Whipping out your above-ground lady parts has never been cooler. Breastfeeding has swept Hollywood, from Alanis to Alicia. From Beyonce to Blossom.
Well, good on ya, celebrity moms. You have clearly been exposed to science-y know-how about breastmilk’s documented benefit to babies’ development, immunity, and lifelong health (lower instances of diabetes, obesity, and more). The moms also benefit, whether it be from increased postpartum weight loss or reduction of breast cancer risk.
Kudos, celeb mommies. In advocating breastfeeding, you are leveraging your relative luxury for good. Flexible work schedules, financial resources, and large support systems all help a mother succeed in nursing her child longer.
And, all hail celeb mommies. You are elevating the profile of breastfeeding, an age-old practice that is viewed by many as awkward and antiquated. Some might say, Celebrity Breastfeeding Mommy Goddess, your work here is done. I’d say: keep your shirt on. I don’t mean it like that…I mean, slow down. Being a role model is a great step. A great first step. But there are two big things…
…that celebrity breastfeeding cheerleaders….
…can do to truly advance a key public health issue in this country. The first is expensive but easy: throw your weight (and your wallet) around. Breastfeeding may not require you to buy bottles or formula, but it ain’t free. It requires time, if you work or ever leave your child’s side; it requires expensive equipment, including but not limited to a breast pump. It requires safe space and an employer who will and can allow you release time to pump those suckers dry or feed your child.
You’re a brilliant, charming MamaPop reader so I probably don’t have to tell you that all of these costs–monetary and non–can make breastfeeding an issue of socioeconomic equity. If you are over 30, upwardly mobile, have a salaried job, have access to support, and two white boobs, you’re more likely to be able to breastfeed. If you’re younger, have a lower income, and are Latino or African American, you’re less likely to breastfeed. And thanks to some seriously broken systems, inequity begets inequity: race and class impact your educational opportunity, employment prospects, etc…which impact your likelihood to be able to breastfeed.
So if celebs used their dollars and ability to get an audience on Capitol Hill to promote educational and employment opportunities for all women, we’d be getting somewhere. If celebs used their influence to elevate the need for greater employer cooperation in supporting nursing moms, we’d be in boobtastic business.
So I mentioned a second thing celebs could do: strike back at free shit.
Across America, cities and states are asking hospitals to stop giving out free formula swag bags to new mommies and focus on advocating that more new moms nurse. They are doing it to address burgeoning childhood obesity rates, healthcare costs, diabetes raining from the sky in sweet, sweet buckets…you name it. But they see a correlation between the number of women receiving formula swag and women’s commitment to breastfeeding (or, even, to buying other brands of formula). and too many hospitals don’t have the resources to give up the revenue from swag-y relationships. Free stuff is a powerful thing…celebs know it better than anyone. What if breastfeeding celebs launched a “No Similac Swag Bags Or I Won’t Show My Gladbags” campaign? Damn straight, some hospitals and companies would listen.
I’ll confess that I’m uncomfortable banning most anything. And I’m even more loathe to question ANYONE’S choice to breastfeed or not. Breastfeeding is so, so hard. I did it for 11 months, I was bad at it, it was awful…and I’m so lucky to have been able to do it. But I’m more uncomfortable with perpetuating inequity by not helping more women access a wider array of choices, by going straight to free stuff without providing an array of options. And while I don’t like even suggesting that women don’t know what they want without a menu, I feel like this conversation hasn’t progressed to the point where we don’t know what we (or they) don’t know. And I’m most uncomfortable with an uneven playing field. I have a feeling that many of the biggest stars–especially those with a wriggling creature dangling from their nipples–might just be uncomfortable with that, too.