotation that accurately reflects the plight of women in Third World countries with regard to breastfeeding: “This transfer of breastfeeding knowledge from its practitioners to the domain of medical professional, from being embodied to requiring learning, involves a privileging of headwork that not only reinstalls the mind-body dichotomy of the Cartesian subject, but disempowers women as mothers at a time when their corporeality is most active and symbolically significant” (Barlett,2002,p.376) quoted in Zoller and Dutta (2008). The move to deny women of their agency interests me because of current trend in some developing countries. In Nigeria for instance, Not for Profit Organizations have emerged, championing the crusade for breastfeeding awareness. It is commendable to champion breastfeeding, but the delegitimization of the women as recipients of breastfeeding knowledge is illogical.

The second point that strikes me as unique in this week’s reading is the current emphasis on breastfeeding which Zoller and Dutta (2008) draw attention to. Hitherto, traditional Nigerian communities, it was a social taboo for a nursing mother to fail breastfeeding her child. Such highly cherished traditional practice was altered by the introduction of baby formula that was framed as “modern” and became a status symbol. I remember growing up in a remote community, where families preserved empty cans of baby formula consumed by their new baby as status symbol. Interestingly, the tone has again changed, and breastfeeding has become the preferred baby feeding option. Thoughts that kept resonating on my mind are: why was breastfeeding initially framed in negative light? Was the negative framing an error? Or was it intentional? .

1 comment:

Suzy D'Enbeau said...

Hey Mohan - I would love to get a copy of this chapter. I know your book is focused on global issues - I'm more familiar with US discourses on breastfeeding. Some of the language I find the most troubling is from moms who say things like, "I will try to breastfeed but I don't want to pressure myself if it doesn't work" and other things about 'choice.' I know from firsthand experience that breastfeeding doesn't always come 'naturally' - but I think comments like these reinforce neoliberal Western, individualized choice - rather than focusing on community. Wouldn't mothers benefit from a reframing of the discussion? In other words, how can we better support mothers and breastfeeding - by making it more acceptable and the norm. I'm also reminded of public commentary from people like Betheny Frankel (reality star) who says breastfeeding in public is awful. I've also heard comments from feminist mothers who consider not breastfeeding because it means that they can't co-parent because the dad can't be as involved - because the reality is that a breastfed baby often prefers the mother. Also, have you seen this:

I think once I get tenure, I might move my research in the direction of women's health and birthing issues.

Hope all is well! Suzy