Breastfeeding and Feminism International Conferences (BFIC)

Following the publication of abstracts from the Breastfeeding and Feminism International Conference 2016 in International Breastfeeding Journal (Volume 11, Supplement 1), Sally Dowling reviews the history of the conference and what this collection of abstracts tells us about this year’s conference.

Breastfeeding and Feminism International Conference (originally the Breastfeeding and Feminism Symposium – see the full list of past events here – has been running annual meetings since 2005, when Paige Hall Smith, from the University of North Carolina in Greensboro, US organized the first event, for about forty attendees.

I have to confess to being a bit star-struck at this first conference and felt very privileged to meet these amazing women

I was lucky enough to first attend in 2010 (in Greensboro), presenting both at the conference (a tiny affair compared to the conference held in Chapel Hill this year!) and participating in a meeting of potential contributors to a book to be published following the conference.

This project came to fruition as Beyond Health, Beyond Choice, edited by Paige Hall Smith, Miriam Labbok and Bernice Hausman and published in 2012 by Rutgers University Press. I have to confess to being a bit star-struck at this first conference and felt very privileged to meet these amazing women whose work I had been reading back in the UK as a (then) doctoral student.

Over the years the symposia have grown, both in size and stature. They are now attended by hundreds of delegates and bring together academics from a wide range of disciplines and many countries, with activists, practitioners and policy-makers at all levels.

As the Breastfeeding and Feminism International Conference website notes ‘the symposia have focused attention on how health system and public health approaches to breastfeeding must go beyond promotion and must include serious consideration of the realities of women’s lives, which are complicated by structural inequities. Feminists investigate these inequities through gender, race, and class analysis. The symposia also have yielded multiple publications and presentations for the global community of scholars and practitioners’.

I’ve now been lucky enough to have attended four Breastfeeding and Feminism events (often the only person from the UK!) and have gained so much from being at them all. Bringing my interests in public health, feminism and breastfeeding together in one place, meeting so many amazing people (some of whom are now friends or have become academic collaborators), listening to inspirational speakers and taking part in great discussions – it has always been stimulating as well as fun!

Miriam was involved in the organization of the conferences from the early days; she always very kind and encouraging

BFIC 2016

This year was especially poignant as it was last occasion many of us spent any time with Dr Miriam Labbok, who passed away this summer (read a tribute to her here) Miriam was involved in the organization of the conferences from the early days; she always very kind and encouraging to me (as well as forthright in her feedback) and I know I amongst many from all over the world who will miss her very much.

The theme of this year’s event, held in Chapel Hill, NC, USA, from 20–22 March 2016, was Advancing Breastfeeding Policy and Advocacy: Focus on Work and Poverty. There were key note speakers, panel and concurrent sessions, over two and a half days. The 33 abstracts in this Supplement to International Breastfeeding Journal represent the spread of work presented at this year’s event. Authors are from Australia, the UK, Canada, Puerto Rico and from all across the US.

The breadth of the subject matter mirrors those now represented at the conference – the range of women’s experiences, the cultural and social situations in which they breastfeed, legal and other structural barriers to breastfeeding, including the aggressive marketing by artificial milk substitute manufacturers. The subject matter is not new to those interested in Breastfeeding and Feminism but, as with attendance at the conference itself, it should prove stimulating and interesting to a wide audience.

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