Horrified lactivists find giving others control over infant feeding decisions isn’t such a great idea after all

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Oh, the irony!

Lactivists are outraged that an Australian judge has banned a mother from breastfeeding because of the theoretical risk to the baby of a mother’s recent tattoo.

According to ABC Australia:

A judge has banned a mother from breastfeeding because she got a tattoo, ruling the woman’s decision to get it four weeks earlier exposed her 11-month-old baby to an unacceptable risk of harm.

Federal Circuit Court Judge Matthew Myers’ decision to grant an injunction to stop the woman from breastfeeding her son comes despite the mother recording negative results on hepatitis and HIV tests.

Judge Myers said there was still an unacceptable risk to the baby because the tests were not conclusive.

Before we go any farther, let me declare in the strongest possible terms that I too am outraged, but hardly surprised. This is the inevitable result of a lactivist culture that claims that babies’ needs trump mothers’ needs.

This is the inevitable result of a lactivist culture that claims that babies’ needs trump mothers’ needs.

Consider this quote from Dr. Ruth Lawrence, leading lactivist and professor of pediatrics and obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Rochester School of Medicine:

When choosing a feeding method, a woman should first decide what is best for her infant and then secondarily what method is best for her.

And that’s just what the Australian judge did, relying on on material published by the Australian Breastfeeding Association about the theoretical risks of maternal tattoos to a breastfeeding baby.

He decided that while the mother might think that a tattoo is best for her, it poses a theoretical risk to the baby. Since, as lactivists like Dr. Lawrence believe that any risk to a baby trumps a mother’s autonomy, he moved to prevent any risk, even a theoretical risk to the baby.

That reminds me of something. What might it be? Oh, I remember! It reminds me of the reasoning behind the obnoxiously named Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative.

As I wrote earlier this week (Women can’t reclaim their agency from doctors by giving it to midwives and lactation consultants):

The name “Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative” is a deliberate slap in the face to women.

It reflects the professional lactivists’ beliefs that they know better than women what is best for them and their babies, and, it is the apogee of mother shaming.

… These zealots explicitly deprive women of agency. The assumptions behind the BFHI are that women cannot be trusted to make decisions for their infants, they must be hectored into breastfeeding, any alternative must be made as inconvenient as possible, and that bottlefeeding or combo feeding mothers can and should be deprived of valuable infant formula gifts.

In the wake of the judge’s decision, lactivists have rediscovered women’s autonomy. ABC Australia interviewed Rebecca Naylor, chief executive of the Australian Breastfeeding Association:

Ms Naylor also flagged broader concerns about the wider implications of the ruling, saying it raised questions about a judge’s right to control the risk taking behaviours of women.

“Does that mean that women who expose themselves to any sort of risks around the contraction of a blood-borne virus… shouldn’t be allowed to breast feed?” she said.

“Of course we have to consider the risk to babies, and I’m not in any way dismissing that.

“Women do need to be careful. “They’re feeding a child, it’s going to be their main source of nutrition up until they’re 12 months of age, so you do have to be careful.

“But it doesn’t mean that you have to wrap yourself in glad wrap.”

But Ms. Naylor, according to Dr. Lawrence and other lactivists, doesn’t what’s best for babies trumps what’s best for mothers?

But my favorite quote comes from lactivist Karleen Gribble of the University of Western Sydney:

I think when it comes to mothers and breastfeeding, we need to consider that mothers are people, they do things.

Sometimes there’s a risk associated with what they do, but we generally think that they don’t need to protect their children from all risk and it [comes down to] considering, is this a reasonable risk?

You don’t say, Karleen. Does that mean going forward you plan to acknowledge that when it comes to deciding between breastfeeding, bottle feeding or both, we need to consider that mothers are people, too? Do you plan to apologize to women for the shaming tactics of lactivists that imply that women must protect their children from even the theoretical “risks” of bottle feeding?

I’m guessing “NO,” because shaming other mothers for their feeding choices is just too delicious to surrender without a struggle.

