How to spot a breastsuffering apologist


I’d like to propose a new term: breastsuffering.

Breastsuffering refers to the large and growing toll of aggressive breastfeeding promotion. Breastsuffering encompasses breastfeeding starvation, breastfeeding suffocation and breastfeeding skull fractures for babies and breastfeeding guilt, anxiety and depression for mothers.

Sadly, lactation professionals and lactivists have become apologists for breastsuffering.

More than three decades ago lactation professionals decided, absent any evidence, that breastfeeding is best for babies. In their defense, they were responding to the egregious, deadly corporate practices of large multi-nationals like Nestle; they had sought to replace breastfeeding in Africa with formula made using contaminated water. Although it was the water that harmed and killed the babies, breastfeeding advocates sought to elide that point in order to promote breastfeeding.

Moreover, at the time there was very little scientific evidence about the harms of breastfeeding.

Now we know that each year tens of thousands of breastfed babies starve to the extent that they need to be readmitted to the hospital at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. Why? Because lactation professionals — with no scientific evidence of any kind — have claimed that formula supplements interfere with breastfeeding.

Each year hundreds of babies suffocate to the point of brain injury or death in their mothers hospital beds in an effort to promote breastfeeding. Why? Because lactation professionals — with no evidence of any kind — insist that prolonged periods of skin to skin contact are required for breastfeeding.

Each year an unknown number of babies are injured or die after falling from their mothers hospital beds. Why? Because lactation professionals — with no evidence of any kind — have claimed that mandated rooming in of babies and mothers increases breastfeeding rates.

Each year tens of thousands of women suffer soul searing guilt, disabling anxiety and life threatening postpartum depression. Why? Because lactation professionals — with no evidence of any kind — have claimed that women who don’t breastfeed don’t care about their babies.

You might think that lactation professionals and lactivists would be horrified by what they have wrought. You would be wrong. Instead they have become breastsuffering apologists.

How does it work?

Breastsuffering apologists invoke the naturalistic fallacy.

Starvation apologists insist that starvation while breastfeeding is impossible because it would have ended our species. That’s nonsense. Approximately 20% of established pregnancies end in miscarriage and it has not prevented growth of our species. Even 15% of babies starved to death, it would not hardly have wiped out the species.

Suffocation apologists — like Prof. James McKenna who coined the term breastsleeping and Melissa Bartick, MD — insist that because babies in nature sleep on the hard, flat ground with their mothers, contemporary babies ought to sleep on soft, suffocating beds with their mothers. Skull fracture apologists invoke similar “reasoning.”

Breastsuffering apologists insist that the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the permanent brain injuries and deaths.

There’s a major problem with that argument. Though I can show you tens of thousands of babies readmitted to hospitals, hundreds of babies brain injured and even babies who have died as a result of breastfeeding, they can’t show that any term babies’ lives have been saved, incidence of any serious disease being reduced, or that even a nickel has been saved by promoting breastfeeding in term babies.

Breastsuffering apologists insist it is “lack of support” that is leading to the hospitalizations, brain injuries and deaths.

It is not a coincidence that many of the very people who profit by providing support insist that more support — and therefore more money for themselves — is needed. They evince a startling lack of awareness that it is precisely their support for any amount of breastsuffering in the pursuit of higher breastfeeding rates that has led to the hospitalizations, brain injuries, maternal depression and death.

Breastsuffering apologists accuse anyone who tries to increase awareness of breastsuffering of hating breastfeeding.

That’s just a way of diverting attention from the real problem. Many of those who oppose breastsuffering — like me — breastfed their own children. The difference between us and lactation professionals is that we would never have let our own babies suffer just so we could say we breastfed; we despise the fact that many lactation professionals are willing to let their own and other people’s babies suffer for bragging rights.

Breastsuffering apologists attempt to assuage their cognitive dissonance by tormenting women who chose or were forced to choose bottlefeeding.

The mantra of breastsuffering apologists is “fed is minimal” (or for the grammar challenged “fed ain’t best”). But the truth is that fully fed with formula is far better than underfed with breastmilk. This also speaks to the high premium lactation professionals and lactivists place on their own hunger for achievement and recognition. For breastsuffering apologists, the need to feel superior to other mothers outweighs any other considerations, including the suffering of their own children.

Breastsuffering apologists are everywhere. They run webpages and blogs that grossly exaggerate the benefits of breastfeeding and ignore the risks. They create Facebook groups to bully formula feeders and to wallow in their unmerited sense of superiority. They engage in testimonial silencing on the their social media feeds, trying to banish the evidence of breastsuffering. And should anyone draw their attention to breastsuffering, they act as apologists for it.

Breastsuffering is real, significant and growing. Breastsuffering apologists are legion. It’s time to recognize the harm and put an end to it.