What if I told you that in an effort to promote weight loss a hospital refuses to provide food to obese patients? If they want to eat, they’ll have to purchase and bring their own.

Disgusting, right?

What if I told you that in an effort to promote contraceptive use a hospital refuses to provide sterile instruments for women desiring termination? If they want to have an abortion, they’ll have to purchase and bring their own.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”#d32b2b” class=”” size=””]Lactimidation is both self-serving and unethical.[/pullquote]

An unconscionable violation of women’s autonomy, right?

Fortunately, those things haven’t happened.

But how about if I tell you than in an effort to promote breastfeeding the Countess of Chester Hospital in the UK refuses to provide formula to new mothers? If they want to feed their babies formula, they’ll have to purchase and bring their own.

It’s true!

The local newspaper report, Countess of Chester Hospital maternity shake-up means new mums will have to provide own formula milk explains:

Staff on the Countess maternity ward are advising expectant mums planning to bottle-feed their babies to include a pack of their own formula feed in their hospital bag, in keeping with other regional maternity units such as Liverpool Women’s Hospital.

Up until now the Countess has always provided ready-made bottles of the mother’s choice of formula, but this latest move is part of a drive to ‘encourage and support’ mums to breastfeed their babies…

Julie Fogarty, head of midwifery services at the Countess, said: “New parents either opt to breast feed or plan ahead and already bring formula feeds with them when coming into hospital.

It’s disgusting; it’s a violation of women’s autonomy; and it’s a prime example of “lactimidation,” the ongoing lactivist campaign to intimidate women into breastfeeding. It operates on the same principle as heckling outside abortion clinics. It’s meant to “encourage” women to breastfeed (or continue unwanted pregnancies) by shaming and browbeating them into making the choice that the intimidators approve.

Lactimidation is the latest battlefront in the lactivist campaign to oversell the benefits of breastfeeding. The truth is that in first world countries like the UK or the US, the benefits of breastfeeding for term infants are trivial, 8% less colds and 8% fewer episodes of diarrhea each year across a country’s entire population of infants. The other benefits claimed are based on research that is weak, conflicting and riddled with confounders.

But one thing is 100% certain, breastfeeding is a business, complete with salaries, products, marketing campaigns and lobbying groups. And the breastfeeding business is doing its damnedest to make sure it captures 100% of the potential market for its goods and services.

Moreover, it’s hardly a coincidence that the breastfeeding industry is dominated by Western, white women, well off women and that those most likely to choose formula feeding are women of color, young women, and poor women, those who have been traditionally underserved and discriminated against. The free formula in hospitals, which would be a trivial expense for most lactivists, represents a substantial expense for these women. That’s the point! It is so much easier to lactimidate poor women of color, and so much more satisfying to punish them for not emulating their “betters.”

Lactimidation is a central tenet of “baby friendly” initiatives to promote breastfeeding among new mothers. As a matter of principle, these initiatives seek to make accessing formula within hospitals as burdensome as possible. Whether that means locking up formula, subjecting women to lectures exaggerating the “benefits” of breastfeeding, banning formula gift bags, or making women buy and bring their own, lactivists intimidate women to enforce conformity with THEIR values about how women should use their own breasts.

Oh, but they’re doing it for the children! NOT!

As the article about the Countess of Chester hospital notes:

But staff strongly emphasise that they will not allow anyone to go without nutritional support and advice for their baby while under their care…

So the hospital is going to stock just as much formula as it ever did. The nurses are simply going to lactimidate women into not requesting it or shame them when they request it anyway.

That is both self-serving and unethical.

The Countess of Chester hospital may be leading the way with its new policy, but it is hardly alone in its efforts to lactimidate women into using their bodies in the lactivst approved way. So called “Baby Friendly” Hospitals in the US have made lactimidation a cornerstone of their policies in order to shame women into breastfeeding whether it is the right choice for them, the right choice for their babies, or even (in the case of women who don’t produce enough breastmilk) when it is an unsafe choice.

Lactimidation is an abomination and it MUST stop.

How can we put an end to lactimidation within hospitals? Suzie Barston, the Fearless Formula Feeder, is assembling lists of hospitals that do and don’t encourage lactimidation so women can make informed choices.

Ultimately, though, women will have to fight back against lactimidation by sharing their stories and exposing the unconscionable pressure applied to new mothers and the harmful results of starving, dehydrated babies, and shame and guilt wracked new mothers.

We need to name these policies for what they are: naked, ugly attempts to intimidate women into breastfeeding.

I’d be grateful to anyone who wishes to share their story with others. Just tag it with #lactimidation on Facebook or Twitter and we will be able to find it when we search.