Is your midwife or lactation consultant emotionally grooming you?

A helping hand.

Emotional grooming is the practice of manipulating an individual into a position of trust, vulnerability and isolation for the purpose of exploitation.

It’s commonly used to describe the tactics preparatory to child sexual abuse, but it applies whenever a powerful person maneuvers another into a situation that benefits the former at the expense of the latter. Sadly, it is used all too often by midwives and lactation consultants to convince women to do what benefits the provider at the expense of the patient and her baby.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Distrustful of other providers? Isolated from family and friends? Totally dependent on the advice from the midwife or lactation consultant?  You may be a victim of emotional grooming.[/pullquote]

How can you tell? If you find that you have become distrustful of other providers, isolated from family and friends and utterly dependent on the advice from the midwife or lactation consultant, you may be a victim of emotional grooming.

There are three red flags:

Encouraging mistrust of other providers.

An ethical medical professional does not disparage other medical professionals. Ethical medical professionals work together for the benefit of patients. No obstetrician would encourage you to distrust your perinatologist, or express disdain for the medical philosophy of the endocrinologist who follows you for diabetes.

Ethical medical professionals depend on each other to provide you with the best possible care. That’s why it’s a warning sign if a midwife encourages you to distrust obstetricians or a lactation consultant encourages you to distrust pediatricians.

If there is a disagreement between professionals over your care, they should discuss it between themselves; you might even wish to be present to evaluate their differing points of view. If your midwife or lactation consultant is unwilling to do that, you should consider whether she is encouraging you to distrust other providers for her own benefit (to keep you as a patient, to deprive you of information that might lead to you questioning your recommendations) rather than for your benefit.

It is especially worrisome if she encourage you to lie to other medical professionals. An ethical professional will NEVER counsel you to lie to another provider. No doctor can advise you appropriately if you are lying in response to their questions. There is absolutely, positively no benefit to you from lying to a doctor about anything.

When a midwife encourages you to distrust an obstetrician, or when a lactation consultant encourages you to distrust a pediatrician she is trying to isolate you from others. Why? So she can keep control of you as a patient.

Claiming special knowledge.

Does your midwife claim that obstetricians have never seen an unmedicated vaginal birth? If you think about it for a moment, the claim is absurd. Even in the US, with high rates of C-section and epidural use, fully 68% of women give birth vaginally. Approximately 40% give birth without an epidural. Moreover, in 2019 the majority of obstetricians are women. They haven’t just seen thousands of labors, they’ve endured a few themselves.

There is no midwife who knows more about SAFE childbirth than an obstetrician. Sure, midwives may have tips and tricks for support, but that has nothing to do with safety.

Does your lactation consultant claim that pediatricians are ignorant of breastfeeding? That might have been true 30 years ago, when actively promoting breastfeeding first became a priority for pediatricians, but it’s not true in 2019. In addition, the majority of pediatricians are women and many have breastfed their own children.

There is no lactation consultant who knows more about SAFE breastfeeding than a pediatrician. Sure, lactation consultants may have tips and tricks for support, but that has nothing to do with safety.

An ethical medical professional would never encourage you to risk your health or your baby’s health. An ethical professional wouldn’t tell you that you were brave, or a warrior mama, or demonstrating your trust in birth. An ethical medical professional would never tell you that you are “designed” to breastfeed. Those are all forms of emotional manipulation employed to strengthen the midwife or lactation consultant’s control over you for her benefit, not for yours.

Advocating ignoring relatives and friends.

The primary purpose of emotional grooming by midwives and lactation consultants is to isolate women and leave them vulnerable. Women in labor, and postpartum women are vulnerable by definition, leaving them easy to manipulate. But most women have partners, parents and friends who are prepared to advocate for them. Since relatives and friends aren’t as vulnerable, they can and will push back against midwifery and lactation recommendations that are unsafe both physically and psychologically.

One of the hallmarks of emotional grooming in any setting, not just a medical setting, is the efforts of the manipulator to separate you from the people who care most about you. Encouraging you to distrust your family and friends (“They aren’t as educated about childbirth as we are.” “They are steeped in a culture of fear.” “They are sheeple who cannot imagine defying authority figures.”) is encouraging an emotional barrier between yourself and those closest to you. The goal? Increasing the midwife’s or lactation consultant’s ability to manipulate you into doing what she wants, not what is best for you and your baby.

Do you trust your midwife? Do you think your lactation consultant knows what’s best for your baby? That’s great, but just be sure they are not emotionally manipulating you by encouraging distrust of other medical professionals, by insisting that they have knowledge other providers lack or by isolating you from family and friends. That’s not medical care; it’s emotional grooming and it’s harmful for you and your baby.

  • Emilie Bishop

    Yep, this is yet another brilliant explanation for the ugly ways these folks manipulate women to force their agenda. Naturopaths do the same thing.

  • mabelcruet

    Medical care is mostly delivered by consensus these days-there is a consultant in nominal charge, but decision making about treatment is a team effort, particularly for complex cases. We spend a lot of our working week going to multidisciplinary team meetings-as a pathologist who deals with paediatric tumours, I go to the meeting along with the paediatric oncologists, radiologists, specialist oncology nurses, radiotherapists, and other people like those who liaise with the national and international bodies responsible for overseeing various protocols and implementation.

    Medical care is no longer provided by an individual consultant saying ‘I am going to treat you with XYZ’. What we do now is present the clinical history and diagnosis to the team, and then jointly discuss how best to proceed, always considering the wishes of the patient or parents (they aren’t allowed to sit in the meeting for confidentiality reasons-the care of other patients are also discussed during the session, but the meeting is attended by their ‘named nurse’ and by various other counsellors and therapists as needed). It is a completely open discussion taking on board the full spectrum of opinion-we don’t do paternalism any more, we are taught from the very first day as students that patients are our partners in healthcare and that their views and wishes are paramount.

    I honestly see far more paternalistic and patronizing behaviour coming from certain midwives than I do from other doctors-its echoed in the commentators on this blog that sometimes drop in to stir trouble. Look at the comments made by people like Jan Hocking and Anna Perch, stating openly that they wouldn’t bother telling women about other feeding methods, or wouldn’t bother telling women about other forms of pain relief. They advocated lying to women on the grounds that they knew better than the woman herself did.

    • mabelcruet

      So I agree its completely unprofessional to slag off another health care worker in front of a patient. In the multidisciplinary meeting, there are occasionally disagreements but its all hammered out professionally and appropriately. The only thing badmouthing another professional does is to make the patient feel uneasy and scared, and make them worry that their treatment is somehow dangerous or flawed. Patients rely on their health care staff to provide evidence based and appropriate care-of course they are going to read up on their diagnosis and plan of management, but on the whole you trust that you are being properly cared for. Listening to someone bitch about another professional does nothing but cause distress and worry for the patient, and that’s unethical.

  • rational thinker

    “Love bombing” is also used especially in the home birth setting. This is why when mother and baby or just baby dies the parents are reluctant to place blame with the incompentent midwife and will default to the usual party line of “this would have happened even if we were in the hospital”. This is probably the strongest tactic to use in emotional grooming and it does work very well.