Breastfeeding Derangement Syndrome

Female with mood disorder

Breastfeeding is causing otherwise mentally healthy women to lose their minds.

Consider this piece from the Today Show.

Donna Freydkin writes:

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Like mass hysteria, it appears to be contagious, directly transmitted by lactation professionals who suffer from their own version of Breastfeeding Derangement Syndrome.[/pullquote]

Then my glorious globes failed me. No milk came out. Not a trickle. Not a drip. Not a sprinkle. We got Alex’s tongue clipped and I’d attach him, but it was akin to walking a cat on a leash. Pretty much futile. The nurses gave him formula (to my disgust but whatever, the kid had to eat) and I wore a La Leche League hair shirt of guilt.

It sounds like she experienced primary lactation failure. It would never have harmed her child since she had easy access to formula and clean water with which to prepare it, but it definitely harmed her psychological health:

I made myself crazy. Actually, I owe an apology to the word crazy. I, in fact, became deranged with guilt.

She developed what I’ve begun to think of as Breastfeeding Derangement Syndrome. It happens when women who otherwise think clearly completely lose perspective about the limited benefits of breastfeeding.

It is a situational disorder; it depends on social milieu.

…We lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the ground zero of mommy wars, where the women I met at playgroups competed for the Golden Globe in Parenting Decisions. One bragged about growing her own organic fruits so she could make her child’s food from scratch. Another schooled me on powering through nursing issues, telling me to drink lactation tea and just keep trying and trying and trying because I could do it!

All the moms I met — all of them — insisted that breast was best, that formula was second to arsenic when it came to baby nutrition, and that they would practice child-led weaning, even it if meant nursing until their kids were doing college tours. I nodded as I shamefacedly mixed Earth’s Best powder with warm water in my bottle and fed it to my kid, who guzzled it down like it was the world’s greatest sake.

It is characterized by deep feelings of guilt and shame. Its sufferers are nearly prostrate with intrusive thoughts that they are bad mothers, that their babies are being harmed. And like many psychological illnesses, it is impervious to reality. The truth is their babies aren’t suffering; their babies aren’t merely doing better than they were while breastfeeding; they’re thriving, chubby, happy and hitting developmental milestones on target or early.

Why are so many women developing Breastfeeding Derangement Syndrome? Like mass hysteria, it appears to be contagious, directly transmitted by lactation professionals who suffer from their own version of Breastfeeding Derangement Syndrome. Lactation professionals have acquired a monopoly — through La Leche League, the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative, and a variety of health organizations captured by the lobbying efforts of LLL and the BFHI — over the dissemination of information about breastfeeding. That has allowed their delusions to go mainstream.

In reality, breastfeeding in industrialized countries has trivial benefits, but lactation professionals promote their delusion that the benefits of breastfeeding are massive.

In reality, breastfeeding, like all natural processes, has a significant failure rate (up to 15% of first time mothers in the early days after birth), but lactation professionals promote their delusion that breastfeeding failure is rare.

In reality, breastfeeding has no impact on mother-infant bonding because it is the fact of being fed that promotes bonding, not how the baby is fed. But lactation professionals promote their delusion that breastfeeding is necessary for bonding.

In reality, there are a myriad of possible breastfeeding problems, and not all are amenable to treatment. But lactation professionals promote their delusion that any difficulties with breastfeeding are due to lack of maternal will or lack of support.

Breastfeeding Derangement Syndrome causes lactation professionals — who are ostensibly medical providers subject to ethical guidelines — to behave in ways that are grossly unprofessional, bullying and shaming new mothers while simultaneously muzzling or drowning out other providers. Pediatricians, neonatologists and obstetricians are desperately trying to draw attention to the very real harms, including neonatal brain injures and death, from aggressive breastfeeding promotion not to mention maternal mental health issues.

Prevention is the key to relieving the suffering from Breastfeeding Derangement Syndrome. The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative must be ended; no outside special interest group should be allowed to make hospital policy. Simultaneous efforts must be made to root out Breastfeeding Derangement Syndrome from the lactation profession. Lactation consultants’ training should involve neonatologists and pediatricians to educate them about the very real limitations and risks of breastfeeding, and mental health professionals to root out their tendency to bully and shame mothers who can’t or don’t wish to breastfeed.

Obstetricians and pediatricians have a special role to play: offering unbiased information about the limited benefits and real risks of breastfeeding, instead of the propaganda many are forced to offer now. Obstetricians and pediatricians should also offer reassurance.

Freydkin credits her obstetrician with helping her regain perspective:

This would have gone on indefinitely until I had a checkup with my OBGYN, Dr. Andrea M. Dobrenis, a doctor both witty and wise.

She commented on what a big, healthy baby Alex was, and asked how feedings were going. I immediately kicked into my prepared remarks, not even catching my breath as I ranted apologetically about why I was such a failure as a mother, despite the breasts that should be performing their milk-producing function. She told me to please take a breath and calm down. And here’s what she said: “Donna, do you have access to clean drinking water? Do you have access to quality formula? Is your son thriving? You’ll be fine. Stop beating yourself up and enjoy your time with your baby.”

Freydkin’s story is more poignant than most. At the same time she was struggling with breastfeeding guilt and shame her husband was dying of brain cancer.

…To overcompensate for being a working mom who excelled at interviews with Meryl Streep and Brad Pitt but who was a flop at feeding her son, I spent hours at farmers markets buying certified organic produce, which I would then meticulously steam and turn into baby food — saved only in glass containers, due to BPA fears. His sheets were fair-trade organic cotton. As were his clothes. I fixated on everything but what mattered — spending intimate time with my husband, who was undergoing chemotherapy for brain cancer, and our son.

Breastfeeding Derangement Syndrome blighted the Freydkin’s early days of motherhood, just as it does for many new mothers. That’s a tragedy, one that — fortunately — we have the power to prevent.