Katie Graham Anderson
So we all know the benefits of breastfeeding. Let’s talk about the risks, shall we?
1. Risk of a harassment from perfect strangers. Often with sexual overtones.
2. The violation of the right to breastfeed where ever a woman might lawfully be by an employee of a given establishment, including being asked to cover up, asked to move to a bathroom, or simply asked to leave.
3. The risk of an altercation with security or police for breastfeeding in public or displaying photos of nursing women in a public space.
3. The risk of arrest if someone witnesses a nursing woman consuming alcohol due to the false belief that it will harm the child.
4. The risk of improper health care due to a physician’s refusal to give appropriate care due to ignorance of which drugs are compatible with breastfeeding as determined by the National Institute of Health and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
5. The risk of being forbidden to breastfeed on a plane, bus, train, or other means of transportation.
6. The risk of being reported to CPS because of someone felt that the child was too old to breastfeed due to the belief that it is sexually abusive to do so.
7. The risk of losing employment due to requested pump breaks.
8. The risk of financial losses due to unpaid parental leave.
9. The risk of caregivers improperly storing or feeding pumped breastmilk, putting the child at risk of contaminated or spoiled milk, over feeding, and developing nipple confusion, endangering the nursing relationship.
10. The risk of caregivers feeding formula or using pacifiers without the mother’s knowledge or permission.
11. The risk of being alienated by friends, family, and their community for choosing to breastfeed, to breastfeed in public, or simply one’s own home in front of guests, or nursing longer than someone might approve of.
12. The risk of their internet accounts being suspended and their photos or videos deleted.
13. The risk of clogged ducts or mastitis or milk blisters due to a refusal of staff to provide a pump in a hospital, prison, or other facility where a woman is not able to nurse her child.
13. The risk of one’s health due to negligence to properly treat the above lactation problems by physicians
14. The risk of their nursing relationship failing because of violation of the WHO guidelines for artificial milk replacements that sabotages a woman’s personal goals for breastfeeding due to intentionally misleading advertisements.
15. The risk of losing the support or intimacy from their partner or spouse, or limiting dating opportunities, because they are turned off by breastfeeding.
16. The risk of improper diagnosis of failure to thrive due to a failure to use WHO height and weight charts that account for the discrepancy between growth patterns of breastmilk and formula fed infants.
17. The risk of being accused of negligence or endangerment a child when choosing to co-sleep to facilitate easier night feeding,even when proper precaution and safety measures are in place.
18. The risk of injury to a child with gastrointestinal conditions that are worsened with the use of artificial milk products, including fortifiers made from such products as opposed to either the woman’s pumped milk, donated milk, or human milk fortifier.
19. The risk of misdiagnosis of a breastfed child for conditions such as tongue tie, lip tie, metabolic disorders, low or high muscle tone, deficiencies in the suck-swallow- breathe pattern as lactation failure.
20. The risk of misdiagnosis of the mother for conditions such as endocrine disorders, retained placenta, hormonal imbalance, or other health related causes of lactation failure.
21. The risk of dentists spreading misinformation about the correlation of breastfeeding and dental health
22. The risk of healthcare providers and employers not recognizing mastitis as a serious and painful medical condition that can sometimes necessitate immediate medical attention and as a legitimate use of time off from work.
I miss anything?
These are, of course, not actual risks of breastfeeding. They are the result of a society and culture that does not value it, a medical field that does not consider lactation a vital part of reproductive health, and a culture that does not consider paid family leave a social right, and that refuses to acknowledge there are consequences for doing so.
Not a single country in the world meets the standards under the World Health Organization for supporting breastfeeding.
Whether or not someone can breastfeed should not be contingent on where someone gives birth, how much money they have, or the leniency of their employers. Lactation consultants, nursing aids, donor milk, and other resources must be made avaliable to everyone.
Breastfeeding should not be a luxury but a fundamental human right.
Katie is a mother of three and a birth and postpartum doula. She has over ten years experience as a La Leche League member and lactivist. Her journey in motherhood started with an unplanned pregnancy at nineteen, then experiencing secondary infertility, two miscarriages, and finally the birth of twin boys in 2012. She is currently in nursing school and becoming accredited as an IBCLC.