Creating Change Abreast Tradition: Sharing Breastfeeding Experiences and Influencing Policy, Culture, and the Media

September has been marked by two prominent news stories related to breastfeeding that may be of interest to our readers, and we would be remiss to not share them.

This week, Inside Higher Ed published an article on relevant to many faculty members on being a parent while being a professor; more specifically, the article examines how to balance the needs of your students with the needs of your child when the two overlap. The article was written to highlight Adrienne Pine, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at American University, and her recent essay, “The Dialectics of Breastfeeding on Campus: Exposing My Breasts on the Internet,” published at CounterPunch last week.

Pine’s essay describes the response of students on campus after she breastfed her sick infant during the first day of her “Sex, Gender, and Culture” course for the fall semester. Student journalists at The Eagle, American University’s newspaper, heard rumors about Pine’s breastfeeding–what they referred to with biased language as “the incident”–and began develop their own story about the matter. Pine chose to tell her story on her own terms, rather than leave it to the newspaper, who she feared would “craft a poorly written story” that would  “create a hostile work environment for all professors who have similarly difficult decisions to make.”

Pine’s final comments about her experience, via

…the only option left was to exposé my breasts—on my own terms—on the internet. So here’s the story, internet: I fed my sick baby during feminist anthropology class without disrupting the lecture so as to not have to cancel the first day of class. I doubt anyone saw my nipple, because I’m pretty good at covering it. But if they did, they now know that I too, a university professor, like them, have nipples. Or at least that I have one.

The topic of breastfeeding and identity made news earlier in the month when Trevor MacDonald, a trans man who recently gave birth to a son, applied to lead a local La Leche League (LLL), and was denied because of his gender-identity. He became involved with LLL when he started attending his local LLL affiliate’s meetings. MacDonald reported that he was initially welcomed to LLL meetings with open arms. He has written about his experiences as a breastfeeding dad for Huffington Post in April, as well as on his personal blog.  You can read more about MacDonald’s experience with the LLL at the full article on RH Reality Check’s website. According to MacDonald’s blog, the LLL has announced that it will revisit its policy regarding trans leaders. Miriam Pérez, RH Reality Check writer, describes the implications best: “Whatever LLL decides, this controversy has served one huge purpose: by elevating the experience of one trans parent, resources and a community were created where there hadn’t been before.”

Both Pine’s story and Macdonald’s story deal with realities that breastfeeding parents will continue to experience on a large scale. The responses to and coverage of those stories will greatly influence policy, media, and culture. As Pérez keenly observed, the sharing of a story helps facilitate community connections and resource building. Do you have positive or negative experiences with breastfeeding that you’d like to share? Join the conversation by commenting with your story.

About Kaitlin Legg

Former Program Assistant at the Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender and Women's Studies at the University of Rochester.
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