How did we get to a place where a judge believes it is okay to ban a woman from breastfeeding because of theoretical risks of her tattoo?

We got here courtesy of lactivists who believe that women can’t be trusted to make feeding decisions for their babies and others should be allowed to decide for them.

Irony, indeed!

  • Renee Martin

    Mothers are people? Whaaaat?
    Next you will tell me that women are people too!
    *snark

  • Daleth
    • Roadstergal

      Great articles, for sure.

  • Who?

    The decision has been overturned: it appears there was more to the story than met the eye.

    http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/australia-news-blog/2015/jun/19/tattooed-mother-has-court-breastfeeding-ban-overturned-on-appeal

    • Sue

      That looks like an appalling process!

      Decisions made in the context of family law disputes can be difficult to understand.

      • Who?

        It’s a blunt instrument. The judges have to exercise the wisdom of Solomon. Much more than meets the eye in this case by the look of it.

    • KL

      Can someone shed some light on why in the world a woman shouldn’t breastfeed due to PPD? If you’re struggling and it’s causing the depression by all means you should stop, but if that’s not the case is there some reason I’m unaware of that breastfeeding wouldn’t be ok for the baby of a depressed woman?

      • anotheramy

        Some (many?) antidepressants are transferred via breastmilk and not safe for babies.

        • KL

          It seems there are quite a few antidepressants that are safe. This to me is more of an issue of stigma surrounding depression and a belief that a depressed woman is not a good mother. Someone rudely told me that women with postpartum depression “don’t bond with their babies, it’s so sad.” This statement is judgemental, offensive, and false.

  • MLE

    You have my vote

    • demodocus

      Not me; you have to be dead to be on American money.

  • MegaMechaMeg

    If I had to guess I would say that he is looking to take custody of the child. As long as the kid is breastfed he will have a hard time getting primary custody but if he can force the mother to switch to formula then he can move for full custody with no physical impedement.

    • Mattie

      Did I miss something, is there a custody issue going on? Is that how the judge found out about the tattoo/breastfeeding thing?

      • MegaMechaMeg

        The articles I have read say that this lawsuit is initated by the father as part of a contentious breakup. The goal can’t be the safety of the child because the mother has been tested and is just fine, so what other reason could he have for not wanting his child to be breastfed? In a lot of situations where the parents breakup, child custody becomes the primary weapon where one parent will try to punish the other by taking away their parental rights. No judge in their right mind would take a nursing infant away from its mother so it feels a lot like the father was searching for any bullshit reason to force the mother to wean with the ultimate goal being a custody suit.

        • AAJV

          I didn’t read the article, but some fathers actually just want equal access to and custody of their children. And some mothers use breastfeeding as an excuse to keep their children away from the child’s non-breastfeeding parent. Perhaps your comment is a reflection of this particular father’s motive, but I hate the assumption that men (or non-gestational parents) can’t want (and don’t deserve) equal custody of their children (yes, even the ones that are breastfed).

          • MegaMechaMeg

            You know, I actually was making an effort to be gender neutral in my comment. I am sorry if I came off as saying that fathers are not equal parents, and it did occur to me that the mother in this scenario could be using nursing vindictively as you said. I do feel though that under a year using the court system to force an infant to discontinue breastfeeding cold turkey, particularly as the only justification that the father could come up with was a recent tattoo.

            The only point I wanted to make was that this court case is most likely more about child custody than the safety of breastfeeding while tattooed, at least from the father’s perspective.

          • Froggggggg

            Yeah, I think you guys could be on to something. We don’t really “do” custody in Australia, per se – shared parental responsibility is the default and it takes quite a lot for a court to remove that from one parent. Breastfeeding is definitely one of only a few reasons why a mother could withhold a child from its father and get away with it, so maybe that’s the angle this dispute took – trying to find a reason to stop the mother from breastfeeding. But I’m just guessing it could be something like that, and that’s why the courts got involved. The article doesn’t really go into much detail.

