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Should Breastfeeding Be a Partisan Issue?

Should Breastfeeding Be a Partisan Issue?

Last week, Michelle Obama kicked off a campaign to promote breastfeeding as part of her Let’s Move initiative aimed at reducing childhood obesity by promoting exercise and nutrition. In particular, Politics Daily reports that Obama told a group of ten reporters at a strategy lunch that: “We also want to focus on the important touch points in a child’s life. And what we’re learning now is that early intervention is key. Breastfeeding. Kids who are breastfed longer have a lower tendency to be obese.

In particular, Obama noted the need to improve breastfeeding rates among African-American mothers, who are currently less likely than non-black women to breastfeed. Obama stressed that she doesn’t want to tell women to breastfeed, but that she wants to change practices (e.g. pushing more hospitals to be certified as “Baby Friendly”) to ensure that women who do want to breastfeed have a greater chance of success.

Breastfeeding and Partisan Politics

This is a big success for breastfeeding advocates who had been keen to see Obama speak out in support of breastfeeding for quite some time. However, that success has been somewhat diminished by the manner in which breastfeeding has suddenly become a partisan issue. Over the past week, numerous Republicans and conservative pundits have spoken out against a government role in breastfeeding promotion. For example, according to the Ottawa Citizen, conservative blogger Michelle Malkin said “We don’t need Big Brother or Big Mother to lead the Charge of the Big Bosom to persuade us of the personal benefits.

The sudden fear among Republicans that Democrats want to mandate breastfeeding is an unfortunate turn of events. In the past, breastfeeding has been seen as a bipartisan issue that had the potential to bring women from both sides together. In fact, when the New York Times wrote about both Democrat and Republican women taking advantage of lactation rooms on Capitol Hill, political blogger Joanne Bamberger, also known as PunditMom, blogged that Breastfeeding Moms Equal Capitol Hill Bipartisanship:

Networking in non-traditional settings is nothing new for women. When our husbands think we’re just hanging out with the girls or managing the soccer game and birthday party schedules for our kids, we know that those relationships can be, and usually are, much more than just lost time. So when I read a recent New York Times story about women on both sides of the political aisle taking advantage of Capitol Hill lactation rooms, I thought that these so-called “boob cubes” could be one small step, if not the key, to the new American bipartisanship.

It is unfortunate that this opportunity to bring women together has turned into another reason for politicians bickering. As Amy West wrote for the Best for Babes Foundation, in It’s Not a “Nanny State,” It’s a Booby Trap Nation!: “when the media portrays this in a way that pits woman against woman, party against party, and mom against mom, moms are the ones who suffer.”

Tax Sheltered versus Government Purchased

Moreover, Republicans criticizing Obama’s efforts appear to be confusing two issues. When speaking out against Obama’s support of breastfeeding, they raise the issue of the IRS reclassifying breastpumps as medical equipment. However, this change was made as a result of a November 2010 letter to the IRS from 45 members of caucus and not in response to Michelle Obama’s efforts under the Let’s Move campaign.

Additionally, some Republicans statements are simply false. For example, Republican Michele Bachmann said: “To think that government has to go out and buy my breast pump, that’s the new definition of a nanny state.”
However, the government is not buying breast pumps for moms. Instead, it is simply making them a tax-deductible medical expense because they meet the definition of “medical equipment,” which is being “for the purpose of affecting a structure or function of the body of the lactating woman.” (Source: Ottawa Citizen).

Does everything have to be polarizing?

It is unfortunate that what was once an issue both parties seemed to be able to agree on has now spiralled into a heated war of words and war on moms. While Michelle Obama has now spoken out unequivocally in support of breastfeeding promotion, that shouldn’t have to signal a negative response from the other side.

Is there no common ground anymore?

—-
Annie blogs about the art and science of parenting at the PhD in Parenting blog.

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Photo Credit: Indiana Black Breastfeeding Coalition

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199 comments

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10:33AM PDT on May 23, 2011

Mom makes the choice based on her ability and desire.

7:45AM PST on Mar 8, 2011

it's the women choice

12:05AM PST on Mar 1, 2011

Why is the natural deed of breastfeeding a political issue anyway? It's about doing what's best for baby and yourself.

Since it's post tax exempt, not everyone who gets one will put it on their exemption list. So it will be a whole lot more economical in the long run than giving out formula.

9:33AM PST on Feb 26, 2011

I think its great that there is a more educated public conversation going on now concerning the benefits of breastfeeding, and the first lady's comments on that don't seem pushy at all (like Giselle Buendchen's statement *lol)
So it is sad to see that this issue is dividing the political parties when they should stand united: educating women about these advantages, yet supporting them in their decision! It seems that the responses on here also reflect that there is enormous amount of guilt being invoked in women that are not able to nurse...which unfortunately may result in arguing for the formula/tax side.
Ewoud put it best by asking, whether this discussion is so heated because in breastfeeding there is no profit for the government involved?!

7:38PM PST on Feb 24, 2011

Breast feeding is a choice, but there are medical studies that show that breast fed babies have a better immune system and are better bonded babies with the mother. But still it is the mothers choice. I wish breast pumps would have been invented before my children were born. I did not produce enough milk, so I had to use formula. But breast feeding is a natural thing, it is mom taking care of her baby. Only those who tend to have dirty minds looks at it differently. It is what it is, A loving mom taking care of an innocent little child. Accept it.

5:22PM PST on Feb 23, 2011

Breast-feeding, like so many things in a woman's life, should be a PERSONAL decision, based upon each individual woman's desire and ability to do so. Some women enjoy the closeness with their babies; others have such sensitive nipples that the entire process is extremely painful. Some women have the time to breast-feed "on demand;" others have full time careers that make it impossible. Some women produce enough milk not only for their own babies, but to share some with others; some women cannot produce milk in sufficient amounts to breast-feed at all.

No woman should feel shamed or guilty about not being able or not wanting to breast-feed (for whatever reason). No woman should feel shamed or guilty about WANTING to breast-feed, either.

And, as I've said before, if it's not your kid, and it's not your breast, IT'S NONE OF YOUR G**DAMN' BUSINESS!

12:47PM PST on Feb 23, 2011

A woman should be allowed to breast feed an infant anywhere and at any time she determines necessary, even in public places such as church pews.
This is true even if her breast happens to become visible. A woman revealing her breast to an infant is no more erotic than a woman in a tight sweater or one piece swimsuit.
Now there are men with adolescent level maturity, but these men can find pictures of women in Time Magazine and find the same thrills. Part of the reason some places in the world require burkas.
And as far as politics is concerned there are babies born into all political parties. Now if some aged and drooling politician wants to make it a political issue...

8:28PM PST on Feb 22, 2011

definitely a personal issue

7:30PM PST on Feb 22, 2011

I COULD NOT VOTE ON THIS ONE DUE TO THE FACT, I BELIEVE THERE IS SO MUCH HISTORY BEING MADE IN THAT ARENA - ALL THE TIME. GREAT STRIDES AND GREAT CONCESSIONS WALK THE AISLE TOGETHER.
IT IS NOT THE BODY THAT DIRTY, IT IS MINDS THEREOF.

6:49PM PST on Feb 22, 2011

This government better get their act together or there is going to be anarchy right here in America. They have to make a bid deal over breastfeeding? What's next?

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