A lactavist is someone who advocates for women who breastfeed their children, and often takes this advocacy to the streets, halls of the Capitol, and opinion columns of local papers. The term “lactavist” is a reference to the Latin word for milk, and a reminder of the fundamental purpose of lactavism, which is to educate people about breastfeeding. While some nursing mothers are also lactavists, you do not need to be a parent to speak out positively about breastfeeding, and some lactavists are even bottle feeders.
Also, not every nursing mother is a lactavist, although some find themselves becoming one after dealing with adverse reactions to public breastfeeding. Lactavism is about providing people with useful information so that they can make an informed decision about breastfeeding, and a lactavist ultimately hopes that people simply consider all the options when thinking about infant care and nutrition.
While bottle feeding is a valid method for providing infant nutrition, in the 1990s many parents began to feel that breastfeeding was a better option. Most women produce milk after pregnancy and can use it to provide balanced, proper nutrition to their infants, making costly formula seem like a strange choice. There are some cases in which formula feeding is necessary: sometimes women do not produce enough milk, for example, or an infant has an adverse reaction to its mother's milk. In other cases, women use a mixture of the breast and the bottle, pumping breast milk for bottle feedings when the mother is not around.
One of the most famous lactavist organizations is La Leche League, an international organization which provides information about parenting and breastfeeding to nursing mothers and society in general. Along with other lactavist groups, La Leche League tries to educate parents about their choices, and is supportive of women regardless as to how they feed their children. La Leche League believes that breast milk is the most ideal food for developing infants until they express a desire for solids, and that breastfeeding builds a better relationship between mothers and children. In addition to educating women and health professionals about breastfeeding, lactavists also talk about proper nutrition for mother and baby, and provide parenting classes.
Many lactavist organizations, especially in the United States, also deal with the issue of public breastfeeding. Some might disagree with the classification of public breastfeeding as an “issue,” as it is a natural act which has been performed for millions of years. However, some people feel uncomfortable with the sight of a mother and nursing infant, even if minimal skin is being showed. Lactavists educate people about the role of breastfeeding in the lives of mothers and children, and fight for the right to breastfeed peacefully and respectfully in public.
Many progressive breastfeeding laws, as well as activist “nurse-ins,” are the result of lactavist organizing. In many parts of the world, businesses must provide a clean, safe space for mothers to nurse in which is not a bathroom; as lactavists point out, adults do not eat in bathrooms, so why should infants? Lactavism has also paved the way to clear laws about public breastfeeding and how nursing mothers should be treated in hospitals, the workplace, and while out in public. Lactavists have also tried to desexualize the role of the breast in Western society so that mothers can feed their children without discomfort.