      • Wombat

        I was a little confused at this comment at first, but if you click through to the source article the reason the judge was involved/deciding on this was the baby’s father bringing up the tattoo during a custody dispute.

    • Roadstergal

      Someone from Australia commented on the FB post to the effect that in Australia, the woman can keep the father from having overnight visitation as long as she’s breastfeeding. If this is part of a custody dispute where BF affects how much access the father can have, it certainly does make it clearer to me how a judge might get involved…

      • The Bofa on the Sofa

        That makes sense

  • seasiren

    Yes, I will go with what’s best for the baby first, “Dr.” Lawrence – having a mom who is not insane with sleep deprivation so her depression kicks back on. So she can go to work to make sure said baby had a roof over her head, clean diapers and health insurance should she get sick. That is what is best for baby.

    How ironic that these idiot lactivists are getting bit in the butt with their own rhetoric. If it makes me a bad person to bask in their discomfort, so be it. Basking like a lizard under a heat lamp.

  • Zoey

    I think this judge would have a field day with the lactivist-supported practice of purchasing or receiving donated breast milk off the internet from strangers.

  • I’m guessing the child will be exposed to far more risk from the local playground’s sandbox in a few months time than the risk associated with it’s mother’s post-tattoo breastmilk. If that’s the standard for risk aversion in parenting – we should all be very, very worried.

  • demodocus

    The kid’s been nursing post-tattoo for a month. *If* his mother had developed hepatitis or something from it, wouldn’t he already have it? I don’t get that judge.
    So, according to some of these lactivist folks, the mother’s autonomy to get a tattoo is good, but her autonomy to take the only (bad for babies) medication that keeps her from jumping off a cliff with her newborn is bad? Makes sense.

  • The Bofa on the Sofa

    Sometimes there’s a risk associated with what they do, but we generally think that they don’t need to protect their children from all risk

    …as long as they breastfeed.

  • OttawaAlison

    As the whole Dr. Lawrence and choosing the feeding method. I did put my daughter first – when the milk wasn’t flowing I supplemented with formula. It was what was best for my daughter. No regrets.

  • Dr Kitty

    Seriously though…the judge’s decision is…not evidence based…Unless the tattoo was some sort of prison stick-and-poke job with a dirty needle.

    There is almost no risk from getting a tattoo with a disposable single use needle in a licensed and inspected reputable tattoo parlour.

    Obviously this was all part of a very acrimonious relationship breakdown and baby’s father seeking power and control.

    • guest

      I was once shamed and rejected by a Red Cross blood drive for having had a cartilage ear piercing several months before (done at an established piercing and tattoo parlor). I want them to be as safe as they can be, but the shaming was wholly unnecessary.

      • Dr Kitty

        The UK has noted that the increase in tattoos and piercings has seriously affected amount of young people in the donor pool, in particular people who get multiple tattoos a few months apart, which isn’t that uncommon. Tattoos and piercings have a month deferral with extra testing of the blood if the tattoo or piercing was done within a year.

        The blood donation rules are a bit arbitrary.

        Despite documented cases of blood borne virus transmission from acupuncture, acupuncture doesn’t cause deferral of donation in the same way that tattoos and piercings do if the acupuncturist is a member of a professional organisation.

        I can’t donate blood because the only time I meet the minimum weight requirements is when I’m pregnant or immediately post natal!

        • Dr Kitty

          sorry- 4 month deferral period for tattoos and piercings- not one month.

        • SporkParade

          In Israel, you have to wait 6 months after getting acupuncture, but you’re banned for life if you’ve lived more than 6 months in the British Isles. 🙂

          • Monkey Professor for a Head

            The British Isles thing is the same in the Republic of Ireland and Australia too – it’s because of the CJD thing I believe

          • Daleth

            Same in the US. Yep, it’s because of Mad Cow.

