Head of the UK National Childbirth Trust resigns, allegedly over being forced to stop bullying

The text Everyone Matters appearing on red cardboard

As anyone who has been a victim or bystander to bullying can attest, bullies enjoy bullying as a solitary pursuit, but absolutely adore bullying as a group activity. Having an audience apparently makes bullying more enjoyable, having minions makes it easier, and having those who admire you more because you are a bully makes it positively addictive.

Group bullying has sadly become one of the defining features of contemporary natural childbirth advocacy and lactivism. Both started to offer women choices but eventually hardened into groups that offer one choice each and bully those who make different choices.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Having an audience apparently makes bullying more enjoyable, having minions makes it easier, and having those who admire you more because you are a bully makes it positively addictive. [/pullquote]

Now Seána Talbot, head of the UK Natural Childbirth Trust (NCT), has resigned over being forced to stop group bullying. Apparently, if the NCT can’t bully women who don’t mirror her own choices back to her, the job has lost its appeal.

In her resignation letter, Talbot wrote:

In the face of overwhelming opposition from most fellow trustees and NCT’s executive, I have tried my best to steer the charity back towards its core mission, and its longstanding values…

…[T]he executive team, with the support of most of the board, have already taken the charity away from our core mission of birth and breastfeeding, and towards more generic ‘parent support’ with an emphasis on postnatal mental health.

It’s almost as if Talbot thinks supporting all parents, regardless of their choices, is a bad thing.

How dare anyone consider women’s mental health more important than unmedicated vaginal birth and breastfeeding? How dare anyone imagine that the wellbeing of the bullied is more important than the enjoyment of the bullies?

As an article in The Guardian elaborated:

[Talbot] said the charity was shying away from publicly supporting breastfeeding in media debates and on social media, because its top priority was to be popular with new parents, including those who formula feed …

But no one has stopped supporting breastfeeding. They’ve merely stopped supporting breastfeeding to the exclusion of other choices. And, in particular, they’ve stopped supporting bullying parents into breastfeeding and shaming them for not breastfeeding.

Why? Because UK parents have made it clear that they won’t accept bullying anymore:

Since 2016, the charity has seen a 55% decrease in its membership from 110,000 to 50,000. It also suffered a 10% drop in its income over the same period, from £17.3m to £15.6m. A raft of competitors to the NCT have sprung up online and in cities like London, offering “non-preachy” practical courses which aim to help expectant parents feel confident and happy about their decisions, regardless of how they birth or feed their baby.

As Zoe Williams explains in The ‘breast is best’ lobby has left women feeling judged and unworthy:

…[F]or years the trust has been known for its fierce views on the “medicalisation” of childbirth. Women came away with the idea that epidurals were for wimps, caesarean sections meant you had failed, and the Syntocinon injection was only for the kind of weakling who couldn’t eject a placenta with the power of her mind.

It’s position on breastfeeding has been particularly harmful:

…[W]hen your position is that breastfeeding is the only real choice of the responsible mother, it’s difficult to claim a meaningful, simultaneous care for her mental health, and often this orthodoxy works actively against her confidence and mental wellbeing.

…Crucially, breastfeeding advocates react very badly to any notion of coexistence – that mothers who bottle-feed can enter the same conversations, forums, Instagram feeds, on the same terms. They will always be suboptimal mothers, though it won’t be their fault – rather, they didn’t get enough “support” to do the right thing.

Bullying has become a feature of lactivism, not a bug.

And Talbot and her supporters simply adore bullying and don’t want to give it up. From the article on Talbot’s resignation:

A breastfeeding counsellor and NCT practitioner, who did not want to be named, said she had been repeatedly concerned by posts by the NCT on Instagram regarding infant feeding. For example, social media influencer Naomi Courts, who lists baby bottle brand Tommee Tippee as a partner on her Instagram homepage, was given the opportunity to ‘take over’ the charity’s Instagram feed on Friday. Other posts have shown a mother with her head cropped off breastfeeding, immediately followed by a smiling mother formula feeding her baby.

A mother who enjoys formula feeding? The horror!

“Promoting bottle-feeding as equal to breastfeeding goes against our infant feeding policy, which says we should talk to parents about informed decision-making and not compare breast and bottle as equal – because it isn’t an equal choice.”

Except that formula feeding IS an equal choice and in some cases the better choice for individual babies and mothers. Why? Because exclusive breastfeeding has risks as well as benefits and most of the claimed benefits have been debunked.

As the current spokesperson for the National Childbirth Trust explained:

“If we’re making any change it’s about [wanting] to be here for all parents… Anybody who is either about to have a baby or has had a baby can come to NCT and get support and be welcomed. If that is a shift, then I think that is a really positive shift.”

Talbot and her supporters may not like it, but the truth is that there is no benefit of breastfeeding [or unmedicated vaginal birth] worth risking a mother’s mental health. That puts bullying off limits for natural childbirth and breastfeeding advocates.

