The literal nanny state: Breastfeeding and public health officials

The question is what’s next? Custody cases exploring whether or not a mother breastfed her infant? If we’re going to focus on things nebulous studies have deemed an obvious risk, we’d try to outlaw circumcision. Or we’ll deem spanking or infant sleep training as child abuse under the law. Or we’d prosecute parents for leaving children under the age of 8 in a car. Obviously it’d be hard to legislate breastfeeding since it’s a private matter, but you better believe we’ll go as far in that direction we can.

There are, of course, many laws the government issues for our protection and those of our children. Seatbelt laws, child car seat booster requirements, bans on drop side cribs and helmet laws. Regardless of whether or not these encompass valid risks (many do, some don’t), they do not encroach on personal freedom the way laws regarding parenting methods do. And don’t get me wrong; this goes in all directions. Infant feeding, and the personal freedoms associated with it, is not a liberal or conservative issue.

The main disconnect here is the view of formula as a poor-man’s breastmilk, as opposed to another valid alternative feeding method. On its face, is breastmilk a more resilient and adaptable substance? Almost certainly. Breastmilk has properties one cannot even attempt to replicate in formula. But the reasons why women choose their particular feeding method are often complex, thoughtful, and purposeful. All of which is opposite to the rampage of overreaching government regulation. We can and will continue to have fierce debates over the best approaches to motherhood, but it appears the biggest threat to America’s children comes from their Big Brother.