Although arguments about motherhood, work, and gender differences have been central to feminist thought, feminist theory has historically had little to say about breastfeeding.
Throughout the 1970´s and 1980´s contemporary feminist theory was concerned with providing the theoretical and legal foundation to enable women to achieve social, economic and political equality. Strategies generally thought essential to that end included increasing women´s employment and decreasing their involvement with the mothering role.
As a result, while feminist policy initiatives did address pregnancy and childbirth breastfeeding, particularly past women´s return to work, was not seen as an issue.
During this same period, however, the United States witnessed a dramatic resurgence in the proportion of new mother´s breastfeeding. In 1985 the Surgeon General of the United States declared breastfeeding to be a public health priority.
As such, although we have witnessed a dramatic change in US policy and health care practice related to breastfeeding since the 1980´s, these changes have occurred independent of feminist theory or voice.
This study is designed to bring feminist theory, feminist research on breastfeeding, women´s experiences with breastfeeding, and the perspectives of lactation policymakers, practitioners and advocates in novel and exciting ways in order to create a feminist-based approach to breastfeeding promotion.
This study was conducted by Paige Hall Smith with funds awarded her as the 2004-2006 Linda Arnold Carlisle Professor in Women´s and Gender Studies. This study involved conducting personal interviews with:
- Women artists affiliated with the 2005 Mamapalooza music festival in New York City
- Women attending the 2005 La Leche League International Conference
- Women attending the 2005 International Lactation Consultant Association Conference
- Women attending the 2007 Reproductive Conference in Hampshire, MA
- Faculty, staff, and students at UNCG.
As part of her professorship in Women´s and Gender Studies, Dr. Smith organized a Feminism and Breastfeeding Symposium. We are now preparing for the ninth annual symposium. It has grown so much that it is now called the International Breastfeeding and Feminism Conference.