Lactation professionals treat mothers like cows

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My email inbox is filled with messages from women who hate themselves, blame themselves and are nearly incapacitated by guilt at being unable to breastfeed exclusively.

Why?

It’s certainly not because breastfeeding in industrialized countries is so beneficial for babies that it has a measurable impact on mortality rates, life expectancy or IQ. Walk into any kindergarten classroom and it is impossible to tell which children were breastfed and which were not.

It’s because in the past 30 years we have seen the rise and professionalization of a movement, lactivism, thats benefit from viewing new mothers the same way farmers view cows: as milk suppliers.

[pullquote align=”right”]Regardless of the difficulty, the lactivist prescription is always the same: “Breastfeed harder.”[/pullquote]

Consider:

The concept of choice doesn’t exist among lactation consultants. There is only one acceptable choice and that is to breastfeed. They will go to great lengths to help women who make that choice, but they will do nothing for women who bottlefeed.

A mother’s pain is irrelevant. For the breastfeeding industry, just because a mother has cracked and bleeding nipples is no excuse for her to avoid being a milked like a cow. It’s just another opportunity to sell her products that purportedly reduce the pain.

A baby’s hunger is irrelevant. For lactation professionals, just because a baby is screaming in hunger is no excuse for his mother to provide milk from any other source than herself or another mother breastmilk dispenser.

Breastfeeding difficulties are irrelevant. Regardless of the difficulty (poor latch, flat nipples, poor suck, insufficient breastmilk) and regardless of the severity of the difficulty the lactivist prescription is always the same: “Breastfeed harder.”

A mother’s need for sleep is irrelevant. She is supposed to dispense breastmilk 24/7/365. What else could be more important than being a breastmilk dispenser?

A mother’s need to control her own body is irrelevant. If breastfeeding makes her psychologically uncomfortable, she’s supposed to get over it. Her mental health receives as much attention from them as cows’ mental health receives from farmers.

A mother’s mental health is irrelevant. Lactation professionals are much more concerned with whether treatments for postpartum depression are compatible with breastfeeding than with whether they are the best possible treatment for the mother’s condition. The mother must continue dispensing breastmilk as she approaches and even endures psychological collapse.

The connection between breastfeeding and postpartum depression has been noted, but lactation professionals have chosen to spin it as evidence that successful breastfeeding prevents postpartum depression; the reality is that pressuring women to breastfeed when they can’t or don’t want to do so increases the risk of postpartum depression. That’s certainly what suffering women tell us, but lactation consultants don’t bother listening to them.

Treating women like cows has a corollary in pregnancy and childbirth and that corollary has been emphatically rejected by most women. The corollary is treating women as breeding stock, evaluating every decision they make by asking whether it is good for the baby. Ironically, many of the same people who would be horrified by reducing pregnant women to baby incubators, have no problem reducing new mothers to breastmilk dispensers.

In response to the never ending lobbying of lactation organizations, we have moralized breastfeeding far, far beyond any actual benefits. It has become a signifier of social status and an emblem of maternal superiority; indeed, it has become a requirement for being a “good” mother.

As a result we treat new mothers as if they were cows and there only reason for existence is to dispense breastmilk. Even if breastmilk were “the elixir of life” as some lactivists pretend, that would not justify this cavalier treatment of women. Since the benefits of breastmilk are in reality trivial, treating women like cows isn’t merely unjustified, it is gratuitously cruel.

Every women is capable of looking at the scientific evidence about breastfeeding term babies in industrialized countries (the real evidence, not the wildly exaggerated claims) and making her own considered decision how to feed her infant. Insisting that it is the lactation industry’s business deprives a woman of autonomy … and treats her as no better than a cow.

  • Shawna Mathieu

    I went through hell with my son when we had breastfeeding problems. Everything I read, everything I was told, all women could breastfeed, you just have to try. When I tried and it didn’t work, of course I blamed myself.

    The LC did the same thing. “You’re giving in too early.” she said, after I told her I gave my son a bottle of breast milk after an hour of trying to latch and both of us crying. And that horrible, cruel sentence, “If he’s hungry enough, he’ll latch.”