          • Dr Kitty

            Yeah, we’re all doomed to die from CJD in the UK, so we can have each other’s blood (not really, prion diseases don’t seem to be as big of an issue as we feared).

            Don’t even start me on the “two monogamous, happily married gay men can’t donate but the straight person having unprotected sex with Tinder right-swipes of unknown provenance three times a week is A-OK”.

            The guidance assumes all gay and bisexual men lie about their fidelity, while straight people only have HIV if they use drugs or are involved in sex work.

          • SporkParade

            Exactly.

        • guest

          I can no longer donate in the US because I lived in the UK for a period of time when the whole mad cow thing happened. I guess there is no test for prions, so it’s fine, but I had enjoyed being able to help people that way, and I guess I will never be able to again.

          • Kelly

            My husband was born in an area with mad cow disease. Does it stay in the system or something? Is there a reason for banning someone for life? I would like him to be able to give blood so we can know what his blood type is. I am RH- and both of my kids are RH-. It makes me wonder if he is too.

          • Phascogale

            Kelly, next time he needs a blood test ask the doctor to add his blood group. You don’t need to give blood to find out your blood group.

          • Kelly

            He never goes to the doctor and I have tried to get him to go for an annual. My Mom tried to find out her blood type and they told her she would have to pay for it.

          • Mattie

            You can always get one of those testing kits they use in schools 🙂

          • Kelly

            Are they accurate? Even if not, it sounds like fun.

          • Mattie

            I imagine there’s always going to be a level of human error that could get an inaccurate result, but they’re pretty simple 🙂

          • Who?

            Huz and I can’t donate in Oz for the same reason. It’s really disappointing. And our two now adult kids born over there-we lived there until no2 was a year old-can’t either.

      • demodocus

        They have some rules I don’t get. Apparently, I can give blood again if my husband and I use condoms for 12 months, but he’s banned for life. (he was sexually assaulted by a man 21 years ago). I can sort of understand the extreme paranoia, but *if* he had an STD (the Cleveland Clinic says he doesn’t) wouldn’t I be at far more risk of catching it from him overall, since we were trying for our baby for years?

        • Azuran

          yea, those rules are sometimes weird like that. I’m in the same situation as you because my current boyfriend had oral sex once with another guy when they were 14 and both virgins.
          Yet, sharing a drug needle with someone else or prostitution only gets me banned for 6 months.

      • Wombat

        What I don’t get/hate is the lack of solid/hardline distinction between chronic and non-chronic forms of hepatitis. My fiance had Hep A from a school cafeteria outbreak in middle school (so he was over the very arbitrary age of 11/12…. I realize it is not delicate, but they need to change that to ‘possible exposure’). Fully recovered, no issues. As far as I understand it, the IGG antibodies for Hep A do not pose any kind of long term risk. I’m sure they are just being as safe as possible, since they don’t want to sit there proving he had A rather than B or C, but damn, really? It also kind of leaves me in limbo since the guidelines in some clinics are written as generally (they are allowed to have their own standards on some tenants – including Hep – as long as they go stricter not looser) as ‘sexual partner disqualified for hepatitis’.

        I realize that they are trying to be as safe and efficient as possible, but c’mon. With the issues with donor supply, and the fact that it’s entirely unpaid… I feel like that distinction needs to be made, or at least needs to be put in the category of ‘explain to the onsite medical screener’ (some locations do treat it as such, but it is not universal). The blood products are still screened afterwards, it’s not like we’re still in the time where Hep C was a total crapshoot.

    • Wombat

      Sorry Dr Kitty, mis-reply, should have gone under guest below c:

    • Tosca

      The sources don’t say where she got it, If it was a licensed place in Australia, risk is minimal. Some guy in his garage with a tattoo machine he bought on the internet? Rather less minimal. On a cheap package tour to Bali? Yeah, high risk; there is at least one documented case of an Australian getting HIV from a Bali tattoo.

      The case is due for urgent review today and I will watch with interest. I’ll be pretty surprised if it’s not overturned.

