I recently wrote about the way that lactivists, including lactation professionals, invoke “lack of support” as a rationale for ignoring women who can’t or don’t want to breastfeed.
Tell lactivists that you don’t want to breastfeed and they’ll insist that you would want to breastfeed if only you received support.
Tell lactivists that breastfeeding is painful and they’ll insist that it wouldn’t be painful if you had received support.
Tell lactivists that you don’t produce enough breastmilk and they’ll tell you that is a misperception due to lack of support or, alternatively, that you would be producing enough if only you had the correct support.
That explains why lactation professionals feel perfectly justified in ignoring both women who have breastfeeding difficulties and the infant disabilities and death that result in ignoring those difficulties.
In the best case scenario they are deluded; in the worst case scenario, they are lying.
But that doesn’t explain why lactation professionals feel justified in ignoring and vilifying me. Consider this recent Twitter exchange.
I had been taking Prof. Amy Brown to task in the wake of baby Landon’s death from dehydration due to insufficient breastmilk. Although Brown was willing to acknowledge that breastfeeding can be deadly, she refused to acknowledge just how often insufficient breastmilk occurs. The incidence is not rare; it is common. Brown didn’t give a small number; she knew I would ask for proof and she wouldn’t be able to provide any. She refused to give any number at all.
Pediatrician Dan Flanders parachuted in to offer what he presumably thought was a witty response:
I consider it an honor to be the target of Amy’s trollery.
Not to put to fine a point on it, but my academic credentials are likely superior to either those of Dr. Flanders or Prof. Brown. Moreover, since I breastfed my own four children I probably have as much or more experience breastfeeding as Prof. Brown and infinitely more than Dr. Flanders. Neither knows more about breastfeeding than I know, yet they feel free to dismiss my writing and my warnings.
Why? Because like most lactivists they are ideologues and the fundamental tenet of their ideology is that breastfeeding is perfect. How dare I point out that not only is breastfeeding imperfect like any other bodily function, but that it has real risks of injury and even death?
In many ways professional lactivists like Prof. Brown and Dr. Flanders undermine their own cause. Pretending that there are no risks to breastfeeding is like pretending there are no risks to pregnancy. No matter how much they want to believe in the Tinkerbell theory of childbirth and breastfeeding — you can only be successfully if you believe — no amount of believing prevents miscarriage. Similarly, no amount of believing increases milk supply.
In the best case scenario they are deluded; in the worst case scenario, they are lying. In either case, they demonstrate themselves to be untrustworthy, not to mention heartlessly cruel. Baby Landon is dead because lactation professionals insisted that everything was going well when Landon’s mother told them she thought he was starving. Rather than address that issue, both Brown and Flanders prefer to whine about me.
Sadly, they are recapitulating the behavior of an earlier generation of physicians whom they presumably despise. Those physicians believed that formula was the perfect food because it was “scientific.” They discouraged women from breastfeeding as a result. They were wrong, but they had the best of intentions. They truly believed what they said and that their paternalism was thereby justified.
Similarly, professional lactivists like Prof. Brown and Dr. Flanders sincerely believe that breastmilk is the perfect food because it is natural. They discourage formula feeding as a result and feel it necessary to demean anyone, no matter how personally and professional qualified, who dares to disagree with them. They are wrong, even though they appear to have the best of intentions. They truly believe what they say, but their paternalism is just as ugly as that of the generation of providers who promoted formula.
Let me speak directly to Prof. Brown and Dr. Flanders:
Breastfeeding is NOT perfect!
Believing breastfeeding is perfect is NOT the key to successful breastfeeding.
Informing women of the risks of breastfeeding does not undermine breastfeeding.
Idealization of breastfeeding harms, indeed kills, babies and mothers.
To the extent that you ridicule anyone who disagrees with you, you aren’t merely acting like heartless fools. You are harming both babies and mothers.
And that’s not funny.