Protect your baby from toxins … unless the toxins are in breastmilk, then don’t worry about them


Natural mothering advocates have a problem. They live in terrible fear that their babies and children will be exposed to “toxins” and go to great lengths to prevent exposure.

But toxins — real, not imaginary — can be transmitted through breastmilk the purported elixir of life. What to do? Ignore the toxins, of course!

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Lactivists value breastfeeding more highly than a baby’s exposure to toxins, no matter how dangerous those toxins may be.[/pullquote]

Meg Nagle of The Milk Meg offered this message on New Year’s Eve:

Breastmilk with a small amount of alcohol is a better option than formula.

Today she explained further:

This statement is take directly from the Australian Breastfeeding Association’s PDF, Alcohol and Breastfeeding: A Guide for Mothers.

Indeed it does … without any attribution or citations. In other words, the lactivists at the ABA appear to have simply made it up.


The hypocrisy of lactivists is truly remarkable given the critical role that “toxins” play in natural mothering ideology and exhortations.

In The Polluted Child and Maternal Responsibility in the US Environmental Health Movement, a new paper in the Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Norah MacKendrick and Kate Cairnes explain that the idea of women’s bodies as the appropriate target of medical and moral anxiety has a long history.

The result is a culture that holds women responsible for protecting their children from toxins:

As disease risk is located in the maternal body, medical surveillance has extended in both temporal directions to include not only the pregnant body but also the pre-conception body, the breastfeeding body, and the feeding of young children. As women’s bodies come under greater scrutiny, so too do their actions and choices that might affect the fetus, infant, and child. This scrutiny corresponds to a culture of mother-blame that holds mothers accountable for their child’s health or behavioral problems…

Women’s desires are framed as dangerous:

Women are implored to eschew self-interest for the sake of the future child, whether by forgoing butter, skipping nail polish, or making homemade personal care products. These directives add to the long list of “rules” for controlling indulgences during pregnancy, where cigarettes, alcohol, unpasteurized milk, and raw fish are entirely forbidden, and balanced diets are a must, along with regular exercise (but not too much).

In Healthy Child Healthy World, women are warned against laziness:

The language of the “lab experiment” implies that mothers who fail to practice necessary vigilance are “experimenting” with the health of their baby. The guide presents fatigue as no excuse for lax control over the pregnant appetite:

“You’re tired and the last thing you want to do is cook. We get it. But consider this: When you dine out, order in, or consume processed packaged foods, you can never be entirely sure what you’re eating. Pre- paring your own meals at home using fresh, whole ingredients, on the other hand, gives you maximum control over what ends up on your plate. It’s the best way to ensure an optimally safe and healthy diet for both you and your baby. Besides, cooking tired is a necessary parenting skill…

Sound familiar? It should because it’s the language of the natural mothering movement, depicting women who choose epidurals, C-sections and formula feeding as weak and selfish.

… By taming cravings and “bad” habits during pregnancy, a woman begins her socialization into “good” motherhood, as she has perfected the careful, toxic-free habits of caregiving. The postpartum period puts this hard work to the test, as women are exhausted by breastfeeding and sleepless nights…

I found this statement particularly striking:

…[I]t is the pregnant woman’s desire to treat herself that puts her baby at risk.

The same goes for new mothers … unless the toxins are in breastmilk.

In the overwrought literature of lactivism, breastmilk is portrayed as perfect in every way: always available, always the right temperature, always the right amount and imbued with the power to improve health, prevent obesity and maximize intelligence. But breastmilk, like the pregnant mother’s blood, can transmit toxins and even concentrate them into higher amounts than in the maternal bloodstream.

Lactivists face a terrible quandary. They could eschew toxins altogether as they do in pregnancy. They could employ the same attitude to maternal indulgence in pregnancy and make it forbidden altogether. No smoking, no alcohol, no drugs and no medications (including pain relief for labor) can be countenanced during pregnancy. But whereas women cannot discontinue pregnancy in order to indulge their desires and still end up with a healthy baby, women can easily discontinue breastfeeding in order to indulge their desires and still end up with a health, formula fed baby. So lactivists have decided to take a laissez-faire attitude to substances in breastfeeding bodies that they would never countenance in pregnant bodies.

Professional lactivist Dr. Jack Newman helpfully lists the many toxins that would otherwise be verboten but are perfectly okay when found in breastmilk:

Tobacco smoking

A mother who cannot stop smoking should breastfeed. Breastfeeding has been shown to decrease the negative effects of cigarette smoke on the baby’s lungs …


…The mother can take some alcohol and continue breastfeeding as she normally does. Prohibiting alcohol is another way we make life unnecessarily restrictive for breastfeeding mothers.

Recreational drugs

These drugs, for example, marijuana and cocaine, have the same negative associations as does alcohol … But what I said about alcohol is true of these drugs as well…


Almost no medication taken by the mother requires her to stop or interrupt breastfeeding.


Mothers are usually told that they will have to interrupt breastfeeding for 24 to 48 hours after surgery under general anesthetic… This is completely unnecessary. After all, we frequently give babies having surgery the very same medication.

What about the fact that these toxins can be easily avoided by using formula instead? Here Newman comes to the heart of the matter:

…[W]hy do so many physicians assume that any and every drug is contraindicated during breastfeeding? Basically, because they don’t believe that it matters if the mother breastfeeds or not. Formula=breastmilk, bottle feeding=breastfeeding, it’s all the same. But it’s not all the same.

In other words, Newman and other lactivists value breastfeeding more highly than a baby’s exposure to toxins, no matter how dangerous those toxins may be.