After months of journalistic research, Anne-Florence Salvetti-Lionne published a book: My breasts, my choice! Objective ? Understand how breastfeeding is or isn’t feminist. In front of POSITIVEthe French author and journalist returns to this natural act that, even today, remains sometimes sexualized, sometimes maligned by society. meeting.
How would you define the evolution of breastfeeding in France?
Until the early 1900s, breastfeeding was the norm in France, but not necessarily maternal breastfeeding. In Paris and Lyon in particular, the vast majority of babies were sent to the countryside to be breastfed, while their mothers returned to work, either in industry or commerce. That’s what we call mercenary breastfeeding† When the first pasteurized milk and the first sterilized feeding bottles came on the market, breastfeeding finally had a reliable alternative and the use of nurses declined.
After the Second World War, there was a rejection of the image of the sacrificial mother. Breastfeeding had become restrictive due to the meddling of medicine and the feminist issues of the time centered on contraception. Women are breastfeeding less and less. After decades of very low breastfeeding rates in France, there was an increase in the number of breastfeeding periods from the 1990s to 2010. Since then we have reached a glass ceiling: approx. 70% of babies were breastfed at birth† But we are breastfeeding longer and longer! The normalization of ‘long-term’ breastfeeding on social networks is probably for good reason, but public parental policies are inhibiting the continuation of breastfeeding for mothers who want it.
“Women are left behind whether one chooses to breastfeed or not.”
Today, some women feel obligated to breastfeed or feel guilty about choosing the bottle. Finally, is there no social pressure to breastfeed?
Yes, there is clearly pressure surrounding breastfeeding. During the pregnancy, we undergo many commands to breastfeedOnce the baby is born, the women are abandoned whether one chooses to breastfeed or not. Nursing staff are few and poorly trained in breastfeeding, which is paradoxical when we consider how much maternity women are prescribing breastfeeding. And parents who opt for the bottle are also poorly supported, when choosing infant milk, but also when interrupting breastfeeding.
There is a very special tension in France around breastfeeding, because of this long cherished past. Most babies sent to nurses never returned to their parents: they died on the way, or else from illness, lack of care, or from domestic accidents on the spot. In the last decades of breastfeeding by mercenaries, nurses were no longer breastfed, but raw cow’s milk, mixed with water, in bottles that couldn’t be cleaned, colonized by bacteria. We have both this trauma of the murderous bottle of the time, but also that of breastfeeding, which meant separation from the child, and very often death. We can’t erase our history, but today we can take measures so that mothers make a free, informed and serene choice†
“Breastfeeding is an act of empowerment, sometimes even militant and above all autonomous.”
Do you think breastfeeding is a feminist act?
All the way ! In reality, having a choice is feminist, so breastfeeding is feminist and so is bottle feeding. What matters is that you can follow your wish without feeling judged or guilty, whether it’s for bottle-feeding from birth or breastfeeding your three-year-old. Breastfeeding is an empowering act, sometimes even militant and above all autonomous, which makes it possible to partially emancipate oneself from commercial, capitalist and patriarchal domination. Breastfeeding is not a duty, but a right that must be defended. The right to breastfeed or not, for as long as you want and where necessary, in public places or at home.
The first breastfeeding couch has just been installed in France. What do you think of this initiative?
I know opinions are divided because it seems like it leads women to ONE specific place, like it’s allowed to breastfeed on that couch but not anywhere else. For me it’s rather a positive initiative who has the merit of talking about breastfeeding in public and thereby helping to normalize it.
“Once you get used to watching babies suckle, you don’t even notice it anymore, it just becomes so common.”
Do you think breast normalization in our society really makes it possible to desexualize the breastfeeding breast?
It is essential to normalize breastfeeding not only in everyday life, but also in the media, movies, series and even cartoons to learn from an early age that it is a normal act. If so many people today are still shocked at the sight of a nursing breast (of which we usually do not see anything), it clearly shows that the breast is still seen as a sexual organ, which we must hide. † When you get used to watching babies suckle, you don’t even notice it anymore, it becomes so common. So yes, the breast will be multiple, sometimes breastfed, sometimes sexual within a specific and approved framework, and mostly plain a part of our body that doesn’t need to be debated†
To discover the book My breasts, my choice by Anne-Florence Salvetti-Lionne, go here. And moving on, here are 10 tips from a midwife for peaceful breastfeeding.