    I think when she said that is what started me questioning the whole BFing philosophy. How can you sit there and tell a woman to NOT feed her baby, to shut out his cries, and that starving him would force him to magically learn what to do? Especially in my case, where the latching problem was flat nipples – no hunger on my son’s part was going to fix those!

    I continued to blame myself for three years, until I got pregnant with my daughter and made the decision to formula feed from the start. This very site, and others like Fearless Formula Feeder helped me feel good about that, and let me know I wasn’t alone.

  • Allison

    If some of these lactivists stepped into my son’s kindergarten classroom, many of them would likely assume that he was formula fed. He doesn’t talk nearly as much as would be developmentally normal at his age, and what he does say is often difficult to understand. He doesn’t socialize on a developmental level with other kids his age. He isn’t potty trained. For the record, they would be wrong – he breastfed until he was 4 years old, and as exclusively as I was capable of making happen until 6 months. He’s autistic. (At which point, they would probably shift to blaming his vaccines, and clutch their pearls when I mention that I need to call the clinic and see if they have their pediatric flu vaccine in yet.)

    On the other hand, this is the same kid who has out engineered most of my childproofing, starting at age 2. The same kid who I came home the other day to find that he’d found a belt I’d removed from someone’s pants while I was doing the laundry, buckled it around the safety handle on the trampoline, and was using it as a swing. And he’s getting the speech and occupational therapy he needs. Long term, he’ll be just fine. Thing is, he’d have been just fine on formula, too. (It just would have been a damn sight more expensive.)

  • Another great post! Although I have to say the “cows” thing goes a little bit both ways: I read recently about a discrimination lawsuit in which a male boss called a breastfeeding employee a cow, and that’s not right either. I don’t support shoving breastfeeding down mothers’ throats but I do support requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations to mothers who choose to do it.

    I wonder, has anyone ever done a study comparing paternal bonding between breastfed and formula-fed infants? Lactivists tend to cite mother-baby bonding as a so-called benefit of breastfeeding, but I wonder if anyone has ever studied whether making a baby dependent solely on the mother for food has a negative impact on its bond with the father. I would love to see such a study done if it hasn’t already.

    I’m still TTC so I have a long way to go, but I look forward to messing with the lactation consultants I am forced to endure at the hospital when I eventually become a mom.

    • AnnaPDE

      My stepkids and my own son were all BF, stepkids totally EBF and their little brother with supplementation, but they’re all bonded to their dad in the superglue way. Always have been. Anecdotal, sure, but I don’t think the feeding details make such an enormous difference.

    • Not all LCs are awful. The ones at my hospital only come on request, try to ascertain your feeding goals and help you reach them, and are very big on “feed the baby” first.

      • Lurker

        Yeah, I was going to comment that this post paints with a very broad brush. The one I saw suggested pumping after feeding to build supply, but was explicit that I shouldn’t try to do it more than once or twice a day or I’d go crazy. I saw her sending other patients away with formula samples. I think the distinction between LCs and lactivists is a good one, more than implying that all of the former are the latter.

      • The Bofa on the Sofa

        Not all LCs are awful.

        Bofa’s Law….

        “If the defense of a group consists of “Not all …” then that group has a significant problem.

        (not to be confused with Bofa’s 2nd Law: “All else being equal, breastfeeding is better than not breastfeeding. But all else is never equal”)

        I generally consider LCs to be on the edge of Bofa’s Law. They certainly don’t fall into the realm of chiropractors or CPMs, but damn, they have a large fraction that is a bad bunch.

      • Shawna Mathieu

        The LC I saw in the hospital was FANTASTIC. Helped me pump, gave me all the paraphernalia I needed, even told me it was OK to supplement while working things out. I never felt pressured or shamed. I wish I could have seen her again, but the hospital LC visits were $30 apiece after discharge.
        The LC that visited for free through the program for first time parents was horrible.

