This is an assignment I just turned in for my political science class on civil rights. I decided to argue that breastfeeding is a civil right because it is obviously something very important to me.
Though breastfeeding is not something that is considered to be a civil right, I believe it one day will be. Every few weeks, I read another story in the news of a women being discriminated for breastfeeding her child. Many people believe that to breastfeed is a choice, but it is truly just a natural extension of the process of giving birth.
Breastfeeding is the biologically normal way to feed an infant for the first months of its life. With that said, it is not the societal norm in the United States. In 2006, 73.9% of babies were breastfed at birth. By six months—which is the recommendation for minimum amount of time exclusively breastfeeding by both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization—the amount of babies still breastfeeding drops to 43.4%. The number of babies exclusively breastfeeding at six months is only 33.1%.
The history of breastfeeding obviously began when the first baby was born. Before the days of infant formula, if the mother died during birth or was unable to nurse her baby, the baby would be left to die or wet nursed by another lactating woman. Women were often hired as wet nurses for other women who couldn’t nurse or did not want to and could afford to pay the wet nurse. In the mid 19th century the first infant formula was produced intended to be used for babies in orphanages that would have died otherwise.
Since the introduction of commercial infant formula, the trend has shifted upwards and downwards in regards to how many women breastfeeding. There were times that formula was believed to be better than breast milk, but in the end studies have shown that breast milk is infinitely better for babies than formula—often in ways we can’t even explain.
Yet even with this obvious evidence that breast is best, women are often harassed and discriminated against for nursing their child in public. If you just google “breastfeeding in public”, you’ll find very strong opinions on both sides of the issue. Some people think that breastfeeding in public is disgusting and the mother and baby should be made to cover up, go to another room, or even bring bottles of expressed breast milk with them when they go out. Others say that it’s natural and should be done anywhere and in any matter. The law—in most states—agrees with the latter.
Even with the law on the nursing mom’s side, they are still frequently discriminated against. Just last week a mother who was nursing her baby in Target had the cops called on her in a state that nursing in public is not a crime. Mothers are often told they have to cover up at restaurants or on planes even when there are rules and laws saying they don’t.
As a nursing mom, this civil right is particularly important to me because I am faced with it daily. I personally believe that I shouldn’t need to cover up or leave where I am because I am feeding my child. Breasts are not sexual when you are feeding a child, therefore there is no reason they need to be covered. I realize that others do not feel the same, so I try to be discreet—for their sake, not mine. It is not fair that I am discriminated against for breastfeeding my child. Breastfeeding is not a choice; to not breastfeed is a choice.