I breastfed my babies; I didn’t go on a “journey”

51595085 - render illustration of euphemism script on cork board

I breastfed my four children and I enjoyed it. I had the usual relatively minor difficulties including pain and multiple bouts of mastitis. It wasn’t convenient, particularly when my first child was born and I was working 70 hours a week as a chief resident, but I had a booming milk supply, a private office in which to pump, and fat, happy babies who were thriving.

Even so, I’ve never been on a breastfeeding journey and neither has anyone else of my generation. That’s because breastfeeding “journeys” didn’t exist then. We didn’t go on breathing journeys, digestion journeys or menstruation journeys, either. We approached bodily functions as just that — bodily functions — not as opportunities to pressure women into approved behavior.

Of course that was before the advent of breastfeeding propaganda. It was before the breastfeeding industry’s attempt to euphemize the pain, frustration, inconvenience and serious complications of breastfeeding by romanticizing them as a journey. Women who are on breastfeeding journeys are unwitting victims of propaganda.

Women who are on breastfeeding journeys are unwitting victims of propaganda.

As Wikipedia explains:

Propaganda is information that is not objective and is used primarily to influence an audience and further an agenda, often by presenting facts selectively to encourage a particular synthesis or perception, or using loaded language to produce an emotional rather than a rational response to the information that is presented…

Why is it used?

The propagandist seeks to change the way people understand an issue or situation for the purpose of changing their actions and expectations in ways that are desirable to the interest group… [It] serves as a corollary to censorship in which the same purpose is achieved, not by filling people’s minds with approved information, but by preventing people from being confronted with opposing points of view… The leaders of an organization know the information to be one sided or untrue, but this may not be true for the rank and file members who help to disseminate the propaganda.

That accurately sums up the tactics of lactivists:

  • Cherry pick data
  • Lie about scientific evidence
  • Censor information that doesn’t conform
  • Demonize anyone who seeks to provide uncensored information
  • Justify deception by claiming that the ends justify the means
  • Keep rank and file members in the dark
  • Use loaded language to produce an emotional rather than rational response

I (and others) have written extensively about the ways in which the benefits of breastfeeding have been grossly exaggerated and the risks expunged from the medical canon. It’s clear that the breastfeeding industry censors information and demonizes anyone who seeks to provide uncensored information (eg the Fed Is Best Foundation or, for that matter, me). It’s pretty clear that some lactivist physicians justify their deceptions (particularly deceptions about breastfeeding complications) by insisting that the ends justify the means. It’s also crystal clear that the rank and file — lactation consultants and lactivists — have no idea that they are spreading propaganda instead of accurate information.

It’s hard for laypeople to differentiate between those who are trying to inform them and those who are trying to pressure them. There is one critical “tell,” however. Those who deploy emotional language are trying to manipulate women and the breastfeeding “journey” is part of that manipulative language.

Who goes on a breastfeeding journey? It’s not women like me who had relatively little difficulty. We don’t go on breastfeeding journeys for the same reason we don’t go on digestion journeys; we just do it. We latch on our babies, feed them and get on with the rest of our lives.

A breastfeeding journey is reserved for women who suffer with serious problems like insufficient supply, poor latch, excruciating pain, etc. In some cases, the women who are on breastfeeding “journeys” are actually putting their babies lives at risk from dehydration, hypoglycemia and jaundice.

Let me be ultra-clear even if lactivists lie about this:

There is no benefit of breastfeeding term babies that makes a breastfeeding “journey” worthwhile.

There is no medical reason to subject yourself to a slavish pumping schedule, no medical reason to struggle with the use of supplementary nursing system and no medical reason to resort to ingesting off label GI medications like domperidone in order to avoid formula. There is nothing wrong with formula besides the fact that the breastfeeding industry can’t charge for it.

Every minute that you spend pumping or cleaning SNS supplies or scouring the internet for a source of domperidone is a minute that you and your baby aren’t enjoying each other. As the Harlow monkey experiments with wire and cloth mother substitutes demonstrated, babies crave warmth and comfort more than they crave food.

So if babies aren’t benefitting from breastfeeding journeys, who is? The breastfeeding industry benefits. They are the ones who supply the pumps, the SNS systems, and the “support.” They profit on every leg of the breastfeeding “journey” while mothers and babies suffer.

