41015744 - model angry scolding and pointing

I’ve written before about mansplainin’. Mansplainin’ occurs when a man condescendingly explains something to a woman assuming he has a superior understanding since he is a man.

The founders of the natural childbirth movements were mansplainers, assuming that as male physicians they had a better understanding of what women feel during childbirth than women themselves. The fundamental problem with mansplainers is they are so enamored of the sound of their own voices that they never stop to listen. If they listened, truly listened, to women they would realize that women are not merely their intellectual equals, but have specialized knowledge that they as men could never have.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]When a lactivist explains to formula feeders why they choose not to breastfeed.[/pullquote]

I’d like to introduce a new term: lactivist-splainin’.

Lactivist-splainin’ occurs when a lactivist explains to formula feeders why they choose not to breastfeed. The fundamental problem is the same as in mansplainin’: a group of people so enamoured of their own opinions that they never listen to anyone else.

In the past few days I’ve had the typical lactivist-splainin’ experience, when a group of lactivist imagined they would taunt me and then couldn’t address my arguments about the misogynism at the heart of contemporary lactivism. So they fell back on lactivist-splainin’as if their experience of pressuring women to breastfeed gives them greater knowledge of women who choose formula than those women themselves.

For example, this tweet comes from British psychology professor Dr. Amy Brown. It’s a perfect example of the biological essentialism at the heart of lactivism: the believe that women should be defined by and limited to their biology.


We are animals. Mammals. Did you not realize? Or are breasts the animal bit? …

You may remember Dr. Brown from my piece The naked misogyny of pressuring women to breastfeed in which I took her to task for ignoring the results of her own research that 80% of women stop breastfeeding because of pain and difficulty and instead lactivist-splained that they really stop breastfeeding because of lack of understanding and support.

I pointed out to Dr. Brown that insisting that women ought to breastfeed, whether they want to or not, because they have breasts is like insisting that gay women ought to have penetrative intercourse, whether they want to or not, because they have vaginas.


Dr. Brown starts back pedaling.

I’ve never told women to do anything. Just supported.

Really? And what do women think about such “support”? They don’t feel supported; they feel bullied.

A new paper, The emotional and practical experiences of formula-feeding mothers, joins a long list of previous papers in pointing out that lactivist “support” isn’t supportive in the least :

…Given the widespread knowledge of the many merits of breastfeeding among mothers, the moral statuses of those who decide not to breastfeed, or who are unable to, are left in jeopardy. Assuming that every new parent desires the “best” for their infant, the “breast is best” slogan becomes a profoundly moralistic message, rather than a promotional tool to simplify the scientific evidence about the benefits of breastfeeding. This is amplified further by expert claims about the “riskiness” of choosing formula. In this manner, the pro-breastfeeding discourse has become intertwined with broader ideologies of the concept of optimal parenting. This can lead to considerable pressure to conform to infant feeding guidelines in pregnancy and an emotional burden for those who do not manage to adhere to current recommendations in the postnatal period.

That’s not support; that’s bullying.

But lactivist-splainers wouldn’t know how their efforts are received because they aren’t listening to women who can’t or don’t want to breastfeed, or ignoring them when they do listen:

Compared with the large literature on breastfeeding and despite the high percentage of infants receiving formula and the potentially grave consequences for maternal and infant health and wellbeing arising from negative feeding experiences, there is very limited evidence regarding the opinions and experiences of formula-feeding mothers… To our knowledge, no study has explored emotional and practical factors simultaneously nor quantified them in a large sample.

What would lactivist-splanners learn if they ever stopped talking and started listening?

…[A] high percentage of mothers experienced negative emotions including guilt (67%), stigma (68%), and the need to defend their decision (76%) to use formula.

The primary source of these negative feelings was internal, but:

These negative emotions were secondarily driven by health professionals. These feelings may occur as a result of not conforming to health professionals’ recommendations or stem from a perception that health professionals judge formula to be an inferior option. Such conclusions are further reinforced by data revealing that the majority of mothers in this study felt unsupported by health professionals and were more likely to rely on the internet for infant feeding information than seek advice from them…

The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative is recognized as promoting these negative outcomes:

While the BFHI message is critically important in developing countries or high-risk situations (prematurity, very low birth weight) where the relevance for child survival is undisputed, it may be internalized differently among affluent or low-risk populations. The evidence presented here suggests that the current approach to infant feeding promotion and support in higher-income countries may be paradoxically related to significant issues with emotional well-being and may need to be situationally modified…

In other words, while breastfeeding can be lifesaving in developing countries, the benefits are far smaller in places like the US and the UK. In industrialized countries, lactivist efforts do not improve outcomes for babies but instead they damage mothers’ mental health.

And that’s not surprising since regardless of the claims of Dr. Brown and her colleagues, they are not providing support, they are deliberately bullying. Lactivism is often more about making lactivists feel superior for their choices by demeaning women who make different choices.

Dr. Amy Brown and her colleagues need to stop lactivist-splainin’ and start listening. Based on her responses, I’m not hopeful that she or they give a damn.