Bullies won’t be happy and leaders of organizations that have enjoyed group bullying may resign, but the many, many women who have been bullied will be better off.

  • H1N1

    Hear hear ! Very well said Dr Tuteur….many women who have been bullied will be better off.

    Next step, is to work on the BFHI !

  • Kim Thomas

    Not sure it’s accurate to describe Seana Talbot as the “head” of the NCT. She was president, which is more to do with being the public face of the charity. The real head is the CEO, Nick Wilkie.

    They also haven’t called themselves the National Childbirth Trust in years – it’s always NCT. That message doesn’t seem to have got through to the press, though!

  • MaineJen

    OT, but doesn’t this quote just sum up our Twitler in Chief perfectly: “Having an audience apparently makes bullying more enjoyable, having minions makes it easier, and having those who admire you more because you are a bully makes it positively addictive.”

  • kilda

    yeah, don’t you hate it when postnatal mental health gets in the way of pushing your agenda?

    you know, if your organization’s goals aren’t compatible with postnatal mental health, maybe that should tell you something.

  • Cristina

    I find it fascinating that the breastfeeding pics were of women with their heads cropped out

    • Lisa Cybergirl

      Maybe they didn’t want the women to be identifiable to creeps?

      • Cristina

        Entirely possible and completely valid. It just reminds me of how pieces of women are used in advertising compared to how a man is a whole person.

    • Kim Thomas

      This is something I’ve noticed for a long time – so many national newspapers illustrate articles on breastfeeding that show a woman’s body without her head. (The same is true of obesity, but I can perhaps see the logic better in that.)

  • Cartman36

    Boo-Hoo Seána, Boo-Hoo.

  • I liked the excerpts from Expecting Better that I read, but I’m not wild about Emily Oster’s dismissal of neonatal weight loss:

    https://slate.com/human-interest/2019/04/cribsheet-newborn-infant-birth-weight.html?via=section_features

    I think this article could cause harm.

    • rational thinker

      I think you’re right.

    • Mel

      People are raking the article over the coals in the comments section – but Slate’s comments are on a separate page so not everyone will see them.

      Quite a few people have pointed out that the author’s child’s 11% weight loss at 44 hours postpartum puts the kid waaay outside of the 95% of weight loss in breastfed infants in the graphic provided by the author.

      To me, it’s especially absurd because the medical professionals are asking her to feed her kid a few ounces of formula. They are not asking permission to place a PICC line, do open-heart surgery or even give the kid a shot; they are just asking to offer the bub a bottle.

      • andrea

        When you’re working under the delusion that bottle feeding will surely lead to a long, slow death from type 2 diabetes; it makes a PICC line sound fun.

    • mabelcruet

      Same here-at least the comments are generally reasonable and pointing out that there is a good reason for checking. She makes it sound as though the baby is getting weighed reflexively with no underlying reason other than ticking a box.

      Two things though-a couple of the comments mention maternal IV fluids given during labour as being a cause of weight loss (stating the baby gets waterlogged and puffy, and loses the water after birth like Violet Beurogard getting juiced in Willy Wonka). As far as I remember, that is only an issue if the mother received a lot of intravenous fluid during labour (I think 2500 ml was the cut off), and it didn’t really happen if the mum was on oral fluids, so it won’t be an issue for many women.

      And the comment about doctors being obsessed about the baby pooping. There’s a reason for that, it’s called Hirschsprung disease and it can be lethal if not picked up quickly enough. There’s generally a good reason behind everything the medics seem ‘obsessed’ by. They should be explaining why they are asking questions, but it’s usually significant.

      • DaisyGrrl

        Doctors seem to be obsessed by everybody pooping! Of course there are good reasons for it, but I feel like we should stop being surprised by this.

        I’ve read countless comments of the vital first post c-section poop, I got asked more than once about pooping post-appendectomy, etc. It’s normal for doctors to want to have reassurance that the plumbing is in order. 🙂

        • mabelcruet

          General rule of thumb-if someone is eating, drinking, pooping and peeing, they usually aren’t that too unwell or in need of urgent treatment. It’s kind of a basic triage to decide which patient to sort out first and who can wait a bit.

          If they start asking about poop, they will probably want fine details like size, shape and consistency (see the Bristol stool chart for details), and also if blood is involved (red or brown, on the poop, after the poop, or mixed in with the poop). Doctors get really interested in blood and poop!

          • The Bofa on the Sofa

            My wife is a vet, and so eating drinking, pooping, peeing are very important signs to watch, because that is a good sign that there is a problem.

            People can tell you they are sick or not, but animals not so much. So basic bodily functions are a good place to start.

