Is Breastfeeding Vegan? How To Handle The Questions
by Brenna Jeanneret
Is breastfeeding vegan? The one question vegan mothers ALWAYS get.
“Yes, I’m vegan and so is my son”, I say as I de-latch him and set him on the ground to play.
“Well, except for breastfeeding,” says the woman sitting across from me with a smirk, as though she’s caught me in a lie.
I looked up at the woman so confused by the comment that I just didn’t say anything. A million things swirled around in my brain as a reasonable retort but, just as George Costansa only thought of the Jerk Store comeback after the fact, I also only constructed an articulate argument later on. Since that woman is long gone, I thought I’d share it here for anyone else who may have come across a similar situation.
The first thing that comes to mind is, it’s natural. A mother makes milk specifically for the purpose of feeding her child and if that milk is made by a vegan mother then the milk itself is vegan. Just as cow’s milk is made for her calves, this is the natural way of things. That milk is not intended for us, just as our milk is not intended for other species. In fact, I wonder what the long-term ramifications would be on a cow who was fed human milk rather than its mothers. I suppose that is an article for another time.
Anyway, I understand where some people get hung up here wondering is breastfeeding vegan. The milk is coming from a non-plant source. The thing is this is not the only characteristic that defines something as being vegan.
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The definition includes several different kinds of vegans including the environmental vegan “…which refers to the avoidance of animal products on the premise that the industrial farming of animals is environmentally damaging and unsustainable.”
Though not all vegans adhere to the environmental aspect of the lifestyle, most do and consider it a basis for making the lifestyle change in the first place. Subscribe or not the environmental ramifications are inherently tied to the vegan lifestyle, and breastfeeding is anything but damaging, in fact in all of my reading on it I haven’t come across one negative aspect. It is magic. The World Health Organization has many resources on all the amazing things breastfeeding can do for a young child. Have a read up on some resources someone asks you is breastfeeding vegan?
And as far as sustainable? It’s the very definition of sustainable. Our bodies produce just enough, at the right time with the right mix of protein, fats, and nutrients for our babies. There is no waste, there is no cost to production and there is no infrastructure that must be built and then torn down. Mothers are not forced to become pregnant just so they can produce milk, and they are not pumped full of hormones in order to produce more, faster.
Consent, exploitation for monetary gains and abuse also come to mind. According to Donald Watson who coined the term Vegan in 1944, it means “…that man should live without exploiting animals.”
Animals do not know what is happening to them, there is no consent. Instead, there is fear and torture and exploitation. Breastfeeding mothers consent, obviously. And rather than torture it’s the ultimate bonding experience for a mother and her child.
Monetary gains? It costs nothing and actually saves money. In fact, in places where food is scarce, expensive or lacking in nutritional value, breastfeeding has been found to promote healthy development among newborns and infants who may otherwise have been stunted in their growth.
According to the World Health Organization “Optimal breastfeeding is so critical that it could save the lives of over 820,000 children under the age of 5 years each year.”
So yes, smug-woman-at-the-coffee-shop, breastfeeding is vegan.
Have you been asked the question ‘is breastfeeding vegan?’ Let us know in the comments below!
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