Breastfeeding, Morals, Social Justice, and a Grammar Lesson



So the internet has done that thing where everyone goes crazy over the same article.  In this case, it was a study that was reposted by Dr. Popcack on his blog about breastfeeding being a moral issue.   Simcha jumped on the ball first and wrote a response I related to.

Others followed suit with varying degrees of agreement, and Facebook comment boxes filled.

When I read this response and particularly the section about birthing, I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.   The description of reasons for a cesarean birth were clearly written off the cuff by someone who has never faced the real choice between life or a child who will die and c-sections,  resulting in a forever a choice between openness to life and c-sections.  I have to remind myself often that most people will never have to face those kinds of choices and that's ultimately a good thing even if it isn't such a great thing for us.  After I patted myself on the back and told myself to calm down, I decided I would have to write my own response.

I think the reason people responded so strongly to the original article is that it put the word moral in front of a primarily Catholic audience.  An audience that automatically assumed that if choice A is moral than that makes choice B immoral.  None of want to make immoral choices and we have a tendency to panic a bit if we think we have or are worried that we might.  Polarizing language is, in fact, the key to big reactions.  When was the last time you read a nicely balanced and well stated article that went viral?

Hence the exploding internet.

In comments and responses Dr. Popcack kept defending himself and the original article by telling people this doesn't apply to not to be offended.  I would agree when something isn't the choice we have made we should just look the other way (see my comments on birthing above) and try not to be offended, but when a person of perceived expert authority introduces morality to a parenting decision we become somewhat obligated to come out and discuss the morality of formula in a fair manner.  The article and all of the official responses I saw stopped short of saying that it was in fact moral in certain situations, or at least not immoral, to use formula to feed a baby.

Lets back up a minute though and think about it because there is actually a third choice that we need to consider: the amoral, or without-moral effect, choice.  Perhaps formula feeding falls into this category.  We lose some of the benefits of the moral choice but we are not making the immoral choice to not feed a child.   As Catholics we have a grammatical precedent for this in between option.  I'm not a theologian, but stay with me for a minute.

We have sacramental marriages (highest standard), licit marriages (church accepted but not fully sacramental for some reason), and illicit marriages (not accepted by the church).

We have ordinary ministers of communion (the ordained) and extra-ordinary (outside of ordinary but still appropriate) ministers of communion.

From a language standpoint then, it becomes perfectly acceptable to take breast is best and discuss it from a moral perspective....  As long as we make sure that we also discuss it in the greater context to help clarify things for women who have/are using formula for whatever reason.  In fact I would go as far as to say we have an obligation (even perhaps a moral obligation) to present the entire spectrum of argument for the benefit of those on either end.

I think for the purposes of breastfeeding, however, it may actually be more responsible to discuss this topic in terms of social justice instead of morality.  Breastfeeding has many benefits socially, economically, physically, and emotionally.  Indeed, promoting breastfeeding has been identified as a public health issue.  Most of the major world health organizations and governments have endorsed policies and statements to the effect of promoting it.

We need to educate and inform...just not in a way that condemns those who have made the other choice.  We need to promote access to resources, support breastfeeding friendly laws and policies, and encourage one another to feed the babies no matter where they are.  We need to be wary of presenting formula as the choice that the rich white folks make or pretending that it is the same scientifically.  We need to reach out a hand to the new mom and ask how we can help and support them on their parenting journey with a new baby, particularly as it relates to helping them breastfeed.

Morality will always (and should) have a convicting language and effect.  Social justice seeks to improve the social quality and outcomes of a group of people.

Breastfeeding can do that. Formula is not just as good as breastmilk and from a purely global perspective it never can be.  Yet individually, formula may be much better than breastmilk for some mom and baby pairs.

It strikes me as almost comical that in a time that I have no time for blogging I have made time to post about breastfeeding three times since Tomas was born.  After years (I've passed a decade of breastfeeding now) of relatively straight forward nursing experience, I am facing real life dilemmas about the best way to meet baby's nutritional needs.

It breaks my heart a little bit every time I give this boy a bottle, even when its my own milk inside of it!

I'm starting to understand why people get so upset when they get "left out" of an article.  No article can ever cover all the individual scenarios for how/why certain decisions are made, but mothers' mental health is another area of social concern that we can all to take responsibility for.  We have to help account for the lack of social acceptability of children by supporting mothers who have made the choice to raise them anyways.  Being pro-life can't stop with supporting a mom from conception to birth, but needs to consider the needs of mother and child beyond birth.

When one sentence of clarification can be provided to account for that, I happen to think its irresponsible not to.  I'm fortunate to live in circles where breastfeeding is supported, but we need to remember that not everyone is equally blessed and those moms are going to turn online.  

Let's be sure to send the full message.


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