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.