Breastfeeding and the culture of contempt

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The worst thing about contemporary lactivist culture is not that advocates of “Breast Is Best” disagree with advocates of “Fed Is Best.” The worst thing is that contemporary lactivist culture is a culture of contempt.

As I wrote last week, it often seems as if the unifying factor among lactation professionals — the concept around which they bond with each other — is not support for breastfeeding; it is contempt for women who don’t breastfeed. They appear to find fellowship in exacerbating and then celebrating the suffering of women whom they condemn as “minimal” mothers for not breastfeeding.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The contempt for “Fed Is Best” is a special kind of vicious.[/pullquote]

Because lactation professionals have contempt for those with whom they disagree, they continually exhibit what political scientist Arthur C. Brooks calls:

…a noxious brew of anger and disgust. And not just contempt for other people’s ideas, but also for other people. In the words of the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, contempt is “the unsullied conviction of the worthlessness of another.”

Brooks is writing about contemporary political culture but I was struck by the resemblance to contemporary breastfeeding culture. At its heart is fundamental attribution error (which Brooks calls motive attribution asymmetry):

the assumption that your ideology is based in love, while your opponent’s is based in hate — suggests an answer… Each side thinks it is driven by benevolence, while the other is evil and motivated by hatred — and is therefore an enemy with whom one cannot negotiate or compromise.

However, in this case I believe lactation professionals suffer from fundamental attribution error while “Fed Is Best” advocates do not.

Based on their writings, contemporary lactation professionals (and most definitely their leaders) believe that their ideology is driven by love for babies and the “opposition” is driven by hate for breastfeeding. Lactation professionals like Amy Brown, Lucy M. Sullivan, Kimberly Seals Allers and Jack Newman believe themselves to be benevolent while I, Christie del Castillo-Hegyi and Jody Seagraves-Daly are evil and should be ignored let alone compromised with. In contrast, I haven’t found a single “Fed Is Best” advocate who hates breastfeeding. And we have spent an inordinate amount of time desperately trying to speak with and inform lactation professionals.

The examples are too numerous to count, but here’s what I’ve observed in the past month alone.

Two weeks ago I left a comment on a post on Dr. Jack Newman’s Facebook page:

Dr. Newman, since you are so sure breastfeeding has substantial benefits, can you please show us any impact that changing breastfeeding rates have had on term infant mortality or any metrics of major term infant morbidity. To my knowledge, the only impact breastfeeding has had on these parameters is a dramatic increase in the rate of neonatal hospital readmission. Indeed exclusive breastfeeding is now the leading risk factor for readmission. So I see the risks, but I can’t find the benefits. Can you show us the population data that supports your claims?

It’s a simple request, respectfully presented. Dr. Newman contemptuously deleted it.

Last week I came across this contemptuous screed from Maureen Minchin, a lactation professional (with no training in science or medicine) who has a self-published book on — I’m not kidding — breastfeeding and immunology. In response to a woman who complained about her lack of sympathy and concern for women who cannot breastfeed, Maureen produced this and it’s a special kind of vicious:


… I am sorry that you had such a hard time with your first, and understand your rage, and your decision to go with formula for your second, and I am glad that worked out so well for you. It doesn’t for some other people, and that’s the point: we can’t know ahead of time which children will be badly affected, but some will, in every country, some will die in every country, and all will develop differently from what they would have done if breastfed. That’s just biological fact…

You have been the victim of what I have been working – mostly gratis – to remedy for decades: poor education and clinical practice about infant feeding, not just breastfeeding. It’s a shame you never had an enjoyable breastfeeding experience and that your son was put at risk. But as you say, environment also matters, and I’m sure he’s had the best you can provide…

I am not in the business of making people feel guilty and it upsets me if mothers tell me they are hurt by hearing truths that need to be told. Partly because it means the mother is so focussed on her own history and family that she cannot see the much bigger picture, and truly believes that in order to avoid upsetting those already victims of formula culture in WEIRD [Western, educated, and from industrialized, rich, and democratic] nations, we should stay silent and allow more families everywhere to be affected by it…

You cannot be so self-centred as to think that the feelings of those already formula feeding matter more than the lives and health of others…

I would be happy to supply you with a free copy of my books should you undertake to read them in full, cover to cover…

All best wishes, Maureen

Last night I saw this from Meg Nagle, the Milk Meg:


“Fed” is not best. Fed is the minimum…

Could there be anything more cruel than telling a mother who loves her baby desperately and is already suffering shame and guilt over the inability to breastfeed that she is giving her child only the “minimum”?

I also came across this last night:


Who is Gabrielle Colleran? She’s a pediatric radiologist and I read that she claimed that fat is laid down during pregnancy for breastfeeding. This fat supposedly poses a risk if not “used up” by producing breastmilk. According to Dr. Colleran, women who were pregnant but did not breastfeed are 4 times more likely to have a heart attack.

That’s news to me so I reached out for clarification. I was already blocked even though I had never heard of her and her theories previously. It’s hard to imagine anything more contemptuous than preemptively blocking another physician who might ask for proof of your claims.

The world would be a better place is lactation professionals would heed Brooks’ call for better quality disagreements:

What we need is not to disagree less, but to disagree better. And that starts when you turn away the rhetorical dope peddlers — the powerful people on your own side who are profiting from the culture of contempt. As satisfying as it can feel to hear that your foes are irredeemable, stupid and deviant, remember: When you find yourself hating something, someone is making money or winning elections or getting more famous and powerful. Unless a leader is actually teaching you something you didn’t know or expanding your worldview and moral outlook, you are being used.

Lactation professionals should engage with “Fed Is Best” advocates. They owe it to women and babies to respond to challenges to their core beliefs because their core beliefs may be wrong and even harmful.

And “Breast Is Best” partisans need to reject the powerful people on their own side who profiting from the culture of contempt. As satisfying as it can be to hear that women who don’t breastfeeding are lazy, self-absorbed, bad mothers and as enjoyable as it can feel to hear that medical professionals who question the benefits of breastfeeding are irredeemable, stupid, deviant trolls, remember:

When you find yourself hating those who believe “fed is best” someone is making money. Is your goal to enrich your leaders or is it to help babies and mothers? Sadly, you can’t have both.