  • Roadstergal

    And proper irony, not the Alanis Morisette kind.
    Interesting timing. I was just looking up some old links on Christine Maggiore for a friend yesterday, who hadn’t heard about… all that. Breast is best, even if you’re HIV positive and don’t believe in anti-retroviral drugs…

    • Wombat

      Ugh, I read all about her and her daughter’s death, and the ‘movement’ superstar’s various reactions and denials (though one was ‘Holy shit guys we might be wrong’ – gave me a tiny bit of hope) one time while I was waiting for my now fiance to come out of surgery. It sure distracted me from worrying needlessly about him, that’s for damn sure.

  • guest

    I am dying. Karleen Gribble is one of the lactivists least accepting of formula feeding. She used to troll the Fearless Formula Feeder page claiming to be supportive and wanting to learn, until her hypocrisy was outed. Maybe she’s had a total change of heart over the last year since she disappeared from there, but I doubt it. For her to claim that she doesn’t think we need to protect women’s children from “all risk” is hilarious. This is the woman who thought babies would be irreparably harmed because women don’t know how to account for the surface tension of water in a baby bottle when mixing formula (IIRC – she was very big on comparing measurements between bottles because they aren’t identical – which they aren’t, but how many babies have gotten sick because 4 oz. in an Avent bottle is *slightly* different than 4 oz. in a Playtex nurser? Talk about being keen on protecting children from “all risk”!)

    • guest

      It’s also worth noting that Gribble liked to have people call her “Dr.,” but she is not a medical doctor. She just wants you to think she is when she’s talking about infant feeding.

      And as I am also a doctor of the not-medical kind, this isn’t me being jealous or anti-intellectual. It is appropriate for PhDs to be called “Dr.,” but it is imperative that we do not misuse our title to imply we have medical expertise when we do not.

      • Allie

        Exactly. Karleen Gribble’s degree is in agricultural sciences.
        She used to give what amounted to medical advice to moms with feeding difficulties on the Fearless Formula Feeder, using a FB account named DR Karleen Gribble. Anyone who didn’t go through the bother of googling her resume would believe she was a medical doctor.
        Her sudden disappearance from the FFF had a lot to do with people pointing out that she was misrepresenting herself as an MD.

        • guest

          Yes, I was involved in pressuring her to be more transparent about her use of “Dr.” It would not have been hard for her to use “Karleen Gribble, PhD” to indicate she had an advanced degree without making it look like she was a medical doctor. It’s not that no on calls PhDs “Dr.,” but that in a health and medicine context, you have to clarify.

        • Mel

          *blinks*

          She has an ag science advanced degree but is worried about the few milliliter difference in volume between bottle types leading to infant formula dilution because of water tension?

          I’m with Bofa – I want to see her dissertation. Also, the credentials of the members of her committee…..

      • The Bofa on the Sofa

        Got any info on her PhD? Was it from Australia? Dissertation Abstracts has some UK theses, but I don’t know about any from Australia. I don’t see hers.

        • guest

          I believe it was from an Australian institution, and in botany or something else plant-related. I’m not sure how to look it up – she makes sure never to mention the discipline in her lactation publications.

    • Roadstergal

      Has anyone ever clued her in to the variability in water content in breast milk?

      • guest

        If not, someone should.

    • OttawaAlison

      She was beyond obsessed with the whole measurements thing, which I can understand can be an issue especially using the old-fashioned Playtex bags. I told her I weighed the water to get an exact measurement. She seemed perplexed when I told her that (and I know many others that used measuring cups, not just the indicators on the side of the bottle… again that surprised her too, like you know, many moms are careful when preparing formula and that we don’t prepare it haphazardly). Though I never used Avent, but if they’re accurate, then use them.

      • Mel

        I guess I can see that if you are using the old-school bags – but infant formula has a pretty wide range of safe dilution values.

        I’ve never heard of a child getting overly diluted formula in a developed country due to parents mis-measuring in a bottle.