The only reason to go on a breastfeeding journey is if it is personally important to you; it certainly isn’t important for your baby. It’s like runnning a marathon; sure it’s a nice achievement, but it doesn’t improve anyone’s health.

There’s no need to pump to augment supply; just give your baby formula and spend the extra time cuddling and interacting with your baby.

There’s no need to struggle with using and then cleaning an SNS. Put your breastmilk or formula into a bottle and spend the extra time cuddling and interacting with your baby.

There’s no reason to risk your health with potentially dangerous off label medication to boost your supply. Your baby needs YOU far more than he or she needs breastmilk.

Calling breastfeeding a journey is nothing more than an effort to romanticize breastfeeding difficulties. If it’s not working or it’s not convenient, just stop. The only thing that will be hurt are the profits of the breastfeeding industry.

  • Tori

    I think this is such a lovely way of putting it- “your baby needs you”. And after struggling to breastfeed my first (pump, SNS) and it by comparison just happening with my second I’d never put myself through using a SNS again. Now I realise how hard it really was, if baby needs formula bottles are great.

  • ukay

    After coming here often I decided to comment because this site has helped me a lot in coming back to my senses.I love the sensible approach promoted here. Before the birth of my child I was pro-„do-whatever-you-want“. I got mad at the mandated „warning labels“ on formula implying parents not doing THE best by buying this evil poison. Angry when the midwife at birth preparation class to say stuff like „if you have an epidural you leave ypur child alone with the pain“.Unfortunately many postnatal-care midwives and birth preparation classes in my country are super pro-nb and breastfeeding. In the end their slow guilt-trickle got me and I pumped and had a lactation consultant over who actually made everything worse by pounding a screaming baby on my breast to push something she called biological nurturing. After that my baby just started screaming when ever she saw the breast. Shame on the people who dont help but just push on agenda despite the facts right under their noses.

  • Russell Jones

    lol “journey”

    A journey can be amazing and outstanding. Decades ago a buddy and I were sitting at a bar in Youngstown, OH bitching about the price of cigarettes and the next minute we were on our way to North Carolina to buy some cheap Kools. That turned into a three day journey featuring some rather epic adventures.

    Then again, a journey can be horrific, like the time my car broke down fifteen miles from anything at all and I got robbed at gunpoint while walking back to civilization.

    The well-known band provides both kinds of examples. There’s the original Greg Rollie/Neil Schon/Ross Valory/Aynsley Dunbar Journey that cranked out two fantastic albums and one pretty decent album, then there’s the Steve Perry Journey that made a bunch of money cranking out pop ditties.

    Point is, a breastfeeding “journey” ain’t necessarily going to be all sunshine, lollipops and rich creamery butter. For all too many mothers and children, the “journey” turns out to be of the ghastly variety.

    • Kq

      Oh god, don’t make me imagine breastfeeding Steve Perry.

      • Russell Jones

        I started writing a breastfeeding-related parody of Open Arms after reading your post (and loling), but thought better of it.

        • Kq

          I think you should do it.

        • Zornorph

          Would you be able to breastfeed on a midnight train going anywhere?

          • Russell Jones

            Can’t imagine why not. She is, after all, just a small-town girl livin’ in a lonely world. A midnight train goin’ anywhere is the perfect location for such a person to breastfeed, far from the smell of wine and cheap perfume.

          • guest

            I love this thread.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Hey, those were FANTASTIC pop ditties!

  • no longer drinking the koolaid

    This is akin to trying to normalize breastfeeding. It’s already “normal”. It’s just something you do if it works well for you. However, pointing out that some people think it isn’t normal and being an exhibitionist in the process does not make it more normal.

    • guest

      You know, maybe it is just because I am a millenial, but I have yet to meet any of these people who supposedly make up the dominant culture that hates on breastfeeding.

      Sure, that’s just personal experience, and that and five bucks will get you a cup of coffee, and not much else. I have no actual data to back this up.

      I’m just sayin’. The message seems to be out there. Just like I don’t see anybody walking around extolling the health benefits of Lucky Strikes.

      Literally everyone I have ever met with an opinion on motherhood was pro-breastfeeding because they had all been told it had health benefits.
      I think the education campaigns worked. I think you are right – it is already considered “normal”.