        The problem is, there seems to be way too many LCs who are like the second one – too many women on sites like this have almost word-for-word the same stories of what they went through.

    • Box of Salt

      My kid1 is female and thoroughly bonded to both parents, more so to dad when she was younger.
      Little brother is also throroughly bonded to both parents, more so to me when he was younger.
      Both were by any definition EBF (to clarify: nothing but breastmilk until they ate real food)

      They are now both teens.

      And both are following the typical behavior patterns I learned about in undergraduate Psychology courses.

      It ain’t the breastfeeding.

      If the dad wants to bond with the kids – dad puts the time in to show the kids he cares. It has nothing to do with what mom does.

  • fiftyfifty1

    Arguably farmers treat their cows better than lactivists do their patients. If I had a friend who was struggling with a breastfeeding problem (low supply, nipple trauma, mastitis etc) I wager she would get better advice from a dairy farmer than from many lactation consultants. For example at least a dairy farmer would tell a woman with low supply “that sometimes happens even when you are doing everything right” and not gaslight her.

    • Mel

      Yup. Dairy farmers spend a whole lot of time thinking about the comfort of their cows because happy cows produce more milk than stressed cows.

      I’ve yet to meet a dairy farmer who would ever recommend the equivalent of a triple-feed schedule to increase milk in a cow; getting plenty of time for rest is a known requirement for milk production.

      You don’t milk a cow until her teats bleed. Farmers and milkers spend a lot of time discussing the exact amount of pressure that the milking attachments should use.

      And if nothing else, dairy farmers get that milk production in a cow is as much an outcome of genetics as anything else. That’s why farmers obsess over the genetics of their cows – and why they have no problem believing that some women aren’t good milkers (in dairy terms); different cows have different numbers of milk cells and differing abilities to produce a certain volume of milk.

      Oh, and dairy farmers are firm believers in the magic of formula. Dairy herds have been raised on milk replacer for decades; since the generational time of cows is around 3 years, that’s as if humans have had access to nutritionally balanced formula for 300 years rather than less than 100 – and cows have not had any problems.

      • The Bofa on the Sofa

        My brother-in-law has switched to feeding the calves cow milk, and with good results. However, there is a key – it’s pasteurized milk! They have a pasteurizer on a trailer that they use to pasteurize the milk they feed their calves. It’s led to far better outcomes than raw milk, and milk replacer.

  • mabelcruet

    Could somebody please explain to me: lactivists abhor formula because of the non-natural additives, chemicals and preservatives it allegedly contains, so why then do they enthusiastically flog Dr Newman’s all purpose nipple cream which contains preservatives, antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs (steroids) and an anti-fungal agent? This gets slathered on nipples and sucked off by babies, so how come this doesn’t count as feeding them additives, chemicals and preservatives?

    • Anna

      Its somehow different, because reasons! I actually saw a post recently on a rabid lactavist page where a Mother was asking if her baby still counts as exclusively breastfeed because she had eaten some sand at the playground. I braced myself for them shaming this poor woman that now her baby was ruined forever but no, apparently the microbiome is only shattered resulting in life long disability (sarc) if you intentionally feed your child solids before 6months. Im sure had she said her baby accidentally drank a drip of formula from another kids bottle they’d have had a different response.

      • mabelcruet

        That is beyond parody-its simply imbecilic. It just shows how deeply entrenched lactivist brainwashing becomes.

        I also read on some websites that Gentian Violet can be used to treat mastitis and nipple soreness, and its ‘better’ because it’s a traditional remedy that’s been around for years. Yes, its older than other types of antiseptic lotion, but its still chemicals, and the damn stuff has been banned in Canada totally because of safety concerns. But because its a traditional homely kitchen-sink sort of remedy, that makes it ok to paint your nipples purple with it for your baby to share??

        • Ozlsn

          You know the only thing worse than mastitis would have been mastitis with purple nipples. Oh hell no.

          • mabelcruet

            It’s OK, the colour transfers, so your baby’s mouth also goes purple. It’ll cover up the thrush nicely.