“Although breastfeeding is a conservative mammalian function, it requires radical social structural transformation in order to succeed. These changes include the division of labor, more equitable distribution of income and resources, and higher priorities on maternal and child welfare.” Penny Van Esterik, 1989

The Breastfeeding and Feminism Symposium was founded in 2005 by Dr Paige Hall Smith of UNC Greensboro, bringing together about 40 academic scholars, practitioners, activists, and policy makers interested in considering feminist perspectives to address breastfeeding as a health priority for women and children. Since that time, Dr Miriam Labbok of the Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute at UNC Chapel Hill has joined in co-hosting, and together they have expanded the event into an International Conference, with more than 120 participants and speakers annually from the United States and abroad.

Today, there have been eight Breastfeeding and Feminism Symposia. These meetings have stimulated a growth in public discourse and scholarship on the sociocultural, economic, health and political constraints to women’s infant feeding decision-making and the impact of these decisions on the environment. In addition, the symposia have focused attention on how health system and public health approaches to breastfeeding must go beyond promotion and must include serious consideration of the realities of women’s lives, which are complicated by structural inequities. Feminists investigate these inequities through gender, race, and class analysis. The symposia also have yielded multiple publications and presentations for the global community of scholars and practitioners.

Our view is that public health constructs provide a context for exploring the factors that both influence women’s decisions, and are influenced by them. The goal to improve breastfeeding practices is intertwined with the feminist goal to improve the status of women and the public health goal of improved health outcomes at the population level. Through the Breastfeeding and Feminism International Conference, we seek to to create conditions in individuals, households, community and nations that make it possible for every woman to breastfeed and help make breastfeeding possible, successful and valued in all societies.

Check out the book Beyond Health, Beyond Choice,  which was published from papers presented at the 2010 Breastfeeding and Feminism Symposium!

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