            Also, I will say, my dad has had a history of small bowel obstruction, and so we are constantly paying attention to whether things are working (he’s got a lot of other issues these days, but that is an acute situation)

          • mabelcruet

            I’ve mentioned it before, but when I was a med student I was taught by a very elderly paediatrician (he was close to retirement back then, he must be in his 90s if he’s still around), and he told us that treating babies and very young children was very like being a vet. They couldn’t tell you where it hurt or what it felt like, but sick animals stay very quiet, don’t like to move, don’t like being handled and don’t tend to eat. He said any child running about screaming probably wasn’t sick, so they could safely be ignored for a bit and to look at the still and quiet ones first.

          • The Bofa on the Sofa

            treating babies and very young children was very like being a vet

            Having a vet for a wife and two kids who have gone through the little kiddos stage in the not so distant past, I can tell you that treating babies is VERY MUCH like being a vet.

            Among the similarities….my wife spends a lot of her time calculating dosages, basing them on the weight of the patient. That’s exactly what pediatricians have to do.

            In principle, adult doctors should be doing it, too, but in general, they just use the set dosage for a 160 lb adult man….

          • mabelcruet

            Trying to get medication into cats is a flipping nightmare (at least with mine). I’m afraid the dosage goes out the window, I’m just glad to get any into them!

            My asthmatic cat was supposed to be on inhalers-when I tried her with the spacer/inhaler thing she damn near ripped my face off. I managed to get the odd bricanyl tablet into her by disguising it in food, but she quickly realised that if I was giving her hand carved cubes of beef or pork it was booby trapped. Cheese cubes worked for my other cat when disguising her thyroid meds, but my Pickwickian fat asthmatic baby doesn’t like cheese, so now she’s on slow release steroid injections. And she’s on a diet anyway because my vet says she’s at risk of diabetes, so she’s glaring at me when I dole out her pitifully small bowl of breakfast. Luckily she can’t subsidise her food with captured birds or mice, she’s too wheezy to stalk successfully.

          • Lisa Cybergirl

            A vet friend’s cat is trained to allow ventilators! However, my friend is practically a superhero.

          • BeatriceC

            MrC chuckles at me occasionally because I get a little obsessive at times over bird poop. At least predator mammals give you warning signs they’re sick. Birds look fine until they’re critical. Changes in poop is one of the best early warning signs, so I get weird about inspecting poop every day.

          • MaineJen

            Yes! Birds are notorious for maintaining a “healthy!!!” front until they simply can’t any more, and then they drop dead. You’re lucky if you get any warning signs at all.

          • BeatriceC

            And that leads to my obsession with bird poop. It’s really the best early warning system we have, even if it’s a little gross.

          • StephanieJR

            I know far too much about rabbit poop. It’s at least relatively less offensive than dog or cat poop, I suppose. Right now it tells me that Amy is actually eating her hay, instead of just spreading it around, because despite using the exact same brand for years, she’s quite picky about quality.

          • Lisa Cybergirl

            I heard somewhere (so it must be right!) that herbivorous animals have the least stinky poop, omnivorous animals have stinkier poop, carnivores have even worse poop, and animals that eat fish have the worst poop of all.

          • StephanieJR

            Makes sense; if your diet is mostly dried grass, there’s not much chance of it smelling. Rabbit pee is far worse.

          • Lisa Cybergirl

            I heard somewhere (so it must be right!) that herbivorous animals have the least stinky poop, omnivorous animals have stinkier poop, carnivores have even worse poop, and animals that eat fish have the worst poop of all.

        • demodocus

          *singing* “Every dinosaur pooooops”

        • Merrie

          There’s a song in the Scrubs musical episode “Everything Comes Down To Poo”.

  • mabelcruet

    A couple of years ago, Kirstie Allsopp (a UK TV presenter and business woman) strongly criticised the NCT-she had her children via elective section and was very vocal about it, and about the pressure she’d faced from natural birth activists. She said the NCT didn’t provide support for women who had a C section or chose to formula feed. She made it clear it was her personal opinion and yet they threatened her with legal action for defamation.

    • Cat

      I’ve yet to meet a woman in the UK who doesn’t share that view of the NCT. Even those of my friends who loved their NCT classes warned me that they’re only likely to be helpful if you want – and stand a good chance of getting – a certain kind of birth experience. In my SIL’s NCT group, five out of eight mothers ended up having c-sections despite being open to the idea of drug-free waterbirth. The consensus amongst them was that the classes would have been a waste of time if they’d needed support with the birth experience they actually had, but actually their main purpose in attending NCT classes was to “buy” a WhatsApp support group of new mum friends for the immediate postnatal period!

      • mabelcruet

        My sister had her 3 as homebirths with the NCT-she initially enjoyed the mother and baby group afterwards, but it ended up getting very competitive about whose baby was meeting milestones early, and got very judgmental about toddler feeding (wholly organic and homemade obviously outranked everything else, Ella’s kitchen and HIPP were just about passable, Tesco own brand baby food-well, you may as well let the kid eat out of the rubbish bin…)