        Even typing it makes it seem weird.

        • The Bofa on the Sofa

          Someone has no clue about the concept of uncertainty in measurements. There is nothing physiological that requires such precise quantities. The body buffers itself very well to allow for a lot of leeway, which is good, because there is a lot of variation in inputs.

          As has been pointed out, there’s plenty of variation in breastmilk, not just among mothers but among feedings. It doesn’t matter.

          And in the end, who cares whether the 4 oz mark on one bottle is slightly different from on another? If you are making powdered formula, what matters more is how much mix you put in. If one feeding they get 1 scoop of mix in 3.8 oz of water, and in another feeding they get 1 scoop of mix in 4.2 oz of water, that doesn’t make a lick of a difference. Who cares?

          Now, if you have so much water that they only consume 1/4 of a scoop of formula in 4 ± 1 oz, that is a difference. And so if you are “diluting formula” by only putting 1/4 scoop in the 4ish oz bottle, that’s a problem. But if it’s one scoop, it’s one scoop. So what?

          • guest

            Exactly. I measured water in the bottles. I never thought it was an exact, scientific measurement, but why should it need to be? I thought of it more like cooking than preparing a formula. You need one cup of water to make two servings of oatmeal. You don’t water it down excessively because that makes the oatmeal gross and doesn’t increase the amount of food you’ve made from a nutritional standpoint. But if I have slightly more or less than one cup of water mixed with my oatmeal and I eat my full serving, it’s nutritionally identical.

          • Kelly

            Honestly, I always get to a point where I get seriously lazy. I don’t worry about the measurements as long as it is good enough. If a bottle does not finish, I put it back in the fridge. I wash bottles with hot water but do not sanitize or put them in the dish washer every time. We only had four bottles, it worked well for us but we did have to keep washing them. We did not follow all the rules and both of my children are fine. I just got to the point where it was good enough.

          • The Bofa on the Sofa

            But “good enough” is all you need, because, in fact, there is no distinguishable difference between “good enough” and “perfect”, especially considering that no one knows what “perfect” really means in the first place.

            Sure, the directions say “1 scoop in 4 ounces of water” but given the actual significance of the numbers (recall lessons on “significant figures” in introductory science classes), that leaves a lot of leeway.

            Consider the comparison to cooking above. Think about a cake recipe that calls for 3 eggs. How big is an egg? Sure, there are differences between large, extra large and jumbo, or whatever, but there is still variation. And yet, even in something like baking where the proper combination of proteins, starch and other sugars can be very critical, they aren’t that critical that you have to weigh your egg content. Betty Crocker will tell you, “Use three large eggs. Good enough.”

            Shit, Alton Brown doesn’t even weigh his egg yolk and egg whites. He just cracks the egg in.

          • guest

            I get all confused when recipes specify a certain number of eggs – should they be small, medium, large, or jumbo???

          • Nick Sanders

            Pretty sure the convention is either medium or large unless specified otherwise, at least in professional publications.

          • The Bofa on the Sofa

            Typically large (according to wikipedia)

            Medium eggs have a mass of 1.7 – 2.0 oz. Large eggs are 2.0 – 2.2 oz. So large eggs can vary in size by as much as 6 g. Using a specific gravity of 1.5 as an estimate (eggs sink in water), that means variation of maybe 4 ml in volume.

          • guest

            Oh good, I usually buy large eggs. I mean, I haven’t noticed a problem with my cooking, but heaven knows I want it to be scientifically exact JUST IN CASE.

          • Mattie

            I believe it’s medium unless otherwise specified, when making sponge cake you should weigh your eggs and then use the same amount of butter/margarine, flour, sugar. Tbh I never bother with that, I just eyeball how much egg is enough, but then I’ve made a lot of cakes lol

          • Medwife

            It’s not like they’re correcting hyponatremia by IV. They’re feeding their baby. How ridiculous to jump on the accuracy of formula volume given.