The shockingly unethical, paternalistic behavior of lactivists like Prof. Amy Brown

Woman liar with long nose

Lactation professionals are beside themselves with fear.

The story of a baby Landon who died from dehydration as a result of exclusive breastfeeding has become a tipping point. For years they have been exaggerating the benefits of breastfeeding, denying the risks and contributing to a wave of newborn deaths from both breastfeeding complications and deaths resulting from breastfeeding promotion efforts that have led to hundreds of smothering deaths and falls of maternal hospital beds each and every year.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Lactation professionals believe that it is okay to withhold critical information in order to convince women to breastfeed.[/pullquote]

Baby Landon’s death has brought lactation professionals face to face with the biggest lie they espouse: the lie that insufficient breastmilk is rare when in truth it affects up to 15% of women or more.

Many lactation professionals are simply ignorant. They only know what their teachers — other lactation professionals have told them — which means they don’t know anything about the very real and very deadly risks of insufficient breastmilk. When you live and work inside an echo chamber, it’s hardly surprising that your knowledge is limited.

In contrast, there are quite a few prominent lactation professionals who do know the truth and are desperately trying to hide it. That is both unethical and profoundly paternalistic. They are literally afraid that if they tell women the truth about the risks of breastfeeding, as well as the benefits, women won’t make the choice they prefer.

Their goal is NOT to empower women with accurate information and hope they will choose to breastfeed. Their goal is to hide accurate information from women to ensure that they will breastfeed. They are no different from anti-choice activists who spread scientific falsehoods in an effort to dissuade women from choosing pregnancy termination. It’s unethical and it’s paternalistic.

Consider Prof. Amy Brown. I have engaged with her on the Facebook page of The New Scientist. She absolutely refuses to state a number for the incidence of insufficient breastmilk. Why? I’m going to guess that it’s because she knows that she has no scientific evidence for the typical lactivist lie that insufficient breastmilk is rare. I suspect that she knows as well as I do the the real incidence is 15% or more — and she doesn’t want to be caught telling women the truth. That’s shockingly unethical and disturbingly paternalistic.

I wrote about Brown last fall in connection with the naked misogyny of pressuring women to breastfeed. Brown’s research showed that 80% of women stop breastfeeding because of pain and difficulty. Brown then proceeded to ignore her own findings and substitute the lactivists’ preferred explanation of “lack of support.”

Brown is also the author of the charmingly titled Why Fed Will Never Be Best: The FIB Of Letting Our New Mothers Down. The title is in keeping with what appears to be the cardinal rule of lactivism — never miss an opportunity to shame women who can’t or don’t breastfeed.

Brown repeats the preferred lactivist fairytale that physiological problems are rare and “lack of support” accounts for low breastfeeding rates.

Of course we must ensure that babies are fed. However, although the message may sound comforting on the surface, ‘fed is best’ is simply putting a sticking plaster over the gaping wound that is our lack of support for breastfeeding and mothering in general. We cannot afford to say that how babies are fed does not matter…

Brown offers the standard lactivist lie.

Physiologically speaking only around 2% of women should be unable to breastfeed, but in reality less than half of mums in the UK breastfeed at all past six weeks.

In our discussion on The New Scientist Facebook page, Brown simply refuses to answer the simple question about the real incidence of insufficient breastmilk. I noted that you can tell the the difference between real medical professionals and lactation consultants in the way they deal with this issue. When informed of a preventable death, real medical professionals ask, “How can we avoid this happening to another baby?” Lactation consultants ask, “How can we avoid blame?”

Brown then proceeds to prove my point by trying to deflect attention:

Babies can also die from dehydration if bottles are not properly made up eg too much powder provides too much sodium.

Now … is that the fault of the formula or a lack of awareness that it is an issue …

In both cases better support and education should be given!

I asked Brown a direct question:

What is the failure rate for breastfeeding? Please quote an actual number since this discussion is about the fact that lactation professionals lie about the rate of breastfeeding failure.

She didn’t bother repeating her previous lie of 2%.

Watch her try to wriggle out of giving an actual number.


…[I]t’s Friday night in the UK and I’ve gone out for dinner.

You know it gets increased by what happens at birth and in early days. I recognise that. Better support would reduce that. Some will need formula. The data is different across countries which confirms this.

So … better recognition when things are not working. Formula if needed. I think we can agree on that?

I asked:

Would you agree with Alison Stuebe, MD of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine that as many as 15% of newborns can benefit from formula supplementation?

More comments from Brown, but no answer. I can only conclude that she doesn’t want women to know the truth because that might discourage them from breastfeeding. That’s just as paternalistic as the gynecologist who recommends hysterectomy but refuses to tell the patient the complication rate because that might discourage the her from choosing surgery.

It’s unethical when a gynecologist does it and it’s equally unethical when a lactation professional does it.

The goal of lactivism ought to be empowering women to breastfeed successfully if they can and if they want to do so. The goal should not be getting all women to breastfeed. That harms (and even kills) babies and the only people it empowers are lactation professionals.

One of the greatest ironies of contemporary lactivism is how lactation professionals have eagerly adopted the very traits that they so disparaged in doctors. They believe they know better than women themselves what is right for those women. They believe that it is okay to withhold information in order to convince women to do what they want them to do.

That’s why Amy Brown refuses to give a number for the incidence of insufficient breastmilk. The truth would reveal that breast is not best for a substantial proportion of mothers and babies.

Better to lie and let babies die.