In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Chapter 16 193 It is difficult to have a conversation about breastfeeding in any setting without raising the specter of guilt. From the point of view of the mother who does not breastfeed and says she resents being made to feel guilty about her feeding method, to that of the former head of the American Academy of Pediatrics, who urged that breastfeeding “should be a nurturing sort of experience; we should not use guilt,” breastfeeding and breastfeeding promotion are clearly associated with the induction of guilt.1 What is less clear is how breastfeeding promoters—particularly if they are feminist—ought to carry out their promotion in such a way that does not induce guilt in women. In this chapter, we provide an analysis of infant feeding–related guilt. Our analysis of the feelings that women describe about feeding formula suggests that the dominant emotion may be more accurately described as shame. Much more damaging than guilt, shame involves the failure to live up to an ideal and the understanding of oneself as a lesser creature. Thus, it is the induction of shame, not guilt, that feminist breastfeeding promoters must resist. We close by describing conceptual shifts that must take place in breastfeeding promotion to eliminate the shaming of women. Breastfeeding Promotion and Guilt Most breastfeeding promoters are already familiar with the challenge that guilt presents to their promotion efforts. From the anecdotal accounts of doctors reluctant to recommend breastfeeding to their patients to the large-scale attack on the National Breastfeeding Awareness Campaign (NBAC), the induction of maternal guilt is a commonly cited reason for moderating or even avoiding Feminist Breastfeeding Promotion and the Problem of Guilt Erin N. Taylor and Lora Ebert Wallace 194 Erin N. Taylor and Lora Ebert Wallace exhortations to breastfeed. This professed concern for women’s feelings is often viewed with skepticism by breastfeeding promoters, many of whom implicitly assume or explicitly argue that the guilt argument is, at least in part, a self-interested rhetorical ploy on the part of those who stand to benefit from increased sales of infant formula.2 Still, many promoters remain genuinely disturbed by the possibility that mothers may be experiencing their breastfeeding promotion efforts as emotional coercion with guilt as the (unintended) side effect. In either case, breastfeeding promotion—particularly if it is to be feminist—is faced with the challenge of finding a way to deal with guilt. Some breastfeeding promoters have answered this challenge by relabeling guilt as a different emotion; rather than feeling guilt, some commentators insist, nonbreastfeeding mothers are really experiencing anger, regret, resentment , or the sense of being cheated by a medical system or society that fails to adequately educate or support breastfeeding mothers. Lactation consultant Dianne Wiessinger suggests, “Help a mother who says she feels guilty to analyze her feelings, and you may uncover a very different emotion. Someone long ago handed these mothers the word ‘guilt.’ It is the wrong word.” The 1999 La Leche League International (LLLI) Conference included an entire session dedicated to the question: Promoting Breastfeeding or Promoting Guilt? In her summary of that session written for LLLI’s New Beginnings magazine, commentator Robin Slaw explains, “Regret is what you feel when the choices, and the consequences of your choices, are not explained to you.” Breastfeeding counselor Lesley McBurney echoes this point: “Guilt should be reserved for something over which we have control.”3 This relabeling strategy is persuasive, as it shifts focus to the contexts in which mothers’ choices are made, but it fails to address the guilty feelings of those women who make informed and relatively unencumbered decisions about feeding their babies. Certainly, many women face cultural, economic, physical, and social constraints that make breastfeeding difficult. Still, not all mothers who feed formula are dupes, and not all reasons for opting for formula are related to these types of constraints. Further, there is evidence that mothers do, in fact, feel guilty for feeding formula. The popular resource lists “feeding your baby formula” as the first item in the piece “The Top 7 Mommy Guilt Trips—And How to Handle Them.”4 The message boards are teeming with posts from mothers who say they feel guilty for not breastfeeding. While many women are—or at the very least should be—angry about the lack of information and structural support available to them as new mothers attempting to breastfeed, their self-reported guilt cannot simply be explained away as something...


Additional Information

Related ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.