That is the question, and has been since the Middle Ages. Although then, the answer was determined by class: women of high birth did not breastfeed, and instead employed wet nurses to care for their newborns. At that time, breastfeeding was considered very unseemly and was reserved for the peasants.
Today, in Western society, the debate over breastfeeding continues, but with a slightly different argument. Now, it is a question of decency: is breastfeeding something that should be done in private, or is it okay to do in public? This conflict masks the even deeper debate surrounding caring for infants: is breastfeeding important or even necessary for the child?
As Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, takes on her new title as mother, the media hungers for her stance on the issue. Even the International Business Times has taken notice of Kate’s big decision, and recognizes that her choice whether or not to breastfeed will have a huge impact on new mothers. While there are now multiple alternatives to breast milk, many continue to argue that breast milk and the act of breastfeeding itself are very important for the baby’s health. A mother’s breast milk is filled with nutrients and antibodies designed specifically for the child it was made for, making it the absolute best thing a newborn could digest.
Unfortunately, nursing mothers are confined to solitary rooms or glared at if they try to feed their children in public. In the past, some Facebook users have even flagged pictures of breastfeeding mothers as inappropriate for the internet. Meanwhile, others consider breastfeeding the most natural thing in the world, and they scorn mothers who decide to go with formula. Needless to say, people on both sides of the debate have very strong opinions; it’s no wonder that Kate Middleton has a difficult decision to make. No matter what choice she makes, there will be many who judge her harshly.
I have always known that, if I do have children, I want to breastfeed them. It seems like a truly amazing experience, and something that cannot be replicated. Not to mention the fact that a mother’s breast milk is personalized nutrients for her baby – why should that go to waste? Nevertheless, there are mothers who cannot, no matter how much they want to, breastfeed. There can be medical hindrances or cultural boundaries. For me, the idea of not being able to breastfeed my hypothetical child makes me unbelievably sad. It is an experience I so desperately want to eventually have that I can’t imagine it being taken away from me. Of course, there are always unseen obstacles that no one can ever expect, and that possibility can easily be taken away from me. With that in mind, I have a hard time understanding a woman who chooses not to breastfeed her child if there is no obvious danger from doing so.
At the same time, the idea that Kate Middleton is being pressured to make this decision upsets me. While I do believe a mother should do everything she can to nurse her child, that is not my decision to make for an individual mother. Each woman has her own reasoning behind how she cares for her child, and no one else can make that for her. Even if Kate Middleton has no medical issues, the sheer magnitude of media attention is enough to cause stress on a normal person, let alone a nursing mother. In the end, the most important choice is what is best for the baby – if breastfeeding is something that will cause the mother to be a bad parent for her child, then breastfeeding is not the right choice. This is Kate Middleton’s decision to make, and while she will end up acting as a role model for future mothers, she must first take care of her own wellbeing as well as that of her son’s.