      Maybe low breastfeeding rates are just not due to people disapproving of it and being ignorant of the benefits. Maybe there are other factors preventing ladies from breastfeeding – biological, socioeconomic, whatever.

      All of this supposed social pressure to formula feed instead just seems nonexistant.

      • AnnaPDE

        It’s not societal pressure to formula feed. It’s the reactions you get if you dare to do the societally-sanctioned breastfeeding thing while visible to people outside of your home.

        I used to think that breastfeeding was completely accepted here in Australia, too. After all I regularly saw mums who were nursing their babies sitting in a quiet corner of the shopping centre, or at my kids’ sports, etc., and never gave it a second thought. Then when I got pregnant and planned to BF, suddenly I noticed the regular “ew, those women indecently exposing themselves” messages — including a popular TV presenter happily declaring live on air how women should be “a bit classy” about it, meaning they should hide under a blanket or in a separate room. Which in turn led to a deluge of comments on the respective news articles, covering every angle from how it is disgusting for men and harms children to see a woman’s breasts (the former because it puts them off sexy enjoyment), how babies eating is the same as adults pooping in public, how it’s just attention-seeking, and how women who have to resort to breastfeeding while out and about are too disorganised to have kids in the first place. Of course also including the obligatory remarks about just letting the baby go hungry until you get home, and the obligation to at least hide baby and boob (and possibly yourself) under a makeshift tent from a cover.
        One or two comments to this effect would have been fine — there’s always a proportion of annoying people — but it was massive.

        And then I saw the same lines of arguments in a German Fed-is-Best type group, this time written by formula feeding mums.

        Yes, it’s because you’re a millennial and have had limited time to experience the wonderful world of breastfeeding in practice. It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t setup.

        • KeeperOfTheBooks

          I think that might also be local/cultural. I’ve had friends report similar experiences when nursing, but also similar experiences when mixing up a bottle and feeding Junior in public (“you know, you don’t NEED to do that, everyone can breastfeed, blah blah blah”). I suspect that it’s mostly based in entrenched sexism: I doubt that men feeding their kids in public get one tenth the nonsense that women do from either side, but moms, especially younger ones of fewer kids, seem to be acceptable targets both for “you need to cover up/go to another room to do that!” and, simultaneously, “you don’t REALLY need to formula feed, and good moms nurse their babies.”

        • guest

          That’s awful. I’m sorry about all of the harassment and hurtful commentary. 🙁

          No woman should have to endure that.

          There may be a regional difference. I live in the Western United States, where attitudes are either very liberal or very laissez-faire. It is quite common to see women breastfeeding here, in the open, on buses, in parks, in shops, even church.

          I have never been to Australia, though, and honestly, I can’t even say what the situation might be in other parts of the United States.

          But mothers here – myself included – are inundated with PSAs and heavy pressure to breastfeed. During my first pregnancy, every prenatal appointment or doctor visit was preceded by a lecture on the necessity of breastfeeding, and no alternatives were discussed or offered. I did end up exclusively breastfeeding my children, but I saw a huge amount of pressure and shame placed on women who could not.

          I think you are right – it is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t set up. Where I live, the damning happens to be skewed in favor of breastfeeding. But that doesn’t mean that is the case everywhere, and it was wrong for me to assume that.

  • Gæst

    Ha ha. Breastfeeding made it very difficult for me to go on journeys.

  • Sarah

    I went on a formula feeding journey. To the baby aisle in the shop.

  • EllenL

    It’s probably impossible for young mothers today to believe that there was a time when no one cared whether you breastfed or not. Not your doctor, or the hospital, or your friends and neighbors. It just wasn’t anyone else’s business.

    An argument can be made that employers weren’t accommodating. The thing is, ALL mothers/parents need career and workplace accommodations, not just those who choose to breastfeed.

    Guaranteed paid maternity leave would be a good start. That would benefit society in general, and children in particular. I wish breastfeeding zealots would take up that banner; but they seem stuck on shaming and forcing women to breastfeed no matter the circumstances.

    • Sheven

      It’s easier to shame individual women than to make actual change. Essentially, it’s like yelling at the customer service rep or the front desk person when a company does something to make you mad. Sure, you could check out what kind of official complaints you could make, you could switch your service, you could find out the name and contact information of employees with power and complain to them.

