Warning! Warning! Warning! Personal opinion ahead!
Every breastfeeding post I write leads to multiple comments about the physical and mental gymnastics some new mothers put themselves through in order to breastfeed. I hear about women who breastfeed every two hours PLUS use a SNS breastfeeding assist system PLUS pump their breasts afterward to further stimulate milk production, typically on the advice of a lactation consultant who found breastfeeding relatively easy.
Have lactation consultants lost their minds? Their “advice” is barbaric, cruel and not in any way justified by scientific evidence.
Let’s start with the baseline reality:
IN FIRST WORLD COUNTRIES, BREASTFEEDING IS SIMPLY NOT THAT IMPORTANT!
There. I said it. The claims about the benefits of breastfeeding are NOT supported by the scientific evidence, which is weak, conflicting and riddled with confounding variables. All things being equal, breastfeeding is best, but then all things being equal naturally occurring 20/20 vision is best, too.
But in real life, what’s best isn’t necessarily what happens. Eyes may be perfectly designed to see 20/20, but fully 30% of Americans are nearsighted. That’s why we have glasses and contacts. They are not ideal when compared to naturally occurring 20/20 vision, but they are close enough that it really doesn’t matter.
Similarly, in real life, breasts may be perfectly designed to provide adequate breastmilk, but 5% or more of women don’t make adequate milk. That’s why we have formula. Though formula is not ideal when compared to natural occurring exclusive breastfeeding, it is close enough that IT REALLY DOESN’T MATTER!
I realize that the income of lactation consultants depends on pretending that breastfeeding is vitally important, but it isn’t. Lactation consultants appear to have become every bit as unscrupulous as the formula companies they claim to despise. They promote their product far beyond what any scientific evidence shows, without regard for the impact of that advice on either babies or mothers.
Let’s add in another baseline reality:
BEING A NEW MOTHER IS HARD!
It is a tremendous physical and emotional adjustment, compounded by hormonal changes that can lead to the “baby blues” or true depression.
If we want to SUPPORT new mothers, and we claim that we do, we should be supporting their physical recovery and emotional adjustment. That means ensuring that they get enough sleep to fully heal, enough support with ALL aspects of mothering to feel competent, and enough reassurance that the most important each baby needs is maternal love, NOT breastmilk, and not a perfect mother.
Really supporting new mothers would ensure that they get enough sleep to function, that their babies are fed to satiety, and that they enjoy the time they spend interacting with their babies.
You will notice that breastfeeding is not among those vital needs. So will someone please explain to me how people and programs that claim to support new mothers, from lactation consultants to the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative, IGNORE women’s most vital needs?
The reality is that they do, and they should be ashamed of themselves because they do.
The sad fact is that these people and programs are NOT supporting new mothers, they are supporting the breastfeeding industry, with its consultants, and equipment, and supplements and aids. And in their near religious devotion to the idea of breastfeeding, they are so cruel as to be barbaric.
All newborns must room in in order to support breastfeeding? How can a new mother get desperately needed sleep if she isn’t allowed to hand her baby off to professionals for a few hours? She can’t and that’s cruel.
Formula must be locked up in hospitals? How can a mother soothe a baby screaming from hunger before he or she learns to nurse effectively without formula? In many cases she can’t, and she becomes frantic with anxiety even before she leaves the hospital. That’s cruel.
Every woman must visited by a lactation consultant? Why? Did her right to control her own body come out with the placenta? It’s no one’s business whether a woman breastfeeds except her own. Anything else is profoundly antifeminist.
Every woman must exclusively feed breastmilk, and must engage in an endless cycle of feeding, supplementing with SNS and pumping? Are you people insane? It places the value of breastmilk above a woman’s emotional and physical health, and her ability to bond with her baby. That is barbaric!
There are so many people to blame for this barbarism, that’s it’s difficult to know where to begin. Obviously lactation consultants and lactivists organizations like the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (talk about an oxymoron!) bear the brunt of the blame. It’s business for them, and they put the health of their business ahead of the health of their patients, both babies and mothers.
But there’s plenty of blame to go around. Many physicians have elevated breastfeeding to the “holy grail” of mothering going far, far beyond what the scientific evidence shows. Many research scientists start their research papers with the conclusion that breastfeeding must be encouraged and that women should receive more breastfeeding support (in other words, more business for the lactivist industry) and simply ignore the actual findings that show that while breastfeeding has beneficial effects, in industrialized countries, those benefits are trivial. Public health officials have gotten far out in front of the scientific evidence, grossly exaggerating the benefits and importance of breastfeeding, and using weak, contradictory data riddled with confounding variables to do so.
Let’s finish with what I consider the most important baseline reality:
THE KEY TO A HEALTHY, HAPPY, THRIVING INFANT IS A PHYSICALLY AND EMOTIONALLY HEALTHY MOTHER. That means a mother who is getting enough rest, whose mental health needs are being addressed, and who is able to enjoy substantial amounts of time happily bonding with her child.
Breastmilk is NOT necessary, NOT necessarily best for every mother-infant dyad, and the effort to produce it is positively harmful in some situations.
Do we care about mothers and babies or do we just care about breastmilk?
I care about mothers and babies, and that’s why I’m not afraid to proclaim that telling a new mother that she must breastfeed and use a supplementary feeding system and then pump is cruel, barbaric and not justified by science … not matter how beneficial it is for the lactivism industry.