Insisting that “breast is best” is like insisting that “heterosexual is best”

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I’ve written many times that I consider lactivism in general and the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative to be unscientific, harmful and often unethical. Why? Because insisting that “breast is best” is no different than insisting that “heterosexual is best.” Both reflect prejudice, not science.

Although lactivists like to invoke “science” to support their claim that breast is best, their reasoning has much more in common with religion than science.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Both imply that a choice was made when there was never any choice at all.[/pullquote]


1. Lactivists claim that women are “designed” to breastfeed. Science tells us that women aren’t “designed” at all; they are products of evolution. It is religion that insists on a designer and a design.

2. Lactivists claim that breastfeeding is nearly always perfect because it is natural. If science teaches us anything, it is that ‘natural’ is not a synonym for perfection. Hurricanes and earthquakes are entirely natural and generally quite harmful.

3. Lactivists claim that the fact that “we are still here” means that breastfeeding always works. That’s just a riff on the claim that breastfeeding is perfect, implying that our survival depends on perfection. Science teaches us that only the fittest survive, not everyone; and that survival is perfectly compatible with failure, imperfection and variation.

It’s easier to see the religious nature of these arguments when you realize that they are the exact same arguments that are often made to justify discrimation against gay people.

1. Homophobes insist that people are “designed” to have sexual relations with the opposite sex.

2. Homophobes insist that heterosexuality is best because it is natural.

3. Homophobes insist that heterosexuality is perfect because “we are still here,” implying that we wouldn’t be here if homosexuality were also natural. Science teaches us that population growth does not require that every individual have offspring.

Homophobia is rooted in a religious belief that homosexuality violates God’s “design.” Lactivism is rooted in the near religious belief that formula feeding violates nature’s “design.”

For many homophobes, their antipathy to gay people is rooted in the religious belief that sexuality is a choice. For many lactivists, their antipathy to women who don’t breastfeed is rooted in their belief that there are no women who are unable to breastfeed, only those who are unwilling. In other words, it’s a choice.

Many homophobes are advocates of gay conversion therapy, based on the idea that with enough “support,” gay people would become heterosexual. It is axiomatic for lactivists that women who can’t or don’t breastfeed are suffering from lack of support. According to their reasoning, if only women were only supported more, they would always be able to breastfeed.

Many homophobes blame contemporary culture for promoting homosexuality. Loose sexual morals, acceptance of difference, and the injunction against discriminating against gay people combine to make homosexuality an acceptable and therefore attractive choice. In the absence of a permissive culture, homosexuality would be non-existent. Nearly all lactivists blame contemporary culture for promoting formula feeding. In their view, acknowledging that insufficient breastmilk is common, pain is common, inconvenience is common combine to make formula feeding an attractive choice. In the absence of formula industry marketing, formula feeding would be non-existent.

It is easy to recognize the self-serving moralism of homophobes. It is harder to recognize the self-serving moralism of lactivists, but it is no less serious and harmful. The difference is that, through education, we have become sensitized to the ugly reasoning behind homophobia. Homophobia is inevitably about some people feeling superior to others.

Unfortunately, because of relentless efforts to promote breastfeeding as an unmitigated — and always perfect — good, we can’t always appreciate the ugly reasoning behind lactivism. It is inevitably about some mothers feeling superior to others.

Claiming that “breast is best” is like insisting that “heterosexual is best.” It implies that what is common must therefore be superior; it refuses to acknowledge individual variation; and most egregiously it invokes choice where there is often no choice.

Hopefully most of us recognize that claiming that “heterosexual is best” is nothing more than prejudice. It is love that makes a relationship, not corresponding sexual organs.

It’s time to recognize that “breast is best” also reflects prejudice. Motherhood is powered by love, not breastmilk.