  • Roadstergal

    Hey, now. I have been on some ‘digestion journeys.’ 😀

    Excellent post. Do what works best for you, not for someone else.

    • LaMont

      Digestion journeys run in my family 🙂

    • Empress of the Iguana People

      bakery shop hop?

  • Emilie Bishop

    Spot on! I like to say that lactivists don’t recognize the differences in degrees of difficulty. Every challenge is part of the “journey,” whether it’s a hiccup or something that leaves you sprawled on the floor, completely shell-shocked. My two best friends, one I’ve known since elementary school and the other since college, both have two children who they’ve breastfed exclusively or nearly so. They’ve had some initial pain, some plugged ducts, and one friend had thrush with her second baby. One friend stays home and leaves formula on rare days out. The other works for a large corporation and is able to pump in her office. These difficulties still allowed them to live their lives, feed their babies, and be present for their spouse and older child. They had relatively simple solutions that didn’t impact their lives for weeks on end (the thrush was probably the worst).

    Then there’s me, who’s baby wouldn’t latch, who’s baby got readmitted on day 3 for starving and dehydration, who’s milk supply was only ever half what my baby needed, who suffered anxiety at every feeding in anticipation of the pain and worry that he wouldn’t eat enough, who wondered if an overnight bag was necessary at every doctor’s or LC appointment in case he needed another readmission. I wasn’t able to live a life outside breastfeeding until I stopped, and then the guilt still persisted.

    Lactivists tell us these three examples are basically the same. Common sense and the benefit of hindsight tell me lactivists who say these are all the same are on crack.

  • WonderWoman

    Heh, every time I mention in online discussions that the benefits of breastfeeding are trivial for term babies in first world countries, and link to the PROBIT and Colen studies, I get accused of… cherry picking 🙂 Just what is the proportion between studies that support the many purported benefits of breastfeeding and those which don’t? On a side note, I’ve noticed that even people who consider themselves pro-science lose their critical thinking skills when it comes to breastfeeding (and natural childbirth, too, but to a lesser extent).

    • The Bofa on the Sofa

      “Yeah, I’m cherry picking….the best studies available. You got a better suggestion? Rely on lesser quality?”

      • WonderWoman

        See, they refuse to believe that what I am giving them are the best studies to date, even though I am trying to explain how bad most of the research on this subject is (I’m from Poland and it might be a factor here, basically I haven’t seen even one article in mainstream press or online, questioning the dogma). Everybody is convinced that breastmilk being liquid gold IS the scientific consensus 🙂 Even though more and more people read international press, it is quite widely accepted that this is what the science shows.

    • BeatriceC

      I’ve adopted the use of Dr. Amy’s wording on the topic, and respond something to the effect of “Okay, please show me additional studies that are well designed, rely on real world data, correct properly for confounding factors, and do not engage in data torture to show their desired results. I will be happy to change my opinion if you can show me studies that meet those criteria and have a different result.” They then claim they won’t do my research for me, and of course that leads to “no, I won’t do *your* research for you. You made the claim, you need to back it up with solid evidence. I’ve backed my claim with the only two reasonable studies that exist on the topic that I’m aware of, now it’s your turn.”

      It never goes well, but I just hope that somebody is quietly lurking and reads it and feels better about not being able to exclusively breastfeed, or breastfeed at all.

    • Roadstergal

      We have been doing a massive US-wide study since the 1970s. If there were any real-world benefits to breastfeeding, we would be seeing them at a nadir in kids born in the ’70s and steadily increasing since. I use that as my go-to…

      • BeatriceC

        I have a ton of those medical issues that people claim are caused by formula feeding. I’m obese, have asthma, have major skin issues (really just sensitive skin because I’m a redhead), and major food allergies. And I was exclusively breastfed. Also, I was born in 1975, so I’m of that generation.

        • Lilly de Lure

          Sounds like my sister – she was a martyr to ear infections and ecxema as a child and has GI issues to this day whilst I’ve been happily free of all three (and have virtually no allergies to report – a mild one to penicillin but that’s it), yet she was EBFed and I was formula fed from the get go (like you both of us born in the 70’s).